Origins of the Book
Writing about Munich in Mein Kampf, Hitler declared: ‘Not only has one not seen Germany if one does not know Munich – no, above all, one does not know German art if one has not seen Munich’.1 Hitler had a heartfelt love for Munich, a city he claimed was the most German city he knew. Hitler was twenty-four years old when he moved to Munich from his native Austria in May 1913. The remaining years of his life were closely intertwined with the history of the Bavarian capital.
Munich is where Hitler’s political career and National Socialism began after the First World War. Munich is also where both the Sturmabteilung (Stormtroopers, SA) and the Schutzstaffel (SS) were founded, where Hitler and his followers attempted a putsch in November 1923, stood trial in 1924, and were convicted of treason. Imprisonment and other setbacks did not diminish Hitler’s popularity nor derail his political ambitions. Munich’s cultural and intellectual elites assisted Hitler, public support steadily increased, and after the Nazis came to power in 1933 Hitler chose Munich as the place to celebrate the cult of Nazism with art festivals, extravagant parades, and solemn celebrations to commemorate the party’s early struggles and its triumphal rise to power. Hitler conferred two titles on his favourite German city: ‘Capital of German Art’ in 1933 and ‘Capital of the Movement’ in 1935. Additionally, in 1933, 16 km northeast of Munich in the medieval town of Dachau, the Nazis opened their first concentration camp, the prototype for a camp system of enslavement and murder that culminated with the Holocaust. Munich is also where the fate of Czechoslovakia was decided in 1938; where Joseph Goebbels incited Kristallnacht, a nation-wide pogrom on the Jewish population on 9/10 November 1938; and where a young English girl, Unity Mitford, who was madly in love with the Führer, attempted suicide a few hours after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939.
How and why did these tragedies happen in Munich, a culturally rich city with a unique aesthetic allure and a world-renowned reputation for Bavarian charm, fun of life, and tolerance? This was the ‘exam question’ my MA Special Subject students set for themselves as we embarked together on a field trip to Munich. Over the years, many of my ‘Hitler Studies’ seminar groups organised a three-day cultural/historical staff ride to Munich. These trips were optional and self-funded and, perhaps not surprisingly, the highlight of the course. Most trips started appropriately enough with dinner in a cavernous Bierkeller where in the 1920s political parties of all sorts attempted to rally prospective members. Themed walks exploring Hitler’s early years in Munich, the revolutions of 1918-1919, the founding of the NSDAP, the failed Putsch, the party in power, resistance to the Nazis, and a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site enhanced my students’ knowledge of the ‘Hitler phenomenon’ and Munich’s role in bringing about the Third Reich. Walking the streets of Munich, seeing the buildings, the monuments, and places associated with Hitler and his Movement broadened their perspectives and increased their understanding of the complex set of cultural and historical factors that contributed to the rise of National Socialism. These study weekends were not entirely ‘beer free’, but the unique opportunity they facilitated was taken seriously by all. Furthermore, the study tours and the questions my students asked inspired me to write the book.
Hitler’s Munich: The Capital of the Nazi Movement is a book that combines a short biography of Hitler with a history of the turbulent politics and NS-Zeit in Munich. It is designed to be both an introduction for readers unfamiliar with Munich’s role in the birth of Nazism, and a stimulus for those who want to deepen their knowledge of the city–its architecture, culture, and urban spaces–and its links to Hitler and National Socialism. It also serves as a historical guidebook to the specific sites associated with Hitler and National Socialism. Many of the buildings and places where these events occurred still exist, and they are worth seeking out to see and feel for yourself the impact they had in contributing to the tragedy that unfolded in Munich.