1.Reconstructing Berlin

Statement of Purpose:
I am writing this blog for my own amusement and possibly for the amusement of others. My intention is to show what historic sites can be seen in Berlin today – on foot – starting roughly at the Brandenburg Gate. My field of interest runs from unification (1871) to the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). My main interest is in the New Reich Chancellery, Speer’s short-lived creation, and in Voss-Strasse itself, hence the title of this blog. There is no political intent, implied or otherwise.
Pretty much everything I write about here can be found on the Internet in greater detail. I aim to supply interesting stuff for those who couldn’t be bothered ploughing through hundreds of websites. If you’re in Berlin and want to know where certain events happened or what happened near where you are staying, hopefully this blog might help.

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Rip It Down And Start Again?

I recently watched “Bridge of Spies” and it reminded me that I had promised/threatened to post a travelogue on Berlin while I was there. It’s going to be more of a rant, actually, so if you don’t like it, don’t look at it. Bit like commercial television really.

The question is: how do you rebuild an historic city that has been pretty much completely destroyed in a war? Berlin is a metaphor for all the cities destroyed in all the wars and I only chose it because I’ve been there in the 1970s, 1980s and the 2010s and I like the history . In this blog I propose to write about what I consider to be interesting things and to start with all of the ‘interesting things’ will be within walking distance of the Apartments at Brandenburger Tor car park.

As far as I can see there are three options in rebuilding this city: you clear the rubble and build new, modern structures; you tidy up the surviving buildings and re-use them or you leave them the way they are.

I propose to look at a few examples of what’s remaining of historical interest (to me anyway).

Let’s start with the DDR. If you want to go and see what Berlin was like under the East Germans (from now on I’ll simplify that to DDR to avoid having to distinguish between East Germans and Soviets) you should go now. The inner city is being gentrified at an alarming rate but there are still things to be seen. The DDR did not go out of its way to reconstruct Berlin after the war – they largely concerned themselves with tearing up (or down) old Nazi sites, the Reich Chancellery and a selection of cemeteries for example. This means that large sections of the city remained untouched for decades. For example, in the 1970s I did a bus tour into East Berlin (across the Berlin Wall). The young East German woman who provided the commentary on the bus waxed lyrical about how the government was going to build wondrous new sports complexes and government buildings and so on but outside all we could see were vast tracts of fenced off land that had literally not been touched since 1945. There were of course the odd Communist Party buildings which were a bit tarted up but in general the whole place gave an impression of being depressed and depressing. At the end of the tour, the young host had to disembark on the Eastern side and Russian and East German guards – armed with automatic weapons – came on the bus and began checking IDs. They then ran dogs under the bus to check that no desperate, disenchanted East German had decided to do a Cape Fear and defect by hanging on under the bus. When we got through Checkpoint Charlie, the bus driver told us – wryly – that the young host had had to learn her entire 90 minute spiel off by heart to get the tour guide job and that the Bad Guys were in the habit of slipping a fake ‘tourist’ on the bus to check that she wasn’t editorialising. Apparently, she was allowed to see members of her family briefly when she got on the bus in the West.

Sad.

Here’s an example of the changing of the political guard in Berlin.

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The above photo was taken in Behrenstrasse – which runs off Wilhelmstrasse – in 2010. I took the one below almost exactly five years later. Now this large (un)polished image of Lenin was still on this building  – and only a few hundred metres from the Brandenburg Gate – twenty-one years after the Wall came down. Check the dates on the photographs.

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As late as 2011, you could still find Cyrillic lettering in the foyers of some apartment blocks in central Berlin.

Because the Communists did not do a great deal of rebuilding you can still find old buildings from before the Second World War but you will need to hurry – because the Wall has come down a lot of these places are disappearing. A case in point is the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss-Strasse.  This corner originally (i.e. pre-war) was the site of the Reichs-verkehrsministerium (Reich Traffic Ministry). It can be seen in its heyday in the centre of this photo (red arrow), the Finance ministry is to the left of the photo (blue arrow), the Air Ministry (still standing in pretty much its original form) (orange arrow) can be seen further down the street and the Borsig Palais (green arrow) to the right:

Verkehrersministerium

Here’s a comparison with the above photo taken in 2015:

Verkehr 3

Here’s what it looked like in 2010. The buildings on the left hand side of Voss-Strasse (the street the red Mini drives down) had been there since the war (1945). You could still see battle damage on pretty much all of them.

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Here’s what it looks like now:

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These changes took place in only five years. See what I mean about getting there quickly if you want to see original stuff?

Interestingly, if you look at the very first photo I have posted – the one with the two women with cake tins on their heads in front of the U Bahn entrance – you will see a large building directly behind the entrance. That building -the Ritterschaftsdirektion -(and the U Bahn station itself, but not that entrance) still survives and can be seen on the Wilhelmplatz today. More detail on that building when I get around to the Wilhelmplatz.

So here’s the plan. I intend to post a series of …ummm … posts on touring Berlin with an interest in the history of the place. To start with I am going to suggest places of interest within walking distance of the car park behind the Apartments am Brandenburger Tor. The Apartments am Brandenburger Tor run along Wilhemstrasse from the Adlon Hotel and up Voss-Strasse in a vague U shape. They also wander around various other blocks. Suffice it to say that that whole block bounded by  Peter-Behrens-Strasse , Wilhelmstrasse, Voss-Strasse and Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse constituted the lion’s share of the Regierungsviertel, or Government Quarter from Bismarck’s time to 1945. The current Holocaust Memorial, the car park, the apartments and sundry other structures pretty much made up the Ministry Gardens.

For some reason my posts are appearing in random order therefore I intend to number them so anyone bored enough to be reading this can read them in order. A complete list of the posts so far can be found here: https://wordpress.com/posts/vossstrasse.com although I have no idea why posts 4 and 5 are in the wrong order.

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21. Inside the NRK

You’ve walked around the corner with the Peking Ente on your left and after a few metres you’ll come to where I believe the entrance to the Ehrenhof was (give or take a metre or two):

Ehrenhof entrance

Back in the day, inside would have looked like this:

Best Ehrenhof 1

The two statues flanking the doorway are by Arno Breker who was heavily into this heroic stuff. The one on the left was called “Die Partei” and the one on the right “Die Wehrmacht” (by Hitler, Breker had other names for them). There’s a copy of “Die Wehrmacht” in the (highly recommended) Zeughaus museum on Unter den Linden. If you want a laugh or just like the sound of grinding teeth, go up to one of the museum attendants, point at the statue and say “Oh wow! That’s great! Is it the original?”. They love it!

