Munich’s history is inextricably linked with the history of National Socialism. The Bavarian city was the home base of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or “National Socialist German Workers’ Party.” In 1923, it was in Munich that Hitler carried out the Beer Hall putsch. The first concentration camp was located in Dachau, a town just northwest of Munich. In 1935, Hitler declared Munich the Hauptstadt der Bewegung (Capital of the Movement). In the following years, the city became the showcase for the totalitarian regime’s propaganda machine and reign of terror.
After the war, Munich tentatively began to come to terms with its National Socialist legacy. It was only in the 1980s, however, that the city gradually started to address its Nazi past by transforming sites associated with National Socialism into Erinnerungsorte (Places of Remembrance). Over the years, plaques and monuments have formed a geography of memory in the urban landscape. Here are 8 places to see in Munich that show visitors how the city dealt with its problematic legacy.
1. Platz der Opfer des Nationalsozialismus & The Memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma
Ten months after the end of the war, the area near the former Gestapo and Nazi Party headquarters was renamed Platz der Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (Square of the Victims of National Socialism). The city wanted to transform the new square into the main commemorative site of its Nazi past. However, in the following decades, the area was mostly overlooked.
To draw more attention to the site, in 1983, the city council launched a competition for a memorial to display in the square. The winner was German sculptor Andreas Sobeck, who designed the Ewiger Flamme (Eternal flame), a granite column topped with a flame burning day and night inside a cage, reminding passers-by that hope, free-thinking, and humanity survive even in the darkest of times. In 2014, a bronze plaque completed the memorial. Its inscription read: “In memory of the victims of National Socialist tyranny, persecuted because of their political belief, religion, race, sexual orientation, and disability.”
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In 1995, the city added to the remembrance site a metal plate to commemorate the Sinti and Roma, who were branded as “gypsies” and persecuted by the Nazi regime. Only a few of them survived the Auschwitz death camp. It was the first time Munich publicly addressed the fate of its Sinti and Roma community. In 2008, the City Council of Elders voted to install benches to invite citizens and visitors to sit and “meditate that this came about,” as Holocaust survivor Primo Levi warned in his famous Shema.
2. The Plaque Outside the Former Gestapo Headquarters
“And now?” wrote an anonymous person on the wall of the former Gestapo prison in Munich in 1946, “Why are there no Nazis imprisoned here?” During the regime, the Neo-Gothic Wittelsbacher Palais became the headquarters of the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), or “Secret State Police.” The Gestapo officials working in the building compiled death lists and issued deportation orders. They also detained and tortured opponents of the Nazi regime and resistance fighters, such as Jesuit Priest Rupert Mayer and the members of the White Rose. In 1944, the building also served as an annex of the Dachau concentration camp.
The 1946 graffiti shows the city’s reluctance to deal with matters concerning guilt and responsibility. In 1964, the remains of the building were permanently demolished. In 1982, a modern building of the Bayerische Landesbank replaced the former palace. The easy-to-miss bronze plaque referencing the site’s history was the subject of much controversy and negotiation. The plaque was finally placed outside the building in 1984. The inscription bears only a brief reference to the palace’s Nazi past. Nevertheless, this was the first time Munich drew public attention to a site deeply connected with the history of the Third Reich.
3. Commemorating the Holocaust: The Memorial Stone for the Destroyed Main Synagogue
Munich’s main synagogue was one of the urban landmarks in the pre-war era. In June 1938, Hitler personally ordered the demolition of the Jewish place of worship “for traffic reasons.” The site then became a car park. The vandalism against Munich’s synagogue foreshadowed the state-wide pogroms of November 1938. After the war, the city returned the site to the Jewish community. The community sold it back to the municipality that agreed to use it to build a memorial for the old synagogue.
In 1967, Munich sculptor Herbert Peters won the competition organized by the city for the memorial. Peters designed a monument made of five granite blocks recreating a cornerstone of the vandalized building. The Magen David (Star of David) and an inscription commemorating the events of June and November 1938 adorn the front of the main block. On the inside corner, a niche guards the most sacred symbols of Judaism, such as the menorah (a seven-branched candelabra), the Decalogue, and the Tablets of the Law. Several verses from Psalm 47, a lament for the desecration of the Jerusalem sanctuary, are also engraved into the blocks.
On the anniversary of the 1938 anti-Semitic pogroms, Munich citizens and public figures take turns reading out the names of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The victims’ names are also remembered in the underground Gang der Erinnerung (Corridor of Memory) that links the new synagogue with the Jewish community center. The granite memorial, unveiled in 1969, was one of the city’s first efforts to commemorate the systematic annihilation of German (and European) Jews.
4. The Plaque Commemorating the Reichspogromnacht (November 9, 1938)
On November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew, shot Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomatic official, in Paris. A few days earlier, Grynszpan’s parents had been expelled from Germany. Vom Rath died on November 9, the anniversary of the failed 1923 Beer Hall putsch. While the Nazi Party leadership was commemorating the occasion in the Old Town Hall’s ballroom, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels held a rousing speech that unleashed a deadly wave of anti-Semitic violence. During the night between November 9 and 10, members of the SA (Sturmabteilung) and the Hitler Youth vandalized and destroyed synagogues and Jewish-owned shops all over Germany. In the wake of this state-sponsored vandalism, thousands of men were arrested just because they were Jewish. Countless shards of broken glass littered the streets of German cities.
