28 May 2008

The 'N' Word

While the overt manifestations of National Socialism are long gone in Munich, you don't have to look too hard to find all manner of signs and symbols of that past. I live close to Odeonsplatz and pass through this area regularly. On one of my walks I saw a plaque set into the ground just in front of the Feldherrnhalle, a grand memorial to the Bavarian army and its generals that dominates Odeonsplatz.

The plaque commemorates Friedrich Fink, Nikolaus Hollweg, Max Schobert and Rudolf Schraut, four Bavarian police officers killed on 9 November 1923. The previous day Hitler and his supporters had launched their 'Beer Hall Putsch'. As their plans fell apart they took to the streets, aiming to march on the Defence Ministry. They were stopped at the Feldherrnhalle where the four police officers died together with sixteen of Hitler's supporters.

Following the triumph of the Hitler movement the Feldherrnhalle became a shrine to the Nazi dead, and Odeonsplatz regularly hosted mass rallies of the Nazi Party and the SS.

Dealing with the past is a modern growth industry. Ever since the South Africans contrived the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a means of getting round some fundamental difficulties in the political negotiations over the move from apartheid to majority rule, academics and activists have advocated similar processes for dealing with just about every conflict on the planet.

When your past includes Nazism you have some serious issues to deal with. Munich, in particular, has a heavy burden to bear. In 1933 Hitler himself declared the city the Capital of German Art and in 1935 he further declared it the Capital of the Movement.

Fortunately the Germans managed to have their nasty past long before the 'dealing with the past' industry got into full swing and so the city has been able to deal with its past free from the advice of experts. The city has struck a balance between acknowledgment and obsession, and the city fathers have had the good sense to let time do its work.

Now, two generations on the city is developing the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism. The timing is important:

More than sixty years after the end of the Second World War, the Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism is finally taking shape – in part thanks to the keen support of the general public. The way the Nazi era is related to is now marked by a free and open debate about the role Munich played in the rise of the NSDAP and the seizure of power by the Nazi terror regime.

That 'free and open debate' would not have been possible for earlier generations:

The post-1945 aftermath of the Nazi regime differed greatly depending on how people had experienced, survived or actively contributed to the Nazi era.

The Centre is still undergoing development, but one of its most useful existing projects is an history trail on the theme of National Socialism in Munich produced in conjunction with the City of Munich. An interactive map, MP3 commentary and online and printed texts are all available for the City website.

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