Wehrmacht

Of interest is the news that in 2015, ‘authorities’ discovered a collection or two of Nazi artworks, the Entartete Kunst of today. Allegedly they discovered the original of the Party statue above on an estate in Kiel:

Ermittlungsverfahren Nazi Kunst

They also claim to have discovered the original two bronze horses from outside Hitler’s office but I’ll deal with that later. I have my doubts. How did these large statues survive? The Russians capture the NRK and send eagles, banners and what-have-you to the Red Army museum in Moscow but somehow miss these statues? Even if they did, who transported them to their hideout? I cannot imagine the Russians agreeing to Steptoe and Son bowling up with Hercules the horse to cart away large lumps of statuary. I will be the first to admit I’m wrong when somebody explains the provenance of these things … back to more pressing issues.

So you’re in the Ehrenhof. Turn around in 1936 or so and you would have seen this:

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Remembering that – were those doors open – you could see our old friend the Ritterschaftsdirektion. Don’t believe me?

Ehrenhof 2

OK, this is the quick tour. There are zillions of photos on the Internet of the NRK – try Pinterest, for example. We are going to give the Vorhalle (reception area) the flick and mosey on straight into the Mosaiksaal, or Mosaic Hall in English. This would’ve been some sight: 46 metres long by 20 wide by 16 high(!) and the whole thing done in marble and mosaic.

SALA DE MOSAICOS 3

There were nine of those mosaic panels with each holding a fine mosaic of two eagles. I have read that one of these panels has survived and is in the Zeughaus on Unter den Linden but I have yet to see it.

SALÓN DE LOS MOSAICOS

These things were eight and a half metres tall and two and a half wide but I can only find one photo of someone actually standing beside one – it’s Ullstein 00042099, as seen in Ronald Pawly’s book. To give you some idea of how big these buggers were I’ve invited the Beatles to stand in for the Nazis even though they only got lousy MBEs instead of a Blood Order:

Beatles Mosaic

This also gives some idea:

0_22703_7f2ce090_orig AHF

The Mosaic Hall was the setting for the major Nazi funerals, specifically those of Reinhard Heydrich, Hans-Valentin Hube and Fritz Todt among others. Here’s Heydrich’s funeral:

Heydrich funeral

Source on photo.

…and here’s Hans-Valentin Hube’s (Hube was a  general who had been awarded the Knight’s Cross with Swords and Diamonds – the highest award you could get in the Third Reich if you don’t count Goring’s stupid decorations – on Hitler’s birthday, 1944, and who was killed in a plane crash the next day in Salzburg).

Trauerfeier für Generaloberst Hans Hube

Source on photo

Both Heydrich and Hube – and Fritz Todt for that matter – were buried in the Invaliden Friedhof which will will get to eventually:

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So this is where you have arrived, having entered from Wilhelmstrasse:

Progress 1

From the Mosaic Hall you enter the Runder Saal (that’s the round room at which the arrow is pointing): it was circular to reorient the visitor’s direction from the bizarre bend in Voss-Strasse caused by the Borsig Palace. Here it is in its heyday:

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Best Runde Saal 1

and in 1945:

Rs 3

A walk through the doorway shown in the three photos above leads us on into the Marble Gallery … and here it is:

marble-hall-hitler-new-chancellery

This room/hallway was 146 metres long, i.e. almost 30 metres longer than the longest of official soccer fields, and 12 metres wide. The floor is of highly polished Saalburg marble and the doorways are of a deeper marble which (from memory) was called Deutschrot. On the left (Voss-Strasse) side are 19 windows, each 6 metres high and set back a little over two metres from the Marmorgalerie (may as well improve your German while you’re here):

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On the right are five doorways , the middle one is Hitler’s. Believe it or not there is a huge pile of crap on the Internet, particularly in regards to subjects like this. You will see the far door (at the end of the Marmorgalerie) described as Hitler’s office. Feel free to feel a superior indignation as I do at such tomfoolery. Feel free also to point out to your friends -although if you’re reading this it’s unlikely you have any – that the middle doorway is Hitler’s “as any fule kno” (Source: Nigel Molesworth). It must have been quite a sight in its day and quite an experience to walk down. For greater detail I would recommend the following three books:

Kanzlei books

The first two books are memoirs, Hoffmann’s is more academic. The first memoir, Rochus Misch’s, is an excellent read. He only died in 2013, still lived in Berlin and was apparently quite happy to discuss his time in the NRK. He narrates the poignant story of playing with the Goebbels children who called out “Misch, Misch, du bist ein Fisch!” (“Misch, you’re a fish!).  It must have been very traumatic for him to see their eventual fates. He also gives an interesting insight into life in the NRK, especially in The Bunker where he was probably the second-last to leave. Traudl Junge’s book is also good as she talks of Hitler’s treatment of his staff on a personal level, for example he personally offered condolences at the death of her husband and preferred to eat his meals with his (female) staff when he could. The final chapters cover her very real (to me at least) disillusionment with Hitler and I believe her feelings of guilt were real as she often says that she can’t believe how gullible and selfish she was. Like Speer at the murder of Herbert von Bose, she turned a blind eye. Peter Hoffmann’s book is a cracker although it becomes a little technical in places. The anecdotes,however, are great: he quotes Hitler as complaining about the chance of assassination from across Wilhelm-Strasse with the words “An assassin with a gun could shoot me or any other idiot from across the street ..” (quotation not exact, I’m too lazy to look it up but that’s the gist of it.) And one of the Chancellory staff had the unenviable job of ringing up Sepp Dietrich at the Lichterfelde barracks to complain that some of the SS guards were spending their guard duty time riding up and down the elevators or putting their faces up against the glass windows during briefings.

Here’s a view of the Marmorgalerie looking east (i.e. towards Wilhelmstrasse):

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…and a night shot closer to the door, showing the furnishings and wall sconces:

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OK, this post is getting too long. Time to move on …

20. The East Wing

There’s not  huge amount of interesting information on the East Wing that I can think of so let’s walk right past it and I’ll update this section if anything comes to light.

0_10a6d_f9ad79a9_orig Feldgrau

I’ve included this post-battle photo (courtesy Feldgrau) because it again shows that distinctly unDeutsch kink in Voss-Strasse.

Here’s a nice shot of the East Wing. See if you notice anything:

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I guarantee that you didn’t realise that the picture above is a pencil drawing. It was a page from a book published to celebrate the opening of the NRK. The book includes a collection of really excellent drawings, some of which I’ll include later. In the meantime, here’s another couple of photos. The first photo with the East Wing in the background, IMO, backs up my theory that the street was much wider pre-war :

East Wing 2

… and here it is six years later under new management (note the four plaques fixed to the wall behind the columns):

East Wing 1

The East Wing did abut the Borsig Palais, the building which we have encountered before: if you’ve been paying attention and have a good memory you may recall we touched on the assassination of Herbert von Bose in Post 10: Getting Around.

