Bebelplatz – the scene of the burning books

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Bebelplatz is a small square located in the central part of Berlin at Unter den Linden. The Humboldt University covers two sides of the square and also has a location on the other side of Unter den Linden which could be considered the third side of the square. Hence this has historically been the central location for learning in Berlin.

The square is infamous as the spot where the biggest of the Nazi book burnings took place. On May 10 1933 20.000 books were burned on this square. The works included the works of communist authors such as Karl Marx but also books written by Nobel laureate Thomas Mann and Erich Maria Remarque who wrote Im Western nichts Neues (all Quite on the Western Front) and books by Jewish authors like Albert Einstein. Considering the atrocities which was carried out by the Nazi government during their rule the burning of the books might look like a lesser important event. But for me I still consider this a very important event. The burning of books just symbolizes an assault on some of our most important liberties – the freedom of speech, research and thought.

The memorial – with the empty bookshelves

Today there is a small memorial on the square. Under a glass window you can see a room with empty bookshelves with enough space for the 20.000 books which were burned. There is a small memorial plaque with an inscription with a quote from 1820 by one of the authors whose books were burned Heinrich Heine “Where they burn books, they eventually burn humans”.

If you go and see the memorial during the day you will have difficulties seeing the empty bookshelf’s – you will see your own reflection symbolizing that is what you will see when you burn the books. It is easier to look down inside the chamber below ground when you visit at night and there is light on the memorial. There is no access down to the actual empty bookshelf’s you can only watch from above.

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9 comments

  1. This is such a meaningful scene to visit. That is quite a lot of books burnt back in the day. Books hold stories and lessons of the past, and as you said, symbolises freedom of speech, research and thought. Even torn books or tearing out pages of a book doesn’t sit well with me. Every book is to be treasured, and if there is a book that is no longer needed, you can always pass it along to someone else. Safe travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel the same way. Once in a Election debate in Denmark the primeminister torn out page of a book the leader of the oppositionen had writen. He did not get reelected. Not sure it was just because of the book stunt – but it sure didn’t help his case.

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      1. Wow. Quite something to tear a page book out in parliament. In a way, books are sacred, things to be treasured for what they hold. A book could be an answer to something you’ve been searching for for a long time 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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