Day 27: Rainy Cologne


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Europe » Germany » North Rhine-Westphalia » Cologne
August 1st 2017
Published: August 1st 2017
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It was a rainy day today, so museum time it was. I went to the "NS Documentation Centre" - basically the Nazi Museum for Cologne. It's housed in the former Gestapo building and prison which certainly adds to the authentic feel and creepiness of the place. It was a truly impressive museum though - right up there with the very best Nazi/WWII museums I've been to.

You start in the basement which is where the prison was - they've preserved the etchings on the walls which I found really fascinating. I guess prisoners were allowed to write/scratch things, and so you're left with this beautiful mixture of poems and musings about liberty, hope, resistence, love. You're also left with harsh words against the Gestapo and the Nazis, against fear, against inhumanity. And there are also many goodbyes.

You also go down into the bunker - there isn't that much there though, other than the story of one inmate who managed to escape (clever!) and the story of another inmate and hw his mom used to speak with him through the windows, bring him a sandwich and there was a photo of one of his etchings: "=======".

The window
One of the cellsOne of the cellsOne of the cells

Can't imagine 30 people being squished in there at points...
thing I found fascinating. When you're in the basement, looking at the cells, you can see people walking by on the street. You can hear the cars. Here the rain. Hear the footsteps. I'm always left marvelling at the idea that this was just another "regular building" that people would walk by day after day... all while prisoners were being held in miserable conditions (hello 30+ people in a cell meant for 1 or 2!), tortured or killed. I had the same thoughts visiting Dachau and Auschwitz... like... how many people truly didn't know what was happening? Was it a blissful ignorance? A wishful ignorance? Was it pretend ignorance? I suppose no one really knows other than the people themselves. But I suppose the same can still be said for many things in our world today. It's easier (and less stressful on your own emotions) to be ignorant.

Anyway. The last thing downstairs was the path to the inner courtyard. On the way is a small, dark room commemorating those who passed through these walls. The windows are partially covered, the walls are black, but very faintly, one at a time, a name is shown. The voiceover says their name, what they were 'accused' of, and their lifespan. Of course, the vast majority were killed either here or in a camp somewhere. It's incredibly poignant to listen to. I listened to about 15-20 names before I left. It's these simple memorials that make me the most emotional.

The inner courtyard was the last thing downstairs. At first, prisoners weren't killed at this prison (it was meant to be an interrogation prison), but of course as the war went on... hangings and the occasional firing squad did happen. The hangings were on a patch of land just outside the courtyard... but like... it was out in the open for the neighbouring buildings which is super icky. When they decided to make the building into a memorial/museum they chose to place mirrors all around the courtyard - the idea to take a look at yourself, take a look at your actions, your thoughts and what you stand for. You can't hide from yourself.

Very poignant.

The museum continues upstairs where you have 2 floors of exhibits to wander through. All the images/stories/signs are only in German, so the audio guide is a must. I really liked their audio guide which is rare for me to say - nothing was more than 3:30min and most were only 1-2min long. Perfect. The exhibits are well organized, moving through the timeline of Cologne just before the war, until the rebuild after the war.

There are extensive sections on those persecuted - the groups, yes, but there is also an emphasis on personal stories from people here in Cologne that were sent to camps, that were executed, that were sterilized, etc. I shouldn't use the word 'easy' ... but when you think of an abstract huge number, it can be 'easy' to lose the humanity of those affected. You can't ignore the humanity when you hear about the story of a specific person - what they went through, what they witnessed, what they endured. I appreciated that the museum really doesn't sweep things under the rug - it talks about the high-ranking Nazis here in Cologne that weren't punished after the war and the disgrace that is. It talks about how some of the medical staff in charge of preserving the Aryan race and of blood purity not only kept their jobs, but received promotions after the war. It talks about how even though the Jewish community was truly a part of the community, there were large enough factions that celebrated the first move towards boycotting their businesses.

There was a section on the resistance as well which was intriguing. I find this is another area that a lot of the museums kind of skip/skim over. Again, I appreciated the individualization of the stories - every day people who did what they could to try and make a difference. I also enjoyed the giant mural they had from one of the resistance - that of Hitler portrayed as the Skeleton of Death, arriving to send those in Cologne to their death.

Of course there was also a huge section on the Jewish population and the timeline they faced - from boycotts, to Kristallnacht, to the ghetto and to the camps. It doesn't matter how many times I hear about them getting on trains, hopeful for something better... I still get a pit in my stomach each time. There is a book in one of the rooms with all known names of those who left Cologne... ~7000 I believe it was.

The room on education and the Hitler Youth was particularly of interest as well. I hadn't known much about the Hitler Youth before the Nuremberg museums - I find Cologne dug a little deeper into it. They had real life examples of life stories of children who truly grew up in the Hitler Youth. It's crazy how high the participation rate was even before it was 'mandatory' ... but I suppose when you're offered all these leadership opportunities, camps, activities, etc. as a child it would be enticing. One thing I hadn't heard much about was the Nazification of education - again here they went into more detail about the shifts in the classroom, how crosses were pretty much removed and replaced by pictures of Hitler, etc. They noted that there was surprisingly little resistance by the teachers (once the Jewish and those with Communist links were removed) ... which I'm not sure what to make of. They didn't go into much detail on numbers of those removed - I'd be interested in that.

Anyway. It was a really good overview and well worth the 6.50 euro and 3 hours spent there.

It was still raining when I left, so I decided to go shopping - hey, I wanted something light after the morning I had lol. So, that's that.


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Example of a display

They'd have all this documentation and paperwork for individuals - really personalizes the stories.


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