Like Erich Klausener who was murdered across the street at much the same time in the Transport Ministry, von Bose had underestimated his opponents. He and another bloke had prepared a dossier that they were going to give to Hindenburg and this was supposed to convince Hindenburg to mobilise the Reichwehr against the Nazis, specifically the SA. So far so good. On June 17th 1934, von Papen delivered his Marburg speech which was “intended to serve as a signal to all opposition forces in Germany to prepare to rise up against National Socialism” (Wikipedia). And it did offer a glimmer of hope as lots of people agreed that it was a jolly good speech. But as far as “rising up against National Socialism” goes , it is to me almost a definition of optimism. The Nazis had won power only five months before.

A glimmer of hope? Not to the Nazis. On June 30th 1934, the Night of the Long Knives / Fall Kolibri / Blood Purge / Rohm Putsch – take your pick, it’s all the same event – began. Actually, it was more like The Mid-Morning of the Long Knives because sometime after 10 am a number of SS and Gestapo individuals entered the building and shot von Bose in the back ten times.

H.Bose

For me, a subsequent event has a particular resonance. The SA leadership (post-Rohm and post-more-than-a-few-others) were ensconced in the Borsig Palais where Hitler could keep a close eye on them. Speer was detailed to remodel the building and when he turned up he saw a pool of von Bose’s blood on the floor:

 “In one of the rooms I saw a large pool of dried blood on the floor. There, on June 30, Herbert von Bose, one of Papen’s assistants, had been shot. I looked away and from then on avoided the room. But the incident did not affect me any more deeply than that.” (Page  94 of my Australian 1970 edition of “Inside the Third Reich”)

The last sentence to me shows an answer to a question I get asked very often. How did people let it happen? I think for many of the people in high places who lived at that time, the answer is in this attitude: “I can do all right in this regime if I avert my eyes, keep my mouth shut and don’t ask questions…”

And the people who die get a plaque, read by tourists and unwilling children on compulsory school excursions:

H.Bose 2

It’s worth thinking about as you tuck into your spring rolls at the Peking Ente or as you pick up that fridge magnet that will make your neighbours back home in Bankstown green with envy, that you could very well be standing in, or close to, the very spot where one of these men breathed their last…

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the Borsig Palais was situated pretty much where the Peking Ente is today, so now we’re back at the Wilhelmstrasse. Let’s turn left in the direction of Unter den Linden and walk towards An der Kolonnade . However, if we stop just past the Peking Ente we should be standing pretty much where the entrance to the Ehrenhof (Court of Honour) stood. Interestingly, for me at least, is the fact that there were traffic lights outside this entrance so that official vehicles could drive in. The vehicles drove in the left-hand entrance, drove clockwise, deposited their occupants and then were driven out the right-hand entrance. Having not seen any photographic evidence of them, I would suggest that the traffic lights may have been temporary (i.e. assembled when needed).

Let’s go in and have a quick look although if you really want a thorough look inside, Christoph Neubauer’s DVD is still the best bet.

 

19. Mittelbau

So we continue our walk eastwards (back towards Wilhelmstrasse) down the left-hand side of Voss-Strasse and get to where the Mittelbau stood. The Mittelbau was set back about 15 metres from the frontage of the other two wings and contained, inter alia, Hitler’s office and various administrative offices. There was no access from Voss-Strasse. The is where it stood although it would have been a little wider than this photo suggests:

Mittelbau Google Earth 1

Source: Google Earth

Behind the balustrade which we saw as the second photo in the West Wing post were five hydraulically-operated doors to subterranean air-raid shelters. This famous photo – obviously staged – of General Weidling leaving the NRK to surrender to the Russians shows one of them:

Weidling 1

Source: Pinterest

And here’s another shot of the open hydraulic shelter doors:

Hydraulic doors

And if hydraulic doors really float your boat, this clip shows them at 2:48 (the clip is in German but is excellent in that it shows the truck lifts and underground garages):

Now before we continue …  this rapidly diminishing car park is one of the few spots left in the Berlin Defence Area of 1945 where you can still actually stand on the very place where things happened/stood. If you are of that particularly bizarre bent that you feel the need to stand in Hitler’s office for example you still can do so if you are prepared to run around the car park like an idiot to ensure you covered every single spot although even then you’d never be certain that you’d done it. But what you can do is have your photo taken in the car park and then when you’re watching “Downfall” or “Valkyrie” with a friend you can point at the screen and shout “I’ve been there!” although this is not recommended if you are in a cinema or are courting a particularly toothsome companion.

This is what you missed. This is the car park/Mittelbau/Hitler’s office as photographed by Your Humble Narrator in 2011:

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In the interests of hurrying this along I will combine some photos. If you want a bigger copy, email me or leave a comment in the  … ummm … Comments section.

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All of the above are shots of the surviving areas of the NRK site in 2011. I would guess that the concrete slab is the roof of the Drivers’ bunker, or perhaps a foundation for the West Wing/Mittelbau. I don’t believe the manhole cover is a genuine period piece. In 2011 you could wander all over the site without being harassed or arrested. Here is the same car-park in 2017 although the photos don’t really indicate the degree to which it has shrunk:

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By my estimation, that wire fence indicates the approximate position of the terrace outside Hitler’s office and below which the HJ boys were decorated. If you don’t get there soon the whole area will be just one big Roselands or a YummyBurger franchise or something.

These photos taken in Voss-Strasse outside the Mittelbau are interesting:

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Stug 2

Source (both photos above): Feldgrau

Pretty much today’s view of the photo directly above courtesy of Google Earth:

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I was going even more quickly insane than usual trying to work out what the circled thing in the first photo was. Here’s another one:

StuG 4

Source (top photo): Pinterest

Yes, it’s a trolley. A number of period photos show (mainly) women pushing these things as their only means of moving things around, there being no privately owned cars. Photographic evidence suggests (to me at least) that they were appropriated from the nearest railway station, in this case probably the Anhalter whose ruins remain close by to this day. The lower photo is simply a comparison piece to show how much trouble the Art Department of the “Downfall” movie took to get things right.

Moving on down Voss-Strasse to the East Wing …

18. The West Wing

It should be noted that the three sections of the NRK were roughly the same length – around 100 metres, although by my reckoning the Mittelbau (Centre Section) is slightly longer than the other two.

