I have spent a total of about four years of my life in Germany. I enjoy the country and the people and I love traveling here because for me it is relaxing. When I have a car I enjoy driving on the Autobahn, and I find the mass transportation more than effective and convenient but a great way to travel.
As a historian who for many years specialized in the study of the latter years of the Kaiser Reich, the German revolution and civil war, the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period visiting here always intellectually stimulating. Munich is a very interesting and sometimes contradictory city, rich in culture, music, art, literature and scientific-technological achievements. Likewise it has always been a more cosmopolitan center of a very conservative state, especially religiously conservative as Bavaria is the heart of Catholic Germany. Thus there has always been a tension in the city, between the local more religious conservatives and business leaders and the more secular and progressive inhabitants, and the immigrants from Eastern Europe, especially more traditional and conservative Orthodox Jews.
This tension continues today with the large numbers of foreigners that live and work in the city. Many are Turkish guest workers and their descendants that have been in Germany almost half a century. But many are new immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, some who have embraced German life in a secular state, but many who have not and stand out in the crowd. In particular I think of the number of Moslems who retain their traditional dress and ways, which in many ways is reminiscent of the Eastern European Orthodox Jews, who likewise stood out as they attempted to maintain their cultural and religious identity.
Munich is the capital city of Bavarian, or as it is known here, Bayern. It was ruled for centuries by the Wittelsbach dynasty, which included “Mad King Louis” who built the amazing Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles. That dynasty, with the rest of the German royalty was overthrown at the end of the a First World War. It was replaced for about three months by what was known as the Bavarian Soviet led by Kurt Eisner, an “independent socialist.” Eisner could not hold power and resigned in February 1919 and on the way to his resignation he was assassinated by a right wing extremist who held the views of the racist Thule Society. Eisner was replaced by a Majority Socialist leader who could not form a government and then by an Independent Socialist and Communist government. This government was both inept and brutal, it took hostages from the elite of the city as well as conservative reactionaries and had them executed. This brought a response from Berlin which sent a force of 30,000 Weimar Government employed Freikorps troops, including many Bavarians from rural areas, under the command of Ritter Von Epp to crush the Munich Soviet. After hard fighting against the Communist troops Epp’s men crushed the opposition and executed hundreds of the Communists and Independent Socialist fighter and leaders.
The city was still rife with revolutionary and reactionary elements and in 1919 a new political party was established. This party became the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany, or the NSDAP. Adolf Hitler joined the party and quickly became its head. He along with General Erich Ludendorff led a coup, or “putsch” against the government on the 8th and 9th of November 1923. The putsch originated at the NDSAP headquarters and Hitler led about 2000 armed members of the party to the Burgerbrau Keller beer hall where the Gustav Von Kahr, who had been appointed with dictatorial powers due to the unrest, was making a speech.
Hitler took Kahr and other members of the government hostage and declared a revolution and enjoined those present to “join in this grave eleventh hour for our German Fatherland.” While many present were turned by his speech, the revolt did not gain momentum and in desperation Hitler ordered a march to overthrow the government. At Odeonsplatz at the bridge over the Isar River near the Feldherrenhalle his group of nearly 2000 followers including future Nazi Leaders Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess were confronted by about 100 Bavarian police, and defeated. Hitler was arrested and tried, spent nine months in prison during which he wrote Mein Kampf. The Burgerbraukeller and the Feldherrenhalle became Nazi shrines which after Hitler’s takeover became places where Hitler would return yearly to mark his failed putsch.
All of these events took place in a small area of the Munich city center. Sadly most people who come to Munich are aware of the events that occurred here, and many fail to realize how easily a city know for so many cultural and scientific achievements can become the locus of evil for a man like Adolf Hitler.
While I love Munich my love is tempered by how many events which still affect us today occurred here just eight to ninety years ago. To use a German expression, that amount of in the sense of history is merely an “augenblick” or “blink of an eye”. It is hard to believe that so much has happen here, and just how few people understand just how easily such events can happen again.
When I look at my own country I see parallels between the more extreme elements of the Tea Party movement, White Supremacists and others with some of those that followed Hitler to the Burgerbraukeller. The hatred that they express towards liberals, racial minorities, immigrants and Moslems is so similar to the words of those precursors to the Nazi party rule in Germany that it is frightening. Comforting myths are substituted for history. Race, ideology and xenophobic nationalism, often clothed in the language of tradition “Christian” beliefs are used to demonize those who are different. Sadly too I see some of my fellow progressives inflamed with such a hatred of conservatives that they can not see the dangers inherent in such polarization. As a historian, I find the parallels disturbing.
But despite that we are here to have fun, and that I am. After all, I choose to believe in the power of acceptance, tolerance and inclusiveness. Those are found in the words that are imprinted on the modern German Army belt buckles and in the German National anthem “eingekeit, recut und freiheit” or “unity, Justice and freedom.” Those words are also implicit in our own Declaration of Independence which states that “all men are created equal. Thus for me, not believe that good can overcome evil is central to who I am.
And from Munich, I am your friend,