Libeskind redesign for German war museum

13th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Sixty-six years after the fall of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, a new museum aims to chart Germany's bloody military history, in a building redesigned by star architect Daniel Libeskind.

The 13,000-square-metre (140,000-square-foot) exhibition charts the sombre tale of German armed forces, from the primitive weapons of the 14th century, through two world wars, to its current unpopular mission in Afghanistan.

Opening to the public on Saturday after seven years of renovation, the museum in the southeastern city of Dresden aims to tackle the delicate relationship between the German people and its army, explained curator Gorch Pieken.

"Military museums are usually technical museums. But this museum is above all historical," he said, adding: "We are expecting a lively debate. This museum is a place where visitors should express their opinions."

With much of the exhibition given over to Germany's darkest hour -- the Holocaust -- the army chose a Jewish architect to revamp the museum, Daniel Libeskind, a 65-year-old American, himself descended from survivors of the Nazi genocide.

Considered one of the most celebrated architects of his time, Libeskind also designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and is currently working on a building to be erected at Ground Zero, site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

His redesign -- a concrete, steel and glass extension to an existing 19th century building -- is divided into two parts with explanations in German and in English.

The visitor walks through a series of thematic exhibitions, including "war and memory", "politics and violence", "animals in military life" and "war and play", showing how plastic soldiers became a popular child's toy.

One game teaching children to read, which dates from 1930s Germany, spells out a famous name in wooden block letters: Adolf Hitler.

In another exhibit from the Nazi era, a children's book called "poisonous mushrooms" recounts 17 bedside stories explaining to German youngsters how "poisonous" the Jews were.

On the top floor, the start of the thematic section, is a "view over Dresden", enabling visitors to see the near-total destruction of the city in a controversial Allied bombing campaign towards the end of World War II.

Dresden, where tens of thousands of people died, has become a symbol of German suffering in the war, after decades of silence about the issue. Every year, neo-Nazis take to the streets to protest against the bombing.

But the exhibit leaves the visitor with no doubt that the Germans were more aggressors than victims.

Stones from the Polish town of Wielun, pulverised by the Luftwaffe in 1939 at the start of World War II, and the Dutch port of Rotterdam, which suffered a similar fate, are displayed.

The museum ends its chronological tour with two exhibits that have become symbols for anti-war activists in Germany.

First, the suit jacket worn by then foreign minister Joschka Fischer when anti-war protestors splattered him with paint as he defended the German army's mission in Kosovo.

"We always said: 'let there never again be war', but we also said: 'let there never again be Auschwitz'," said Fischer at the time, referring to the most infamous of Nazi death camps.

A bit further, behind a screen, is a damaged army vehicle, victim of an attack in Afghanistan, where Germany has around 5,000 troops supporting a NATO mission -- a deployment that polls show is highly unpopular in the country.

© 2011 AFP

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