BERLIN // Madame Tussauds unveiled its wax museum in Berlin yesterday to a crowd who had all come to see just one exhibit - an impressively realistic looking figure of Adolf Hitler. The inclusion of the Nazi leader has been condemned by critics in Germany as tasteless and liable to attract neo-Nazis, but Madame Tussauds said it had conducted market research which indicated a majority of Germans believed the dictator should feature in the display.
He is portrayed sitting behind his desk in his bunker next to an enormous map of Europe, with a look of desperation on his face. Madame Tussauds said it had deliberately portrayed Hitler not at the height of his power but as a broken man on the brink of his downfall, and that the figure could help demystify the man responsible for the Second World War and the murder of six million Jews and hundreds of thousands of gypsies, handicapped people and homosexuals.
"We wanted to show him as he was in his final days," said Meike Schulze, Germany manager for the Midway division of UK-based group Merlin Entertainments, which owns Madame Tussauds. "We did a survey and found that most people said he belongs to history and should be shown, so we were guided by that." Unlike the other exhibits, Hitler will be kept cordoned off and will be guarded permanently by a member of staff.
Visitors will not be allowed to photograph the figure or have their picture taken alongside it, and the area will be monitored by video surveillance cameras, said Ms Schulze. There is a note on the desk in front of Hitler saying that while the museum encourages its guests to touch and interact with other figures, "we would ask that to avoid insult to other guests and out of respect for the millions who died during WW2, you refrain from taking photographs or attempting to 'pose' alongside Hitler's figure."
The museum, which opens to the general public tomorrow, is located on Berlin's central Unter den Linden boulevard, which is less than one kilometre from the site of Hitler's bunker where he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, as the Soviet army closed in. The bunker lies sealed off under a car park next to Berlin's giant Holocaust Memorial, and interest in it remains so great that the city has put up a sign to mark the spot.
"We were aware the figure would attract a lot of interest but we hope people will also pay attention to our other great exhibits," said Ms Schulze. "It would be a shame if the focus were just on this one figure," she added. The Berlin museum is the world's eighth Madame Tussauds. The London exhibition also has a Hitler figure but that one is shown standing up and did not serve as a model for the Berlin waxwork, which was created from scratch based on 2,000 images of Hitler from all conceivable perspectives.
The result is startlingly realistic, and the effect is helped by the gloomy lighting against the stark grey bunker backdrop. Berlin politicians have criticised the inclusion, calling it inappropriate and superfluous, and Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's mayor, urged the organisers to deal with the exhibit in a sensitive way. Johannes Tuchel, a researcher who works for a Berlin memorial to the opponents of the Nazi regime, said: "A waxworks museum is meant to entertain and to amuse. It's not appropriate to have a Hitler figure there."
But the Council of Jews in Germany has taken a more relaxed approach. Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of the council, said Hitler should not become a tourist attraction in Berlin. "But if such an exhibition helps to normalise our view of Hitler and to demystify him, one should try it," he said. Winston Churchill, Karl Marx, Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein and Angela Merkel were among the other 74 exhibits that were revealed yesterday.