Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The beer hall putsch

Following World War One, Germany was a proving ground for just about any political party or theory one might want to espouse. By early 1921, Hitler was becoming an amazingly effective speaker, and he mostly went around attacking all these dopey parties, especially the Socialists. He was very dramatic, his followers showing up in uniforms and swastikas and passing out propaganda to the disgruntled crowds. Soon his party was a force to be reckoned with.

Munich, Hitler's stomping grounds, became a hotbed of fervent German nationalism. Munich calls to mind beer and Octoberfest, and much of Hitler's speaking and rabble rousing took place in beer halls. Munich beer halls of the time held hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. Basically, the idea is to get people, who are downtrodden and dissatisfied with the government, drunk and rowdy and then scream at them over and over and over about how change was needed, change they could believe in. Then one would begin ranting at the scapegoats: socialists, traitors, inefective government, Treaty of Versailles, and, of course, Jews.

Hitler's Nazi party grew and grew. There was no end of destitute Germans looking for a messiah. Ummm... make that savior. The disgruntled teabaggers grew until they were a force to be reckoned with. Early followers included Rudolf Hess; former air force pilot Hermann Goering; future leader of the party's paramilitary "protection" organization (the SS Storm Divison) army captain Ernst Rohm. And, very importantly, former general of the German Army Erich Ludendorff. Ludendorff's presence gave Hitler the appearance of legitimacy. The crowds grew. The rhetoric escalated. The party grew larger.

By 1923, Hitler and the party leadership had determined to form their own government. With the tacit support of Bavaria's ruler, Gustav von Kahr, Hitler and his boys, and Ludendorff, along with the Bavarian police and army, waited for the right time.

On 8 November, 1923, Kahr was holding a meeting at a large Munich beer hall. Hitler and the SA stormed the meeting and demanded, at gunpoint, that Kahr and the local military establishment support a march on Berlin, for the destruction of the Berlin government. Kahr got cold feet and refused. The police and military wouldn't go against him. When Hitler and his followers marched on the Bavarian ministry the next day to take over, they were repulsed. 16 of Hitler's followers were killed. Hitler was arrested and put on trial for treason.

Unfortunately, during Hitler's trial, he was given almost limitless time to speak. His popularity soared as he reiterated his nationalist sentiments in his famous defense speech. What had been merely a thorn in the side of a local government suddenly became a national figure. Nonetheless, Hitler was convicted and sentenced to 5 years at Landsberg Prison.

While imprisoned, Hitler wrote most of volume one of Mein Kampf. He received favored treatment from the prison guards. He was a hero. He received much fan mail. In the end, he was pardoned due to public pressure and served little more than a year of his sentence. From that point forward, Hitler did everything by the book. Legal Hitler.

The beer hall putsch.

A putsch is simply German for a coup, or governmental takeover attempt.

Beer halls in Germany were (and the tradition continues) places where political and social debates were held - even political rallies. One of the largest beer halls in Munich was the Burgerbraukeller. That is where Hitler tried his putsch.

Von Kahr, the Bavarian commissioner, was making a speech in front of 3000 people when Hitler and his brownshirts marched into the beer hall. No one was allowed to leave (a machine gun was set up pointing at the auditorium doors.)

The three Bavarian leaders, commissioner von Kahr, Bavarian state police head, colonel von Sessier, and general Otto von Lossow, were taken into a side room by Hitler and his party leaders (including Rudolf Hess) and given a chance to come out openly to their side. During this time, speeches were held in the adjoining hall, by Goering and others. No one was allowed to leave, not even to go to the bathroom. Hitler was irritated when von Kahr refused, but left the room to speak to the crowd, as he had promised them 15 minutes earlier.

Within seconds, the mood of the crowd changed over to Hitler. Dr. Karl Alexander von Mueller, professor of modern history and political science at the University of Munich, a supporter of von Kahr, was an eyewitness:

"I cannot remember in my entire life such a change in the attitude of a crowd in a few minutes, almost a few seconds. Hitler turned them inside out, as one turns a glove inside out, with a few sentences. It had almost something of hocus-pocus, or magic about it."

Hitler knew the exact buttons that needed to be pressed. He pressed them.


