New Madame Tussauds in Berlin, Hitler included

Posted at 07/06/08 5:47 AM

A man ripped off the head of this wax figure of Adolf Hitler, pictured in a mock bunker at the German 'Madame Tussauds' in Berlin, July 3, 2008.

Agence France Presse

A new branch of Madame Tussauds opens in Berlin on Saturday, including in its display of famous figures in Germany history the most notorious one of all, Adolf Hitler.

But in order not to give the impression that Hitler was in any way a figure to be revered, the Nazi leader appears as a broken man in a mock-up of his bunker just before the end of World War II.

The Fuehrer is depicted as a defeated, shabbily dressed shadow of his former self -- in the London Madame Tussauds the waxwork is more youthful -- as the Red Army entered Berlin shortly before his suicide on April 30, 1945.

"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, " spokeswoman Natalie 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.

The Nazi leader is behind a table, preventing visitors to the museum in central Berlin, from posing for photos with him or damaging the waxwork.

Stephen Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, believes some Holocaust survivors might find the exhibition offensive but 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 normalise the way of dealing with Hitler, as a kind of a demystification, let's try it," Kramer told AFP in late May.

"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.

Coming to terms with the Nazi period has entered a new phase in recent years, most notably with the 2004 Oscar-nominated drama "Downfall" which gave the man behind the Holocaust more of a human face.

Comedy has even got in on the act, with a slapstick film by a Jewish director about Hitler released in 2007 and filming currently underway of "Mein Kampf", a film about his early life that also cocks a snook at the dictator.

The other 74 waxworks are less controversial, although for foreign visitors many of the figures from German history, culture, sport and entertainment might cause some head-scratching.

Albert Einstein needs no introduction, nor does probably the current pope, and most people will have heard of Angela Merkel, Otto von Bismarck, Oliver Kahn and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Others that many will have heard of but might not recognise include writer Guenter Grass, playwright Bertolt Brecht, Konrad Adenauer, postwar West Germany's towering political figure, and Sophie Scholl, the German anti-Nazi resistance heroine executed in 1943.

But some of those included non-Germans will neither recognise nor have heard of -- who are Henry Maske, Guenther Jauch, Franka Potente, Hildegard Knef and Uwe Seeler, for instance?

Apart from Hitler, Bismarck, Karl Marx, Beethoven and Bach, 24-year-old British graduate Sammy said the only other German in the museum he had heard of was supermodel Heidi Klumm.

"Who are they all?" Sammy asked AFP next to remains of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz. "I think there are better things to do in Berlin."

But it is not all Germans, or those born Austrian in the case of Hitler.

Also staring back at you will be the likes of the Dalai Lama, Winston Churchill, US President George W. Bush and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The final section of the museum is almost all international, where in a space made to look like a nightclub you can pretend you are mingling with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Tom Cruise, Madonna and Nicole Kidmann.

Two Germans did manage to get past the doormen though -- Klumm and "Run Lola Run" star Franka Potente.

The organisers have also made an effort to make the museum more interactive. For instance you can test your IQ against Einstein's, be psychoanalysed on Sigmund Freud's couch, shoot football penalties and play in a rock band.

Tickets cost 18.50 euros (23.05 dollars) for adults and 13.50 euros for children.