In 1933 the Nazi German Student League organised the first full-blown public book burning in Germany. Works by Brecht, Mann, Marx and others deemed ‘subversive’ went up in flames on this treeless square. Named for August Bebel, the co-founder of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), it was originally laid out in the 18th century under King Frederick the Great.
Originally called Opernplatz (Opera Square), it was intended to be the hub of the Forum Fridericianium, a cultural centre envisioned by the king. Money woes meant that only some of the buildings could be realised: the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (State Opera House), the Alte Königliche Bibliothek (Old Royal Library), a palace for the king’s brother Heinrich (now the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and the copper-domed St-Hedwigs-Kathedrale.