Museum, Pilgrimage Site or Supermarket? Conflict over the future of Hitler's Birthplace in Braunau am Inn

Article published on Sept. 5, 2016
Article published on Sept. 5, 2016

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The empty, yellowish house in Brennau am Inn costs the Austrian government 5000 Euro a month - and has done so for years.  To prevent the site becoming a pilgrimage site for Neonazis and right wing extremists the government quickly leased it.  Now it is to be repossessed. And what then?

The debate concerning this otherwise unremarkable building has been going on for some time for there is a great fear of creating a pilgrimage site for right wing extremists. However, opinions differ about what should happen with it.  In the short term the largest obstacles have been overcome. For a long time the landlord refused all suggestions, she did not even permit a small sign and rejected purchase offers. Finally the Council of Ministers has decided to compulsorily repossess the property. Laws to facilitate this still have to be passed in Parliament.  The first step has been taken but it doesn’t seem as if the situation will become any simpler.

The building, which is located in the small town in upper Austria, dates back to the 17th century and is under heritage protection – hence the current difficulties.   It might in fact by circuitous means be possible to remove the heritage listing but success on this front is difficult to foresee. If an imminent demolition is out of the question the options are limited.  Both the governing Austrian People’s Party and the Austrian Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) wish to preserve the building as a museum for the purposes of coming to terms with the past.  Destroying the building and with it expunging all the material carriers of memory and history would be a “fatal error” said the president of ICOMOS Wilfried Lipp to the German newspaper Tageszeitung  in response to the Interior Minister’s suggestion the building be levelled. 

The Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) sees the matter completely differently.  The director Gerhard Baumgartner spoke in an  Interview with Ö1 on the question saying “the loss of the building is minimal for the culture of commemoration” and that the DÖW advocates a depoliticisation of the site. He added that the building has already been honoured excessively but the interest of the Federal Government in the building is justified.  Baumgartner is referring to the visits by right wing extremists from all over Europe who are often seen there.  The Director of DÖW is not convinced a museum would resolve the situation: “If you want to prevent that you have to completely depoliticise the site. You have to put something there that nobody wants to be photographed in front of, something that has nothing to do with the historic anecdote that Hitler was born there.”