Topography of Terror

The Topography of Terror (German: Topographie des Terrors) is an outdoor museum in Berlin, the capital of Germany. It is located in Niederkirchnerstrasse, formerly Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, on the site of buildings which during the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945 were the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS, the principal instruments of repression during the Nazi era.

The buildings that housed the Gestapo and SS headquarters were largely destroyed by Allied bombing during early 1945 and the ruins demolished after the war. The boundary between the American and Soviet zones of occupation in Berlin ran along the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, so the street soon became a fortified boundary, and the Berlin Wall ran along the south side of the street, renamed Niederkirchnerstrasse, from 1961 to 1989. The wall here was never demolished. Indeed the section adjacent to the Topography of Terror site is the longest extant segment of the outer wall (the longer East Side Gallery section in Friedrichshain being actually part of the inner wall not visible from West Berlin).

The first exhibitions of the site took place in 1987, as part of Berlin's 750th anniversary. The cellar of the Gestapo headquarters, where many political prisoners were tortured and executed, were found and excavated. The site was then turned into a memorial and museum, in the open air but protected from the elements by a canopy, detailing the history of repression under the Nazis. The excavation took place in cooperation with East German researchers, and a joint exhibition was shown both at the site and in East Germany in 1989.

In 1992, two years after German reunification, a foundation was established to take care of the site, and the following year, it initiated an architectural competition to design a permanent museum. A design by architect Peter Zumthor was chosen. However, construction was stopped due to funding problems after the concrete core of the structure had been built. This stood on the site for nearly a decade until it was finally demolished in 2004 and a new building begun.

The construction of the new Documentation Center according to a prize-winning design by the architect Ursula Wilms (Heinle, Wischer und Partner, Berlin) and the landscape architect Heinz W. Hallmann (Aachen) was finished in 2010. The new Documentation Center was officially opened on May 6, 2010 by Federal President Horst Köhler on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. The new exhibition and documentation building and the redesigned historic grounds were opened to the public on May 7, 2010.


After the demolition of the ruins, the area was used for 15 years as a bumper car site and as talus for the Kreuzberger area renovation. The first exhibition with the focus on the Topography of Terror emerged for the 750th anniversary of Berlin in 1987 and was afterwards continued. The investigatory work for the directions of the exhibition disembogued in a documentation centre that collected some more evidence for the terror of the National Socialists in Germany.

Since 1992 a foundation for the construction and maintenance of a documentation centre with an associated permanent exhibition exists. The managing director is Rabbi Andreas Nachama. The plans to found a memorial site on the former site of the Gestapo goes back to 1978, when Berlin architecture critic Dieter Hoffmann-Axthelm was one of the first to note, in essays and surveys, the significance of the former site of the Gestapo, SD und RSHA headquarters.

Architectural design competition 2005

In June 2005 a new architectural design competition was launched. Out of 309 submitted and 23 chosen drafts, architect Ursula Wilms from the Berlin architects office Heinle, Wischer and Partner and landscape architect Heinz W. Hallmann from Aachen won in January 2006 the final round. The draft included a two-storey, ashlar-formed, paned building with an available surface of 3.500 square metres. For the construction around 15 million Euro were available. Another five to nine million Euro were used for the interior and the redevelopment of the historical site, for which costs were defrayed by one half of each of the federal government and the federal state of Berlin. The architects estimated construction costs of a maximum of 20 Million Euro and a construction period of two years.

The construction was finished on time and the new building was opened to the public on May 7, 2010.


The open-air exhibition in the trench alongside the excavated segments of cellar wall on Niederkirchnerstraße (formerly Prinz-Albrecht-Straße) was retained and sheltered with glass. The room for the permanent exhibition is 800 cubic metres and presents the development and functions of the security apparatuses during the Nazi regime. A room for events at the back of the building can accommodate 200 participants. In the southern part of the area outside is a copse of robinias, the remains of "Harrys Autodrom" from the 1970s, whereas the rest of the open space is covered with greywacke. Around the flat-roofed building is a façade made of metal lamellae, which opens the building in a way that it is possible to look out of it to the surroundings anywhere on the ground floor of the building. In the basement is the seminar centre, the library with about 25,000 volumes, the memorial department and offices for 17 employees of the Topography of Terror Foundation.


Permanent exhibitions

With the inauguration of the new Documentation Center, three permanent exhibitions are open to the public. All three are presented bilingually in German and English.

