Geoff Walden

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Munich / München

Part 2 - Beer Hall Putsch of 1923

   

      In November 1923, Hitler and the leadership of the new Nazi Party attempted to take over the Bavarian government, as a starting point to an overthrow of the Weimar Republic and establishment of the Nazi leadership in Berlin. Through a serious of clumsy maneuvers, the Nazis took over the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich and detained some of the Bavarian government leaders on the evening on 8 November 1923, but the putsch attempt almost fell apart during the night. On the following day Hitler and the Nazi leadership determined to seize the initiative by marching on downtown Munich, planning to take over the Bavarian War Ministry. 

     Some 2000 Nazis marched to the town square and north toward the War Ministry building on Ludwigstraße on 9 November 1923. They were stopped by Bavarian police on Residenzstraße by the side of the Feldherrnhalle, just before reaching the Odeonsplatz. Shots rang out as both sides opened fire, leaving four policemen and fourteen Nazis dead (two other Nazis were killed in another location). Hitler himself was injured in the melee, and whisked away by his supporters into hiding. One of the Nazi swastika banners was drenched with blood, and this flag would later become the famous "Blutfahne" (Blood Banner) of the Nazi movement.

     Hitler was arrested and tried for treason, and sentenced to five years in prison (he actually served only about nine months in Landsberg Prison). After his release he worked to rebuild the Nazi Party, leading to the Nazi takeover of power in Berlin in 1933.

 

The "spiritual" center of Nazism was the Feldherrnhalle on the Odeonsplatz. Here, at the side of this 1844 memorial to fallen German military leaders, the Nazi putsch of 9 November 1923 came to an end when Bavarian police fired on the marchers.  (above - period postcard in author's collection; below - Georg Schorer, "Deutsche Kunstbetrachtung" Munich, 1941)

 

The climactic scene was considerably embellished by a Nazi artist named Schmitt, who showed Hitler heroically leading the charge in the center of the front rank. In reality, Hitler was thrown to the ground by his guards as soon as the firing started, then quickly spirited to safety. This modern photo shows a similar view down Residenzstraße.  (U.S. Army collections)

 

 

A memorial to the fallen putschists was erected on the east side of the Feldherrnhalle, opposite the spot in the street where the dead had fallen and the putsch had been halted. The memorial, designed by architect Paul Ludwig Troost and executed by sculptor Kurt Schmid-Ehmen, bore the names of the sixteen "martyrs of the movement" who were killed on 9 November 1923 (fourteen here at the Feldherrnhalle and two others at the War Ministry). The back of the monument bore the slogan "Und Ihr habt doch gesiegt!," which was from a speech by Hitler and can be translated "And yet you triumphed!" The memorial was guarded perpetually by SS guards.  ("Hauptstadt der Bewegung," 1939/40; Bundesarchiv)

 

A popular period postcard  (courtesy Greg Walden)

 

Somewhat surprisingly, on the wall beneath the main memorial was a plaque honoring the four policemen who were killed here on 9 November 1923, opposing the putschists(period postcard)

The Feldherrnhalle memorial was the scene of annual ceremonies honoring the dead of the putsch. Above left, Rudolf Hess salutes the memorial; above right - SS chief Heinrich Himmler lays a wreath in 1934. Below - The bodies of the Nazis killed during the Bürgerbräukeller assassination attempt on 8 November 1939 (see below) were displayed in front of the Feldherrnhalle. In the postcard art view at lower right, Hitler salutes the memorial while Jakob Grimminger holds the Blutfahne in front.  (Bundesarchiv; period postcards)

 

All who passed the memorial were required to give the "Hitler Gruß" salute. Legend holds that those who wished to avoid this salute
took a shortcut through the Viscardigaße alley behind the Feldherrnhalle, which came to be known as Drückeberger-Gaßl, "Shirkers Alley."  (Bundesarchiv)

 

SS men guard  a memorial wreath placed on the steps of the Feldherrnhalle in this period postcard.

