Hitler exhibition breaks taboos in Berlin

Almost every aspect of the Nazis has been covered by German museums, but a chilling new exhibition in Berlin from this week explores for the first time the personality cult of Adolf Hitler.

"Hitler and the Germans," at the German Historical Museum (DHM) from Friday until February 6, explores how the Fuehrer managed not only to win power but also how he kept it even as "total defeat" in World War II loomed.

The exhibition features a hoard of eerie Nazi artefacts like propaganda posters, busts of Hitler, a card game helping players to learn the names of top Nazis, SS cufflinks, a red swastika lampshade to Christmas tree decorations.

Other items include a Nazi-themed rug that used to adorn the wall of a town church, poster guides explaining correct usage of the Hitler salute and the Nuremberg race laws, and a record of the SA brownshirts marching song greatest hits.

For children, there were figures to collect of Wehrmacht troops in action, of brown-shirted SA men and even the Fuehrer himself and board games like "Air Raid - an entertaining game for young and old."

An exercise book, which visitors can browse through electronically, shows the extent to which Hitler changed the curriculum to make sure the education system churned out good little Nazis.

The exhibits are juxtaposed, however, with evidence of the truth behind the propaganda, pictures and items showing the fate of those who had no place in the German "Volk," like Jews, political opponents or the mentally ill.

By doing so, organisers hope to fend off accusation that their exhibition will attract far-right sympathisers and glorify the darkest chapter in Germany's history.

"Piles of bodies, emaciated and broken people ... were witness to the violence and destruction that were the real aims of National Socialist leaders, but which they tried to hide," curator Hans-Ulrich Thamer said.

"There have been exhibitions on National Socialism (Nazism) for years in Germany in all different forms," Thamer told reporters at a preview for the show for the foreign press.

"We wanted to explain the rise to power and the operation and exercise of power all the way until the end," the curator said. "What we wanted to do differently here was to show how the system of domination developed."

Part of the reason why the previously anonymous former corporal rose to power is that Nazis played on the need of the German people for a "saviour" after defeat in World War I and the chaotic inter-war years, Thamer said.

"It is a wonder of our times that you found me," Hitler told a party rally in 1936. "And that I found you is Germany's good fortune!"

Such an exhibition would not have been possible in Germany even 10 years ago, commentators say, and follows a recent change in attitudes in Germany towards Hitler, at least among the general public.

The groundbreaking 2004 film "Downfall" portrayed Hitler as a deeply flawed human, not a monster, for example, and Germans have even learned to laugh at the dictator. Critics loved Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds."

One of the exhibits in Berlin is a recent spoof video using contemporary footage of a speech by Hitler, changing the words to make him sound like a stand-up comedian.

The "demonic" view of Hitler was dominant for many years, "but in the research world, this has not been the case since the first comprehensive biography by Alan Bullock (in 1952)," Thamer said.

"The demon has been dead for a long time."

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