A comparatively recently (2015) constructed documentation centre/museum about the Nazi
era and Munich
’s special role in it. The building is all new, but the location is crucial: it was here that the Nazi party’s headquarters once stood!
More background info:
In 1930 the growing Nazi
party in Germany
(NSDAP) acquired a 19th-century neoclassical three-storey mansion on Brienner Straße, a prestigious address near the monumental Königsplatz. Here the new party headquarters was established and from January 1931 Adolf Hitler
had his study/office here (with a large portrait of Henry Ford on the wall, the US car manufacturing pioneer and fellow anti-Semite).
In allusion to the Nazis’ preferred uniform colour at that time it became known as the “Braunes Haus” (‘Brown house’).
had already been the main base of the Nazi movement, and was referred to as “Hauptstadt der Bewegung” (‘capital of the movement’). It had been here that the first putsch attempt by Hitler and his followers had been made in 1923. While that had failed, and Hitler consequently was charged with high treason, tried and sentenced to a prison term, he used the publicity this gave him to further boost his popularity. He also drafted the first volume of his book “Mein Kampf” while in prison. By the beginning of the 1930s, the NSDAP and Hitler were on course to take over power, which in January 1933 they achieved.
Hitler’s election victory meant he had to move to Berlin
, the capital city and seat of government, but Munich remained the seat of the party and the Braunes Haus its HQ. More buildings were acquired and converted, or demolished and new ones built instead, in the vicinity so that the whole area became a Nazi compound and the heart of its internal administration (see below).
, the Braunes Haus was twice hit by Allied bombing, in late 1943 and in early 1945, which ruined the building. What was left of it was torn down in 1947. For the following six decades, the plot of land with the former foundations of the Nazi HQ remained abandoned and unused, and hence de facto forgotten.
In the new millennium, the atmosphere had changed and the Nazi era became more talked about again, and especially Munich
’s pivotal role in it. In 2005 the Bavarian government decided to construct a documentation centre at the location of the former Braunes Haus. Plans got delayed, though, and I remember from my visit to Munich in September 2009 that at this site there was only an information board announcing the plans for such a documentation centre plus a some maps and texts with a little historical background information.
Actual construction of the centre didn’t start until 2011. The grand opening ceremony took place on 30 April 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Munich from the Nazis, and from May it opened to the general public.
What there is to see:
The NS Documentation Centre Munich is housed in a purpose-built edifice that is a striking, modernist, white cube with large, asymmetrical window sections. From the inside these provide good views over the adjacent area and Königsplatz square, thus in a way taking in the whole area of what was once the Nazi
The exhibition inside is subdivided into 33 sections and is very text-heavy. Don’t expect “infotainment” here. There are some audiovisual elements interspersed, but mainly the exhibition consists of a series of photo/document-and-text panels. There are no original physical objects on display. All texts are bilingual, with translations into English of a high standard. The panels are either vertical, in the traditional fashion, or, equally often, take the form of “tables” that you have to lean over in order to read the backlit content.
Thematically the exhibition casts the net wide and opens with WW1
, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the post-war situation in Germany
. The rise of Nazism in the Weimar Republic is chronicled, e.g. with plenty of examples of right-wing propaganda of the time which galvanized a growing following of the Nazi ideology by ordinary people and parts of the elites alike.
The role of Munich for the Nazis is given a special focus repeatedly, including a detailed account of the very area the documentation centre is today located in. Other topics picked out include the role of women for the Nazis, resistance and opposition (including the assassination attempt on Hitler by Georg Elser in Munich
in 1939), the Nuremberg
racial laws of 1935, the euthanasia
programme, and general exclusion and persecution, including the introduction of concentration camps
, and the 1938 pogroms against Jews. The plights of other targeted groups such as Roma and Sinti are covered too.
Militarization and preparation for war are another theme, as is, of course WWII
as such, although the coverage of the war is rather brief. The focus is rather of war crimes, increased repression but also acts of resistance, e.g. by the Munich-based White Rose group (see DenkStätte Weiße Rose
This is followed by the collapse of the Third Reich
, occupation by the Allies and their efforts in so-called “Entnazifizierung” (‘Denazification’), which however all too often ended in seamless rehabilitation instead. The exhibition carries on outlining the post-war reconstruction of Germany and its society, democratization, and the tensions between actively coming to terms with the dark past and a widespread tendency to opt for amnesia instead.
