Munich is seeking to critically confront its past as the so-called capital of the Nazi movement with a new documentation center. Located in the former Nazi headquarters, the center is intended to be a place of learning.
It was in Munich that the National Socialist movement gained ground following the trauma of World War I. A young Adolf Hitler staged a failed coup in the conservative Bavarian capital in 1923 and after coming to power in 1933, the Nazi leader chose Munich as the headquarters of his movement.
Aware of the central role it played in the rise of Nazism, the city of Munich has initiated a new documentation center in the Brown House on Munich's Brienner Strasse, which was home to the Nazi party starting in the early 1930s.
Center focuses on teaching for the future
"There's no place on this earth that is as contaminated by 'brown' ideology as here," Munich city council member Marian Offman, who also belongs to the Jewish community, told Deutsche Welle. "This is where the global fire started that claimed 50 million human victims in the end and the actors from this place are responsible for it."
First proposed in 1989, the city of Munich approved a plan for the center in 2001 and won the support of the state of Bavaria. The federal government is also expected to contribute to the 35 million-euro ($50.4 million) project.
Construction is slated to begin by the end of 2008, coinciding with the 850th anniversary of Munich's founding.
Project organizers have said that "pro-active commemoration" is a central goal. This involves "a critical approach to and a frank discussion on the history of National Socialism, and includes a look at the teaching of civics and human rights in a way that is relevant to the present and the future," according to the center's Web site.
Excavation recovered no Nazi artifacts
When the Second World War came to an end, the temporary American military government commanded the removal of all Nazi symbols, including swastikas, flags and Nazi architecture. A cellar covered by withered grass and a bit of rubble was all that was left of the Brown House. Even an archaeological dig of the basement proved unfruitful.
"There wasn't anything there except for cellar walls," said Offman. "I think there were some pamphlets but nothing else. That's nothing -- considering the monstrous crimes that originated in this place."
City archivist Andreas Heusler said the decision to tear down the few remaining bits of the Brown House after the excavation was too hasty.
"It wouldn't have necessarily been so bad if they had considered the question of conservation and distance a bit more and talked a bit more intensively about how to retain even just a small piece of [the remains] for the documentation center and integrate it into the planned exhibition," said Heusler.
Instead of displaying historical documents or other items, the center intends to spark discussion on topics surrounding the Nazi period and its ramifications.
Those interested in learning more about National Socialist history can also visit the documentation center located near Nuremberg at Hitler's former convention site. Many of the concentration camp sites also offer information centers, including Dachau near Munich.