Munich looks at dark past with Georg Scheel Wetzel-designed museum highlighting the birth of Nazi Germany

The city of Munich has opened NS-Dokumentationszentrum München – The Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism – a museum and education hub focusing on the city’s role as the birthplace of fascism in Germany.

The white cube design by Berlin-based architects Georg Scheel Wetzel represents a counterpoint to the still existing Nazi Party buildings in its vicinity. According to the architects, its design allows a diverse array of visual connections to be made. The centre’s exhibition design has prioritised learning and understanding.

Sitting on the site of the “Brown House” – the Nazi Party’s former headquarters – the €28m (US$31.1m, £20.6m) museum was opened on 31 April – the 70th anniversary of the city’s liberation by US troops.

The museum’s main feature is a permanent exhibition documenting the history of National Socialism in Munich, the specific role the city played in the dictatorship’s terror system and the difficulties faced in dealing with this past since 1945. The exhibition is dominated by two central questions – "Why Munich?" and "What does that have to do with me today?".

NS-Dokumentationszentrum München will act as a place of learning and remembrance. The exhibition does not show Nazi items such as the swastika flag or the signature SS uniform, rather items held by resistance members or footage of the disappearance of Munich’s Jewish community as they were sent off to death camps.

Space for temporary exhibitions devoted to various themes is included in the six-storey museum, as well as a range of education services such as tours, seminars and talks with witnesses. In addition, the centre offers a learning space kitted out with interactive media tables, research stations, a library and seminar rooms.

Munich acted as the hub for the Nazi movement in the 1930s and 40s. It was in the city that Adolf Hitler first joined the German Workers' Party in 1919, later forming the headquarters of the National Socialist German Workers' Party there. Hitler’s first unsuccessful attempt to take power and subsequent trial for high treason, which he used as a platform to gain a national following, was another key event which took place in Munich. Hitler also established the first concentration camp in the city.

"Munich had a harder time with this than all the other cities in Germany because it is also more tainted than any other city,” said the museum's director, Winfried Nerdinger, whose father was a local resistance fighter during the war. "This is where it all began."

A spokesperson for the museum added: “The site once symbolised the rise of the Nazi Party and its totalitarian grip on power. It shall now be given a new purpose."

Costs for the centre have been met by the City of Munich, Freistaat Bayern and the German Federal Government, with the City of Munich bearing operating costs. The centre is expecting 250,000-300,000 visitors per year, a large proportion of which will be school children.

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The city of Munich has opened NS-Dokumentationszentrum München – The Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism – a museum and education hub focusing on the city’s role as the birthplace of fascism in Germany. The white cube design by Berlin-based architects Georg Scheel Wetzel represents a counterpoint to the still existing Nazi Party buildings in its vicinity. According to the architects, its design allows a diverse array
The museum sits on the site of the former Nazi Party headquarters / Jens Weber
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