One Day in Berlin, this Happened…
Tips for Visiting the Book Burning Memorial in Berlin
During my trip to Berlin, Germany, with my mother, we knew we wanted to see the Bebelplatz Book Burning Memorial. We arrived to Bebelplatz ready to see it, but…we had some trouble locating it.
“Where is it?” I asked Mom as I looked around confused.
She shook her head in uncertainty and also looked confused.
We were standing in the middle of Bebelplatz, a large square in Berlin, Germany, where the Nazi book burning of all books by Jewish writers or about the Jewish faith occurred in 1933, and which now was the location for a memorial for the book burning travesty.
Only, there was no memorial to be found. I hadn’t had a chance to do my research much on this site before arriving so wasn’t sure what exactly this memorial was supposed to look like. But…it was a memorial. They’re usually pretty obvious.
The other two main sites of Bebelplatz were easy to spot. There was Humboldt University, the oldest university in Berlin and which has had famous professors, including Einstein, Karl Marx, and the Brothers Grimm.
And there was St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, one of the few Catholic cathedrals in Berlin.
But where was the Bebelplatz book burning memorial?
Suddenly, I noticed a large tour group that had been standing by Hedwig’s Cathedral earlier was now crowded around something off to the side of the middle of the square. They all had their heads down and it was obvious they were looking at something.
“That’s gotta be it,” I said to Mom and we began walking over to the group.
We waited for a minute for the group to disperse, still not sure what they were looking at, and when they did, there was no statue or plaque in their wake. But there was…something on the ground.
We walked up to a reflective glow on the ground in front of us at the same time a second group came up. The guide told them to huddle around and soon we were surrounded by the tour group, the tips of their shoes bordering the glass of the memorial along with ours. Once the man started talking, I became very glad we were haphazardly lumped in with this tour group for a few minutes, since otherwise, I don’t think I would have had any clue what I was looking at. Because at first glance, it looked like this:
“Look closely and you’ll see rows and rows of bookshelves,” the tour guide said.
I squinted. Bookshelves? Then the light on the glass partition shifted slightly and I suddenly saw it. Yes, rows and rows of empty bookshelves!
He went onto explain that it was considered a voided memorial: the books burned that night in 1933 can’t be replaced, but the void for them can be, hence the empty rows of bookshelves.
It was quite astounding and one of the most intriguing and powerful memorials I’ve ever seen. It really got me thinking about the magnitude of the number of books burned that night and how sad it was.
A few months later, I was back home from my travels in Berlin and read The Book Thief (an excellent must-read) and it made my memory of the hard to find memorial in Bebelplatz that much more powerful.