The Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

If you’re a museum person, you could easily keep yourself busy in Berlin for weeks. There are all kinds here – history, art, culture, and just plain weird – currywurst museum, anyone? I had a hard time narrowing it down to just two or three for our short four-day trip. The one I knew I couldn’t skip, however, was the Topography of Terror, a museum chronicling the rise of the Third Reich, the Holocaust, and the aftermath of the war through photographs and stories.

The Topography of Terror is an indoor/outdoor museum located on the former site of the headquarters of the SS and the Gestapo. The original buildings were largely destroyed during air raids, but one small piece, the cellar where political prisoners were tortured and executed, remains in the outdoor exhibit. The museum is relatively new and, as I wish all museums were, it’s free.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

Laid out chronologically, the Topography of Terror is very organized and well done with all of the information provided in both German and English. Knowing that free usually means bigger crowds, we arrived early which ended up being a good decision. The only thing we did wrong was incorrectly anticipate just how much time we’d want to spend here.

Walking through the Topography of Terror museum is like being unable to put down a really well-written book. The approach here is so honest, so frank – I appreciated that the most. And the photographs, always my favorite thing to pore over in the history books, have been chosen with care and appropriately reflect the time period, even at its ugliest. The images sometimes are so appalling that the second my eyes landed on them I had to look away, and the stories beneath them are so heart-wrenching that I felt compelled to read each and every one, lest someone’s story be forgotten.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

The following are a few of my – I hesitate to say favorite photographs, considering the subject – but these are a few of the images that I felt captured the essence and the horror so fully that I haven’t been able to get them out of my head, even months after seeing them. (Warning: No bodies are depicted below, but one of the photos could be considered disturbing, so if you feel it necessary, it might be best to skip this section and head straight to the end.) Also, this probably goes without saying, but the images below are photos I took of photos at the exhibition and edited for exposure. I, in no way, am claiming to be the original photographer.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

Young women reach out to shake hands with Adolf Hitler at the German Singing Federation Festival.
Breslau, 3 August 1937.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

A man, identified as August Landmesser, refuses to salute with other workers at the launch of the German navy training ship, the Horst Wessel.
Hamburg, 13 June 1936.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

Young boy surrenders as Polish Jews are arrested by SS troops during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Warsaw, April 1943.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

A Jewish-Soviet prisoner of war captured by the German army and marked with a yellow star.
August 1941.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

German task forces execute Lithuanian Jews on the outskirts of the Kovno Ghetto.
Kaunas, November 1942.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

American 7th Army troops wave flags of victory atop what was once Hitler’s rostrum at the Luitpold Arena.
Nuremberg, 8 May 1945.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

Allied soldier trains his gun on members of the Nazi party awaiting trial.
Unknown Date & Location.

I cried at least half a dozen times through this exhibition, but so did many other people. The photo that disturbed me the most was the one above from an execution in Lithuania. I looked at the man closest to the photographer – Was he pleading for his life? Praying? Singing? – but the most horrifying thing about this photo is the look of glee on the man behind him. I can barely even look at him. This was definitely the most sobering museum I’ve ever visited.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

Two hours after we entered the museum, we reached the end of the main exhibition, pretty emotionally exhausted. We skimmed over the special exhibition that was also inside featuring the work of Hans Bayer, a war correspondent during WWII and then headed outdoors. The area had gotten much more crowded during those two hours, so we decided to skip most of the outdoor exhibition and just stopped by the remains of the original cellar in the Gestapo headquarters instead.

The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

Also outside is the longest remaining portion of the outer wall of the Berlin Wall. The wall here marked the border between Mitte (East Berlin) and Kreuzberg (West Berlin). Except for the destruction that occurred during the transitional period after the wall began to fall (a few holes and gaps), the wall has been preserved as it was before the reunification of Berlin. The other longest stretch of the wall still standing in Berlin is the East Side Gallery, a colorful portion of the inner wall in Friedrichshain.

It took awhile after we left the Topography of Terror for me to get my usual travel spirit back. Instead of jumping straight into more sightseeing, which felt sort of inappropriate to tell you the truth, we took a quiet walk through the Tiergarten that ended up being a pretty good way to transition back into the day. I could have bought and read any number of books containing the same images and information we saw at the museum, but I wanted to take it all in in the place where it happened, surrounded by others wanting to do the same. I doubt a book could ever have affected me in the same way this museum did.

Topography Of Terror: Website
Address: Niederkirchnerstraße 8, 10963 Berlin

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The Topography Of Terror WWII History Museum In Berlin

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  • Juniper J
    April 15, 2018 at 2:08 PM

    I am visiting Berlin for the first time in a few weeks. Thank you for posting your account of this museum and your emotional reaction to it. The people who lost their lives deserve to be remembered. I shall visit this exhibition.

    • Sarah Shumate
      April 15, 2018 at 6:08 PM

      I think you’ll be very glad you did. It’s an excellent museum to visit on a first-time trip to Berlin. I hope you enjoy your time in the city!

