Chillingly Realistic: Hitler Bunker Gets Tussauds Treatment

By in Berlin

Madame Tussauds opened its new waxwork museum in Berlin to reporters on Thursday and, predictably, the attention was mainly focused on a startlingly realistic figure of Adolf Hitler in his bunker. His dark portrayal as a broken man may defuse criticism that including him was tasteless.

There he sits staring at his desk with a look of abject desperation on his face, his black hair dishevelled, a film of sweat on his grey skin, enclosed by the oppressive concrete walls of his bunker.

Whether Madame Tussauds likes it or not, the wax figure of Adolf Hitler will be the star attraction of its new museum opening in Berlin on Saturday. It is a startlingly realistic portrayal of Hitler as a broken man in his final days.

One almost expects him to bang his fist on the table, walk around his desk and explode into one final fit of rage in front of the giant map of Europe on the wall.

Critics had condemned the inclusion of Hitler as tasteless and liable to attract neo-Nazis, but Madame Tussauds said it had conducted market research that indicated a majority of Germans believed the dictator should feature in the display of 75 figures, which include Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Karl Marx and of course Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Hitler's Last Days

Madame Tussauds said it had deliberately refrained from portraying the Nazi leader at the height of his power.

"We wanted to show him as he was in his final days," said Meike Schulze, Germany manager for the Midway division of United Kingdom-based group Merlin Entertainments. "We conducted a survey and found that most people said he belongs to history and should be shown, so we were guided by that."

Madame Tussauds put a sign on Hitler's desk telling visitors not to take photos. It says that while the museum encourages guests to touch and interact with its figures, "we would ask that to avoid insult to other guests and out of respect for the millions who died during World War II, you refrain from taking photographs or attempting to 'pose' alongside Hitler's figure."

Unlike the other exhibits, Hitler will be kept cordoned off and will be guarded permanently by a member of staff, and the area will be monitored by video surveillance cameras, said Schulze.

Some 200 journalists, photographers and camera teams jostled and elbowed each other to catch a glimpse of the Führer at Thursday’s press launch.

"We were aware the figure would attract a lot of interest but we hope people will also pay attention to our other great exhibits," said Schulze. "It would be a shame if the focus were just on this one figure."

Inappropriate and Superfluous?

The Berlin museum is the eighth Madame Tussauds, and the only one in Germany. The London museum also has a Hitler figure but that one is shown standing up and did not serve as a model for the Berlin waxwork.

"We used 2,000 images of Hitler from all perspectives to create the figure," said Schulze. The realism is aided by the gloomy lighting against the stark grey bunker backdrop.

Berlin politicians have called the inclusion of Hitler inappropriate and superfluous -- especially given that the museum is located just a few blocks away from the site of the real Hitler bunker -- and Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit urged the organizers to deal with the exhibit in a sensitive way.

Johannes Tuchel, a researcher who works for a Berlin memorial to the opponents of the Nazi regime recently told Reuters: "A waxworks museum is meant to entertain and to amuse. It's not appropriate to have a Hitler figure there."

But the Council of Jews in Germany has taken a more relaxed approach. Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the council, said Hitler should not become a tourist attraction in Berlin. "But if such an exhibition helps to normalize the view of Hitler and to demystify him, one should try it," he said.

Hitler is the fourth figure visitors encounter as they enter the museum, after the "Iron Chancellor" Bismarck, Karl Marx and Sophie Scholl, a member of the non-violent Nazi resistant movement who was executed in 1943 aged 21 for distributing anti-war leaflets.

Visitors emerge from the gloom of Hitler's bunker to see Winston Churchill and a host of other leaders including Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. As with most waxworks, some figures are better than others.

Merkel’s likeness with her wax double is arguable, but former German national goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, depicted with his mouth wide open in his trademark primeval scream, is spot on, as is Marlene Dietrich.

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