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Real and virtual exploration of Munich's dark past

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 29, 2014 at 2:37 pm •  Published: April 29, 2014

MUNICH (AP) — With all of the cheery things to see and do in this sumptuous city just north of the Alps — drink beer, admire palaces and old churches, visit museums, soak up Bavarian hospitality, and drink more beer — why would anyone want to visit sites associated with Adolf Hitler?

Because unlike the man himself, the fascination with Hitler never dies.

Standing on Marienplatz, Munich's bustling main square, Eric Loerke is addressing nine English speakers who signed up for the "Third Reich Tour."

"Our subject is Hitler's rise to power in Munich," the tour meister tells his eager charges.

Loerke is with Munich Walk Tours, which offers a selection of tours in the Bavarian capital. The Third Reich Tour and a visit to the former concentration camp in nearby Dachau are two of the most popular. The tours are conducted in English, tailor-made for Americans, Britons and other English-speakers who want to learn about Hitler's years in Munich.

Loerke leads the group through alleys, across courtyards, and down grand boulevards as they explore the years Hitler spent in Munich as he built up the Nazi party, attracted money from wealthy patrons, and formulated totalitarian plans that were carried out after he rose to power in 1933.

They walk to a former palace that Hitler once painted on a postcard when he was a struggling artist. They walk to the Hofbreauhaus, where Hitler launched his political career with speeches condemning Jews and proclaiming the ethnic superiority of Germans.

They walk to the Feldherrnhalle, a monumental building where Hitler's attempted putsch in 1923 was stopped by armed troops. The site became a Nazi shrine after Hitler came to power 10 years later. During the Third Reich, anyone who passed this spot was required to give the Hitler salute.

For anyone in the group who might be tempted to raise an arm in jest, Loerke advises against it.

"Don't do it. You will be arrested," says Loerke, explaining the gesture violates German law.

Hitler called Munich the "Capital of the (Nazi) Movement. " The city was the party's birthplace.

A failed artist in his native Austria, Hitler drifted to Munich in 1913. When World War I broke out in August 1914, Hitler joined a Bavarian regiment of the German army. He resurfaced in Munich after the war and joined the anti-Semitic German Workers' Party, which later became the National Socialist German Workers Party, aka the Nazis. Hitler became a party leader and found his true calling here: rabble-rousing and public speaking. His histrionic speeches drew throngs to the Nazi party.

Hitler spent less than a year in prison for the failed 1923 putsch, and when he got out he resumed his plotting to power. He got what he wanted in January 1933 when he was made chancellor in a political deal, and after that he took dictatorial control. Even after he came to power, Munich remained key to the Nazis' bureaucracy.

Some of the old Nazi buildings still stand, although they have been repurposed. One of them is the Fuehrerbau, a former Nazi administrative building that is now a music and drama academy. The Fuehrerbau is in the same area as the Koenigsplatz, a sprawling square where Hitler used to stage mass Nazi rallies. Today it is crossed by tourists.

The past is always present here. And Munich has not left educating people about it to tour guides.

New technology is being put to use to keep alive the memory of Hitler's victims and of Munich's dark past — offering virtual tours of history that you can take just by jumping onto a computer.

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