Differently from what one is usually taught in schools, World War II in Europe did not stop in one moment with the death by suicide of the Führer, on April 30th, 1945.
As soon as the advancing Western Allies established strongpoints within the original borders of Germany – as these had been before the war – in 1945 the chain of command in Germany began to vacillate. Rumors about contacts between top-ranking Nazi officials and the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) have lived to this day, and they are reasonable even though not well documented – as a matter of fact, Hitler dismissed both Göring and Himmler just before his death, on account of unauthorized contacts with ‘the enemy’, promoting Admiral Dönitz to the rank of president of Germany.
The understandable confusion of those days at the ‘top of the pyramid’ is reflected by the local autonomous surrender of substantial parts of the German armed forces around Europe, against the will of the Führer, and even before his death. Literally millions of soldiers were disarmed on both fronts in April 1945, and the process culminated in the surrender of all German forces in Italy on April 29th, the day before Hitler’s death.
The new German president Dönitz acted with the same authority of the Führer in the last stormy days of the collapsing Nazi rule, early May 1945. Under Dönitz’s mandate, between the 1st and 7th of May 1945 some separate surrenders took place, including all German forces in Austria, North-West Germany, Holland, Denmark, Berlin – who surrendered to the Soviets -, Mecklenburg and Pommern north of Berlin, and Bavaria. The German navy ceased war operations on May 5th, by direct order of admiral Dönitz.
All this preceded the ‘official’, authorized, unconditional surrender which was signed on behalf of acting president Dönitz separately by General Jödl in the headquarters of the Expeditionary Force in Reims in the early hours of May 7th, and by Feldmarschall Keitel in Berlin-Karlshorst on May 8th, in presence of General Zhukov of the Red Army. The capitulation called for quitting all military operations at 23:01 CET, May 8th. Both of the signers were arrested soon after, as were Dönitz, Göring and other top German players of the war in Europe.
Today, the two locations where the unconditional surrender(s) were signed are open for visitors. The following photographs were taken during visits in 2015 and 2016.
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The headquarters of the SHAEF where the ‘instrument of surrender’ was signed on the western front occupied the building of a high school.
Today, the building has returned to its original function, but a small part of it with the original room and table have been preserved inside of a museum on-site. The walls of the room are covered with original maps from the time, resembling how it looked like in 1945.
Other rooms are packed with showcases, where you can see many items, including an official copy of the document signed by Jödl, authenticated by Dönitz, uniforms, original flags and other memorabilia.
The museum is rather small, and can be toured in about 30 minutes at most. This excludes the video presentation, which I had not the chance to watch.
Getting there and moving around
The historical place is located to the north of the city center in Reims, very close to the railway station. The exact address is 12 Rue du Président Franklin Roosevelt, 51100 Reims. There is chance of public parking nearby. If you parked somewhere else for visiting historical Reims, I suggest not moving your car, as the museum can be easily reached with a short 5 minutes walk from Porte de Mars, right on the northern edge of the center. Website here.
Soon after the end of the war and the division of Berlin, with the district of Berlin-Karlshorst falling under Soviet rule, the Soviets converted the building where the capitulation was signed for hosting their headquarters. After the birth of the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) at the end of the Forties, the place was turned into a museum.
Besides the very room where the document was signed, you can find some dioramas dating back to the first years of the museum, as well as a specifically designed foyer and a stained glass window portraying the statue of the Soviet Soldier in Treptower Park – dating from the same late Stalin’s era.
More recently, the museum has been refurbished and enlarged with very interesting and well prepared exhibits, including many memorabilia items, findings and relics not only from the events of May 1945, but more in general from WWII and the less known eastern front.
Compared to the museum in Reims, this is much broader and richer, going well beyond the preservation of the room and the evocation of the last stage of the war.
Getting there and moving around
The museum is in a nice residential area in southern Berlin. This is not a touristic area, so you’d better go there only if you are interested in this specific museum, cause there is not much else to see. Yet if you are interested in WWII and especially to the eastern front, I would say this absolutely a must – all in all, there is not so much information in the touristic areas of Berlin about WWII, so this might fill the gap.
Anyway, the exact location is Zwieseler Strasse 4. This can be reached with bus 296 from the S-3 station Karlshorst or from U5 stop Tierpark. Alternatively, from S-3 Karlshorst it is a walk of about ten minutes. Finally, if you are going by car – the most convenient way – there is a parking right in front of the building. Website here.