A shrine to Hitler: The Nazi loving Austrian pub where the Führer was born is thrust back into spotlight with Mein Kampf release
- Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 in an inn in the Austrian town of Braunau-am-Inn, separated from Germany by a river
- The Gasthof zum Pommer would become a meeting point for Austria’s Nazi supporters in the 1920s and 1930s
- Eventually the owners would turn the room where he was born into a museum for devoted supporters to visit
- After the war, the authorities feared it would become a shrine to the fuhrer and tried to come up with alternate uses
- The guest house’s future is still undecided as the authorities continue to clash with the inn owner’s granddaughter
The scrabble to get a copy of Mein Kampf – controversially released this month for the first time since the end of the Second World War – has sent prices soaring to 10,000 euro (£7,521) a book.
Just 4,000 were printed, but pre-orders alone topped 15,000 for the annotated addition of Hitler’s inflammatory text, which outlined his political ‘vision’.
But it also told the story of his life – meaning one town which had hoped its part in the darkest part of history would be confined to the past may find itself back in the spotlight.
‘It stands me in good stead today that fate should have chosen that Braunau am Inn be my birthplace,’ Hitler wrote, sitting in a jail cell where he had been thrown for his political activities in 1923.
‘That little town lies on the frontier between the two German States, the reunion of which we younger ones regard as a work worthy of accomplishment by all the means in our power.’
Almost a century later the choice that ‘fate’ made still haunts this small town, stained by its close ties to Nazism and still stuck with one foot in the past thanks to an old inn, which looks almost the same today as it did when a baby was born in one of its rooms on a wet day in April 1889.
Number 15 Salzburger Vorstadt Street – then known as the Gasthof zum Pommer – was once the must-visit destination for any Nazi worth his salt.
Now, it is a bricks-and-mortar conundrum for authorities who wrestle with the legacy of its most notorious infant tenant, struggling to find a solution that preserves the historical meaning of this house without it ever falling into the hands of those who still worship at the shrine of Nazism.
Yet, 127 years ago, it was just another guest house in Braunau-am-Inn, a town separated from Germany by a bridge across the river.
It simply happened to be the place where a minor customs official called Alois Hitler had made his home with his young wife, Klara.
Alois, who had been posted in the town of Braunau am Inn since 1885, had married Klara in January 1885. Their wedding was held at Hitler’s rented rooms on the top floor of the Braunau inn, where Hitler would be born four years later.
The Hitlers would live in the house for just three more years before moving on.
They were long gone by the time Josef Pommer and his wife Maria purchased the house for 58,000 Austrian Kronen in 1912. At that point, Hitler was a penniless failed art student walking around the streets of Vienna.
But things would have been quite different for the Pommers – not to mention the town and his descendants – had Hitler not decided to write those lines in Mein Kampf 11 years later.
They would spark an outpouring of support in Braunau for Hitler’s National Socialists – despite the party being banned in Austria.
And it seems none were more supportive than Josef Pommer.
By the 1930s the town was filled with fanatical youngsters. Brownshirts would march through the area are destroying left-wing symbols and attacking anyone regarded as opponents. In 1933 the town narrowly managed to fight off a proposal to give honorary citizenship to Hitler.
The party remained banned, but Hitler’s supporters met clandestinely – more often than not, at the Gasthaus zum Pommer. Members of the party would cross the river at night to attend them, and in October 1933 the Pommer’s son had to answer for broadcasting Nazi propaganda.
Josef was unlikely to be the source of the complaint: he regularly filled his bar with National Socialists – no one else was welcome.
Six months after the radio broadcast the entire district was covered in Nazi propaganda, with posters demanding the ‘demolition of the chains’ of Engelbert Dollfuss, the Austrian leader who had banned the Nazi party.
‘Only Hitler can save us,’ said the posters.
Dolfuss was assassinated soon afterwards, and Braunau enjoyed one huge party.
By 1936, the swastika on a red flag had become a permanent feature hanging from the doors of the Gasthof zum Pommer, and a portrait of Hitler above the bar.
The same year, Hitler’s older half-sister Angela Hammitzsch visited.
The Pommer family by now had turned the room where he was born on the second floor into a tiny museum to the Fuhrer.
In 1937, Josef was allowed to officially offer visits to the ‘Fuehrerzimmer ‘ to German and other foreign tourists, although he was told Austrians had to be banned.
In January 1938 he placed a plaque on the outside wall informing the world that here was the place of birth of ‘German Fuehrer and Chancellor Adolf Hitler’.
Dark history: Hitler (pictured as a child) did not spend most of his childhood in Braunau, but in Leonding, the Austrian town still has a black mark against its name
The same year Hitler marched unopposed into Austria. Braunau celebrated with equal enthusiasm when, on March 12 that year, nearly fifty years after he was born there, Hitler returned in an open topped car.
He visited the Gasthof zum Pommer briefly, apparently poked his head into the room where he came into the world, before motoring off to nearby Leonding, where he attended school and where his parents were buried.
The Anschluss, or union, was the catalyst for his birth house to morph from dingy provincial pub to shrine. No self respecting Nazi could afford to blot his record by failing to make at least one odyssey there.
Braunau thrived on this wave of ‘brown tourism’, so named from the shirts that the original stromtroopers of the movement wore. Martin Bormann, who had become the Fuehrer’s personal secretary in 1935, saw the opportunity in this pilgrimage tourism to turn the Gasthof into the central place of worship for the party faithful.
Bormann persuaded the Pommer family to part with their property for 150,000 Reichsmarks, four times the market value. In addition, the plot of land on which the house was located was allowed to remain the property of the Pommers. Local newspapers from the time reported that the negotiations went on for a long time because the Pommers wanted to drive it up as high as possible.
The Nazis spent a further 150,000 Reichsmarks were on repairs, and managed to track down the former housekeeper, who had lived with the Hitlers when he was born, Rosalia Hörl.
With her help the original room in which Hitler was born was restored to its original appearance, and postcards showing the house, and in particular the bedroom, were distributed among the party faithful. It also boasted a Nazi culture centre and public library, while at the back of the property the Braunaer Gallery was created there, where authorised party-approved artists exhibited.
Braunau, from 1938 until 1944, enjoyed a prosperity it had not achieved since the days of the salt trade. Restaurants boomed, souvenir shops proliferated. There were at least 10 photographic agencies in town.
With the money that they had made from the sale of the property, the Pommers managed to buy another home and still had enough left over to live comfortably without working.
They, too, cashed in on the Nazi tourism tsunami. Eager party members queued up to buy beers for the couple at the other pubs in town, lapping up fabricated stories about how they knew the Hitler family. There is nothing to indicate there was any truth in the claim.
There were even claims the inn had healing powers, and it briefly
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