Being the history lover that I am, naturally I signed up for a walking tour where I learned about the Third Reich. You see, I know a lot about the Holocaust, but on Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s when the world started to know him, not so much.
While many people equate the German capital of Berlin with Hitler, I would learn that it was the southern city of Munich where Hitler began his quest for global domination; where Hitler became the fiery orator the world would see from the newsreels that poured out of Germany. Today, Munich is one of Germany’s most charming cities, where thousands of people flock each fall for the global sensation known as Oktoberfest. And yet, less than a century ago it was something else entirely. It was where evil was born.
Our Third Reich Tour with Munich Walk Tours began at the famous Marienplatz, home to the city’s New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus). Inside the entrance is an inscription which commemorates Munich’s liberation by American forces in 1945. Our guide Eric explained that it wasn’t until the 1990s that such a commemoration was put up. Throughout the tour we would be told how it has taken Germany decades to truly confront its rather recent past, to make atonements for what once happened there. As we sadly learned, most of the persons imprisoned as slave laborers during World War II (non-Jewish prisoners), died before companies such as Audi, Mercedes Benz, and Volkswagen started making reparations to them (yes, those same famous companies the world knows today profited from the policies of the Third Reich government).
As our tour progressed in chronological order, naturally we received an informal background on Hitler’s youth and what brought him to Germany (he was born in an Austrian border town as his father was a customs agent). Hitler came here to escape being drafted into the army of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and I learned that even at a young age Hitler had an extreme hatred towards anything “multiethnic.” Consequently he had no desire whatsoever to fight in an army comprising multiple ethnicities (the Austro-Hungarian Empire included Hungarians, Slavs, Austrians, Croatians, and more in its mix). Simply put, it wasn’t pure blooded as in the German race.
Although he would never make it as an artist (he was rejected by an art school as he couldn’t draw people), we were taken to the Courtyard of the Old Residency where Hitler once painted one of his most famous works when he was trying to make it as a postcard artist. It’s a beautiful and serene spot, yet it’s chilling to be standing where the man so synonymous with evil and hatred quietly sketched.
For most people today, the Hofbräuhaus is equated with tourist deluges, all clamoring to get their non-authentic German beer and cuisine experience. However, Munich’s most famous beer hall is deeply tied to Hitler and the Nazi party. Following the disastrous defeat of Germany in World War I, Germans flocked to beer halls to help them forget their country’s problems and it was at the Hofbräuhaus where the German people first started hearing the unknown Adolf Hitler speak. He was a recruiter for the small and weak German Workers Party, but as the months went on his talks attracted more and more people.
The banquet hall at Hofbräuhaus, site of many of Hitler’s fiery speeches.
After the Nazis took power in 1933, this monumental loggia (Feldherrnhalle) became a memorial to the Nazis killed during the failed Beer Hall Putsch. People passing by were expected to hail the site with the Nazi salute.
Our walk would take us to countless more spots deeply connected with Hitler and the Nazi party’s origins- Viscardigasse alley which was the site of passive resistance before and during the war; a bank that is located on the grounds of the former Gestapo prison; the home of the publisher of Hitler’s infamous autobiography Mein Kampf, (the same house where Hitler was introduced to members of German high society); the Platz der Opfer des National Sozialismus (Square of the Victims of National Socialism) where an eternal flame burns in memory of concentration camp prisoners, not just Jews but also political prisoners, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else persecuted by the Nazis.
The home of the publisher who printed Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
The most sobering part of the tour was visiting the area of the Koenigsplatz. The nefarious burning of the books occurred here in 1933, and two “temples of honor” were built to enshrine the 16 Nazis killed in the 1922 “beer hall putsch.” Both temples were demolished by the US Army in 1947 although their platforms remain to this day. It was also here where mass rallies were held. When you see the iconic photos of Nazi rallies, the streets teeming with people and soldiers, so many of them were right here, a far cry from the more deserted streets you see today. And in 1938, the infamous “Munich Agreement” was signed in the “Fuehrer building,” Hitler’s Munich headquarters that once sported swastika flags but today is a music school.
One of the former “temples of honor.” As you can see here, the land has started to reclaim it.
Our tour’s story ended right before the start of World War II. You may be thinking, “what, it didn’t cover the war?” but I think many people already know about the war. But how much do you really know about what led to it? On what propelled an obscure figure to take over a country and attempt to wipe out an entire people.
You wouldn’t know it from the beautiful rebuilt city of today, but not too long ago Munich was the crux of evil. So many of the buildings you see today are tied to a tragic past. The streets you walk on were once traversed by Hitler and Goebbels. The things you read about in history books took place right here. While not a happy tour in terms of content, it was an incredibly fascinating and necessary one. We must always learn from the past lest we forget it.
You can see where the Reichsadler (“Imperial Eagle,” the former symbol of the Nazi party) once was on the Fuerher building above the entranceway (the empty spot between the two windows).
The Third Reich tour takes place seven days a week at 10:15 AM except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
I would only recommend this tour for older children or those exceptionally interested in this historical period. There is a bit of walking involved and much of the content is on the mature side.