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Culture

City of Berlin Drops Plans for Gestapo Museum

Berlin's indebted city government scrapped building a center documenting Gestapo activities during Hitler's reign. The federal government has now assumed the financing and will announce a new architectural competition.

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The provisional exhibit has already been attracting visitors for years

The Topography of Terror's premises on the site of the Gestapo's former headquarters in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin have been temporary since the exhibit opened in 1987, and an ambitious building project has been in the works since 1993. Now, it won't be completed after all.

The decision to give up the old plan by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, whose design won in an international architectural competition, took place against the backdrop of Berlin’s multi-billion euro budget deficit. About €15 million ($18. million) had already been spent on the structure before construction stopped in 2000. Just two weeks ago, the Topography of Terror Foundation announced Zumthor’s project had been killed altogether. New estimates revealed that an additional €26 to €28 million would be needed to finish the building, which originally was projected to cost €38.8 million.

"After 12 years of working on the plans of Zumthor’s project, the politicians decided there was no hope for real progress in the next four or five years," Andreas Nachama, executive director of the Topography of Terror Foundation, told DW-RADIO. "It was a problem of budget. But there were also permanent technical problems. And the building, as it was designed in the early 1990s, no longer fits a completely new environment in Berlin."

Out with the old

The new plan is unlikely to be erected on top of the old. What has been built of Zumthor’s design -- a self-supporting structure based on the layout of the old Gestapo headquarters -- will likely be razed. The architect has accused the authorities of not being committed to the museum project and has threatened to sue the foundation.

Bildgalerie Holocaust Gedenkstätte Jüdisches Museum in Berlin

The Jewish Museum in Berlin

But Knut Nevemann of the German government’s media and culture department said the documentation center will be built. The German federal government has now relieved Berlin as the project’s sole financial backer. About €20 to €23 million left over from the first project remain available for the structure, and the government aims to keep total costs, including those already spent on Zumthor's work, at the initial €38.8 projection.

"It was a very complicated and a very artificial plan," Nevemann explained. So we decided to stop and think for a few weeks what’s the center of our interest, what do we really need for the Topography of Terror to work."

Then the government will announce a new competition, Nevemann said. He was hopeful that building would start in two or two and a half years and be finished in three or four years.

Focus on the perpetrators

Once completed, the new Gestapo museum will be the third major memorial to Germany’s Nazi past in the capital. Architect Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum (photo, above) opened in 2001 and quickly became one of the city’s most-visited landmarks. A memorial to the Jews killed during the Holocaust -- a giant field of cement pillars designed by American architect Peter Eisenman across from the German Bundestag -- is due to be completed in 2005 (photo, below).

Holocaust Mahnmal in Berlin Schüler

The Holocaust Monument in Berlin is in the process of being built.

But Nachama and government representatives have said it's important to have a museum and documentation center that would focus on the perpetrators of Nazi crime.

"Here we speak about the center of the evil. This was the Gestapo headquarter, where within a few months German democracy was destroyed. This was where Nazi terror across Europe was conducted," Nachama said. "We don’t speak about one victim group here, we talk about terror and about how a democracy was destroyed."

For now, school groups and tourists can continue to visit a temporary exhibit at the site of the old Gestapo building. It remains to be seen when and what kind of more permanent structure will replace it.

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