Map Aerial 3

Source: Google Earth

So the West Wing (in yellow) was roughly 100 metres long and ended at the Mittelbau (in red) which was set back behind a balustrade from Voss-Strasse:

Balustrade AHF

Source: Axis History Forum

The East Wing is in orange and the two streets highlighted in green did not exist at the time of the NRK. The West Wing contained offices, a courtyard and a cafeteria for the office staff. It also contained the Great Reception Hall which we’ll look at when we get to the interior. Here’s what it looked like when it was new:

Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1988-045-28,_Berlin,_Neue_Reichskanzlei

Source: AHF

If you’re in Voss-Strasse you may agree with me that the street looks a lot wider back in the day.  Convince me that the street is this wide nowadays:

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Source: AHF

In the middle of the West Wing  above – where the 9 metre high columns are -was the entrance ( Voss-Strasse, Number 6):

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Source: Pinterest

How can you tell which wing you a looking at in a photo? Here’s a tip: the two eagles – one on each wing – are looking at each other, thus if the eagle (as above) is looking left, you’re looking at the West Wing. If he’s looking right, you’re looking at the East Wing. Simples!

So if you count out 50 metres from the corner you will be roughly where the entrance above stood.  This was roughly the spot when I took this photo in 2011:

Power 3

The area is rapidly being built upon but some parts are still used as a car park, including the part where the Hitler Youth were decorated (more on that later). This entrance (Number 6) was roughly just past where the ugly box building ends:

NRK 1

Alas, hard times befell the West Wing – the whole building in fact:

0_5a8a1_85e4f505_orig Feldgrau

Source: AHF

Now when wandering around, gawking at where all this drama happened, it is well to consider the human cost. German casualties – military and civilian –  are estimated (by Wikipedia) at around 44,000 in the Berlin Defence Area. Russian casualty numbers are unknown and the estimates vary widely but they would have obviously been high. This young bloke is an example of the military casualties:

Dead SS 1 Pin

Source: Pinterest

This young SS man met his fate outside the entrance to the West Wing: the Mittelbau is just visible (red arrow) in the right background. And here is the West Wing from a wider view – you will notice that there are eight windows from the entrance to the far edge of the building:

Dead SS 4

Source: Feldgrau

Go back to the image of the dead SS man, count the windows and you will find that the front of the wrecked vehicle behind which he lies is pretty much level with window six, which probably puts him some little distance before window eight, i.e. next to the entrance to the West Wing. The wider photo above must have been taken shortly after the fighting ended because the two wrecked beams circled appear just to the left of the red arrow in the dead SS photo. In the photo above, both corpse (presumably) and vehicle have been removed but the beams remain. When you get to the entrance of this building:

Dead SS Google 1

Source: Google Earth

you will, by my reckoning, be standing fairly close to where this young man lay. BTW, the Russians did have a practice of positioning corpses after the battle to add some propaganda value to the photo however, IMO, the above photo is genuine. You might spare a thought for this young man who, like so many other Germans, Russians, French, Spaniards, Latvians etc died in this battle.

Note: there is some argument about how many combatants and how many nationalities fought in the Battle for Berlin. There is a sometimes acrimonious debate about the numbers here: https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=73041

If you are particularly interested in foreign members of the Waffen SS, the best information, IMO, is here: http://www.bills-bunker.de/64090.html. Australian readers might wonder, as I did, if the families of the four Australians who served kept their photos in SS uniform on the mantelpiece. But for mine, this bloke is worth a Google, especially if your kids went to St Gregory’s Campbelltown:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Berneville-Claye. There’s got to be a movie in that life …

17. The New Reich Chancellery

Note: Once again I have no intention of detailing the history of this building – all such info can be found on any decent search engine. Instead I hope to indicate where things were (and what’s there today) and to provide anything of interest that may provide some curiosity value.

Further reading (or watching): I recommend these three sources. The first is Christoph Neubauer’s excellent DVD and the other two are books by Ronald Pawley and Ray and Josephine Cowdery:

Sources

Now that you’ve walked up the south side of Voss-Strasse from east to west, cross the road at these traffic lights and while crossing you will see Potsdamer Platz on your left.  Don’t go and have your photo taken with some faux guard or bear just yet. (We will come back to Potsdamer Platz.) If you decide to have a coffee at Starbucks and should you decide to sit outside, slightly to your left you will see this building:

Starbucks 1

We are going to use this as a point of reference as it sits roughly where the west (or left) wing of the New Reich Chancellery stood (henceforth NRC):

SB 2

Source: Bundesarchivbild

You should know that the NRC took up the entire north side of Voss-Strasse, from the Palais Borsig up to where you are now, i.e. at the junction of Voss-Strasse and Ebert/Hermann-Goring-Strasse. That should give you some idea of the massive scale of this building. To your left in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate lay the accommodation for the NRC security/SS guards (in red, facing Ebertstrasse):

SS quarters

The SS guard security barracks facing the garden can be seen here on the left (Reichstag in background, photo taken from west wing of NRK):

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Now for some orientation, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Map 1

You are sitting where the small red cross is (far-left). To your left, the buildings with the brown roofs are the SS quarters mentioned above. Number 4 indicates the entrance to the two underground garages and 9 is where the entry to the coal lifts was. Number 2 is one of three Voss-Strasse entrances (number 6 postal address) and 3 is postal address 4. Not shown is entrance 2 which was roughly where the kink starts in Voss-Strasse.

Number 1 is the Mittelbau (middle bit) and the 1 is pretty much where Hitler’s office was. Number 6 is the terrace where the famous footage of Hitler decorating the Hitler Youth was shot:

HJ 1

And Speer’s model may help with orientation. Here it is in its uncluttered iteration:

Model 1 AHF

And here it is with reference points attached. You will be sitting coffee in hand at the top left-hand corner of this photo:

Model 2 AHF

The red line is the frontage to the west (or left) wing, the blue indicates the Mittelbau and the orange the east (or right) wing. On the corner is, of course, the Borsig Palais and the pink line indicates the frontage to the Siedler extension (you will notice Speer has included the Fuhrer balcony so we know this model was built after … anybody? anybody? … yes! 1935! Well done that boy up the back!). The brown line indicates the Old Reich Chancellery. The SS guards’ quarters are behind the green line and in front of the line is a wall separating the guards’ garden(!) from the Chancellery garden. The red arrow indicates the Orangerie (I believe we would call it a greenhouse). A direct line from the Orangerie leads through the ornamental pool, across the Hitler Youth (henceforth HJ for “Hitler Youth”) terrace and through five large French windows into Hitler’s office in the middle of the Mittelbau. The bunker exit outside which the Hitler bodies were burnt was outside the rear of the Old Chancellery.

In real terms the area looked like this at the end of hostilities:

Garden 1

You and your Starbucks coffee are once again at the top centre (red circle), looking down Voss-Strasse with HG/Ebertstarsse on your left. The red arrows indicate (from top) the terrace where Hitler decorated the HJ boys, the ornamental pool and the greenhouse.

This then is the setting for the drama of April, 1945.