The various judiciary efforts in trials against perpetrators of Nazi crimes and a growing demand in society for more such efforts are another major topic here. Various individual cases are presented of Nazis who initially got away with it but were later, to varying degrees, brought to justice.
Memorialization, and how slow that process has been in Germany and especially Munich, are yet another special theme in the exhibition. This documentation centre and its environs (see below
) are of course a good example of this (see above). Yet, today’s coverage of all these dark chapters of Germany’s/Munich
’s history are another good example of how excellent Germany
’s culture of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (‘coming to terms with the past’) by means of such special museums has become.
The documentation centre also hosts regularly changing special exhibitions. At the time of my visit this was one that compared the persecution of Jews with current trends of ostracizing refugees, and foreigners in general, especially Muslims. Other topics have been the repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Nazi era, right-wing extremism in contemporary Germany
, the exploitation of Polish forced labourers during WWII, or the assassination attempt against Hitler of 20 July 1944 (see Wolfsschanze
All in all, this is not an easy “museum”, it requires attention and stamina, but if you grant it that you can glean a lot from a visit, even if you’re already fairly well informed about the Nazi era and its aftermath. So I can only recommend it.
I have one critical remark to make, though, but that’s one that has nothing to do with the content of this documentation centre. When I visited the place in the summer of 2019 it was a very hot day, and while I often complain about overuse of air-conditioning in museums in some parts of the world (especially so in the USA
, where in the summer many museums are turned into walk-in fridges!), here it was the opposite: none at all. On the top floor it was sweltering like in an incubator. This made it difficult to maintain concentration in this section as I was keen to get back to the lower floors where the heat was more bearable.
Location: On Brienner Straße between Königsplatz and Karolinenplatz, about half a mile (800m) north-west of the edge of the inner city and a similar distance north-east of the main train station.
Access and costs: quite easy to get to, free
Details: from the city centre it’s easily walkable, but there are also tram and bus stops nearby (at Karolinenplatz); the nearest metro station is Königsplatz from where it’s a five minute walk (across said Königsplatz).
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
If you want to take in everything there is, then you’ll need more than two hours, but if you’re already familiar with the main themes of the history of Nazism, then you can skim or skip several sections and concentrate more on the Munich
-specific parts in order to save time.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
The immediate environment of the documentation centre has several other sites related to the Nazis
. This begins right on the centre’s doorstep, literally opposite the entrance, where remnants of the former “Ehrentempel” (‘temples of honour’) can be seen. These pseudo-classical colonnaded structures were built in 1935 to house the coffins of the 16 Nazis who were killed in the 1923 attempted Hitler
putsch, who the party elevated to the status of “martyrs”. Only the foundations and lower pedestal levels survive as ruins today, the superstructures with the colonnades were blown up by the US military in 1947.
Many of the surrounding buildings were also either built during the Nazi era or had functions in the Nazi party’s bureaucracy, such as the former “Führerbau” (‘leader building’) round the corner on Arcisstraße, which now houses a music and theatre university. Further up Arcisstraße, outside the art museum “Alte Pinakothek”, stands the sculpture of a horse and a man on which you can see bullet holes from WWII
(part of the “Wunden der Erinnerung” – ‘wounds of remembrance’ – a whole series of locations where such war scars can still be seen).
Königsplatz was also part of the Nazi landscape here, and was used for rallies and parades. To that end the square was specially paved with granite slabs (later removed). The monumental gate in ancient Greek style at the square’s north-western end, however, dates back to before the Nazi era. Towards the other end of Brienner Straße is a square with a monument to the victims of Nazism involving an eternal flame.
For yet more sites located further away see under Munich
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
some of the city’s (and Germany
’s) most eminent art collections are in the closer vicinity of the centre, especially the Alte Pinakothek (classical art) and the Pinakothek der Moderne (modern art) to the north-east. The National Graphic Arts Collection is just to the south of the documentation centre, and on the north side of Königsplatz is the Glyptothek, a collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, whereas the building north of the music uni has a collection of Egyptian art.
For more see under Munich
- NS documentation centre 1 - modern building
- NS documentation centre 2 - inside
- NS documentation centre 3 - modern exhibition
- NS documentation centre 4 - foundations of historical building