This slide sits atop the site of Hitler's cremation.
By the afternoon of his suicide, Adolf Hitler hadn’t seen the sun in ten days. He had been living in a concrete bunker 28 feet below the ruins of Berlin for months. There was a time when the dictator was able to walk his German Shepherd, Blondi, in the Chancellery gardens above, but during those last days, the advancing Soviet artillery had made that impossible. Anyway, Blondi was dead—fed cyanide on his master’s orders the night before. Hitler shot himself with a pistol the following afternoon. In accordance with his wishes, his corpse was doused with gasoline and cremated in a shell-crater just outside the bunker exit.
Sixty-eight years later, Berlin is almost unrecognizable. The Chancellery has been replaced by a kindergarten and a Chinese restaurant. The bunker, now half demolished is sealed beneath the parking lot of a beige apartment block. And, the cremation site lies under a weird, polychromatic children’s slide that the modern-art-hating Hitler would have abhorred—which is exactly the reason my translator Gaïa Maniquant-Rogozyk, who is Jewish, likes it. She came along to help me interview the local residents about how it feels to live alongside this dark part of their history. We took turns surfing down the slide as we waited for passersby.
“I don’t think I would have come here if the bunker was still existing,” Gaïa mentioned.
“Why?” I asked.
“When you grow up in a Jewish family,” she replied, “and when half of that family has been exterminated, you have a duty of memory. I went to Auschwitz on a school trip and I finally understood what happened. It’s so big that it’s easy for it to be abstract—just like a story—but in Auschwitz, there’s those big rooms with all the bowls that they found, and another one with all the prosthetics, and there’s a room with all the hair shaved from the heads of prisoners. I saw the hair and I had to leave. At that point, I understood what happened and I didn’t need to see anything more. I had fulfilled my duty."
The apartment building constructed above the Führerbunker
Just then, a German man exited one of the buildings. Gaïa led the way, introducing me. The man’s name was Max, and he was 24. We shook hands.
“Do you ever think about the events that happened here?” I asked.
“Not really,” he admitted. “I’ve never been too interested in history. I had it in school, but for me there’s nothing special about it. There’s no connection anymore to the past. I’m not saying it should be forgotten, just that it’s not part of my history.”
“So, you make your own history?”
“Do you have any emotions toward the bunker at all?”
“I did see it when they opened it—when there was a construction site around it. As kids, we used to climb the fence. We didn’t know what it was—we were just playing a game to see who would go the farthest inside.”
“And, did you go the farthest?”
“No. I was scared.”
Crossed out neo-Nazi graffiti
After saying goodbye to Max, we walked through a corridor to another part of the property. The whitewashed walls were spray-painted with black neo-Nazi symbols. Each one had been crossed out with blue spray-paint, and anti-Nazi slogans had been added: “No Tolerance for neo-Nazis!!!” read one.
An elderly German woman with a cane hobbled past with her eyes set straight. A little dachshund padded after her. Gaïa intercepted her, and I asked about the bunker.
“It doesn’t really make a difference to us,” she stated. “We’ve been here for a long time. If you always had to think about Hitler, you’d just become crazy after a while. It’s not the only thing you can think about.”
“What’s your name?” I asked in parting.
“Why?” she responded, narrowing her eyes.
“A first name is fine,” I assured her. “It’s just for the article.”
She hesitated for a couple beats longer. “Edeltraut,” she offered finally, before pursuing her dog down the corridor.
We watched her shuffle off. Gaïa leaned in close, raising her eyebrows. “I guarantee,” she said, “that is not her real name.”
Roc’s new book, And, was released last year. You can find more information on his website.
(Photos by Roc Morin)