Münchner Platz Memorial, Dresden
Part of a former courthouse and prison in Dresden
, that was used as an execution site both by the Nazis
in the Third Reich
and by the communist Soviet
regimes in East Germany. A few former cells can be seen, a monument as well as a new, extensive, text-heavy exhibition (mostly in German).
Following the 1938 annexation of the "Sudetenland" and the establishment of the "Protectorate" of Bohemia and Moravia in today's Czech Republic
, death sentences handed down by Nazi courts in those territories were routinely carried out here in nearby Dresden too. Death sentences increased dramatically from 1942 when more and more offences could carry the death penalty … while the fortunes of the war effort were beginning to turn against the Nazis. See also Plötzensee
In total ca. 1300 executions were carried out at the Münchner Platz courthouse. About two thirds of the victims were Czechoslovakians. The site used for executions was the courtyard between the courthouse itself and the adjacent remand prison complex. The instrument of execution used was a guillotine.
The prison was partly damaged in the night-time bombing raids of February 1945 which destroyed most of the historic old town (see under Dresden
). While an unknown number of prisoners died in the air raids, a sizeable number also managed to use the opportunity to flee. The remaining prisoners were released on 7 May, i.e. hours before the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany
, the Soviet
occupying authorities continued to use the court/prison complex, first for military tribunals against Nazi war criminals (and just ordinary Nazi functionaries as well), but soon political opponents to the new communist rule also became targeted between 1945 and 1950. An unknown number of executions, usually by firing squad, were carried out during this time too.
The new GDR
regime then took over the site and, again, made use of it in the same old ways. Indeed, the Münchner Platz courthouse yard became the central execution site of the GDR between 1952 and 1956, again using a guillotine. Figures as to how many found their death here that way vary a little (even within the informational material provided at the memorial site itself), but range between 66 and 83. Unlike the Nazis, the GDR regime did not make use of the death penalty openly but rather covertly, only on a comparatively smaller scale and mainly as a specific political deterrent. The other German state, the FRG
, had banned the death penalty in 1949, so the allegedly "better Germany" in the East was not to appear unfavourably in PR terms. Thus the executions were hushed up, relatives left in the dark and death certificates falsified.
In 1957 the court moved out to another location, the prison closed, and the whole complex was taken over by the Technische Universität Dresden (Dresden's polytechnic or 'technical university'), which still occupies all the (converted) buildings today.
The execution yard, however, was made a memorial in the GDR as early as from 1959, also including the small cell tract on its edge (see below
). The memorial was expanded over the years and in the 1980s was augmented by an dedicated exhibition and yet more monuments. The aim was to honour only the "antifascist resistance fighters" as heroes of communism
. The use of the very same site for the repression and even execution of anti-communist opponents during the early years of the GDR was of course not mentioned. Any memory of the victims of that phase was completely suppressed. This one-sidedness was typical of memorial sites on the GDR, of course – see also under e.g. Buchenwald
After the fall of the Berlin Wall
and the subsequent collapse of the GDR
which eventually led to Germany
's reunification, there were calls to finally make the Münchner Platz site an appropriately comprehensive
memorial, including commemoration of the plight of the victims from all
the different historical phases, including in particular also those of the Stalinist
Soviet times and the early GDR.
New information panels were put up, and interim (travelling) exhibitions prepared. However, it took until late 2012 for the present, completely new permanent exhibition to be opened.
What there is to see: There are basically two very different and distinct parts to this memorial site. One is the modern permanent exhibition in the ground-floor rooms of the Georg-Schumann building, i.e. the former courthouse. The other is the former execution courtyard itself with a few memorial plaques and the central monument, plus a small tract of cells, which are the only original trace still in situ.
The exhibition is indeed very new (only opened in December 2012) and very modern in its approach, at least in terms of "didactics". In addition to general text panels and display cabinets there are lots of drawers, file boxes and folders that visitors have to get their hands on in order to access the information inside. This has become quite common in modern commodifications of such sites, but I never understood what the added value of having to open drawers and stuff is actually supposed to be … maybe I'm missing something here, but I usually find it more annoying rather than inspiring. But anyway.
Furthermore there are various multimedia stations where one can listen to eyewitness reports or watch short videos. What the exhibition is a bit short on is genuine artefacts. There are a few, but nothing major: manacles, cell keys, an old cell door, some personal belongings of former prisoners, but otherwise it's mostly documents, letters and photos accompanying the extensive textual information.
This covers a lot of ground, with a distinct emphasis on personal aspects of individual fates, but also general explanations of how the judicial systems worked under the Nazis
, the Soviet
occupying authorities as well as in the early GDR
The general text panels introducing the various themes are bilingual, German and English (with the quality of translation mostly OK), but otherwise only the general labels of display cabinets, file shelves and audio-visual stations come with an English equivalent. The actual contents as such, however, are in German only, including not just the documents themselves (that much is obvious), but also the detailed labelling of individual exhibits and all of the interactive audio-visual material. This is a bit of a drawback from an international visitor's point of view. But I suppose you couldn't really expect otherwise from such a small place that doesn't even charge an admission fee.
