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Hi-de-Hitler tourism

HI-DE-HITLER tourism is all the rage in the country where it was once taboo to even mention the war.

Adolf and his motley crew now draw in tens of thousands visitors a year in Germany eager to see the sites where the Nazis' unique brand of madness was born and thrived.

Britons, Canadians, Indians, Americans, Poles, Russians and Japanese visitors join the ranks of Germans who now clamour to find out about their nation's dark past 65 years after the greatest war in history blasted the tyrants from the face of the earth.

From the Baltic island of Usedom where visitors gaze in awe at the V2 rocket factory, to Colditz Castle near Leipzig where British officer POWs were caged, to Hitler's mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden in the far south, and the spooky S.S. Camelot at Wewelsburg in the west where mass murderers sat round an oak table like King Arthur's knights - tourists are proving they like the Third Reich.

Twenty, even 15 years ago, the war was something rareley talked about with Germans. It was the mad old aunt in the attic; locked away, shuttered, always there but never paraded in the cold light of day.

But that has all changed. The layers of shame and guilt about the war, the Jewish Holocaust, the Gestapo, the S.S. terror, the concentration camps and the appalling legacy that Hitler and Co. bequeathed to his defeated people have now been shed.

Germans removed from the generation that did the fighting and killing are now looking back on those times as historically interesting - and hunger to see what the Nazis left behind.

The German Herald signed up at the weekend for one of the numerous 'Third Reich Walking Tours' conducted in English in Munich - the beer-soaked city where Hitler first formed his 'National Socialist German Workers'  Party' back in the 1920's.

Three Britons, four Americans, one Indian hydro-electric engineer from New Delhi, two Canadians and a Hungarian woman were led by American-born guide Keith Warnack on a trip down a sinister memory lane....

The publicity pamphlet from Radius Tours, which organised our day out, reads; "From the beer halls which hosted the first small gatherings of the fanatics who would one day lead the Third Reich, through the streets where they fought their way to power, to the HQ from where Hitler bullied the
world, we'll show you the sites and give you the story."

And so he did. Paul Evans, 35, a Nationwide Building Society manager  from Guildford, Surrey, who had been in the city on a stag weekend, was not disappointed.

"It's great," he said. "I have always been interested in war history but how would I know what all these buildings signified unless I came on a trip like this?

"I find it fascinating when he says that building was the site of the Gestapo HQ and that one where Hitler tried to seize power. I would reccommend it to anyone."

Mike Kennedy, 42, a courier business owner from Didsbury near Manchester, was equally enthusiastic. Standing beneath the mosaic of swastikas that adorns the underside of the terrace roof of Hitler's bombastic Museum of German Art, he said; "It's amazing to think how much was destroyed but also
how much was left behind.

"You can read books and see films but it's only coming to places like this that you get a real handle on it. It puts everything into perspective. For me it was 12 euros well spent and would tell any of my mates to come on it."

Mike was moved when tour guide Keith pointed out the university where Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans threw leaflets to fellow students in 1943 telling the truth about Hitler's genocidal campaign in Russia.
Both were guillotined after being found guilty in a three-hour show trial.

"I'll have to get the film out when I get back," said Mike. "Guillotined! It doesn't bear thinking about."

For Dinesh Kumar Dua, 42, from New Delhi, the trip was filling in time before his night flight back home. He said; "I find it totally absorbing. We have very good history lessons in India but I am afraid I forgot a lot of

"I think tours like this, seeing the buildings the Nazis built, makes one realise how big they constructed them to make the people feel so small - that the state would always be bigger than individuals.

"I don't think tours like this are morbid or untasteful. History is history, you cannot unmake it. In Britain people visit castles and forts from the middle ages and there was quite a lot of nasty things going on then too!"

As we wandered through the wide avenues of the Bavarian capital we came to the building where British prime minister Neville Chamberlain signed a document with Hitler in 1938 promising "peace in our time."