OK, finish your coffee, cross the road and cross Voss-Strasse again so that you are standing outside that ugly, box-like building on the left-hand side of Voss-Strasse (see the first photo above if you’re unsure). We will begin our walk past the site of the New Reich Chancellery …

 

16(b): Going Shopping

Next to the Transport Building (Number 33) was the very large Wertheim department store which took up a goodly sum of the south side frontage of Voss-Strasse. Like the grand hotels of Berlin, the grand department stores would make an excellent blog on their own, as would the grand railway stations. However  we will content ourselves with this particular department store. The Wertheim store was one of a number of large, modern stores in pre-war Berlin (the others included Tietz – unfortunate name – and Kaufhof des Westens, each worth a Google). The owners of both Wertheim and Tietz were Jewish and were  eventually forced to relinquish their ownership to the Nazis or approved Aryans. After the war, the remaining Wertheim assets in the eastern part of the city were confiscated by the DDR’s Handelsorganisation.

Description from Wikipedia: “Founded by German merchant Georg Wertheim (1857–1939), designed by architect Alfred Messel (1853–1909), opened in 1897 and extended several times over the following 40 years, it ultimately possessed a floor area double that of the Reichstag, a 330-metre-long granite and plate glass facade along Leipziger Straße, 83 elevators, three escalators, 1,000 telephones, 10,000 lamps, five kilometres of pneumatic tubing for moving items from the various departments to the packing area, and a separate entrance directly from the nearby U-Bahn station. It also contained a summer garden, winter garden and roof garden, an enormous restaurant and several smaller eating areas, its own laundry, a theatre and concert booking office, its own bank, whose strongrooms were underground at the eastern end of the building (and generated their own history decades later), and a large fleet of private delivery vehicles. In the run-up to Christmas Wertheim was transformed into a fairytale kingdom, and was well known to children from all over Germany and far beyond.”

Some wonderful photos of the Wertheim store here (scroll down):

https://www.stadtbild-deutschland.org/forum/index.php?thread/260-berlin-in-alten-bildern/&pageNo=30

and in fact the Stadtbild-deutschland site is, IMO, the best resource for pre-war photos of Berlin.

If you are standing next to Number 33 and looking towards Potsdamer Platz, the Wertheim frontage on this street roughly corresponds to the vacant lot (all of it) in this Google Earth screenshot:

Wertheim Google Earth 1

And here it is in its heyday, facing the other way:

vostr25-32_warenhausww3sgx SBD

Pretty big, eh? What I haven’t mentioned is that this view is of the rear of the store – the main entrance (shown here) fronted onto Leipzigerstrasse:

1024px-Kaufhaus_Wertheim,_Leipziger_Platz,_1920er_Jahre

The building, one of four in Berlin alone, was remarkable: “The chain’s most famous store, on Leipziger Platz in Berlin, was constructed in 1896. It featured 83 elevators and a glass-roofed atrium, and was one of the three largest department stores (Warenhäuser) in Berlin, the others being Hermann Tietz and Kaufhaus des Westens”

Quotation from Wikipedia.

The interior was pretty flash too:

Wertheim

785px-Berlin_Kaufhaus_Wertheim_1900 AHF

Source: Wikipedia

And there was a U Bahn tunnel underneath and a passage to the Kaiserhof U Bahn station for customers. Remember the screenshot from the bunker under Number 33?

Screenshot 1

In the photo below, you can see (1) the ruins of the Ministry of Transport, (2) Number 33 and (3) the ‘lid’ on the U Bahn tunnel that ran under the Wertheim store. The route of the U Bahn can be seen on the map at the end of this post. The green line here shows most of the Wertheim frontage and the red line shows most of the New Reich Chancellery frontage. The orange line shows the frontage of the Borsig Palais although I’m not convinced that the very undeutsch kink in Voss-Strasse is the original. I suspect the line of Voss-Strasse has been changed slightly since the war but I really haven’t had time or inclination to investigate it further. I further suspect the Borsig Palais frontage in the photo below would have been somewhat shorter:

Voss aerial

 

Another unfortunate aspect for the Jewish owners must have been their view from the back gates – the building across the road was the New Reich Chancellery. (Speer had planned to demolish the whole Wertheim store in line with the Nazis’ “Make Germany Great Again” policy.)

Eingang_Neue_Reichskanzlei

Of course the magnificent building was bombed and shelled to buggery during the war and the ruins were demolished in 1950 (from memory). The site became part of the Death Strip between the Berlin Wall(s) with Number 33 remaining the lonely survivor and owing its reprieve to the fact that it had nothing to do with the New Reich Chancellery (or so I’ve read):

Feldgrau 1

The next photo (below) shows the western end, i.e. the end closest to Potsdamer Platz, of the Wertheim building. The photo was presumably taken soon after the end of hostilities as the building appears to be still burning and there are Russian soldiers milling around. Next to the Wertheim building is the Mosse Palais, an interesting article on which can be found here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lost-maidens-berlin-180969006/

Destruction

From another angle, the ruins of the Mosse Palais can be seen here on the left just past the Wertheim building:

0_27ff0_149382ce_orig Feldgrau

and again here:

0_cbd52_712e78d9_orig Feldgrau

As a matter of interest the last two buildings on the south side (i.e. from Wertheim to Hermann-Goringstrasse) were the Mosse Palais, Number 22 (also Jewish-owned) and the Reich Naval Office, Number 20, which later relocated to the Bendlerblock.

leipzplatz11_straubepkws6h SBD

So now having walked the entire length of the south side of Voss-Strasse, we have arrived at Potsdamer Platz where we can pick up those who flew in earlier and who have been waiting patiently for us.

Or drinking so much German beer that they are as full as a bull’s bum.

16(a) Voss-Strasse: The Left-Hand Side.

Remember at the start of this blog I recommended that you get a wriggle on if you want to see some of the surviving historical architecture and other sites in Berlin? Well, here’s why.

As we walk up Voss Strasse towards Potsdamer Platz, on the corner we see the Mall of Berlin. Opened in 2104, it occupies the site of the former Ministry of Transport. Up until 2014, you could still see the ruins of the Ministry with a nondescript DDR wall around them. In fact. the Berlin Unterwelten (https://www.visitberlin.de/en/berlins-unterwelten-museum) used to access the air-raid shelters/bunkers from the ruins of this building.

