German display includes Hitler's globe

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Chancellor Angela Merkel has opened a landmark exhibition exploring 2,000 years of German history, calling it a chance to create "from a divided memory of the Germans a common one".

After 20 years of discussion and controversy, the new permanent exhibit at the German Historical Museum in Berlin goes on show today with 8,000 exhibits including the hat Napoleon lost at Waterloo and the huge globe Adolf Hitler used to plot world domination, memorably parodied by Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator.

"The exhibition concept doesn't force a strict view of history. It encourages reflection," said Dr Merkel, who was born in Hamburg but grew up in East Germany.

She praised the new exhibition for giving equal space to East German history - displaying a Trabant beside a Volkswagen Beetle - without the baggage of socialist ideology.

The exhibition opens as World Cup crowds begin to arrive this week in a Germany gripped by an increasingly optimistic mood - an Aufbruchstimmung - after years of gloom. Important indicators this week showed evidence of a clear upswing in Europe's largest economy as the excitement grows over the month-long festival of football.

Spoiling the party is Berlin publicist Lea Rosh, the initiator of Berlin's Holocaust Memorial, dubbed Germany's "Holocaust Cassandra".

She has called on city authorities to cover up huge, Aryan statues created by sculptor Arno Breker on commission from Adolf Hitler that are still on display at Berlin's Nazi-era Olympic Stadium.

"Breker was a top Nazi. It's bad enough that the sculptures are on any kind of public display," she said.

Her cover-up call has been trumped by Ralph Giordana, a leading German-Jewish novelist, who says broad-shouldered statues by another artist at the stadium should "disappear quickly, without a trace" and be pulverised.

Arno Breker was an established sculptor in Germany when he accepted the Nazi commission for the statues The Decathlete and The Female Victor for the Olympic Stadium.

He created monumental works for the dictator's New Chancellery and the Nuremberg parade grounds also, earning him the title "Hitler's Michelangelo".

Though he never joined the Nazi party, Allied authorities charged with "denazification" of post-war Germany classified him as a "nominal" member.

Unlike Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, however, Breker was rehabilitated in the post-war years and even had the first West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, pose for him.

In 1973, it emerged that the sculptor had used his contacts with Hitler to save the life of Pablo Picasso, hours before the artist was arrested by the Gestapo in occupied Paris.

Breker died in 1991.

Berlin politicians, historians and Jewish leaders have dismissed the claims Breker's statues are unacceptably and irredeemably fascist and should be removed.

"The style was in step with the zeitgeist," said Christoph Stölzl, a Berlin historian and politician.

"The Neoclassical sculptures made in the United States at the time of the New Deal look just like the sculptures produced in Germany in the 1930s, in the Soviet Union, Italy or at the Palais Chaillot in Paris."

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