When you visit a city with little background knowledge of its history, it is curious how its past creeps up on you. We were in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, Germany and we had used an online guide to the city to plan our first full day’s walking. The following sites were recommended as key places to visit…
- Frauenkerche…the City’s main cathedral.
- The Neues Rathaus…the ‘New Townhall, built in the 19thcentury as opposed to the Old Town hall which was bombed in 1945 but has been rebuilt.
- Marienplatz…the beautiful central square in Munich.
- Alte Peter (Old Peter)…St Peters Church.
- The Deutsche Museum.
After visiting Frauenkerche with its two striking onion-domed towers, I noticed on the map that there appeared to be a significant monumental area (shaded in different colour on the map) not that far from our next destination, the Neues Rathaus. “A quick left turn detour surely wouldn’t take up too much time?” I thought to myself. After passing what appeared to be a large beautiful church strangely given over to high-end jewellery shops, we found ourselves in Odeonplatz, a large square surrounded by impressive buildings on both sides. Immediately on our right, the end of the square was marked by a large sculptured platform that reminded me of the Loggia dei Lanzi in a square in Florence where most tourists go to view the replica statue of David. This ‘Loggia’ was called the Feldherrnhale and was built in the 1840s. It was decorated with large lion statues, two statues of Bavarian military heroes from long ago wars and it looked very impressive as a stage to address crowds from!
Further down the square on the left there was the usual equestrian statue of a glorified monarch, no doubt proud of his military victories in the previous century (Ludwig I). Opposite us was a huge palatial building that filled the right hand side of the square for hundreds of metres. The whole place looked like a great place for gatherings of marching soldiers and flag waving crowds.
The Feldherrnhale and the statue of a triumphant Ludwig I (1786-1868)
There appeared to be an inviting entry into the oversize building opposite us so we wandered through into a large courtyard covered in gravel. It was empty of cars, horses and the expected fountains. We had found ourselves inside one of the many courtyards, inside the walls of the largest city palace in Germany, the former royal Palace of the Bavarian kings, the ‘Munich Residenz’. We walked out the other side of this massive building and noticed that there were parks and palaces further down from us. We strolled down to a beautiful garden called the Hofgarten that was on the other side of the road from what looked like the main entrance to the Residenz.
To the right of the Hofgarten there was another huge, palatial building called the Staatskanzei, the home of the Bavarian State Government Chancellery. It was a curious building in many ways. In front was a ‘cenotaph’ like structure with a tomb of an unknown soldier. The Ionic columns at the front of the building still showed the scars of battles past with large bullet holes left unrepaired, perhaps as a curt message to future generations about the costs of war to sound governance and great architecture. This central domed section of the building is the only part of the original building left, the Bavarian Army Museum. It was demolished after the last war. The rest of the building was added in the 1980s.
By this stage of our stroll, we had wandered far from our second destination of the day, Marienplatz, and so it was decided to get our itinerary back on track as well as finding a restorative cup of coffee and cake.
I had come to Munich knowing a little bit about its Nazi past and I did recall a few vague details of the story of the Beer Hall Putsch. This was the event where Hitler had led his early Nazi followers in an attempt to overthrow the Bavarian Government as the first step in his plan to takeover the Weimar Government of post World War 1 Germany. What I didn’t know was where it happened, in the context of the city of Munich. By visiting Odeonplatz, all was revealed. The Odeonplatz was the traditional parade ground for celebrating Bavarian military victories and the march down from Koningsplatz, a bit over a kilometre up the road, was the traditional marching route for such events. So the Nazis decided that they would parade down along this same route but, unfortunately for them, the were met by Bavarian police who decided to use force on this less than peaceful march. Sixteen Nazis were shot and two policeman died in the fracas. Hitler was spirited away quickly by his guards but was arrested some days later and gaoled for his attempted insurrection. This famous clash occurred in the middle of Odeonplatz and was to have consequences for peace in Europe over the next 20 plus years. Hitler went on to write his manifesto, Mein Kampf in gaol but was released after five months to go on to lead Germany and the rest of the world into the devastation of World War Two. Our spur of the moment change to our itinerary had meant that we had stumbled upon a site riddled with the ghosts and memories of Europe’s tragic past.
Munich Odeonplatz, 1891
Our itinerary continued on with our group visiting Marienplatz and witnessing the briefly fascinating Marionette show in the tower of the Rathaus. We did visit the beautiful Peters Church but we had arrived in time for the locals to attend mass and we were moved to our place at the back of the Church with only a brief glimpse at the bejewelled skeleton of a local saint in her glass box. (We returned for a better look the next day). By this stage, after lunch had intervened, we were too exhausted to continue our walk to the Deutsche Museum. I decided I would leave the last place on our list, the Glyptotheke, for a hurried visit later in the afternoon as it wasn’t that far from our hotel.