Here it is in 1946. The building with the red arrow is the only surviving original building and indicates the end of the Ministry of Transport building. The large building next to it (further down) is the Wertheim department store:

MoT 1

And here’s what you missed by not visiting before 2014:

MOT 3

DSCN1705DSCN1729

DSCN1730

DSCN1774

DSCN1776

Kink 1

DSCN2757

DDRWall 1

modernruins.de

DDR W2

RVM 1

RVM 2

I am not suggesting for a moment that these ruins should have been saved. They were beyond redemption but what you got in their place was this:

MOB 1

Another shopping centre – and quite a good one if “your future dream is a shopping scheme” (Source: Sex Pistols) – but if you happen to be in there buying a fridge magnet or a novelty sign or whatever, it’s worth remembering that you are standing on the site of a building that organised the trains to take so many Jews and others to concentration camps:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reich_Ministry_of_Transport

and in the building which previously stood on that site worked one Erich Klausener, a Ministry official who made the mistake of not only contributing to the Marburg Speech (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marburg_speech) but also rubbing salt into the wound by delivering his own speech one week later which pretty much called out the Nazis.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Klausener).

He was assassinated in his office in the Ministry of Transport during the Night of the Long Knives. Coincidentally – or come to think of it probably not – he had worked on the Marburg Speech with Herbert von Bose who was also assassinated in the Night of the Long Knives just across the street in the Palais Borsig in 1934. (See Post 10: Getting Around). Here’s what Klausener looked like and a shot of his grave, courtesy of Wikiwand. His gravesite is in St Matthias Friedhof, Berlin.

Klausener 3

The last sentence on the plaque is interesting – “Dr Klausener was shot in his office on 30.6.34 by an SS man”. That SS man was Kurt Gildisch. He is worth a Google if you like to read about alcoholic schoolteachers (excuse the tautology):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Gildisch

Moving right along, we come to the only surviving original building on Voss-Strasse, (Number 33 Voss-Strasse) now thankfully heritage-protected. This building had become a part of the Ministry of Transport which had frontages on three streets: Leipzigerstrasse, Wilhelmstrasse and Voss-Strasse.  The Leipzigerstrasse frontage still exists and is perhaps also the only surviving period building on that street although I’m guessing. Bearing in mind that Leipzigerstrasse was the staging point for SS and other troops during the battle for Berlin it’s surprising that this building survived as well as it did:

Leipziger

And in its original state (built 1894):

Liepzigerstraße 125.. Bibliothek des Ministerium

The building has since been modernised/gentrified although the sandstone facade has been retained and the building is thankfully heritage listed. There’s an excellent Youtube clip of the pre-gutted building (including its underground bunker) here:

 

And here’s a screenshot of the tunnel to the U Bahn lines and the Kaiserhof Hotel:

Screenshot 1

Next  we see the Transport  Building in its context, between the main Ministry of Transport building and the Wertheim department store:

Wertheim 1

Source: AHF

and here it is on its oddy-knocky, awaiting the developers to build stuff around it. Yes, it’s the same building: you can make out the Czech Republic embassy at the end of the street. No Mall of Berlin yet (slack, Google Earth, slack!). On the left-hand side of the photo are some DDR aparttment blocks which stand where the New Reich Chancellery stood.

Earth 2

And here it is, pre-war, and looking pretty:

Transport Archi

Source: SBD

The building survived the demolition of the New Reich Chancellery (which was just across the road) and was at one stage the only building left on the block. Amazingly the statuary remained fairly intact. Remember, this was the street where the (alleged) appearance of Soviet troops had been reported to Hitler just before he topped himself. I have read that the appearance of Soviet troops in Voss Strasse made Hitler realise that both his time and the jig were undoubtedly up. However, I don’t believe that Soviet troops penetrated to Voss Strasse until Hitler was dead as the Soviet advance was still being held at the Gestapo HQ on Prinz Albrecht Strasse by units of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of SS Charlemagne (1st French) and the Soviets still hadn’t taken Potsdamer Platz at the end of Voss-Strasse (but it does go to show how close the Soviets were when Hitler pulled the plug. They probably would have made a greater effort had they known that he was in – or rather under – the New Reich Chancellery). In the foreground are the ruins of the New Reich Chancellery:

Bunker

Bunker Bunker der Neuen Reichskanzlei

Source: Tumblr

The building itself was a bit knocked around during the Battle for Berlin and still has (or still had in 2017) several interesting, different-calibre spang marks. I photographed the building for the first time in 2011:

AHF Voss

and someone came knocking in 1945:

AHFVoss3

and here it is under renovation in 2013:

Renovation

and finally rubbing shoulders with other buildings again:

DSCN0862

So if you are a lucky building, you survive two world wars and a major battle in your city and you end up a trendy fashion house:

IMG_3035

Next post we go shopping in a department store that would have made the Mall of Berlin look like Aldo Godolfus’ deli …

15. The Balcony

Before leaving the Wilhelmplatz it behooves us to do a little revision, i.e. where everything is. Consider this map:

WP 6

The no-longer extant buildings are (in blue numbers):

  1. The Old Reich Chancellery
  2. The Siedler extension
  3. The Borsig Palais
  4. The Reich Transport Ministry
  5. The Reich Finance Ministry
  6. The Kaiserhof Hotel
  7. The Ordenspalais.

The buildings lined in red are of course the two we’ve just looked at. But if you’re standing in the Wilhelmplatz some time in the 21st century you may want to know where the famous balcony was. Which balcony I hear you ask? This balcony:

tumblr_mucx2tafTC1r3z9ojo1_500 theevastoryTumblr

Source: Tumblr

The Siedler Extension (1930) onto which the balcony was built abuts the Old Reich Chancellery. Hitler told Speer to build it so he (Hitler) wouldn’t have to lean out of the window(!)

B 7

It is claimed that the balcony is lined with steel plate which would have come in handy when the balcony was later turned into a machine-gun nest (note the wooden planks (railway sleepers?) and firing slits.

0_1f42d_f0f20dce_orig Feldgrau

But where was it? The first thing to remember is that the frontage of the buildings currently lining this section of Wilhelmstrasse, i.e. from Peking Ente to Peter-Behrens-Strasse, are set back – in my estimation – about ten metres. Proof?

B8

Consider the period map below (from 1939) which curiously does not show the balcony. You will note the blue line  – also shown in the photo above – shows the 1939 frontage of all the buildings in this section of Wilhelmstrasse.

The green line shows my guess as to the current frontages but if you are already there you will have noticed that all of the commercial buildings and apartments are set well back from the road, so the position of the balcony would have been closer to the edge of the current footpath. Period photographs show that the Wilhelmplatz frontage of the Propaganda Ministry lines up with the edge of the Old Reich Chancellery boundary (orange line) and crowd photos show us that the balcony is some little distance from the entrance to the Ehrenhof and some slightly greater distance to the Old Reich Chancellery, so the black line indicates my educated guess.

Balcony 5

and it real terms it should be pretty much here (agreed to by some of my AHF friends, at least the less-argumentative ones):

balcony 4

The street directly facing us is An der Kolonnade (which did not exist pre-1945). The balcony could have been a little further to the left but not by much.

Next, off to Voss-Strasse .. but how to get there?

