Less than a year after acquiring the house Adolf Hitler was born in, the Austrian government has unveiled the design to turn the building into a police station.
Following the expropriation of the building, in an EU-wide architectural competition which began in November 2019, Marte.Marte Architects beat 11 competitors, emerging as the winning company. They delivered a design that was simple, yet modern, ensuring that the building’s original structure was not tampered with. The renovations are expected to be completed by the end of 2022 and will cost an approximate €5 million ($5,662,250)
Hitler was born in a yellow corner building in the North-Austrian town of Braunau am Inn on 20 April 1889. The building was taken into government control in 2016 after the Austrian parliament passed a law to expropriate it. This law put an end to the decades-long dispute over the building between the authorities of Braunau am Inn and owner, Gerlinde Pommer, who refused to sell the place.
The building had been rented out by owner Pommer to the Austrian Interior Ministry in the year 1972, to prevent any further misuse. Pommer further sublet this space to various charitable organizations (including a workshop for people with learning disabilities) and a daycare center (operated by a local charity) at the rate of around €4,800 ($5,435) per month. This arrangement, however, fell apart in 2011 after a care center for disabled adults moved out because Pommer refused to make any renovations or repairs. The building had been vacant since.
Post the expropriation, Austria’s highest court ruled that Pommer will receive a sum of €810,000 ($917,431) for the loss of her family building.
Walter Rosenkranz, of the right-wing Freedom party, further defended the parliament’s decision to acquire the building saying, “Expropriation is not a nice thing, rather the last resort” because the owner had continually refused to sell the place.
At the time of acquirement, the government was unclear about what the purpose of the building should be. However, the aim was to prevent it from becoming a shrine for the many Neo-Nazi visitors who still make their way into Braunau as a sort of pilgrimage.
Social Democrat, Harry Buchmayr, who lives in the town of Braunau, told the parliament that it is not rare a sight to see Neo-Nazis stop in front of the building to be photographed making the Hitler greeting.
Hence, ideas had ranged from turning it into a labor office or a cultural center to even demolishing it entirely. However, general detractors had claimed that it would be an attempt to erase Austria’s Nazi past. Heritage experts and historians were also against the decision arguing that the building holds an important place in the town’s architectural history.
One of the more interesting suggestions had come from an independent politician, Marcus Franz, who suggested that the now-late Bulgarian wrapping artist Christo could be commissioned to cover up the building as an art installation. Artist Christo was also responsible for wrapping Reichstag in 1995 – another important building for the history of Nazism and Hitler.
Because Braunau is so close to the Germany border and was the birthplace of Hitler, Austria has never really been able to look past its association with the Nazi leader. Hence, in November of 2019, the government settled on the decision that the building will be used by the police as a regional command and police station.
The decision was defended by the then interior minister, Wolfgang Peschorn who said, “The house’s future usage by the police should set a clear signal that this building will never be a place to commemorate Nazism,” followed by the current interior minister, Karl Nehammer who said, “The police are the guardians of basic liberties and freedoms. Police officers in training see themselves as partners of citizens and as those who protect freedom, the right to assembly and freedom of speech.”
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