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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Adolf Hitler's bunker: The need to forget

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Le site de l'ancien bunker d'Adolf Hitler mérite de tomber dans l'oubli.
Is it necessary to make the place visible?

Adolf Hitler's bunker no longer exists. Yet tourists continue to search for it. And Berlin is at a loss for words. For the sake of oblivion, there is no need to go to the site.

A visit to the site of Adolf Hitler's bunker is optional.

Adolf Hitler is a disgraced figure in history. He is primarily responsible for the crimes perpetrated under the National Socialist regime and the domination of most of the continent. He bears responsibility for the extermination of the Jews of Europe, the implementation of the general plan for the East, the systematic elimination of all opposition, and the murder of people in the name of absolute racism. The ideology cannot be detached from its application because the principles laid down by Hitler were intrinsically criminogenic and genocidal.

It seems commonplace to summarily reiterate the crimes of National Socialism. However, such a preamble is necessary. There are historical facts that need to be recalled because there is no room for shortcuts. The crimes are not to be relativised and Adolf Hitler and his fellow travellers have no extenuating circumstances. With this framework in mind, let's talk about the terrible legacy of the German leader to the city of Berlin.

An indelible memory

Berlin is a city of arts and history, offering visitors certain preferential tours that the tourism industry is sure to promote. Its history is that of the 20th century and its dramas. The city took on several statuses in turn: capital of the Third Reich; symbol of the Cold War; fall and death of communism. Although the last two phenomena are more contemporary, they are also very localised in space. In some ways, they may lack proximity or accessibility in the collective imagination.

The moral legacy of the years of National Socialism, on the other hand, is universal in scope. The work of justice has been followed by research, testimony and then education and memory. This movement has been accompanied by a cultural appropriation of literature, film, painting, music and even video games. All these media influence the behaviour of individuals and establish collective reference points.

Catharsis or dark tourism?

Considering today's Berlin in terms of its Hitlerian past is the work of a minority. Moreover, the motivations are multiple and often in opposition.

In the 2010s, people in their seventies started "introspective pilgrimages". They came from France, Italy, Israel or elsewhere to follow in the footsteps of a relative deported or imprisoned during the war. Sometimes accompanied by the rest of their family, this terrible ordeal had for many the effect of a catharsis and reconciliation. The memory was kept alive by both sides.

There are others, however, for whom personal affect is absent. Their approach more generally follows the codes of "dark tourism". These people wish to be confronted with a critical reflection which, far from the work of commemoration, should enable them to define their identity, particularly their moral identity. Consequently, their approach favours the characteristic places of crime.

"Dark tourism" is opposed to the memory work because the educational dimension is neglected. Its moral essence is part of a logic of duty to remember. This phenomenon takes on its full meaning in Berlin around the myth of Hitler's bunker, Führerbunker.

Desacralizing Hitler?

After the war, the former Reich Chancellery was completely demolished by the Soviet authorities. The main aim was to remove a symbol of Hitler's power from public view and to prevent it from becoming a meeting place for nostalgics. No trace remains of the bunker in which Hitler spent his last days. On its former site there are now housing blocks, a children's playground and a car park. The visual impact is therefore almost non-existent.

However, the participants of the walking tours throng there daily, taking pictures, trying to dive into the past. Their presence enhances the place, giving it an importance that history itself has denied it. One could also wonder about the affixing of an informative plaque recalling the event and detailing the plans of the bunker. This staging of the void invites the imagination, the cultural references of use (in particular the film The Fall by Oliver Hirschbiegel) and the over-interpretation of a historical fact which, in the end, loses its authenticity to become part of entertainment.

In addition, a private museum in Berlin has reconstructed Hitler's office and offers a tour of it. The experience is essentially recreational and part of a more general trivialisation. Critics of such an accusation retort that the de-dramatisation and desacralisation of Hitler's figure makes it easier to deconstruct his myth.

The place of oblivion

Beyond the opposition between the different approaches to the historical event, the work of memory offers an alternative: forgetting. Oblivion is indeed a second death and oblivion is a choice. Berlin has the right to renounce the Hitler legacy without denying the existence of the historical fact. In other words, this legacy is forgettable.

Many memorials honour the victims of Nazi Germany. Others deal with the opposite problem and deal with the executioners. The Topography of Terror develops both sides in a very educational way. Berlin can leave the memory of the place where Adolf Hitler died to history and does not have to advertise it.

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