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Braunau – A Small Austrian Town with a Tough Heritage

Braunau am Inn – the small town right at the Austrian-German border is indeed a picturesque place and a nice spot right at the river Inn. However, the town has a tough heritage: the most famous son of the city is Adolf Hitler – and especially the question how to deal with the heritage of his birthplace caused years full of discussion and trouble. I visited the place where the saddest part of German history started, in late June 2020.

 

Braunau am Inn – Location and More

Braunau is located on the river Inn. It has roughly 17,000 inhabitants, which makes it the largest city community in the surrounding Innviertel region. It is closely collaborating with Simbach (about 10,000 inhabitants), which is the city right across the river Inn, on the German / Bavarian side.

The city has a quite long history, first sources, which mentions borough of the today’s city, are already dated as of the 8th century.

 

Braunau am Inn – A Walk Through the Town

Due to its location, the city has been an important place for trade in the past – and even if the city is just partially restored, it is really beautiful. Walking along the Stadtplatz (“City Square”) is really joyful – at least after you found a parking lot, which may be a bit tricky. I loved the historic style of the houses when I was in Braunau. There are also multiple cafes and restaurants, which lead to a Mediterranean flair on the sunny day I visited it.

The two most significant and catching monuments, however, are the (reconstructed) town gate tower and the St Stephan church, which is right behind central area.

One thing I especially liked about Braunau are all the traditional-looking signs at the stores and other paintings. There is quite variety of shops and services in the very central area of the town. There is even a small discounter supermarket right at city square.

 

Braunau am Inn – Adolf Hitler Birthplace

And then there is one house under the address Salzburger Vorstand 15. You see that there must be some story behind it, just because it is much more rotten, much more run down than the houses around. It is the birthplace of Adolf Hitler.

The building is dated as of the 17th century and his thus under monument protection. In the post-WWII period, Braunau heavily struggled how to deal with it. Its first usage was a documentation about ceoncentration camps, but after 1952, it was also used as library and hosted a technical school. From 1977 to 2011 it ironically was used to support physically disabled persons. Thereby, the house was owned by the original owner (before the wars), but rented by the state for this purpose. After 2012, there were multple thoughts how to use it. Some wanted to install a museum – a Russian investor even wanted to buy it just for the sake of turning in down. There were heavy protests when even the Austrian Minister for Interior joined the idea to break the hose down.

Finally, the Austrian state decided to expropriate the owner of the house and turn it into a police station. The reconstructions necessary to neutralize the building should majorly reflect the original state of it. There is no memory sign or similar at the moment. The only reason why the house is eye-catching (apart from its condition) is a big rock in front of the house, which originally was located at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. It says

Für Frieden Freiheit
und Demokreatie
Nie wieder Fachismus
Millionen Tote mahnen

(“For Freedom, Peace
and Democracy
Never ever fashism
Millions of Death are warning”)

This rock, however, shall also be part of the neutralization of the place and is planned to be removed. Naturally, there are heavy debates in and around the city, and it feels that the opponents of this plan, who are organized under the #DerSteinBleibt hashtag (meaning that “The stone [shall] stay”) seem to have a clear majority.

 

Braunau am Inn – My View

Being the birth town of the (likely) most cruel mass murder of his century is of course a tough luck for the city of Braunau. You do not want to deal with that in a way that the city is turning into a pilgrimage site for Nazis. On the other hand, demolishing the building and wiping away history cannot be the right was to solve these issues. You see how much the town is struggling with all this that they cancelled Hitler’s honorary citizenship comparably lately, in 2011 (in a rather symbolic act as this state faded with his death anyway).

I strongly feel that the memory stone / rock needs to stay at its place and that the renovated police station should not differ too much from the current state of the building. Indeed, Braunau is a lovely city and strolling through the center is really enjoyable. Hope the city can learn to accept the unhappy heritage and self-confidently live with it.

 

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