Planned in 1740 as a jewel of Prussian humanistic enlightenment, Bebelplatz – formerly Kaiser Franz Joseph Platz – takes its name from August Bebel, co-founder of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The square had its auspicious beginnings in Friedrich the Great's visionary project for the square near the Royal Palace. As "Forum Fridericianum" it drew inspiration from the classical urban design of ancient Rome and was meant as a centre for intellectual and artistic endeavour. The Forum's buildings included the Alte Königliche Bibliothek (Old Royal Library) the Staatsoper (Opera House) Unter den Linden, erected 1741-42 and St Hedwig's Cathedral. It was the cost of war being waged at the time which prevented the project from being completed.
Ironically, the square is better remembered today as the venue for the Nazi's first official book burning bonfire on May 10, 1933 just opposite Humboldt University, where Karl Marx had been a student of Hegel's. The action, meant as a dire warning to Nazi opponents was instigated with the purposes of destroying the "Jewish mind and the whole rotten liberalist tendency". Over 20,000 works including those of the so-called subversive writers including Karl Marx, Berthold Brecht and Thomas Mann were set alight and destroyed.
The memory of this event is symbolically kept alive by a memorial monument known as "Versunkene Bibliothek" (sunken library) by Mischa Ullmann – a 50sqm underground library with empty shelves.