You are presumably still standing in Wilhelmplatz and looking forward to showing off your knowledge of the area to “friends of lesser learning” to paraphrase H.H. Munro (it’s from “The Reticence of Lady Anne” – read it, you’ll like it). The next photo (below) is not an exact Then-and-Now as I took the modern photo from outside the Czech Republic Embassy (which you will recall stands on the former Wilhelmplatz) but it’s as close as I could get. You will – if you’ve been paying attention – recognise the buildings on the left in the period photo: the Reich Transport Ministry (now the Mall of Berlin); the Borsig Palais -part of the New Reich Chancellery and headquarters of the (emasculated) SA (now the Peking Ente Chinese Restaurant); the Seidler Extrension to the Old Reich Chancellery (now a line of shops) and across the street the Ordens Palais/Propaganda Ministry (now an ugly school). The photographer in the period photo was standing outside the Reich Finance Ministry. We will turn left at the Mall of Berlin and will walk up Voss Strasse in the direction of Potsdamer Platz:

WP 1 Blog

The plan is to walk up the left-hand side of Voss Strasse first, passing in order:the Reich Transport Ministry,  the only surviving period building on Voss Strasse andthe Wertheim Department store. We will then walk back down Voss Strasse, looking at the right-hand side which housed the New Reich Chancellery – after a cup of coffee at Potsdamer Platz.

14. The Propaganda Ministry

If you haven’t read the previous posts and are just interested in the Propaganda Ministry, you should read Post 9: Checking Out the Neighbours as it has some information on the building and its fate. As I indicated in Post 9, it is possible to get into the building itself as there are often exhibitions or displays. It’s a sobering thought to get inside the building and realise that Dr Paul Josef Goebbels – or the Poison Dwarf if you prefer – had walked the same corridors as he planned the propaganda releases of the day  and the seduction of whichever toothsome young lady had caught his eye.

Here he is with a couple of mates at the Mooslahnerkopf lookout, Obersalzberg. From left: Josef Thorak, sculptor of monumental Nazi art, Blondi checking Thorak’s credentials, Hitler and Goebbels, unknown female:

Adolf-Hitler-c-with-Reich-Propaganda-Minister-Joseph-Goebbels-r-Josef-Thorak-l-walking-on-Obersalzberg-near-Berchtesgaden

And here, in March 1945, congratulating 16 year old Willi Hubner on his award of the Iron Cross. Hubner is the same tyke whose cheek you see Hitler patting in the courtyard of the New Reich Chancellery on March 20, 1945:

Auszeichnung des Hitlerjungen Willi Hübner

You can see the footage here and hear Willi himself describing his actions at 1:24

Here he is with his family. If you stand anywhere near the site of the Propaganda Building it’s worth remembering that all six children were killed by their parents only a matter of a couple of hundred metres away on the other side of Wilhelmstrasse, the oldest son Harald Quandt (from a previous marriage) being the only survivor as he was on duty with the Luftwaffe at war’s end. Thus eight people in this photo died somewhere behind the current site of the Peking Ente restaurant:

Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1978-086-03,_Joseph_Goebbels_mit_Familie

If you get into the building and want to take photographs, my advice is: don’t ask permission. I say this because I was at an exhibition and asked permission for photographs and the attendant looked nonplussed and then said NO. I got the impression that he didn’t know whether it was kosher or not but said No just to be safe.

So, to recap. That horrible school building is pretty much where the original wing of the Propaganda Ministry stood. If you walk behind it you won’t get far because the surviving wing is fenced off but you can still see it. The horrible school building is on the site of the main building of the Ministry which had started life as the Ordenspalais in the 18th century and ended life as the Ministry for Enlightenment and Propaganda. Here it is pre-war, with the camera facing the three arched entrances seen before (and which still exist facing Wilhelmstrasse). This is the bit that was demolished:

0_d848c_be31067c_L

Source: https://fotki.yandex.ru/users/grinnols/date/2015-07-28

If that bloke at the extreme right (hmmm … must be a Nazi) were to move his left shoulder, you could see one of the arches. This contemporary photo shows where the original building would have been – the red line shows the frontage corresponding to the previous photo, the two blue lines roughly where the balcony would have been and the green circle is roughly where the bloke with the big left shoulder stood.

Ordenspalais 2

Just in case you don’t believe me:

demolish 1

And here it is before the school building was … ummm … built, during the demolition of Hitler’s bunker. you can clearly see the remaining wing to the left:

d5a1190c095d529428a9bedb32382b56_image_document_xxl

Now if you walk towards the blanked-off arches and turn left you will find yourself pretty much in the school playground/garden. Probably not a good look for an elderly gentlemen so don’t hang around and don’t wear a raincoat. Best just to trust my photos which I took after school was out. In this one you can see the surviving wing in all three photos:

PM 11

And here it is from the playground:

PM rear

On this particular day the fencing was down so a curious chappie could sidle a little closer than usual:

PMR 2

One last look at Wilhelmplatz and the former Propaganda Ministry, this time from across Wilhelmstrasse, a little down from the site of the Old Chancellery. The reinforced concrete in the foreground is probably not from Hitler’s bunker – that is a little way to the viewer’s right. That is probably from the bunker entrance of the Old Chancellery (the Vorbunker). Across the road on the left you can see Hess’ former offices (“Staatsverlag der DDR”) and on the right the buildings which you should be able to recognise by now:

PM 2

Now let’s have a look at the back of the building in Mauerstrasse. The quickest way is to follow the orange line in the Google Earth photo below. The red area is the site of the original Ordenspalais, the blue lines indicate the surviving Propaganda Ministry building(s), leave the green lined area I’ll explain it later and head for the pale green area which you should recall is now the North Korean embassy, formerly the Hotel … anyone? anyone? … yes, Kaiserhof! Well done!

PM 13

If you’ve walked this far, you’ve gone too far. See the eagle and swastika on the top right? That’s the end of the Propaganda Building and there is a matching one at the other end where you should have stopped. In fact, if you can see either of those eagles you need to stop drinking the local beer as they haven’t been there for seventy years:

138597bf79ad5a7c90ebfcfa9c13e639

Here it is today. Well, 2010. See? No eagles.

P 1

…and here’s where you should have stopped:

P 2

When it was new:

Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1985-013-24,_Berlin,_Propagandaministerium

… and when it wasn’t:

mauerstr_02vfs77 SBD

One last thing before we leave the Propaganda Ministry: I nearly went nuts trying to orient this photo from what I knew of the building:

09080285d4 Propaganda Ministry stadtentwicklung.berlin.de

I counted the windows, compared the number and shape to all the other photos I could find, tried to match the aerials on the bloody roof and finally in despair I threw myself on the mercy of the good chaps at Axis History Forum (https://forum.axishistory.com/). Unfortunately due to the different time zones, all the European … ummm … enthusiasts were sound asleep, still up drinking or watching reruns of “Neighbours”. However, two members of the Forum came to my aid and within twelve hours three blokes from Australia had – courtesy of some sleuthing on the Internet – identified a (still-extant) building from a photo taken over eighty years ago in a city on the other side of the world. What an amazing world we live in! A far cry from my crystal set and going to the pictures in my pyjamas!

