KölnTag: NS Documentation Center

I joined Oliver Meißner’s 90-minute guided tour of the NS Documentation Center. In the end, he granted us more more than two hours of his time and led us through the old Gestapo Headquarters to give us an understanding of the Nazi’s rise to power, their cooptation, and their staged people’s community. I am very grateful to Mr. Meißner, who—with the appropriate austerity and severity—left no doubt where he stands politically and what he thinks of the New Right. He was brilliant at dissecting complex circumstances and bringing their cause and consequences into a logical and causal order.

Visiting any kind of exhibition that deals with National Socialism and the Third Reich means signing up for anger and frustration; about the unspeakable atrocities of Nazi Germany, about the silence of the many, about the non-existent denazification, and about neo-fascists that are on the rise again.

But what made me gasp was a stupid typewriter.

Close-up of a typewriter keyboard with a shortcut key for the SS rune.

Typing shift and the number 5 would print an SS rune on paper. Let that sink in for a minute… Typewriters in Nazi Germany had a freaking shortcut key for the SS rune. I am not sure whether that makes sense for anyone else, but this little piece of metal started a whole whirlwind of thoughts in my head. I know it is naïve, but sometimes I catch myself thinking of the Third Reich as something with the fixed timeframe of 1933–1945, something so bad that it becomes almost an unreal nightmare, something that was not made out of people but… obscure evil forces. That SS rune key made everything very real. Very real people sat in front of this typewriter and used the SS rune key probably a hundred times, a thousand times?! To deport other people, to sentence other people to death, to turn people against their loved ones. The Nazi ideology, machinery, and infatuation penetrated every single aspect of everyday life.

I have learned a lot about Nazi Germany in school, I’ve watched documentaries, I visited Buchenwald concentration camp. But when terror becomes mundane and the despicable becomes normal, that’s where the true horror lies for me. This typewriter key made me more angry than anything before.

Our tour guide Mr. Meißner countered this with an objectivity that allowed me to leave the museum not with raging anger towards everyone who stirs up hate and harassment in these trying times, but with a newfound and hopefully long-lasting carefulness regarding the causes for extremism and xenophobia.

The NSDAP did not need the outright majority to overthrow a whole country. The person operating the typewriter might have said “No” if asked whether they are a Nazi. But they helped to carry the system regardless. Today, we sure as hell will need to be the best versions of ourselves to face the dynamic and “temptations” of the New Right.

A signboard in bombed-out Cologne that says “Give me five years and you will not recognize Germany again,” an out-of-context quote by Adolf Hitler.