The Reichspogromnacht, also referred to as Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), was the first step of the systematic persecution of German Jews that led to the Endlösung der Judenfrage (Final Solution to the Jewish Question): the systematic annihilation of all Jews. More than sixty years after the pogrom, Munich’s former mayor Hans-Jochel Vogel suggested drawing attention to the city’s pivotal role in the 1938 anti-Semitic violence with a plaque. The marble plaque was put on the wall of the Old Town Hall’s foyer in November 2000. Its inscription states that the 1938 party in the building’s ballroom marked the beginning of the Reichspogromnacht. As the foyer is often closed to the public, a replica of the plaque was installed at the entrance of the Old Town Hall.
5. National Identity in Postwar Munich: the Feldherrnhalle
Modeled after the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, the Felherrnhalle played a key role in the Third Reich’s propaganda machine. In 1923, it was here that the Bavarian police stopped the Beer Hall putsch. In the ensuing chaos, 16 putschists died. After Hitler rose to power, he transformed the building into a shrine to the “martyrs” of the event the Nazi propaganda dubbed the “March on the Feldherrnhalle.” In November 1933, Hitler personally unveiled the Mahnmal der Bewegung (Memorial to the Movement), a plaque bearing the swastika and listing the names of the “fallen.” Two SS guards kept a round-the-clock vigil under the monument. During the regime, SS recruiters swore their oath to the Führer in front of the Felhernnhalle.
After the fall of the Nazi regime, many citizens closely associated the Feldherrnhalle with National Socialism. As a result, the building became the platform from which locals expressed their contrasting views on guilt and national identity. Shortly after the end of the war, an anonymous citizen wrote on the wall under the Mahnmal: “Dachau – Velden – Buchenwald – ich schäme mich, dass ich ein Deutscher bin” (I am ashamed to be a German). Two days later, however, another graffiti proclaimed: “Goethe, Diesel, Haydn, Rob. Koch. Ich bin stolz, Deutscher zu sein” (I am proud to be a German). Finally, on June 13, 1945, a group of citizens toppled and smashed the Mahnmal.
Today, no plaque addresses the building’s Nazi past. Over the years, the city council rejected several proposals to install a memorial on the Feldherrnhalle, stating that the Loggia is a protected monument.
6. Commemorating the Silent Resistance: the Bronze Trail in the Viscardigasse
During the Nazi regime, passers-by were required to honor the Mahnmal der Bewegung with the outstretched arm and the Hitlergruß (Nazi salute). The SS guards reprimanded those who refused to comply. As a result, some citizens began to bypass the Nazi monument by taking an alternative route through Viscardigasse, a narrow alley just behind the Feldherrnhalle. For this reason, the alley became commonly known as Drückebergergasse (Shirkers’ Alley).
In 1955, Munich artist Bruno Wank decided to commemorate the silent resistance of the locals with a 59-foot-long trail of bronze bricks. Titled Argumente (Arguments), the pavement memorial was initially meant to be a temporary installation. It was one of the first times the city paid tribute to those who opposed the Nazi regime. In the 1990s, when Munich started to expand its memory landscape and reshape its remembrance policy, Bruno Wanks’s project became a permanent urban landmark.
7. Wunden der Erinnerung (Wounds of Memory)
In the 1990s, when artists became actively involved in the city’s remembrance policy, Beate Passow and Andreas von Weizsäcker created the art project Wunden der Erinnerung (Wounds of Memory). The two artists traveled through Europe and installed square glass panels in front of holes left on streets and buildings by grenades and bombshells. In Munich, visitors can find the permanent installations on a pillar of the Haus der Kunst, the former venue of the annual exhibition of “Great German Art,” and on the outside walls of the university building.
The artists aimed to encourage people to observe and reflect on the physical traces left by the Second World War. “Rather than providing definitive answers,” remarks Sabine Brantl, the Head of the History Department at Haus der Kunst, “their projects focused on observing things others had overlooked, exposing gaps and preserving traces of forgetting and repression.” Today, the Wounds of Memory still invite passers-by to ask questions about memory and forgetting.
8. Places to See in Munich: White Rose Pavement Memorial in Front of the University & DenkStätte Weiße Rose
In 1942, a group of students from the University of Munich formed a resistance group called Weiße Rose (White Rose). The group wrote and distributed six pamphlets exposing the crimes of the Nazi regime and urging their peers and German citizens to oppose the Third Reich. On February 18, 1943, Jakob Schmid, a janitor and SA member, denounced the students to the Gestapo. All members of the White Rose were later executed.
In February 1946, the city council renamed the two forecourts of the university after Hans and Sophie Scholl, the leaders of the White Rose, and Professor Kurt Hubert, the author of the sixth pamphlet. In 1988, Berlin artist Robert Schmidt-Matt honored the memory of the resistance group with a pavement memorial placed in front of the main entrance to the university buildings. Schmidt-Matt reproduced on ceramic tiles the group’s six pamphlets as well as photos of the White Rose’s members.
Since 1997, the permanent exhibition DenkStätte Weiße Rose informs visitors about the group’s activities and tells the stories and intellectual background of its members. Today, the White Rose is the most famous and celebrated German resistance group. German students regularly visit the DenkStätte and learn about the group’s courage. Additionally, the University of Munich organizes an annual White Rose Memorial Lecture.