  1. I find it so hard to imagine, the control Hitler gained, so quickly. I can't believe there was no effective opposition whatsoever. Of course I know that my viewpoint is coloured by knowing the historical outcome, and also that it must have been easier to control such communication systems as there were then. I still find it almost unbelievable.

  2. I can believe it. I watch people whipped to a fury with little or no basis today and I don't understand it at all.

  3. I love this Hitler series. Anyway, couple things that came to me.

    The congregation in beerhalls with promises of change, change that could be believed in is akin to your president's trailblazing of the youth eh? I saw masses of them doing the Mexican Wave to Yes We Can during his campaign. Hmmm. :)

    When did Joseph Goebbles (my spelling is probably wrong) come into the picture. I believe he was instrumental in blowing the hot air of the propaganda horn?

    I recently read that Mein Kampf is going to be re-published (or whatever), will you be reading it?

  4. @A. - Well, there was SOME opposition to his ideas. I mean, at least they threw him in prison for a little while. And it took him almost 20 years to gain complete dictatorship control of Germany and step on his last rivals. But he did seem to know what he wanted, and got it in the end. I am finding this research most enlightening. I had just assumed he was in the right place at the right time and just took over. But he actually did it, in the end, by painstakingly winning more and more seats in the legislature. Then they finally elected him, and then he disbanded them. Simple. But he was very organized and took great pains to get his friends placed in all the right places. The similarity to regular non-monster dictators ends there I'm afraid. Next we discuss his views on his version of survival of the fittest, eugenics-wise. Hint: the Jews were not fit to survive. Thank you for your comment. You made an excellent point on how he seemed to be able to control several things at once.

  5. @Stephanie B - So true. It defies logic. I have read of Svengali and mind control. Is it possible, I wonder, to control by hypnotic rhetoric, the minds of thousands at one time? If you say what they want to hear?

    @Patchwork - Thank you for visiting. How interesting you notice a resemblance to the speaking style of certain other charismatic leaders. Joseph Goebbels, who was to become the head propaganda guy, was in a rival political party who switched to the Nazis early on and became useful to Hitler. I don't think I'll be reading Mein Kampf. Hitler was a great speaker but a really rotten writer. :)

  6. Usually when the nutters come out in this country, the British National Party for instance, you do at least have an equal and opposite uproar in protest. With the elections looming, we can expect to hear more from them in their efforts to appear more acceptable.

  7. "Is it possible, I wonder, to control by hypnotic rhetoric, the minds of thousands at one time? If you say what they want to hear?"

    Were you not listening to the speeches made during the last election?

  8. @Sheila - Elections? You have elections there? Hmmmm. So you think the BNP are nutters? We must talk. :)

    @Debbie - Yes, I listened to the speeches during the last election. My eyes glazed over and then I woke up on election day strangely peaceful with an incredible feeling of vitality and well-being. And with an irresistible urge to vote for Obama. Incredible! Well, almost irresistible. :) So nice to see you!

  9. 'Mein Kampf' has been available for years. However only academics actually get to the end of the book, it is very boring!

  10. @Adullamite - Did you know Hitler gave away copies of the book to all the soldiers when they entered the service? It added to the total "sales" greatly. It is very boring and didn't sell well at all.

  11. Here in Germany Mein Kampf is of course banned. As Adullamite and you yourself stated, it is a turgid indigestible mess. With the massacre recently in Norway, I find it interesting that even so, that book which even Goebbels admitted no-one read is banned whilst everything today which has inspired Breivik is free to read- even his 1500-page manifesto; nothing says crazy quite like a 1500 page manifesto...
    If anyone's interested, I teach just outside Munich and have a site devoted to such sites then-and-now at

  12. @Keir - Thank you for your visit and for your thoughtful comment. I'm sorry it took so long to publish your comment (comments to older posts are moderated and sometimes take a while for me to discover them.) I visited your websites. There is much food for thought. I really like your photograph collection. I do see many parallels between that time of unrest right after WWI and what is slowly happening today. When people feel persecuted and left out, they look for a new leader who says the things they want to hear.

    The series of posts I did on this period in history and of the rise to power of Hitler, were the result of a curiosity on my part to do some research. Although most of my posts are not about this subject anymore, I still welcome your comments on other subjects we talk about here. Thanks again for your visit.



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