Nazi Tours in Munich: 'Turn Left at Gestapo Headquarters'

By Juan Moreno in Munich

Foreign tourists flock to the Third Reich walking tours in Munich. Even now, 64 years after World War II ended, visitors from abroad still only seem to associate Germany with two things -- beer and Hitler. The country's image seems to be changing far more slowly than it would prefer.

Three tour guides are standing next to each other on Munich's central Marienplatz square, and one could almost feel sorry for two of them: the man with the spectacles and the Spanish woman. But Jeff Cox, the third, is doing very well.

It's Easter, the sun is shining on the neo-Gothic façade of Munich's town hall, and the city is full of tourists. Ideal conditions. Cox and the other two have been waiting for customers. Each of them is offering a different tour.

These days, city tours are tailor-made for certain target groups. The Spanish guide has a sign that says "El centro en espanol!". The man with the spectacles has a board offering a "Walk Around the Old Town." The tourists walk past them. Not a single customer shows any interest in them.

Jeff Cox doesn't have a sign. Just a blue folder containing photos. He doesn't even have to hold the folder up. You have to step up close to read what Cox is offering. "Third Reich Tour. Munich Walk Tours in English."

The Third Reich in Munich. That means Hitler, Göring, the Gestapo, the SS. Hitler in the city where everything started. The "Capital of the Movement." Cox is pleased. He's got 18 tourists standing in front of him. British, American, an Indian family. Each one of them has paid €12 ($15.50). When it comes to city tours, Hitler is a surefire bet. Nazis always sell.

Cox speaks beautifully clear English. He would have made a good history teacher. He's an affable Londoner who tries to get his listeners interested rather than boring them with dry lectures. He's been a city guide for 10 years.

He's just been talking about Hitler's time in the Austrian town of Linz, then his time in Vienna. Later on he'll take the group to the legendary Hofbräuhaus beer hall where Hitler held several speeches. Then to the corner of Brienner and Türkenstrasse. That's where the Gestapo headquarters was. The tour ends on Königsplatz square, where the Nazi party staged its early rallies.

"Who knows what Adolf Hitler was almost called?" says Cox. "Schicklgruber; his father was called Alois Schicklgruber but changed his name."

Alan Stark has read seven biographies of Adolf Hitler. He listens attentively to Cox, even though he knows most of it. Stark has blond hair and lives in California, he likes to wear running shoes in his free time, and he's interested in German history. When Stark says German history, he really means Adolf Hitler.

Stark is in Germany for six days. It's really only four days if you subtract the travel time. So he and his wife have to focus on what's essential.

Day one: Nuremberg, the site of the Nazi party rallies. Day two: Berchtesgaden, Obersalzberg, the site of Hitler's mountain retreat. Day three: Munich, Third Reich tour. Day four: the highlight point, Bayreuth. "Parsifal," five hours of Wagner.

"I'm really no Nazi," says Stark. "I'm just interested in Germany."

Stark would make a lot of Germans sad. But tourists who come to Munich, Berlin or Heidelberg have a pretty preconceived notion of this country: Beer and Hitler.

If Germans think the world now sees them differently, they may well be suffering from a misconception. Despite 60 years of the Federal Republic, despite the Soccer World Cup in 2006,when Germans wore wigs in their national colors of black, red and gold and played host to the whole world.

The Nazi story is over, and a colourful, easygoing patriotism has dawned. Or so they thought.

Adolf Hitler Beer Tables

Cox has led the group into the Hofbräuhaus. Some waiters are standing between the large wooden tables of the vaulted hall. They know the score. The Hitler tours are here every day. "There on the right, that's where Adolf Hitler stood," says Cox. The group takes photos of a beer table.

"This is where Hitler presented the Nazi party's first party manifesto." Stark walks along the rows of tables and takes pictures. He'll be taking a lot of beer table images back to San Francisco.

The Starks will show their friends a Germany that is alien to most Germans. The world is changing: An African American is the most powerful man in the world, a white man is the best rapper, and Britain has the world's most famous chef. But Germany remains the land of Adolf Hitler beer tables.

"In Britain schools virtually only teach German history from 1933 to 1945," says Cox. He tries to change that image of Germany in his tours, he says. Germany is changing, Cox tells his listeners. He also talks about the resistance of siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose and how some people in Munich refused to say "Heil Hitler" instead of "Grüß Gott," the standard phrase used to greet someone.

But his group is clearly more interested in his descriptions of where the SS was founded and where Hitler drank his beer. After all, the tourists want to hear about the Nazis, and not about the new Germany.

The tour is over a little after noon. Three American women walk up to Cox and ask him to recommend a good café. Cox tells them to try the district of Schwabing.

"Where is Schwabing?"

"That's easy," says Cox. "You walk straight on up to the traffic lights. Then turn left at Gestapo headquarters."

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