Keith said; "People are fascinated by the Nazis and that's why they come on these tours. In the summer we do a double tour that hundreds of people come on - this one combined with a trip to Dachau, Hitler's first concentration camp outside of Munich.

"Some of my German friends still find the war a bit hard to get their heads round but the fact that thousands of Germans go on Third Reich tours testifies that something has changed in them."

One hundred and 20 miles from Munich, on the Kehlstein Mountain, is just such a place that Germans flock to. It was where Hitler built his Berghof house with all the creepy Nazi elite building their own holiday homes to be near to their patron.

The house has been destroyed now but the ground beneath it is riddled with miles of bunkers and tunnels that tourists flock to. And the demand to see a new museum built on the site of the Berghof is so great that the Bavarian government had to find extra cash to cope with the tourist masses.

Over five hundred miles north, 35 miles from the centre of Berlin, in a wood where once stood the ostentatious hunting lodge of Carinhall, the country seat of Hermann Goering - the Luftwaffe chief and art thief - amateur treasure hunters rake the ground each weekend for lost artefacts.

Further north, on the Baltic island of Ruegen, lie the four miles of seafront flats that Hitler built for his disciples at Prora as the biggest holiday camp in the world. It was never used - holidays were cancelled after the invasion of Poland and the start of the Second World War. Prora has become a tourist attraction in its own right while work begins to turn some of the flats into fashionable apartments and others into a youth hostel.

In Berlin, the subterranean constructions of the National Socialists now pull in huge crowds. For every foot of building above ground in the German capital, there are three below; secret tunnels and bunkers begun when Hitler came to power in 1933. At Gesundbrunnen in the working-class district of Wedding, a resolute band of weekend enthusiasts opened up an air raid bunker and tunnel complex.

'Underground Berlin' runs numerous walking tours in both German and English for tourists who want to see the boltholes of the Nazi bigwigs. Each week they unearth a new bunker or tunnel to add to the itinerary.

Above ground there are walking tours that take in the architecture of the Third Reich; Goering's Luftwaffe ministry, the sweeping lines of Tempelhof Airport - still one of the largest interior spaces in the world - and the Topography of Terror, a words-and-pictures exhibition set against the ruins of the Gestapo building.

And on the outskirts of the city at the Wannsee lake is the beautiful villa that hosted the most terrible meeting in history. At this site on January 20 1942 assembled 15 top bureaucrats of the Reich to plot the murder of six million Jews.

Visitors can walk around the table where these men discussed transportation and gassing as if they were discussing account books. They can sit in the chairs where they sat and see copies of the minutes that
S.S. fiend Adolf Eichmann - later hanged in Israel for his monstrous crimes - took.

Don Ritter, 46, with his family from Chicago on the Munich tour, wants to put the Wannsee Conference site on his itinerary next time he is in Europe. He said; "No-one admires the Nazis, they deserved everything they got.

"But seeing and feeling a place - that gives you a perspective no book can. I think it's great."

Joachim von Halasz, a German who lives in London, recently wrote a book called 'Hunting Nazis in Munich' for "my English friends who wanted to see the Nazi sites but didn't know where to go.

"The argument by Germans before," he said, "was that if you point out the Nazi era buildings they would become shrines for the far right. Nothing could be further from the truth. These sites have been opened up and are being enjoyed in a responsible way by people who are fascinated by the

In Berlin, the worst fears of city fathers over the most taboo site of all never came true. A few years ago - fed up at the number of calls to council offices and police stations from tourists who wanted to find the site of the bunker where Hitler and his new wife Eva Braun shot themselves in 1945 - the city put up a plaque at the site.

Under a paved-over car park facing the memorial to the murdered Jews is the concrete submarine where the monster ended it all with the world in flames.

It has not become a touchstone for the loony-tune far right; just another box to be ticked on the Nazi tour of Germany itinerary.

German Herald

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