  • Jessi @2feet1world
    January 29, 2015 at 5:41 PM

    I found this museum so emotional as well. Some of those photographs are so hard to look at, but so important to see. I thought it was incredibly well-presented too!

  • Emmymom
    January 23, 2015 at 7:12 PM

    Alex has a school program coming up where they sing patriotic songs and talk about the country, at the end they sing God Bless America while images of those who have served or are serving in the military play by. I submitted a picture of Alex’s great Grandpa kissing his wife goodbye from the train in 1943 as he was on his way off the war; so I was talking with my kids about World War II. It truly is so horrific what happened. I can totally imagine how this museum would be so impactful.

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 24, 2015 at 11:52 AM

      That is a very special photo! How cool that you have it. My grandfather also fought in this war, but pictures are rare. I think my mom may have a few, but not many. Definitely not like we have today!

  • Jo
    January 19, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    War is a terrible thing!

  • Amanda @ Rhyme & Ribbons
    January 18, 2015 at 11:25 PM

    I felt choked up just looking at your photos, so I can only imagine how chilling and moving it was to experience the museum.

  • Tammy Chrzan
    January 18, 2015 at 12:47 AM

    Sarah, I love museums, but I have to say I don’t know if I would have the stomach for this one. Just reading your posts and knowing what I do knoq about WW2 and the holocaust brings tears to my eyes. I don’t understand the level of hate and evil that was in Hitler. I think it’s lovely that you read about the people that you saw, in fear of them being forgotten. They had lives cut short and they deserve to be remembered. You’re a wonderful person Sarah.
    Tammy x
    PS, I really like the new blog page!

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 18, 2015 at 5:41 PM

      Thank you, Tammy. And thanks for the compliment on my new design, too. I think it suits my blog much better than the no-design I had before. :)

  • rorybore
    January 17, 2015 at 5:42 PM

    I noticed straight away that the man looked to be smiling. It makes me so angry…. how could anyone have such evil disregard for human life? I think I would weep the entire time in this place, and yet, like you say, it begs to be seen. the stories heard. especially since I personally know people who still think this time in history never occurred. shocking, and shameful.

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 17, 2015 at 5:53 PM

      I don’t understand it at all either. A good deal of brainwashing has to occur for someone to look at another person and not see them as human.

      There are people who don’t believe the Holocaust happened? Really?

      • rorybore
        January 17, 2015 at 11:55 PM

        oh yes. there are dark corners of the interweb my friend. I try never to go there…. this space is much more lovely and uplifting. :)

  • Molly May
    January 17, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    I am IN LOVE with your blog!!x

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 17, 2015 at 5:51 PM

      Hi Molly! Thanks so much for reading!! :)

      • Molly May
        January 18, 2015 at 10:40 AM

        You’re welcome, I’m new to blogging and would love to know what you think :)x

        • Sarah Shumate
          January 18, 2015 at 5:42 PM

          Leave a link to your blog and I’ll check it out!

  • Miwa
    January 16, 2015 at 11:26 PM

    I got the chills so many times while reading this post. The picture of the boy with his hands raised brought tears to my eyes. The phrase, “the most sobering museum” is spot on.

    Oh, and let me say Happy New Year! (A couple weeks late I know but I hadn’t blogged in a while.) I’m not even sure how long ago you changed the look of your blog, but I love the new layout and design you have here :)

  • Veronica
    January 16, 2015 at 3:42 PM

    Wow, that’s just hard to see. I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk through that museum. So emotional. It’s almost hard to believe that this really occurred in the not-to-distant past.

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 17, 2015 at 5:44 PM

      It really wasn’t that long ago. I mean, my grandfather fought in this war. That really helps me put it into perspective in terms of time! Most of Europe’s important history seems so long ago, but Berlin’s is still so very fresh!

  • topchelseagirl
    January 16, 2015 at 1:45 PM

    No matter how many times you see, hear or read about it, it is still chilling.

  • Katrin
    January 16, 2015 at 6:54 PM

    I have not been there but when I go back to Berlin it will definitely be on my list. I can imagine that many people cried. I always got goosebumps when my grandfather told me about his experiences.

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 17, 2015 at 5:49 PM

      My grandfather fought in this war as well, but never really talked to us about it. I would have liked to have heard them, but he has passed now, so I suppose his stories went with him. :(

      • Katrin
        January 17, 2015 at 6:48 PM

        My grandfather did not talk very much about it either. He only mentioned it a couple of times. I am sorry about your grandfather! Mine passed away too.

  • Jenn
    January 16, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    Is it sad that I cried while reading this post? I’ve always been interested in WW2 Germany because the psychology amazes me. How one man can influence so many people to do such horrible things – I will never fully understand it. I never knew about this museum but I would definitely like to visit.

  • Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe
    January 16, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    The Check Point Charlie Museum has a very similar look and feel to this. Lots of photography and information. It almost amazes me at how many photos there are from this time period in Berlin.