Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt - the memorial at Bebelplatz

The Bebelplatz memorial lit up at sunset

I'd actually had it in the back of my mind for a while to try and get a picture of the memorial at Bebelplatz at the right time of day.

Designed by Israeli artist Micha Ullman, the memorial - called 'Bibliothek' (library) - is a reminder of how here, on May 10th 1933, Nazis burned over 20,000 books deemed to be 'ungerman' from the library of the Humboldt University. The memorial is a room beneath Bebelplatz, lined with enough empty bookshelves to house 20,000 books. A window set into the pavement allows passers by to look down into the room, which is completely inaccessible.

Like the Stolpersteine, this memorial is something that can catch you unawares. It's not until you're standing very close by that you know it's there, but it has a way of holding people's interest once they've seen it.

Two plaques, at opposite ends of the memorial, with a quote from Heinrich Heine's 1821 play Almansor are set into the cobbles nearby:

Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher
Verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen

That was just a prelude, where books
Are burnt, people will eventually burn too

In fact, there's a small mistake in the plaque - it says "verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" which still makes sense, but isn't how Heine wrote it.

Anything which didn't fit in with Nazi ideals was targeted - from books on communism through to literature which was seen to glorify the decadent lifestyles of the Weimar Republic. The works of Jewish authors - Heinrich Heine included - were also among those burned, as were the works of prominent foreign authors.

Bebelplatz gained its current name in 1947 (before that, it had been called 'Platz am Opernhaus' then 'Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Platz' then 'Opernplatz'). It's named after August Bebel, co-founder of the Social Democratic Workers' Party, which eventually became the SPD (the current social democratic party, but one which, in East Germany, was merged with the communist party to form the SED, the country's ruling party). His book "Die Frau und der Sozialismus" (Woman and Socialism) was also among those burned.

I like this memorial - it's subtle, yet thought provoking, a place where people stop to contemplate and discuss.

Französische Straße (U6)
Hausvogteiplatz (U2)
The book burning memorial
10117 Berlin


I am swissfrench and very please to reed this article, because in December, I will go for the first time in Berlin and I add as a most important visit for me this memorial of Micha Ullman.

Nice to hear that it's been helpful. I think December's a great time to visit Berlin, the weather can really make it very atmospheric, and the Christmas markets bring an extra touch of light and warmth to the city after dark. Do feel free to get in touch if you want any more suggestions for things to see!

Passez de bons moments à Berlin :)

If I'm along Unter den Linden when I'm in Berlin, I always try to come here and give my respects. I also try to point this place out to people - there are still some who live in Berlin who don't know about this memorial. I didn't know about the original position of the word "auch" in Heine's quote; I'll have to keep that in mind when I see his quote being used. There's a similar memorial in the middle of Römerberg in Frankfurt am Main, and yeah, there they also have the quote as "... am Ende auch Menschen."

It's certainly quite easy to miss - I've given tours to people staying in the Hotel de Rome opposite, who'd been walking right past it without realising it. The disruption around it from the Opernhaus building site doesn't help! That said, I think the fact that it takes you by surprise a little when you discover it is what's clever about it - like you, now I know it's there, I can't walk past it without stopping to take a look and think.

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