The opening of the documentation centre, the Topography of Terror, took place on 4 July 1987 as part of the 750th anniversary celebrations for the city of Berlin. The exhibition “Topography of Terror. Gestapo, SS and Reich Security Main Office on the ‘Prinz-Albrecht site’” could be viewed in an exhibition pavilion designed by Berlin architect Jürg Steiner. Excavations of the numerous structural remains had taken place in the meantime, and the site was also provided with numerous panels providing historical information. Originally, documentation was only to be presented here during the anniversary year – as part of the central historical exhibition “Berlin, Berlin” in the Martin-Gropius-Bau. Because of its great success, however, the temporary exhibition was extended at the end of 1987, first by a year, then indefinitely.
In February 1989, the Berlin Senate convoked a specialist commission under the chairmanship of Dr Reinhard Rürup, the scientific head of the Topography of Terror. The committee’s task was to draw up a long-term design and usage concept for the site. In its final report of March 1990, the commission underlined the national and international importance of the historic site and recommended setting up a documentation and visitor centre. The historic site, with the exposed ruins and traces of the post-war period, was to be retained. These proposals were accepted by the Berlin House of Deputies and Senate, and a little later by the Federal Government, becoming the basis for further political decisions. They were also discussed in two public consultations with the people of Berlin and international specialists, each lasting several days.
In 1992, the civil society-supported “Topography of Terror” project of the Berliner Festspiele became a public-law foundation, independently constituted from 1995. In 1992, the State of Berlin once again initiated an architectural competition with twelve invited participants for the construction of the new documentation centre. Winning first prize, the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor was commissioned with creating the building in 1993.