Not all museums are pretty, happy places. The NS Documentation Center in Munich takes a hard, sometimes painful, often horrifying look at the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist party (NS), the terror of the Nazi regime, and indeed how that relates to today’s world events. The permanent exhibition is called, fittingly, “The Cradle of Terror – Munich and National Socialism.”

The NS Documentation Center (NS-Dokumentationszentrum) is not called a museum or a memorial, but “a place of learning and remembrance.” Open in Munich since 2015, the center fulfills that mission by offering a chronological walk through the political times starting in 1918 through the end of the war and of the Nazi Party in 1945, in addition to education, events, publications and special exhibits.

NS Documentation Center a sobering, educational experience

You won’t leave this place ready to skip down the streets, but in fact more likely in a somber mood, thinking about what happened, the terror of it, how it affected millions of people, how good people stood up for justice and lost their lives, and how right extremism is still alive in today’s world. I learned that the “protective custody” was the “legal base” behind concentration camps, which were established as so-called “protective custody camps.” Think on that. Although sobering, the NS Documentation Center is still a must on any Munich visitor’s list of things to see and experience.

Swastika rising from an NS Documentation Center display in Munich

Although well done in both German and English, the exhibits and historical presentations of the permanent exhibit are extensive and perhaps overwhelming. If on your own, two hours is the minimum you will need and perhaps three or more if you plan to read more of the boards, listen to more audio, or watch more videos. Best bet may be to take a tour of the three stories of permanent exhibit from the center’s trained historians (who also speak superior English by the way).

The lower floor has rotating special exhibits (usually only in German due to time limitations), and I happened onto one called, “Never Again. Back Again. Still there. Right-wing extremism in Germany since 1945,” which ran in 2017 and early 2018. It was a rather shocking look at how the Right Extremist movement still exists strongly. Of note for myself was a placard at a demonstration photographed in 2017 that said, “We don’t just hang placards,” and another slogan for the REP German conservative party from 1989 that said, “Germany First.” Yet another I stood and stared at a bit was from 2015 and read, “My homeland should remain German.”

Historic location for “learning, remembering and understanding”

Perhaps the world thinks of Berlin as the hub of Hitler’s Nazi Party, but Munich was in fact its “cradle,” and the NS Documentation Center states that the city is well aware of its obligation to keep alive the memory of Nazi era terror. Munich was where Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) movement began after WWI. Munich was where the attempted putsch occurred in 1923, with Hitler’s subsequent trial. It was in Munich in 1938 that Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels called for a national anti-Jewish program.

Swastika in the eyes magazine cover from NS Documentation Center in Munich

Fittingly, the center is in fact located directly in the city district that was the “Nazi Party District,” and the center is on the site of the former Nazi headquarters. Munich was selected by Hitler after he seized power in 1933 as the headquarters for what the NS Documentation Center calls “the cult of Nazism” and was baptized as the “Capital of the Movement.”

New address, same location

The address of the NS Documentation Center in early 2018 was renamed Max-Mannheimer-Platz 1 (formerly Briennerstrasse 34). Mannheimer was a holocaust survivor and became active in Jewish communities after the war. So don’t be confused by seeing Briennerstrasse (Brienner Street) on some maps; it will remain the street you walk down if you come from either Odeonsplatz or Königsplatz. Click here to see directions

Flyers and brochures about the NS Documentation Center, its programs, exhibits and events can be downloaded here.