After our rest, we set off to visit the Glyptothek (‘Glyphein’=sculpture, ‘Theke’= repository) which had been recommended by ‘Lonely Planet’ as a great place to visit due to its broad range of Greek and Roman sculptures. Due to failing eyesight and a small map, we struggled to find this museum until the usual helpful local was able to point us in the right direction; through a large, monumental gate in the tradition of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. We found our selves in a large open square with two facsimiles of Greek temples ‘facing off’ on opposite sides of the square. We knew one of them had to be our destination so climbing up the steep steps to the one on the right, we discovered ourselves in a Museum where the displays mainly consisted of Greek Vases, Amphorae and Craters. The man on the desk explained that the section of the Glyptothek housing the Graeco-Roman statues was the ‘temple’ opposite but unfortunately it was closed for the next two years. We did have a look at the Greek Vase museum but it was a little esoteric for us. Emerging into the late afternoon light, we had a little time to inspect the large poppies that filled much of the space between the museum buildings. Remembrance day was in a few days time.
The square we had discovered was, unknown to us at the time, the famous Konigsplatz. Looking down the square, I noticed that there was an obelisk in the distance so I knew the area had more to offer…I decided to return early the next day and take some decent photos.
After checking out the grand square between the two museums not long after dawn the next morning, I headed down the road to check out the various public buildings I could see along the way. I noticed that one of them was called on the map, the ‘Dokumentationszentrum Munchen’ (Munich Documentation Centre). When I arrived in front of this particular building, I noticed that there was some permanent signs put up to explain this rather large plain building that I was standing in front of. Here is an extract from the plaque.
“The so-called ‘Brown House’ stood at this site from 1931 to 1945, the first prestigious headquarters of the National German Socialist Workers Party (NSDAP).. To begin with Hitler’s study and the ‘Reich leadership of the NSDAP’ – with some of the Party’s most important administrative offices- were housed in the palais. From 1936 to 1940 it served as the offices for the staff of the Fuhrer’s Deputy, and from 1941 to 43 as the ‘Party Chancellery’.
Over the course of the 1930s, the NSDAP acquired more and more properties in the area between Karl and Gabelsbergerstrasse, in some cases exerting massive pressure on the owners…
Until into the war years, the square – as the forum of the Movement – was used for marches and memorial services.’
So in my ignorance I had stumbled upon the centre of the cyclone of the NAZI movement that had taken the world on a catastrophic ride from 1923 to 1945. It was from Konigsplatz that Hitler had gathered 3000 armed supporters and marched down the route to Odeonplatz where his parade was met by armed police who fired on the NAZIs with 16 casualties. Hitler himself had a long memory and so the Munich police chief of the time, Gustav Ritter von Kahr, who had organised the police greeting for the NAZIs, was murdered eleven years later in the so-called ‘Night of Long Knives’.
Konigsplatz became not only the centre of National Socialism over the years that followed the Beer Hall Putsch, it became a memorial site for those NAZI ‘heroes’ who died in the fighting at the time. Two memorial ‘Temples of Honour’ (Ehrentempel) were built in the square and became the site for mass rallies during the 1930s. The bodies of the fallen NAZIs were buried here. The image on the right shows Hitler welcoming his fascist friend Benito Mussolini to one of the ‘Temples of Honour’. These NAZI memorial buildings were destroyed by the occupying forces in 1947 and it is only the ‘Brown House’ that remains to remind visitors of the dark past of this beautiful square.
From the ‘Brown House’ on the morning of my visit, I wandered down Brienner Str to inspect the black obelisk that I had seen in the distance on the first afternoon when I entered Konigplatz. It was in the centre of a star-shaped ‘roundabout’ called Karolinenplatz. It was a memorial built in the 1830s in the time of Ludwig I to commemorate the 30000 Bavarian soldiers who had lost their lives in Napoleon’s 1812 campaign against Russia.
From here it was a short walk back to our breakfast cafe that sat immediately outside the steps down to the Konigsplatz Metro Station. It was then I recalled that I had read somewhere that this train station took a different approach to decorating the walls of its station platform. Taking the opportunity, I ducked down to check out what this meant. I discovered rather than garish advertising posters, Konigsplatz station walls were decorated with copies of Modern Art paintings, the originals being held in nearby museums. Down the centre of the platform were bullet-proof glass display cases containing the pieces of a ‘Pediment’ rescued from some Greek Temple. Presumably there must have been excess treasures not needed for the Glyptothek refurbishment. Its a rare judgement when you can say a railway platform was a joy to behold.
It was a curious experience discovering the historical background to Konigplatz. It transformed a morning stroll around a less than visually exciting square into a trip down memory lane that gave me hope for the future where the citizens of Munich were ensuring that the sins of the past would not be forgotten. The good people of Munchen look like they won’t be condemned to repeating the social errors of their forebears.