Written by Oscar Holland, CNN
Austria has unveiled plans to transform Adolf Hitler’s birthplace into a police station, following years of debate and legal wrangling
over the controversial site.
The three-story building in Braunau am Inn, near the German border, is set to undergo a substantial revamp that authorities hope will prevent it becoming a pilgrimage site for Nazi sympathizers.
Hitler was born in an apartment in the building on April 20, 1889, as his father worked as a customs official in the town. The family left Braunau am Inn, which was then part of Austria-Hungary, when Hitler was three years old.
Plans to turn the site into a police station were first announced last November, when Austria’s Interior Ministry launched an EU-wide design competition for its renovation. At the time, officials told CNN
in a statement that the move could help deter “National Socialist activity.”
The builing that Adolf Hitler was born in, pictured in 2015. Credit: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
The wining proposal, by Austrian firm Marte.Marte Architects, was unveiled
at a press conference on Tuesday. Digital mock-ups show an extended gabled roof, with the current yellow facade replaced with a white one, in keeping with the neighboring buildings.
According to a government press release, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told Tuesday’s press conference that the town had become “the antithesis of everything (Hitler) stood for.”
“You can recognize a country’s democratic culture by dealing with its history, and it has taken Austria a long time to face up to its own history,” he is quoted as saying
during the announcement. “Today we are opening a new chapter in dealing with our historical responsibility,” he added.
The fate of the building has long been a contentious issue in the town, where many wish to demolish the painful reminder of Hitler’s brief time there.
In 2012, Braunau am Inn’s mayor, Johannes Waidbacher, told Austrian newspaper Der Standard
that the town was already “stigmatized.” The three years that the Nazi dictator spent there were “certainly not the most formative” of his life, Waidbacher said, adding: “We as the city of Braunau are therefore not prepared to take responsibility for… the Second World War (break out).”
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer presents the chosen plan for the architectural redesign the house where Hitler was born Credit: JOE KLAMAR/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Others have lobbied for the site to be transformed into a community center, dubbed “House of Responsibility
,” where young people from around the world could meet and learn about the past.
For decades, the controversial building belonged to Gerlinde Pommer, whose family owned the property before Hitler’s birth. Austria’s Interior Ministry began renting the site from her in 1972, subletting it to various charities. But the building has stood empty since the last occupant, a disability center, vacated in 2011.
Four years ago, the government announced
that the structure would be demolished. It then set about forcibly acquiring it from Pommer, with the Interior Ministry invoking “special legal authorization” to expropriate the property.
Legal wrangling over the seizure and compensation followed, during which time plans to tear the building down were shelved.
The exterior of the building shown in digital mock-ups by Austrian architecture firm Marte.Marte, which won a competition to renovate the site. Credit: Marte.Marte
After securing the site, the Austrian government remained concerned that it might attract neo-Nazis and others sympathetic to Hitler’s ideology. Announcing the decision to transform it into a police station last year, Austria’s then-Interior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn, said that “the future use of the house by the police will be an unmistakable signal that this building will never serve to commemorate National Socialism.”
At present, the only physical reminder of the building’s past is a memorial stone commemorating the victims of fascism during World Wart II. Installed in 1989
, shortly before the 100-year anniversary of Hitler’s birth, the stone reads: “For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never again Fascism. In Memory of the Millions of Dead.”
Renovation work of the building is expected to be completed by early 2023, and to cost around €5 million ($5.6 million).
Other buildings associated with Hitler’s rule have been repurposed in the post-war era. The Nazi dictator’s Alpine retreat, Eagle’s Nest, is now a restaurant and tourist destination
, while the site of his Polish bunker headquarters, Wolf’s Lair
, now contains a hotel.