Nazis and the Greek Revival in Munich

Posted by dianamuir on March 18, 2013

An odd thing happened to the Kings of Bavaria in 1832.   Greece had just won a war of national liberation from the Ottoman Empire with a major assist form the British and French navies, and both Britain and France felt that providing the new nation state with a  constitutional monarchy would be the best way to ensure stability.   But where to find a King?   The King of Bavaria, Ludwig I, happened to have both an extra son and ancestors who belonged to Byzantine imperial families.   And so Prince Otto of Bavaria became King of Greece, and the Kingdom of Bavaria became the European state with the greatest enthusiasm for  Greek Revival architecture.

Visitors to Munich can see the Bavarian enthusiasm for  the idea that a local boy had become King of Greece on display in the Neue Pinakothek, (museum for nineteenth century art) where entire rooms are filled with views of Greece; in the Bavaria National Museum (a decorative arts museum), where a model of Otto stands in full costume tsolias; at the enormous  Hall of Fame that Ludwig built in Greek Revival style featuring a monumental statue of Bavaria cast from Turkish bronze cannon captured at Navarino (the battle that liberated Greece); and – this is the segue to Nazis –  at the Koenigsplatz (Royal Square).   Here Ludwig built a large plaza  with a monumental ceremonial arch in the style of the entrance to the Acropolis at one end, and two, grand, Greek Revival buildings facing one another across the broad plaza, one designed  to hold Ludwig’s genuinely spectacular collection of Greek antiquities.

This is how the plaza stood in 1933, three monumental sides; the fourth, an unfinished canvas when Adolph Hitler decided that he was an Aryan, somehow a descendant of the ancient Greeks.   He finished the Koenigsplatz by filling the fourth side with a pair of Ehrentempels (Honor Temples), edifices in an Art Deco version of Greek Revival dedicated to the worship of the Nazi spirit, represented by sarcophagi containing the bodies of the Nazis who died in the Party’s failed 1923 attempt to take over the government (the Beer Hall Putsch).   Flanking the Ehrentempels were a pair of large office buildings known as the Fuhrer Buildings housing Nazi Party operations,  and beyond them,  an entire neighborhood of buildings that housed Party operations.  The most notorious was the Braunes Haus (Brown House), the building that became Nazi Party headquarters in 1930.     The old Konigsplatz had become the heart of darkness, the center of National Socialism, the place where the great Nazi rallies were held.

The Baunes Haus was destroyed by war.   In 1947 the American Army of Occupation dynamited the Ehrentempels.   The art deco columns are gone, but the solid, stone foundations remain, covered by weeds.

The post-War German government altered the Konigsplatz by planting grass in place of the pavements where the Hitler Youth had marched.   The Fuhrer Buildings still look much as they did when Hitler knew them, both are still in use,  one as an art school.

Sixty years passed and the question of what to do about the foundations of the Ehrentempels remained.   To many, the best solution seemed to be to root them out of the ground and build something new in their stead.   But as time passed a consensus grew around the idea of treating them as Germany has treated its Nazi past.   That is, to admit that it happened, that Germans once enthusiastically built and worshiped at these shrines of race-hatred, face the past, and build a better future.

That future is now rising beside the overgrown foundations of the old Ehrentempels, on the site of the Braunes Haus where Hitler once had his office.   The building of the NS Dokumentationszentrum München (Documentation Center of National Socialism, Munich), a new museum of the Nazi period, is under construction.


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