BERLIN, June 2 (Reuters) - Plans to include an Adolf Hitler figure in the new Berlin branch of Madame Tussauds wax museum are being condemned by critics who say displaying the dictator is tasteless and could attract neo-Nazis.
Madame Tussauds, which is due to open its Berlin museum next month, argues Hitler is part of German history and deserves a place in the exhibition near the Brandenburg Gate.
"Our surveys show people want to see him because he belongs to Germany's past," said spokesman Natalie Ruoss.
Hitler would be featured as a broken man in a dark, bunker-like setting, with panels providing explanations on the dictator, Ruoss said, adding a figure of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would be shown in the same room.
Opponents of the Hitler waxwork say the man who led Germany into World War Two and ordered the extermination of Europe's Jews should not be shown in the same style as popstars, statesmen and famous soccer players.
"It's tasteless," said Johannes Tuchel, from the Gedenkstaette Deutscher Widerstand, a memorial for opponents of the Nazi regime. "A waxworks museum is meant to entertain and to amuse. It's not appropriate to have a Hitler figure there."
Tuchel said Germany had many historical museums which informed citizens about the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, adding a waxworks exhibition could hardly provide the necessary explanation and context to treat this chapter of history.
"It's embarassing that this part of German history should be exhibited like this," he said. "There's also the danger that young people could try to take pictures with Hitler."
UNDER CAMERA SURVEILLANCE
In the Madame Tussauds museum in London, a Hitler figure is on display in the same section as other world leaders from the past and present, including U.S. President George W. Bush and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, whose waxworks image will also be part of the exhibition, has written a letter to the museum, asking for more information on how Hitler will be presented and urging organisers to treat the matter in a sensitive way.
Uwe Neumaerker from the foundation for Germany's central Holocaust memorial site, based just a few hundred meters away from the museum, said the Hitler figure was tasteless.
"This is all about producing a shock effect and attracting clients," he told Berliner Zeitung daily.
Apart from Hitler, the new museum will also feature waxworks of scientist Albert Einstein, Chancellor Angela Merkel and sports stars including former tennis champion Boris Becker.
Madame Tussauds spokeswoman Ruoss said visitors would not be able to pose with the Hitler figure, which would be sealed off and be under camera surveillance.
"We have considered this problem and have taken precautions," she said. It is illegal in Germany to display artwork glorifying Hitler.
In recent years, Germany has begun to treat Hitler with less caution.
The country's first mainstream film about Hitler, the 2004 movie "Downfall" sparked a heated debate because it portrayed the "Fuehrer" in more human terms, showing his mental and physical erosion during the final days of the war.
Last year, a taboo-breaking Hitler comedy by Swiss-born Jewish director Dani Levy was released in Germany.
(Reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich; editing by Ralph Boulton)