Merkel opens exhibition addressing Nazi past

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The Independent Online

On an ornate four-foot high steel globe that once stood in Adolf Hitler's Chancellor's office in Berlin, a bullet hole marks the spot where the capital of the Third Reich once stood, and Germany is an expanse of bare metal blasted from the face of the earth.

The damage was inflicted by a Soviet Red Army officer who stormed the Nazi leader's headquarters in the spring of 1945. With a single shot from his pistol fired at point-blank range, he left his own mark of vengeance on the Führer's possession. The bullet can still be heard rattling inside.

The globe is one of more than 8,000 artefacts which make up what is being hailed as the most comprehensive exhibition on German history since the Second World War. The permanent display was opened yesterday by Chancellor Angela Merkel at Berlin's German Historical Museum.

The show has been described as Germany's first major attempt at historical self-assessment. Proposals were first mooted more than 20 years ago by the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, but the idea provoked heated debate, with critics arguing that it would diminish the enormity of crimes perpetrated during the Nazi era. The mammoth exhibition - which attempts to answer the question "What is German?" - is the result of nearly seven years' work by the museum's curators and researchers. A broad sweep through 2,000 years of German history, it is displayed on 7,500 square metres of floor space.

The exhibition begins with a Roman gate, and ends with shattered sections of the Berlin Wall - a potent symbolreunification in 1989-1990. Scores of artefacts document the intervening centuries. Inevitably, the most chilling section covers the rise of the Nazis, the Holocaust and the Second World War. A model of the Auschwitz death camp stands alongside a plan of Germania - the Nazi architect Albert Speer's name for a new and bombastic capital of the Third Reich.

Hans Ottomeyer, the museum's director, described the show as "a political drama with many wars but also many attempts to find peace". He said: "It is curious, but war and peace seem to have followed each other in Germany at intervals of almost exactly 50 years."