-- Translation of advance text --
Ladies and gentlemen,
I was delighted to be invited to open the special exhibition “Wilhelmstrasse 1933 – 1945. The Rise and Fall of the Nazi Government Quarter” together with you, Professor Nachama.
Over the last quarter of a decade, the Topography of Terror has become a central place of remembrance in Berlin. Its authenticity is practically unrivalled. Here, where the horror unfolded, where the perpetrators worked, where just a few weeks after Hitler’s so-called seizure of power the Gestapo moved in to be followed later by all the leading figures in the Nazi machinery of terror, this is precisely where the permanent exhibition gives a comprehensive overview of the National Socialist machinery of persecution and terror. Looking at the open foundations of the “house prison” in Gestapo headquarters makes plain: history cannot be more palpable.
Right up to the 17th century, the area around Wilhelmstrasse was a very tranquil spot and was part of the Electoral Tiergarten. Later it became a well-to-do residential area before in the 19th century becoming home to first Prussian and then Imperial highest Reich authorities and becoming the government quarter. At the end of the Empire and even in the Weimar Republic, the relatively modest exterior almost belied the immense power gathered in this street.
The National Socialists used the facade of Wilhelmstrasse with its rich tradition to cover up the policies unfolding behind its walls. The Nazis tapped the illusion of continuity for their heinous policy. At the same time, the Nazis perverted the elegant and peaceful quarter with flags, marches and parades. The new Reich Chancellery and the Reich Aviation Ministry show: quite contrary to the tradition of the street, architecture became the language of manipulation, intimidation and power.
The Foreign Office in Wilhelmstrasse 74-76 was right at the centre of power. It was next door to the Reich Chancellery. Opposite was the NSDAP headquarters and next to that Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry. The Foreign Office in the Third Reich was the Foreign Office of the Third Reich.
“The Office and its Past”, the book presented by the Independent Commission of Historians, just like the controversial debate that triggered it, removed once and for all the veil of silence that had been drawn over the unspeakable involvement of German diplomacy in the Holocaust, the war, the havoc and the destruction. The myth that the Foreign Office had been a hub of resistance in the Third Reich had been shattered many years before the book was published.
It was from Wilhelmstrasse that the Second World War was unleashed upon the world, six years later, the war came full circle, striking back at its point of origin with full force. The tank barricades, artillery fire and street fighting of April 1945 destroyed the road. Piles of rubble was all that remained, also of the Foreign Office.
After the end of the Second World War, the rebuilding process began in Germany.
Also diplomatic rebuilding: 65 years ago no one trusted the Germans. Germany had excluded itself from the community of nations. It was in this context that the fathers and mothers of our Basic Law clearly defined in its preamble the fundamental goal of German policy: “to promote world peace in a united Europe”. With this compass as our guide, over the decades we gradually built the trust without which the achievement of German unity now more than 20 years ago would never have happened. Our country continues to steer by this compass to this day.
Germany was elected to the United Nations Security Council in 2010 just a few days after we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Day of German Unity. Both events had something to do with the trust the world now has in Germany.
Trust is a most precious thing. Both between people and between countries. The Topography of Terror is therefore such an important institution because it does not just provide information and move us to confront and grapple with German and European history, but it also builds trust. Trust in a peaceful Germany that knows its history and is part of the international community. Some 800,000 visitors pass through this institution every year, many from abroad, making the Topography of Terror one of Germany’s most visited memorials.
The connection between total hubris and utter nemesis will presumably never and nowhere be more visible than here in Wilhelmstrasse. The disappearance of a one-time control centre of power almost without a trace is unprecedented in our modern age. For decades the street was robbed even of its name.
After the fall of the Third Reich, the Berlin Wall divided Germany and Europe just a few metres away from Wilhelmstrasse. Today Wilhelmstrasse is at the heart of Berlin and thus at the heart of the united Europe.
With the thirty information boards that make up the History Mile, the Topography of Terror does a wonderful job of confronting us with the chequered history of Wilhelmstrasse. With the history of the very street that the Nazis perverted, making it into the control centre of horror. With a history that we must not and will not ever forget.