Hitler returns to Berlin -- in wax
A life-size wax figure of Adolf Hitler has gone on display in the heart of Berlin in what museum officials say is the first such public exhibition of the Nazi dictator in post-war Germany.
"Provided it's all just art, it's permitted," a Culture Ministry spokesman said Tuesday, when asked if the Hitler waxwork was breaking Germany's tough anti-fascist laws banning the use of Nazi symbols and insignia.
Hitler shares a room at the "Galerie Art'el" museum with his World War II adversaries Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, overlooking the former Cold War border crossing Checkpoint Charlie in the once-divided German capital.
Museum director Inna Vollstaedt said Hitler would soon be reunited with his former Nazi henchmen Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels in the waxwork displays.
"Until now there has never been a wax figure of Hitler displayed in Germany," said Vollstaedt.
"We have these men to thank for the Berlin Wall. We want them all," she said, referring to the Cold War barrier.
Vollstaedt, born in Russia, has assembled a collection of wax models including Count Dracula, French porn actress Lolo Ferrari and ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes.
Although it has been nearly 60 years since Hitler and his top deputies killed themselves at the end of the Third Reich, artists must be mindful of the anti-fascist laws.
German authorities have long been at pains to distance the country from Hitler's legacy. The remains of the Fuehrer's bunker in central Berlin have been sealed off to prevent neo-Nazis from turning it into a shrine.
In the museum an unusually placid-looking Hitler stands conservatively attired in a gray jacket by a window, while seated figures of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former Beatle Paul McCartney drink tea nearby.
At the reception desk of the museum near the East-West border crossing where Soviet and U.S. tanks faced each other in a tense Cold War moment in 1961, visitors find a middle-aged woman writing. Many do not spot the fake.
"That's our wax Agatha Christie," said Vollstaedt. "People often mistakenly ask her for a ticket."
Vollstaedt, who has lived in Germany for 35 years but still speaks with a Russian accent, rented her first waxworks from the St. Petersburg wax museum but will add more in a bid to create Berlin's answer to the famed Madame Tussaud's in London.
Exhibits such as Ferrari proved such popular attractions before coming to Berlin that they required repair work.
"Lolo Ferrari was in Cyprus before we got her," said Vollstaedt. "She'd had so many hands on her that there was a hole between her breasts -- so we had to fix her."
Vollstaedt said the waxworks with real hair and prosthetic eyes cost between US$5,000 and US$10,000 to make.
Soviet authorities sent many of her relatives to gulags, but she sees the waxworks as a way to put things in perspective.
"An uncle of mine got five years in prison for making a joke about Stalin," said Vollstaedt. "But I think when you see Stalin here and the others cast in wax, you realize it's all history and it's good to be able say -- never again."