Berlin must-sees: Around Bebelplatz

20 08 2007

Bebelplatz is surrounded by the State Opera (Staatoper), St. Hedwig’s cathedral and the Alte Bibliothek (the old library), and is located across the road from the Humboldt University.
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Berlin must-sees: Bebelplatz

18 08 2007

Bebelplatz (Bebel square) on Unter den Linden was designed by Frederick the Great, who became ruler of Germany in 1740, and was a great patron of the arts. It was first known as “Frederick’s Forum”, and later as “Opernplatz” (Opera square). In 1947 it was named Bebelplatz, after August Bebel, a leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the 19th century.

On May 10th, 1933, Bebelplatz was the site of the notorious Nazi book burning event, organized by the minister for propaganda and public enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels. More than 20,000 books written by Jews, Communists and others, including Marx, Freud, the Manns, Kästner and Heine, were burned there in a large pyre.

Since 1995, this event has been commemorated by a monument designed by the Israeli artist Micha Ulmann. The monument is a plastic transparent window set into the ground, through which you can see an empty library. It’s very easy to miss in this pretty large square, so look carefully.

Bebel Platz book burning monument.

Next to the monument there’s a plaque, bearing the words of the poet Heinrich Heine, from his tragedy “Almansor”, written in 1820 – more than 100 years before the book burning event: “where books are burned, in the end people will burn” (“Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen”).

On September 9, 2006, an organization called “Dropping Knowledge”, which aims to encourage social change through dialogue, held an event named “The Table of Free Voices” in Bebelplatz, a very appropriate location for that, if you ask me. You can read all about it, and much more, in their website.