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.

MSU2

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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25. Another warning …

Who has never collected anything? What joy to find the last piece in your amazing collection of stuffed squirrels! The piece that will make your fellow stuffed-squirrel collectors green with envy!

squirrel 2

Yes, collecting is a wonderful if expensive pastime as long as your wife doesn’t find out, particularly if you like collecting Third Reich stuff. Here’s how to avoid spending – and probably losing – a vast deal of money in collecting Nazi stuff, specifically New Reich Chancellery stuff.

Don’t do it.

Well that was pretty easy but a further word for the desperate, addicted relic-collector: I started collecting at around the age of 14 or 15 years. In a moment of uncharacteristic intelligence, I decided to collect belt buckles because they are very difficult to fake. Unlike paper documents or cloth uniform collectibles, the financial investment required to create accurate, fool-an-expert dies would deter most fakers. Also, if you’re going to spend a tidy sum developing the process, you’re going to have to do a big run of buckles to make a profit and as soon as large numbers of any given buckle or maker hits the market, values go down simply because the buckle is so common. So fakers would consider buckles way down the list of profitable fakery. Or so I thought. Turns out that theses days there are a number of factories churning out pretty much everything Third Reich related, including belt buckles. Which brings me to the point. Have a gander at this:

AHF 2

Reverse of the cloakroom chits:

Gaderobe Chits - reverse

A collector of NRK desiderata would respond to the above like Alex responds to Beethoven in ‘A Clockwork Orange’: “Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, (they are) gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.”

Sad, isn’t it?

However, the items shown above are real and genuine and come to us courtesy of Axis History Forum. Imagine if you owned an entry token into the Fuhrer-Garage on Hermann-Goring-Strasse! Or a cloakroom token or two with swastikas and numbers on them! Your mates would have to go back to squirrel-collecting. But how would you know if they were real? Short answer: you wouldn’t. You’d have even more trouble with these:

AHF 1

Documents

Amazingly, some genuine NRK stuff has survived:

Menu

Above we see a NRK menu, small plate, piece of NRK marble, a place setting (or perhaps a tablecloth?) and a Wellner teapot and some cutlery. On page 119 of Cowdery’s book he mentions that large amounts of this stuff have been faked. You will find similar problems with the provenance of all Third Reich collectibles, particularly those from Hitler’s Berghof at the Obersalzberg, Berchtesgaden. Sadly, there is probably a lot of stuff still in the hands of Russian families whose grandfathers etc fought in the battle. It’s unlikely that those who have genuine relics will achieve their true value should they decide to sell due to the proliferation of fakes.

However, here’s a souvenir that would make a great picnic table in someone’s backyard:

Stone souvenir

… and here’s a close-up of the sign:

Souvenir stone sign

Sadly, this foundation stone is no longer in situ at the previously-mentioned boardwalk. As of 2017, this stone and the boardwalk itself have disappeared. Pity.

So once again, if you are thinking of starting a collection of NSDAP relics, particularly if a bloke down the pub has a genuine SS dagger that his father found in the ruins of the NRK, my advice is still…

Don’t.

Let’s get back to the tour …

24. Another Desk …

Published photos of “Hitler’s desk” are often if not usually the work of ignorant or lazy authors. Here’s how to impress all of your friends who are interested in Hitler’s NRK desks. First, let’s have another dekko at his study/office. Take note of the eagle above his door on the right (and the direction in which it is pointing) and the wall sconces as they will get a guernsey in this blog eventually:

Reddit 1

So on any of the apparently rare-ish occasions that Adolf may have been sitting at the desk above, had he looked through the French windows to his left, he would’ve seen the terrace (the one with the Russian officers standing on it in the previous ‘globes’ post), the bronze horses, an ornamental pool and across the grounds the greenhouse which was used for, inter alia, growing flowers for the NRK. The skeleton of its roof can be seen in the previous ‘globes’ post behind the two boys sitting on the remains of some globes:

Garten RK AHF

Source: AHF

The door to his right with the eagle above it led to the Mosiac Hall. And also take note of that lump on the left-hand side? That’s Hitler’s map desk. It has a solid marble top. Don’t take my word for it:

207ba04dbdd9aa7926bb16c7e76103f6 Pin

… and here it is again. Through the French window you can make out the Greenhouse/Orangerie/Gewachtshaus:

Speer_NRC_AH_MapTable

As the Russkies closed in on the NRK this sumptuous map table was pushed over against the French window as a sort of barricade to provide protection from small arms fire. Now I don’t know about you but if I were dictator of Germany and I had to push over my beautiful map table to keep out some interlopers whom I had obviously offended, I’d be thinking the jig was pretty much up. You’ve got somewhere just shy of 3,000,000 Russian (and Polish) soldiers attacking  and you’ll planning on holding them off with a few machine guns from behind a map table?