 

The Odeonsplatz in front of the Feldherrnhalle served as a parade field for the SS, who often staged nighttime rallies there. New SS recruits took their oath of loyalty to Hitler during these formations. On the left above is a 1941 painting by Paul Hermann. Below, the SA parade on the Odeonsplatz in 1938.  (above left - HDK postcard collection; above right - Life Collection; below - Munich City Museum)

  

The Feldherrnhalle and Odeonsplatz figured in an earlier incident in Adolf Hitler's life. On 2 August 1914 Hitler was in the crowd in front of the Feldherrnhalle, celebrating the announcement of the beginning of World War I. Years later, Hitler mentioned to his photographer Heinrich Hoffmann that he had been in the crowd, and as Hoffmann had photographed the scene, he examined his photos until he was able to pick Hitler out of the crowd. On the left below, photographer Hoffmann points out Hitler in the crowd. On the right below is a colorized enlargement of the area circled in the period photo, showing Hitler in the crowd.  (above - Heinrich Hoffmann, "Hitler, wie ihn keiner kennt," Berlin, 1932; below left - Hoffmann Collection, U.S. National Archives, RG242; below right - "Kampf um's Dritte Reich," Altona-Behrenfeld, 1933)

 

After the U.S. Army captured the city at the end of World War II, the Nazi monument was ordered to be removed in May 1945, but the Feldherrnhalle remained a popular spot for GI tourists to visit. My father, Army Air Forces Lt. Delbert R. Walden, took the photo on the right in 1946. The surrounding area had been badly bombed.  (left - U.S. Army Signal Corps photo; right - collection of G.A. and G.R. Walden)

 


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The putsch march began on 9 November 1923 at the Bürgerbräukeller, a beer hall on the southeast side of the Isar River. Hitler's attempted takeover of the Bavarian government began here on the evening of 8 November, and the march the following day had the goals of gaining recruits and possibly rescuing Nazis who had taken over the Bavarian War Ministry building, but were under siege by local forces and police. On 8 November 1939, on the occasion of Hitler's annual commemorative speech, one Georg Elser planted a time bomb in the Bürgerbräukeller in an attempt on Hitler's life. Hitler left the hall early, some minutes before the bomb exploded with severe damage to the beer hall, eight Nazis killed, and several wounded. Elser was captured and spent the rest of the war in prison, being executed in Dachau in April 1945. A memorial plaque to Elser is in a pedestrian area near the site of the Bürgerbräukeller, off Rosenheimerstraße at the City Hilton hotel.

However, the plaque to Elser is not at the actual site of the Bürgerbräukeller, which was located closer to Rosenheimerstraße - the entrance was in the area where the covered S-Bahn entrance stands today next to the Gasteig building (near the center of the photo on the right below).  (U.S. National Archives, RG 243HMA)

 

On the left, one of the annual 9th November commemorative marches about to start at the Bürgerbräukeller. On the right, the annual march begins at the Bürgerbräukeller on 9 November 1936. Hitler is greeted by Julius Streicher, the "Frankenführer," who always led the parade. Next came Jakob Grimminger with the Blutfahne (Blood Flag). On the right in this view is Old Fighter Christian Weber.  ("Illustrierter Beobachter," 12 Nov. 1938)

 

The march route left the Bürgerbräukeller on Rosenheimerstraße and crossed the Isar River by the Ludwigsbrücke bridge. On the left is a view of the 1936 march.  ("Illustrierter Beobachter," 12 Nov. 1936)

 

Julius Streicher led the march, followed by Jakob Grimminger with the Blutfahne. The entire route was lined by tall red pylons with torch bowls on the top, bearing the names of the dead putschists. Only one of the columns at this end of the Ludwigsbrücke remains today.  (Bundesarchiv)

 

Julius Streicher leads the route through the Isartor city gate, along Zweibrückenstraße onto Tal. The hanging banner shows the swastika and three Eihwaz runes, which originally signified a yew or oak tree.  ("Illustrierter Beobachter," 12 Nov. 1938)

 

The remaining route led up Tal to Marienplatz, then up Weinstraße/Theatinerstraße, across Perusastraße, and up Residenzstraße, to its end at the Feldherrnhalle. The original goal of the marchers may have been to relieve their comrades who were under siege at the Bavarian War Ministry on Ludwigstraße. On the left is a photo of some of these putschists who have barricaded themselves at the War Ministry; in the foreground from left to right: Paul Magnus Weickert, Kitzinger, Heinrich Himmler (later chief of the SS; carrying the Reichskriegsflagge banner), Seidel-Dittmarsch and Ernst Röhm (later head of the SA, seen here wearing a coat with a fur collar and face partially obscured by the barricade). (The modern photo does not duplicate the 1923 view.)  ("Deutschland Erwacht," 1933; personnel identifications courtesy Helly Angel)

 

   Continue to Part 3, Nazi Party buildings on the Königsplatz

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