The other parts of the memorial sites are much less commodified. There is the old GDR-era monument from 1959. It's basically just a group of sculptures of suitably miserable-looking figures. It's entitled "Widerstandskämpfer" ('resistance fighters') but doesn't exude much fighting spirit or resolve, rather more resigned fatalism … but maybe I'm over-interpreting. A small plaque next to the monument gives some info about the artist and his work (in German only).
If you step through the gate on the side of the courtyard that connects to the one of the eastern part of the complex you pass a wall into which five plaques are set, each in a different language. This is, obviously enough, referred to as the international memorial. It was the latest element of the site added still in GDR
times, namely in November 1988 (less than a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall
!). Interestingly, English is amongst the five languages represented (unusual for the GDR – whereas the inclusion of Russian and Czech is to be expected). The text honours – predictably – the "heroes of antifascist resistance from 1933 to 1945" … and nobody else – no mention of those executed here later!
There are further GDR-era memorial elements of this style in the eastern parts of the complex, also honouring anti-fascists, and in particular Georg Schumann – a communist
leader of the Weimar Republic who was executed here by the Nazis in January 1945 – after whom the whole former courthouse building is named too.
Various information panels provide extra background (some in German and English, some in German only). All these outdoor parts should theoretically be accessible at all times.
But the "highlight" in dark terms (if that's not a contradiction) is almost hidden, namely at the far end of the former execution courtyard. Note the row of barred windows … behind these are the only remaining original cells still in situ. A door to the left allows access to the inside (during opening hours of the memorial site only, I would presume).
There isn't much inside, but what there is does indeed ooze a creepy and grim atmosphere: the individual doors to the cells are open. Inside is nothing but a simple stool-and-foldable table combination. Otherwise they're bare. The function of these cells appears to be a bit controversial. One (older, GDR-era) plaque on the wall proclaims that these were the "death-row cells", i.e. that it was in these little depressing spaces that victims had to wait the last hours/moments of their lives before their execution.
Another, newer plaque, however, claims that this may have been an erroneous assumption based only on the fact that these cells were so close to the execution yard. It says that the cells where those doomed usually had to wait were instead located at the end of the corridors in the main prison part. These cells here by the yard of the courthouse may only have been for defendants or witnesses, where they were temporarily held before being heard in court. It is possible, though, that the same cells were later used by the Soviets or even the East German judiciary as pre-execution waiting cells … but of course that's something that the GDR memorial would never have let on. So we don't know for sure.
Whatever may be the truth, the cells certainly are the grimmest, darkest aspect of the whole memorial in any case. Don't miss out on seeing these. I was only pointed towards them when at the end of my visit to the exhibition I asked the attendant whether there was anything else to see. I'm glad I did ask.
All in all this is a memorial rather more for specialists in these aspects of history and only for the really dedicated dark tourist. It is also much more aimed at German or at least German-speaking audiences than at international visitors. For these, the Münchner Platz Memorial is probably the one dark site in Dresden
that they can most easily afford to miss (unlike the excellent and must-see Military History Museum
and also Bautzner Straße
). But if you have plenty of time while in Dresden, you could just as well pop by here too, and at least have a look at the courtyard, the memorials and the alleged "death-row" cells. The exhibition provides only a cursory historical background, but may help putting things into context all the same.
in the southern suburb Südvorstadt of Dresden
, some 2 miles (3 km) from the old town / city centre.
Access and costs: just a bit out of the centre but easy to get to by tram; free.
Details: To get to the memorial from the city centre by public transport take tram line 3 (in the direction of Coschütz) from either the central station (Hauptbahnhof), the Neue Synagoge or Pirnaischer Platz and get out at Münchner Platz. The entrance to the memorial is on the corner of George-Bähr-Straße No. 3, 01062 Dresden. When driving, note that the memorial does not have its own car park and there's no guarantee you'll find a free on-street parking space. When I went I had no trouble finding nearby parking, but maybe I was just lucky (twice even).
Opening times: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at weekends to 6 p.m.
Time required: depends very much on whether you understand German or not – if not, then you can be out again in less than 20 minutes. If you do know German sufficiently well, then you can spend up to two hours in here easily.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Dresden
– the site most associated with part of the same GDR
history of repression and political imprisonment (but short of execution) is the former Stasi
prison at Bautzner Straße
in the east of Dresden. To get there take the tram line 3 all the way to Albertplatz on the other side of the Elbe, change there to tram line 11 and go in the eastern direction to the stop Angelikastraße right opposite the ex-prison.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
The area around Münchner Platz is not a touristy part of the city – for that see under Dresden
- Münchner Platz 01 - old courthouse
- Münchner Platz 02 - aerial shot of the complex
- Münchner Platz 03 - the former cell blocks
- Münchner Platz 04 - plaque from socialist days
- Münchner Platz 05 - multilingual monument
- Münchner Platz 06 - English version
- Münchner Platz 07 - execution courtyard
- Münchner Platz 08 - group of sculptures in the execution yard
- Münchner Platz 09 - execution yard cell block
- Münchner Platz 10 - preserved cells but with open doors
- Münchner Platz 11 - cell
- Münchner Platz 12 - main entrance to the exhibition
- Münchner Platz 13 - exhibition
- Münchner Platz 14 - images of the old prison
- Münchner Platz 15 - few artefacts
- Münchner Platz 16 - war-time damage
- Münchner Platz 17 - view throgh an old cell door into the exhibition