So what’s the point of this map table? The point is that this table is often presented as Hitler’s working table. Notice that unlike the real Hitler working table – not that he did much work at it from all accounts – it has five sturdy legs. Compare these  photos of it after it has fallen on hard times:

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You’ll notice that the table has been broken in half in the photo with the nonchalant bloke enjoying a leisurely durry. Notice also all of the cheery – and why not? – Allied soldiers, both Russian and British, grinning like bezoomny while they savour victory over the Arch-Beast. I wonder how cheerful they would have been had they had access to a Tardis and had the chance to read the next post?

23. A Word of Warning …

Don’t believe all you read about this subject, i.e. the New Reich Chancellery. For example, if you go to the Zeughaus German History Museum on Unter den Linden (which is highly recommended) you will see this globe:

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… complete with vengeful Russian bullet hole through Germany:

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However, all is not as it seems. This globe is probably not the one from Hitler’s study:

The fact of the matter is that there were several of these globes and many were destroyed after the battle so correctly identifying which one went where is nowadays so far impossible. Here are some – surely not posed – Soviet photos:

posed

NDVD_015

NDVD_019-1

Globe 8

but consider these photos, all taken in the vicinity of the NRK. The Russian officers in the first one are standing outside the French windows to Hitler’s office:

Четыре советских офицера на ступенях имперской канцелярии. AHF

As a matter of interest, they are standing on a landing outside Hitler’s office on which the bronze horses – previously mentioned – were also standing.

kanz1

If they were to walk to our left a metre or two, they would be standing above where Hitler had decorated the HJ boys a few days earlier:

Adolf Hitler and Hitlerjugend fuhrerbunker last appearance camera

In the next post, I’ll demonstrate where that HJ ceremony happened in terms of today’s geography but for the moment, back to the globes. Here’s a couple:

Bunker roof 2

That blue arrow indicates the greenhouse which stood facing Hitler’s office (an ornamental pond stood between the greenhouse and the landing with the two bronze horses) so we know these two globes are in the immediate vicinity of Hitler’s office. There was a globe of this sort in Hitler’s office and another in the Reich Cabinet Room. In the photos of Russians above, photos 3 and 4 show the globe in the Reich Cabinet Room. The following photos – unless they are of the same destroyed globe (and I think the first two are) – would seem to suggest that Adolf must have had a Valued Customer Account at Globes R Us:

0_36697_b9f166c_orig AHF

Globe 3

Globe 4

The safest that can be said of any surviving globes is that each is ‘one of‘ Hitler’s globes.

More on the globes here:

https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=125876

but be aware that not all of the correspondents know what they’re talking about. Even those who were ‘there’ are sometimes mistaken, for example the Australian Neal Carter describes Hitler’s office as being ‘twenty foot square’ (it was 20 metres by 14.5) and describes two glass chandeliers (there were none in Hitler’s office). To be fair, he did say they were told they were in Hitler’s office but even if they were in the Great Reception Hall we still have the problem of “twenty foot square” …

And here’s another trap for the unwary. This desk is in the same Zeughaus Museum:

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and is described as “Hitler’s desk”. However, notice that the front is placed against the wall. I wonder why? Could it be to hide the distinctive inlay work of which Hitler was so proud? This inlay is described in Albert Speer’s “Inside the Third Reich” (page 172 in my Australian 1971 edition) and he quotes Hitler as saying “Good, good … when the diplomats sitting in front of me at this desk see that, they’ll learn to shiver and shake”. This is a reference to the middle section which Hitler saw as depicting a sword being unsheathed although how he could tell it was being unsheathed and not sheathed has got me buggered. Here’s a comparison of Hitler’s (real) desk in the NRK and the one in the DHM:

desk comparison 1

Looks pretty good, eh? However, unless we can see the front we can’t be sure. I’m almost certain that the one in the DHM  is not the one from Hitler’s office in the NRK. Apparently when things got sticky all the good stuff – carpets, desks etc – were packed off to Munich (or more likely Berchtesgaden) for safekeeping:

https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=125876&start=45

Here’s the front view -courtesy of Pinterest – of the desk with the sword motif in the middle:

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…and here it is in situ in colour:

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Source: Pinterest

But consider this:

"Neue Reichskanzlei Berlin - Arbeitsplatz des Führers" (Architekt: Albert Speer)

and:

Plain desk

Notice anything? The last two photos have no inlay work on the front. We know that the inlay version was in place when the NRK was opened so why was it moved? It would probably not have been moved to storage when these photos were taken because the tapestry would have gone too. The desk in the last two photos appears – like the globes – to be a generic thing as there are a number of photos of such desks. Here’s one, probably at the Bischofswiesen Reich Chancellery outside Berchtesgaden or in the Berghof:

3DD74DB700000578-4270820-image-a-92_1488381820969 not in Berlin

So the moral of the story is don’t believe everything you’re told and don’t lay out a lazy 5 mill or so on a genuine Hitler desk.

22. Two Televisions got Married …

… the wedding wasn’t much but the reception was great. Speaking of Great Receptions, if you follow the blue line:

So far 2

… and turn right, you’ll end up in the Cabinet Room which – let’s face it – under a Nazi dictatorship got as much use as Vin Diesel’s comb. However, if you continue straight ahead you’ll find yourself in the Grosser Empfangssaal, or Great Reception Hall. Who can guess what this was used for? (BTW, much of the West Wing was composed of offices and a canteen for staff. Christoph Neubauer does it much better in his series of DVDS. Buy them if you’re – like me – anorakly interested). Once again, IMO Speer did a great job:

GRAN SALÓN DE RECEPCIONES

…and from the other end:

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Those chandeliers were made by the Viennese firm of Lobmeyr. They’re still going:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._%26_L._Lobmeyr

The chandeliers were four metres tall and were made of cut glass.

Neue Reichskanzlei, Kronleuchter, Foto

The floor was parquetry and was covered by an enormous (check out the photos) hand-knotted carpet. Most of the photos of glamorous balls, receptions etc you see were photographed here. The glamorous woman often seen at these official functions was Inge Ley and by all contemporary accounts she was stunningly beautiful:

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There were of course others at these functions:

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Sic transit Gloria Mundi:

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Reichskanzlei/Kronleuchter/Foto 1948

Source: all photos of ruined chandeliers are from AHF

 

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:

RS 4

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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This is where you currently are, viz. outside Hitler’s office (where the red line ends). If you are Emil Hacha, President of Czechoslovakia, history will not be kind to you:

So far

It was in this office on March 15, 1939, that Hacha was forced to cede his country to the Nazis so if you are standing in this carpark:

Hacha 1

…just on the right-hand side of this fence (by my reckoning), spare a thought for the old gentleman who had to hand his country over, was forced to collaborate and was then arrested after ‘liberation’ by the Russians and died or was murdered in prison two weeks after his arrest.  He is often described as being too old and in feeble health for the job of confronting Hitler, in fact here is a quotation from Wikipedia:

“According to some post-war historians, Hácha was not responsible for his actions, given his old age and failing mental faculties.”

Don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia: “given his old age and failing mental faculties”? Give me a break – he was 67.

I am 68.

Here’s a little test. See if you can pick which of these was the President of Czechoslovakia and which was a high school teacher:

Hacha and me

I rest my case.

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:

reich7 pencil

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:

DSCN2289

DSCN2290

DSCN2291

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.

MBComp 1

MBComp 2

MBComp3MBComp 4

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:

Mittelbau 20171

M20172

Mittelbau20173

Mittelbau20174

Mittelbau20175

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:

StuG 1

Stug 2

Source (both photos above): Feldgrau

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

NRK 4

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:

ort1294

Source: AHF

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

148d21ddd1c27d6d8a94c8972264ac92 Pin

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):

2014-08-19 08.58.26

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.