Munich: Hitler's haunts

We tour Munich and find a city struggling to address its Nazi past


Ivy creeps across the exterior of the faux neoclassical building on Katharina-von-Bora-Strasse. Now home to several Munich cultural institutions and exhibits, there is no hint that this was once the Nazi party administration building, where files on its eight million members were stored. Today, posters advertise an archaeological exhibition.

Munich, too, is beginning to excavate - and, perhaps, finally come to terms with - its dark past.

Katharina-von-Bora-Strasse is the final stop on a walking tour through the city which gave birth to Nazism.

It was here that a 24-year-old aspiring Austrian painter came in 1913, to try to win a place at art school.

It was here that he was famously captured in a photograph joining the crowds outside the Feldherrnhalle to cheer the outbreak of the first world war. And it was here, as Munich was convulsed by revolution, that the highly decorated corporal was sent to spy on a meeting of one of the countless small radical parties the politically febrile atmosphere produced.

The meeting took place at 38 Tal, now an Apple computer reseller on a shopping street, minutes from the central square, the Marienplatz.

When Adolf Hitler began to argue with one of those at the meeting, the then party leader, Anton Drexler, invited him to join. He became the DAP's 55th member.

Less than six months later, he addressed a crowd of 2,000 at the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus. Jews, he exclaimed, could never be "true" German citizens.

The 400-year-old brewery, owned by the Bavarian government, remains a popular beer hall, the tourists
and football fans who pour through its
doors oblivious to its role in
Hitler's rise to power.

But Hitler did not forget the city in which he had built his political career when he became chancellor of Germany 13 years later.

While the government sat in Berlin, the Nazis christened Munich both "capital of the movement" and "capital of German culture". This was to be the ideological and spiritual capital of the 1000-year Reich.

Those proclamations sit uneasily with the grass and undergrowth which cover the plinths of what were the Temples of Honour, the twin monuments to the 16 Nazi "martyrs" killed in fighting with the police in the wake of the ill-fated "Beer hall putsch" in 1923.

The temples were blown up by the Americans in 1947 as part of an order to destroy all Nazi monuments. Their plinths stand at the intersection of Brienner Strasse, Katharina-von-Bora-Strasse and Arcisstrasse.

Next to one, a silver board provides a map of the area which, through a process of purchase and expropriation, became the "party quarter" after 1933.

At one time home to 6,000 employees, with its own power station and post office, it housed not simply the Bavarian regional branches of these party institutions, but many of their national ones, too.

Ironically, many of these buildings survived the allied bombing which destroyed 70 per cent of the city. On a symmetrical axis, intersected by Brienner Strasse, lies the Munich Conservatoire. On a Sunday lunchtime, traces of music fill the air as students carrying their instruments pass casually through the doors of what was
once the Fuhrerbau.

Like its sister building on Katharina-von-Bora-Strasse, it was designed by Paul Ludwig Troost, Hitler's favourite architect before his death in 1934 allowed the ascent of Albert Speer.

Signs on the doors note that only students and staff have access to a building where Hitler had his offices on the second floor. It was here, in September 1938, that the Munich agreement was signed, Czechoslovakia stripped not only of the Sudetenland, but the defences which might have prevented Hitler overrunning the rest of the country nine months later and proving to even its staunchest proponents that appeasement would not sate his appetite for lebensraum.

While only the information board on Arcisstrasse currently reveals the sinister history of these former party offices, the erection of a strikingly modern, cube-like white building - consciously designed to contrast with the surrounding Nazi-era ones - next door to the former Fuhrerbau, signifies that this is about to change.

Just over 25 years after it was first mooted by the city council, next April the Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism will open its doors on the site of the Brown House, the prestigious Palais Barlow, bought by the Nazis as their headquarters in 1930 thanks to donations from wealthy backers and industrialists.

In addition to four floors of exhibition space, the centre will also include educational facilities, a library and a hall for holding public events.

Just west of the new centre lies the grandiose Konigplatz, flanked by the neoclassical Glyptothek and Antikensammlungen and framed by the Propylaea, a doric arch constructed in 1862 designed to evoke the monumental entrance to the Athenian Acropolis. This was the central parade ground for mass Nazi rallies in the city. In 1935 they laid 20,000 granite paving slabs on the square and equipped it with a modern electrical system to provide theatrical lighting.

No such lighting was necessary two years earlier when it was the scene of the burning of books by Heinrich Mann, Karl Marx, Erich Kastner, Theodor Wolff and others. Today, people lie reading in the late autumn sunshine on grass which, in 1988, replaced the Nazis' granite paving.

East of the Fuhrerbau, past the stately villas of the Karolinen Platz which once housed the Nazis' supreme court - now the home of the Bavarian state lottery - and the Reich Treasury Department, on Brienner Strasse stand the 1960s glass-fronted offices of the Bayern bank. A plaque on the wall and a display in the window entitled A place and its history reveal this to the former site of the neo-Gothic Wittelsbach Palais. As "the Red Palace" it was the site of the declaration of the short-lived Bavarian People's Republic in 1918.

It was later to become the Gestapo headquarters. Nothing remains of the building in which, beneath a picture of Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Holocaust and a man described by Hitler as having 'an iron heart', once worked.

This is where the regime interrogated opponents such as Georg Elser, who attempted to assassinate Hitler in Munich in 1939, and Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, members of the "White Rose" student group, before murdering them.

Their acts of resistance may have appeared futile in the face of such a mighty foe, but they serve as a reminder of those "good Germans" who saw, and wished to vanquish, the evil in their midst.

While it may seem appropriate that the city chose a nearby square to place its eternal flame and monument to the victims of national socialism, it has a somewhat tucked-away feel to it.

The Platz der Opfer des Nationalsozialismus and monument have been remodelled on several occasions, most recently in January.

They have long been a matter of controversy: the naming of the square in 1946 provoked anger from local residents, and the street sign was destroyed, while protests greeted the city council's initial decision in the 1980s to extinguish the eternal flame at night.

The Marienplatz might have made a more appropriate location for a memorial. For it was here, in the Old Town Hall, that Joseph Goebbels delivered the speech on November 9, 1938 which unleashed Kristallnacht and, with it, the first chapter in the tragedy which would become the Final Solution.

The discrete plaque marking the event on the side of the building, which now houses Munich's toy museum, is perhaps fitting for a city which feels it should remember - while not wanting to be reminded of - the terrible events which emanated from here.

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