Bebel Platz Square

Bebel Platz Square (8)

As you will see, Bebelplatz is a large square around which lie buildings belonging to the University of Humboldt, Saint Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Berlin National Opera House. 

Before the Second World War it was known as Opernplatz, but the name was changed in honour of August Bebel, leader of the German Social Democratic Party. 

However, apart from its great dimensions and the importance of the buildings around it, Bebelplatz is known for a sad episode from the Nazi past. On the 10th of May 1933, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels ordered members of the SS and Hitler Youth to burn 20,000 books in this very square. The majority were considered to be subversive by the Nazis, written by Jews, thinkers and philosophers whose opinions they thought might threaten the regime. Works by Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Bertolt Brecht were among them. 

The National Library, on the right-hand side of the square, was stormed and its contents brought out and set fire to. The burning pile was fuelled by more books until they were all burned. Scenes of this episode you are sure to have seen in various films, including ´Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade`. 

The book burning was considered to be ´action taken against anti-German thinking` and similar events took place in Germany’s other university cities. 

To not let this episode of the Second World War be forgotten, a  glass slab measuring roughly one square metre was laid in the ground of Bebelplatz. Through it you can see into a white room in which stands an empty bookcase big enough to hold 20,000 books. This was designed by the Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman and is easily missed due to the difficulty in finding it. A good way to locate it is to look out for a group of people standing together, staring at the ground and trying to photo the bookcase. Reflections and scratches on the glass actually make it difficult to see, and even trickier to photograph. 

Here you will also find a commemorative plaque, with a quotation by the German poet Heinrich Heine which says; ´In a place where they burn books, they end up also burning people.`

Every year students from the University of Humboldt hold a book-sale in the square to commemorate the anniversary of what happened here. 

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