Memories of Hitler Munich's Nazi Past Gets a Future Home

Munich is where Hitler and the Nazis got their start. But the city has long neglected its past as the "Capital of the Movement." Now, Hitler's former home has decided on a design for a new documentation center to be built on the site of former Nazi party headquarters.

As anyone who has visited Berlin will tell you, it's hard to walk more than a few blocks through the city center without happening across yet another monument to the terrible events of World War II and the Holocaust. The Jewish memorial, the Topography of Terror, the sidewalk stones marking homes where Jewish citizens of Berlin once lived: The list goes on and on.

Head south to Munich, though, and the lack of monuments, memorials and museums focused on the Third Reich is difficult to ignore. Adolf Hitler and his Nazis may have gotten their start in the Bavarian capital, but memory has never been post-war Munich's strong suit.

That, however, seems to be changing these days. On Sunday, Munich Mayor Christian Ude announced that a team of architects from Berlin had won a competition to design a new Third Reich documentation center just northwest of the city center. The cube-like structure will be built on the site of the infamous "Brown House," the building which housed the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) leadership in the 1930s and which was destroyed during the war.

The €30 million project will be funded by the city, the state and the federal governments and will provide insights into an area of the city which provided a home for much of the Nazi party administration.

The documentation center -- as museums about difficult eras in German history, like World War II, the Holocaust and the Cold War tend to be named -- will fill a gaping hole in the memory of the "Capital of the Movement," as Adolf Hitler himself called Munich. The city was the first place in Germany the Führer called home, when he moved to Munich from Vienna in 1913. He joined the small German Workers Party soon after returning to Munich following World War I and transformed it into one of Bavaria's most influential parties.

Indeed, it was in Munich where Hitler made his first grab for power. On the evening of Nov. 8, 1923, his storm troopers surrounded the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall, where the Munich and Bavarian leadership had gathered. Initially, Hitler's thugs appeared to have the upper hand, but the next day, his mini-revolution fell apart in a hail of bullets that left 16 Nazis dead and the future Führer in jail for a year.

Monuments to that decisive event, however, are difficult to find. A small plaque at the site where the beer hall used to be marks Georg Elser's attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler there in 1939. It is matched by an equally modest memorial plaque at the site of the shootout, dedicated to the policemen who lost their lives in the Beer Hall Putsch.

Once the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, Munich became something of the spiritual heart of Nazism. Right next to the Brown House, two immense, shoe-box shaped buildings went up, one to provide the Führer with an office in his favorite German city, the second to give the party administration a bit more elbow room. Between the two buildings were two shrines dedicated to the Nazi "martyrs" who lost their lives in the 1923 revolt.

The two buildings are still standing; the foundations of the two shrines are overgrown with trees and bushes. It was only early this decade that a sign went up explaining the significance of the site. Indeed, as recently as last fall, Munich resident Felizitas Reith complained to the Süddeutsche Zeitung that "Munich has made excuses for long enough and exported remembrance to Dachau (eds. note: a town nearby where there was a concentration camp). It is time that the city faces up to its own history."

Construction on the new documentation center is set to begin in the spring of 2011.

cgh -- with wire reports

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