So where is this courtyard? The whole saga can be relived here: https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=235205 but I wouldn’t bother. It’s the courtyard marked in green seven photos above (the one I said I would explain later). Here it is again, courtesy of Google Maps:

PM 14

At the start of this blog, I said one of my reasons for doing it was to encourage people to go there and see it before it all gets demolished. And here is a final, classic example – once again courtesy of Google Earth. The photo below shows the still intact Ministry building, the modern replacements for bombed/shelled buildings and the reconstructed crossover bridge (red arrows):

PM 15

13. The Kaiserhof hotel

The history of European first-class hotels would in itself make an interesting blog but here we are only concerned with those in Berlin and specifically the Kaiserhof.

But first some context: the Grand Hotels in Berlin would include the Adlon – which we’ve already seen on Pariser Platz – the Excelsior, whose main claim to fame was that it was directly opposite the Anhalter Bahnhof and guests could walk to or from the station through an 80 metre long tunnel without having to bother themselves with the pesky real world above. Guests could even buy their train tickets from a booth in the hotel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_Excelsior

The Excelsior allegedly was the Nazis’ first choice as a hotel for Hitler and his mates but the manager, one Curt Elschner, wasn’t mad keen on Nazis so he gave them the bum’s rush, a decision he came to regret.  Hitler moved to the Kaiserhof and the Excelsior was boycotted by the Nazis for all events. Party members were forbidden to patronise it and the loss of income bit Elschner hard. He tried to curry favour by demonstrating a new commitment (or so I’ve read) to Nazi ideals but Hitler was still in a huff and remained at the Kaiserhof. Elschner (surprisingly, IMO) survived the war and died in 1963. The hotel stood in today’s Stresemannstrasse so if you really want to see where it was, you can find the (empty) spot opposite the ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof. Here it is in its heyday:

16b5c66e4b67313aeb9922ba917e1f80 Excelsior

… and the Anhalter Bahnhof in 2011. This ruin can be found about 500 metres from Potsdamer Platz:

A 1

Another Grand Hotel of interest was the Esplanade, which was almost completely destroyed during the war but a section of it survived and can be seen at Potsdamer Platz today. If you’re a fan of the movie “Cabaret” some interior shots were filmed in what was left. (http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Hotel_Esplanade_Berlin)

Berlin, Hotel Esplanade

So much for context. If you check the previous maps, you’ll see the Kaiserhof took up a whole block. Hitler stayed there, Goring had his (second) wedding reception there (the actual wedding – to actress Emmy Sonnemann – was of course held in the Berliner Dom) and visiting dignitaries also stayed there. here is the Wikipedia link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_Kaiserhof_(Berlin)

However, a word of warning: Wikipedia is often wrong. In this case, the Kaiserhof was not “located next to the Reich Chancellery “. It’s about a good eight-iron away, unless you’re Jordan Speith in which case it’s probably a sand wedge. For me the most interesting thing about the Kaiserhof is this exchange I had on Axis History Forum in which some bloke (an Australian would you believe?) claims Hitler personally strangled Dr Ludwig Roselius in the Kaiserhof in 1943! Must’ve been a slow day for Adolf …

(Roselius, BTW, is worth a Google):

https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=221718&p=2010872&hilit=Roselius#p2010872

This following photo shows some cool dudes parading past the Kaiserhof in 1936 (check out the Olympic pennant on the extreme right of the photo and the foreign flags outside the hotel). Mind you, if I owned that car I’d be doing a bit of parading too:

potsdamer-platz.org 1

The Kaiserhof site is now the Republic of North Korea embassy. If you walked down to Mauerstrasse in 2015 and turned right, you would find the entrance to this embassy. There are – or were – numerous posters of goosestepping North Korean soldiers waving bright red flags on a board out the front. I’m guessing there’s no word for irony in a North Korean dictionary.

And one last interesting thing about the Kaiserhof … (found on page 439 of Robert Forbes’ excellent “For Europe”):

Image result for for europe robert forbes

During the afternoon of April 29, 1945, Dr Gustav Krukenberg, SS Brigadefuhrer and commanding officer of the remaining French SS soldiers in Berlin, awarded the Knight’s Cross to 21-year-old Unterscharfuhrer Eugene Vaulot for destroying eight Soviet tanks in 24 hours. Shortly afterwards, Vaulot was ordered – hopefully not by Krukenberg – to lead a patrol from Krukenberg’s HQ in the Stadtmitte U Bahn station to the Kaiserhof Hotel to find some table linen, which he did. Table linen? I can’t believe that was the sole reason for the patrol especially when you consider that the Kaiserhof was around 550 metres from the German front line in Prinz-Albrechtstrasse.

Image result for Eugene Vaulot

Eugene Vaulot Ritterkreuztrager (Source Axis History Forum)

So when you’ve finished looking at the site of the Kaiserhof/North Korean embassy, walk back down to where the Wilhelmplatz meets Vossstrasse and look down towards the Air Ministry building. On the block opposite (but on the same side of Wilhelmstrasse as the Air Ministry) were the RSHA/ Gestapo HQ in which were holed up the last few French SS of the Charlemagne Division. My point? On the day before Hitler shot himself, a French SS patrol went looking for table linen while their compatriots were holding off the Red army 500 metres away. The only troops on Wilhelmstrasse between the Soviets and Hitler were around 50 – 60 French SS. The other 300 or so French SS who had volunteered(!) to drive/march into Berlin were all dead or wounded. Dunno about you but I find that a major spinout.

If that don’t rock your boat, according to Robert Forbes, another Frenchman may or may not (there is some argument if the award was processed correctly)  have been awarded the Knight’s Cross in that ceremony, one Oberscharfuhrer Francois Appolot. I don’t know if Appolot got his Knight’s Cross or not but (once again according to Robert Forbes) Appolot was a card-carrying member of the French Communist Party throughout the war and after. You’ve got to wonder …

Image result for francois Appolot

Ritterkreuztrager Francois Appolot (source Pinterest)

My advice? read Forbes’ book. If you’re not particularly interested in the history of the Charlemagne Division, just read from Chapter 13 (“The First Days at Berlin”) onwards.

The ruins of the Kaiserhof after the war:

kaiserhof ruine sept 1946 potsdamer-platz.org

…  and if you really want to get the location right, compare the building still standing (red circle) next door:

Kaiserhof 1