Where it all began

Munich is the birthplace of the National Socialist Party, and Hitler’s favorite city. We took a walking tour of key spots in the evolution of the Third Reich, which was chilling on so many levels. (Have I mentioned that it’s cold here?) 

There was a courtyard of the royal residence and other places that Hitler did paintings of, when he was still considering himself a budding artist. We saw pictures of him as a young soldier as he rose through the ranks.

But most astonishing was to see the upper level of the world-famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall where the first official Nazi party meeting was held, and where, on February 24, 1920, Hitler introduced the new symbol of the party, the swastika. (Top picture.) Yes, today was the anniversary.

There is a lot going on drinking-wise today, as half of Europe is battling the other half in football games. Munich vs. Berlin – that’s a biggie. And the Irish are playing against the Scots – or was it the English? Oh well, we were advised to stay out of German beer halls or Irish pubs tonight. It’s not going to be pretty, evidently. At any rate, seeing the crowds in this particular beer hall, packed to the gills on three floors, with an oompah band on the main floor, was a bit scary even without the Nazi references. Guess these places require a certain mindset we seem to be lacking.

We were able to walk the path of the famous Beer Hall Putsch, to see where the Nazi “martyrs” were shot down by police, which led to Hitler’s capture, imprisonment, literary career and ultimate political success.

During the Third Reich, a plaque containing the names of the 16 shot in front of this important plaza had to be given the Nazi salute by anyone who walked by. Failure to do so resulted in immediate trips to Dachau, the first and the prototypical concentration camp, just outside of town.

Dissenting Germans learned to walk in the narrow lane behind the plaza to avoid the plaque. When the Nazis caught on, walking on this street without a very valid reason also earned one a ticket to Dachau.

There is a very delicate dance done here to not hide the past, but at the same time not to allow place markers to become a celebratory spot for the neo-Nazi movement. This lane is marked with a very subtle brass path that showed where people walked to resist – and the marker ends midway down the street, which became the point where eventually the Nazis waited. You wouldn’t notice it, if you didn’t know the story.

Now, if you display the swastika or are seen given the Nazi salute, you have violated the law and will be hauled off the police station – and face a variety of fates. Execution will not be one of them, but the good news is these people are very mindful of not allowing that particular era of the past to repeat.

The people of Munich opted to recreate the historic parts of their city that were destroyed in the war, giving it a much more coherent city center than Berlin, which went in the very opposite direction. (Yes, there is an old and very much current animosity between these two.) We will walk around more of the old city in the next few days, but for now, we caught glimpses of yet another city both romantic and graceful, with a history that makes it very complicated.

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