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Germany

Madame Tussauds' Wax Hitler Sparks Outrage in Berlin

A new branch of Madame Tussauds in Berlin, set to open on July 9 a few hundred meters away from the landmark Holocaust memorial, is defying the critics by including Hitler in its display of German historical figures.

Waxwork Marlene Dietrich

Silver-screen diva Marlene Dietrich will have a prominent place in the new museum

Boris Becker is there, Pope Benedict XVI and Angela Merkel, of course. And a waxworks museum wouldn't be the same without Elvis, so even though his only association with Germany was his brief spell here as an American GI, the King is there in all his glory too.

Tennis stars, religious leaders and rock stars are unlikely to raise anybody's eyebrows. But standing opposite former British prime minister Winston Churchill in Berlin's new Madame Tussauds is none other than Adolf Hitler. The figure of the Nazi dictator is not placed in a chamber of horrors, as it is in London, but on the history and politics floor along with the Dalai Lama and Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit.

According to the museum's spokeswoman, Natalie Ruoss, the curators were at pains not to give the impression that Hitler was in any way a figure to be revered, and have depicted the Nazi leader "as a broken man" in a mock-up of the bunker where he spent the final days of World War II.

He's also positioned behind a barricade, preventing visitors from having their picture taken next to him.

Place in history

Angela Merkel in real life and as a wax figure

A wax figure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is already on display in London

"We did surveys while we were planning the exhibition on the street with Berliners and with tourists, and the result was quite clear that Hitler is one of the figures that they want to see," Ruoss said.

"Seeing as we are portraying the history of Germany, we could hardly have left him out ... we want to show the reality," she said.

Stephen Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said some Holocaust survivors might find the exhibition offensive but that he was not opposed as long as it was done properly.

"Hitler should not become a tourist attraction, but if this exhibition helps to some extent to normalize the way of dealing with Hitler, as a kind of demystification, let's try it," Kramer told AFP.

"Erasing him from history is not going to bring the perished ones back, it's not going to heal the damage that he did, the crimes that he did. That would be counter-productive," he said.

Complaints

Adolf Hitler in Nuremberg in 1933

Tourists visiting Germany are interested in the history of the Nazi period

A spokesman for Berlin city council meanwhile said that the city's mayor Klaus Wowereit had expressed reservations, sending a letter to Madame Tussauds in London on Thursday, May 29.

"He touched on the particular sensitivities on the German side in the question of a presentation of a figure of Adolf Hitler," a spokesman said. "He asked to be shown how Madame Tussauds intends to present it, and that his concerns be taken into consideration."

Meanwhile, politicians across the spectrum have condemned the decision.

Christian Democrat politician Michael Braun called it "an extraordinary breach of taste" and was echoed by his Green party colleague Alice Ströver, who described it as "tasteless, disgusting and vulgar."

"Unspeakable," commented Brigitte Lange from the Social Democrats.

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