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Tourists can't get enough of guided Hitler tours of Munich

Jun 24, 2008

Munich - Visiting tourists can't get enough of Adolf Hitler tours in Munich, the southern German city where the dictator nurtured his Nazi Party and, 10 years before he was elected German chancellor, mounted the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.

The guided walking tours take sightseers to city sites with Adolf Hitler significance which most Munich natives today are no longer aware of, such as the fact that Hitler gave his first public speech upstairs at the world-famous Hofbraeuhaus beer hall in 1918.

Close by, in the Schwabing district, is a pub, the Schellingsalon, where Hitler liked to drink and often did not pay the bill.

Though he was born in Braunau, Austria, Hitler made Munich his home in 1913, before the First World War. The trail follows him from his beginnings and his rise to Fuehrer of the Third Reich.

Eric Loerke, 57, a US national and longtime Munich resident, conducts the walks in English for a local guides firm, Munichwalktours, with a maximum of 25 paying visitors on each Third Reich Tour.

"We wanted to find out some more about Hitler," said one holidaymaker, a woman lawyer from Dublin, Ireland.

She and her husband were on a weekend break in Munich. Others on the walk were a family with two teenage daughters from Alabama, several US teenagers and three older ladies from Puerto Rico.

Bo Williams, 22, a Washington DC history student, said, "It's pretty interesting to see all the places where Hitler was."

Most of the visitors have also visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial on the outskirts of Munich. "After that, a lot of them are curious to know how Hitler came to power," Munichwalktours co-owner Ralph Lluenstroth said.

Wilma, 60, from Puerto Rico, said: "I've read so much about this, and I just could not comprehend how the Germans could follow a guy like that. After seeing the place, I can understand it better."

Guide Loerke, whose previous job was tending golf courses, has lived in Germany for more than 30 years and is able to explain the German mindset, as well as why modern Germans do not enjoy Hitler walking tours. He starts the tour by holding up photos of Hitler as a baby and as a mediocre artist in 1913 drawing pictures for postcards. He describes Hitler's enthusiasm for the operas of Richard Wagner.

The tour begins at the heart of the city, the Marienplatz, and continues to Koenigsplatz, site of the old Nazi Party headquarters and a rally site, taking in the Hofbraeuhaus, where Hitler honed his rhetoric and founded the Nazi party in 1920.

In 1923, Hitler gathered his supporters at a public meeting at another beer hall, the Buergerbraeukeller, and marched to the city's landmark Feldherrnhalle, in an unsuccessful attempt to seize power, the Putsch.

That beer hall was torn down decades ago, but the tourists can see where the Nazi Party affixed a plaque on the Feldherrnhalle to commemorate the Nazi men killed when police put the coup down.

Older Munich residents remember when the plaque was there, because they were required to do a Heil Hitler salute when passing it. Those who hated the Nazis preferred to pass the site by a back lane, Viscardi Gasse, nicknamed "Evaders' Alley," so that they would not have to salute.

The Nazi period rouses such agony among modern Germans that few would care to do a Nazi-sites walk as part of a happy holiday.

Loerke tells the visitors that he sees a certain ambivalence about how to deal with the Nazi past among the Germans.

They face up the past, but often only after long-running reluctance, he says, pointing to a programme only begun in 2000 to compensate Europeans drafted by the Nazis into forced labour.

Inside a palace built for Hitler overlooking the Koenigsplatz, the tourists looked stunned at the imposing red-marble staircase.

The palace is one of the few Nazi-style buildings still standing in the city. It is now a college of music and theatre.

A choral performance, sung by students born long after the Second World War, wafts out of a great hall in the palace as Loerke describes to the tourists the Nazi campaign to enslave Europe. "Where is Germany today?" Loerke says. "The answer now is simple: it's part of the European Union. But defining the answer back then cost millions of people's lives."

Tourists can't get enough of guided Hitler tours of Munich

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