Discover the National Socialism Documentation Center in Köln, Germany. As the largest regional memorial site dedicated to the victims of the Nazi regime, it offers a remarkable journey through Cologne’s history during the Nazi era. You will immerse yourself in its exhibitions, witness the preserved Gestapo prison, and gain invaluable insights into this significant European history chapter.
We visited the National Socialism Documentation Center in Köln in 2016 when we were in town for Photokina. We explored some places in the city during the few free moments we had and, together with the Cologne Cathedral, this was one of the most remarkable places in town. Years later, we finally decided to write about it.
How it all began for the National Socialism Documentation Center
Situated in the city’s heart, the National Socialism Documentation Center in Köln (NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln) has emerged as the preeminent regional memorial site in Germany for the victims of the Nazis.
But the significance of the NS Documentation Center extends beyond its role as a memorial site. It is a living testimony to the tireless efforts of individuals like Kurt Holl, whose daring exploration of the EL-DE building’s basement brought hidden inscriptions from former prisoners to public attention. This act of courage, accompanied by the photographic documentation of Gernot Huber, ignited a wave of public pressure that ultimately influenced the decision-making process.
It was through the intervention of former Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt, prompted by Holl’s actions that City Manager Kurt Rossa took decisive steps. The restoration of the cellar and its inscriptions, meticulously carried out under the guidance of city curator Hiltrud Kier, marked the beginning of a profound transformation.
During the same time, this important moment also led to the creation of a research center that worked with the Historical Archives. Under the expert guidance of historian Horst Matzerath, Cologne gained a research locus on the National Socialist era, enabling in-depth exploration and comprehensive understanding of this dark chapter in history.
A visit to the National Socialism Documentation Center in Köln
As you enter the NS Documentation Center, you embark on a captivating journey combining remembrance, research, and education. You’ll immerse yourself in the harrowing stories preserved within the former Gestapo prison’s inscriptions, while engaging with thought-provoking exhibitions that shed light on the multifaceted aspects of Cologne during the Nazi era.
The NS Documentation Center in Köln stands not only as a powerful tribute to the victims of the Nazi regime but also as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path towards a better future. After our visit, it felt like we gained some of the wisdom needed to shape a more compassionate and inclusive world by confronting the past.
At the NS Documentation Center, their mission revolves around commemorating the victims of the Nazi regime while undertaking comprehensive research and education on Cologne’s history during this dark era.
The National Socialism Documentation Center opened to the public as a memorial site on December 4, 1981; the former Gestapo prison within the center is a poignant reminder. Around 1,800 inscriptions and drawings created by prisoners have been preserved within its ten cells. This remarkably well-preserved prison is a valuable historical asset of national and European significance.
But there are more than inscriptions and drawings there. Since June 1997, the permanent exhibition within the EL-DE building has vividly portrayed the political, social, and community life in “Cologne During the Nazi Era.” The displays cover various aspects, including the seizure of power, propaganda and the “national community,” everyday life, youth culture, religion, racism, the genocide of Cologne’s Jews, Sinti, and Roma communities, as well as opposition, resistance, and society during the war. Additionally, the center hosts temporary exhibitions that delve into local and national dimensions of the Nazi regime.
The center emphasizes its role as a research hub by offering an extensive library, housing a wealth of literature on Cologne during the Nazis, general Nazi history, and right-wing extremism. The documentation department also plays a crucial role, meticulously organizing collections of photographs, posters, artifacts, documents, and witness statements, thereby creating accessible databases.
Also, the National Socialism Documentation Center maintains a database of the stumbling blocks laid in Cologne.
How to get tickets to the National Socialism Documentation Center in Köln
The National Socialism Documentation Center in Köln is open from Tuesday to Friday, from 10:00 to 18:00. Saturday and Sunday, from 11:00 to 18:00. Also, every first Thursday of each month: 10:00 to 10:00.
Tickets cost €4.50 for adults (2023) and are valid for one day.
You can also join one of their guided tours, which take place once a month and are free of charge. There is more information about this on their official website.
Exploring the National Socialism Documentation Center in Köln
Appellhofplatz 23-25 (EL-DE building)