The “Topography of Terror” permanent exhibition was shown in the open air until the new documentation center opened. The thoroughly revised and redesigned “Topography of Terror” permanent exhibition is presented over 800 square meters in the new building. The focus of the exhibition is the central institutions of the SS and police in the “Third Reich” as well as the crimes they perpetrated throughout Europe. Attention to the Nazi regime’s many victim groups will assume a central place alongside the portrayal of the system of terror.

A permanent exhibition about the capital Berlin during the “Third Reich” will be on display in the exhibition trench alongside the excavated segments of cellar wall on Niederkirchnerstraße (formerly Prinz-Albrecht-Straße). It will address National Socialist policy in Berlin and its consequences for the city and its population.

With the opening of the new Documentation Center, the grounds of the “Topography of Terror” are once again completely open to the public. The site tour, which mainly follows the exposed building remnants, encompasses 15 stations. Informational ­signs provide an overview of the historic location and the site’s use during the Nazi period and the postwar era. The tour also integrates remains of the Berlin Wall, which have been designated a historic monument.

Special and temporary exhibitions

This special exhibition will be presented in the Topography of Terror Documentation Centre from 23rd June 2010 on. It was developed by Dr. Ingo Loose and Dr. Thomas Lutz in cooperation with the State Archive in Łódź.

The bilingual German-English exhibition about the "House Prison" at the Gestapo Headquarters was shown in a special open-air exhibition area and included the ground memorial with remainders of the basement of the former prison cells.

With altogether 400 photos and documents, the exhibition informed for the first time comprehensively about the history of the prison in the Prinz-Albrecht-Straße 8 and reminded of the fate of numerous detainees.

The presentation was from August 2005 to April 2008 on the site of the Topography of Terror.

The exhibition was presented on the occasion of the 60th anniversary on the Nuremberg Trials and comprises around 110 photo and 50 text documents as well as 15 audio stations. It is outlining the genesis, process, ambition and importance of the trial led by the Allies Nuremberg and focuses on the accused, whose responsibility for the war crimes is shown.

The presentation was from October 2005 to April 2007 on the construction hoarding at the area of the Topography of Terror.

German-English documentation on occasion of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the people's court.

The exhibition was developed in cooperation with the Memorial to the German Resistance.

The presentation was from July 2004 to July 2005 on the construction hoarding at the area of the Topography of Terror.

Travelling exhibitions

The exhibition was developed in cooperation with the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Stiftung Neue Synagoge - Centrum Judaicum. The cooperative project presented on the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogroms presents historical documentation of the attack, seen around the world, on German Jewry after five and a half years of Nazi dictatorship.

The presentation was displayed from November 2008 to March 2009 in the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin.


The library of the Topography of Terror Foundation is a special library focusing on the police, SS, Gestapo in the Third Reich and on the National Socialism in general. It currently comprises about 25.800 media elements, about 120 regularly and 100 closed magazines. It is situated around a fountain reminding of Zen gardens and freely accessible.

Memorial Museums Department

The Topography of Terror Foundation provides comprehensive advice and coordination tasks in the field of national and international memorial sites. In Germany, the Memorial Museums Department is the central coordination office for memorial sites and initiatives for memorial sites and increasingly promotes the international collaboration.

Images from the Topography of Terror, 2006

  • Images of political prisoners from the Gestapo archives

  • Excavated cells from the basement of the Gestapo headquarters

  • The bombed out shell of the Gestapo-SS headquarters, 1945

  • Photo display of Berlin Jews being deported to their deaths

Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre

The last well-preserved former Nazi forced labour camp is located in Schöneweide. In the Second World War it served as one of the more than 3000 collective accommodations dispersed throughout the city for forced labourers. The Documentation Centre on Nazi Forced Labour opened in the summer of 2006 on a part of historical grounds that once belonged to the camp and which are today protected as a monument.

The Documentation Centre on the Nazi Forced Labour, a department of the Topography of Terror Foundation, is continually being developed as an educational site with an exhibition and archive. The current permanent exhibition “Building Blocks” provides information on the history of the camp and the establishment of the Documentation Centre. Changing exhibitions on Nazi forced labour, including exhibits from abroad, are also displayed, accompanied by special events, tours and other educational programs. A permanent exhibition on the history of Nazi forced labour in Berlin is currently being developed.


  • Schaltzentrale der Hölle. Was passiert mit der „Topographie des Terrors“ in Berlin? Documentary, Germany, 2004, 7’08 Min., ZDF-aspekte, July 20, 2004
  • Dokumentationen des Terrors. News programme, Germany, 2007, 1’52 Min., Production: ZDF-heute, first run: November 2, 2007