Facade of a three-storey house with a swastika flag on the roof.

The “Brown House,” 1934 | © Stadtarchiv München

From the “Brown House” to nsdoku

Munich was more closely associated with the rise of National Socialism than any other city. The “Brown House,” located on Brienner Straße, housed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party’s first proper headquarters from 1931 until the building was destroyed in 1945. Seventy years later, the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism was built on the same site.

A neo-classical mansion in a prime location

Since the eighteenth century Brienner Straße had connected the Bavarian royal residence with the summer palace at Nymphenburg. During the reign of Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria it became the main axis of the new Maxvorstadt quarter, which was characterized by villas and gardens. On the site where the Documentation Center stands today, a neo-classical mansion was erected in 1828. The architect and owner, Johann Baptist Métivier, who had already carried out a number of architectural commissions in the neighborhood, hoped that by building his own mansion in this prime location he would be able to profit from the construction boom under way in this city district. 
 
Initially the property was rented out and later changed ownership several times. The tenants, owners, and occupiers of the following years ranged from the aristocrat Karl Ludwig Freiherr von Lotzbeck and his private teacher and later protagonist of the 1848 Revolution Karl Hagen to the Italian diplomat Fabio Pallavicini (a central opponent of Ludwig I’s promotion of his mistress Lola Montez), and finally the royal court photographer Joseph Albert, a shrewd businessman.

A three-storey building stands on the right-hand side of a long street.

Palais Barlow between Karolinenplatz and Königsplatz, 1874 | © Stadtarchiv München

In 1876, the twenty-eight-room property was purchased by the English industrial magnate Richard Barlow, who had moved to Munich from St Petersburg with his family two years previously. After his death in 1882, the mansion initially passed to his widow, Marie. Unlike her deceased husband, she played an active role in the life of the city and became one of Munich’s most important benefactors. After her death, their youngest son, Willy Barlow, inherited the building, but lived there only briefly with his family.


The “Brown House” on Königsplatz: the Nazi Party headquarters

Willy’s widow Elisabeth eventually sold Palais Barlow to the Nazi Party on May 26, 1930, for 805,864 Goldmark. The purchase was financed through donations, a special levy of at least two Reichsmark from each Party member, entrance fees earned from Party events, and a loan from the industrial magnates Friedrich Flick and Fritz Thyssen. 

Shortly after the purchase, the building was extensively refurbished according to plans by the architect Paul Ludwig Troost. In 1931 the Party moved into the mansion from its rooms in a rear building on Schellingstraße and established its headquarters there. The noble location corresponded with the Nazis’ new self-confidence and desire for greater prestige. The democratic press mocked the new Party headquarters, calling it “Palais megalomania” and the “Nazi bigwigs’ mansion.” 

A room with a large desk, seating around a fireplace, and several paintings on the wall.

Hitler’s study in the “Brown House,” 1938 | © Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo

Palais Barlow became the home of the “NSDAP Reich leadership.” Alongside the study used by Adolf Hitler and his private secretary Rudolf Heß, the “supreme SA leadership” headed by Ernst Röhm, the “Reich SS leadership,” and the Nazi Party’s “Reich press office” all had rooms here. In addition, a “flag hall” and a “standard hall” served to promote the Party cult. Above the entrance to the building, where SA guards were posted day and night, hung the words “Germany, awaken!” On account of its function and the Party’s brown uniforms, the building soon became known as the “Brown House.”  

A long hall with tables on the left and right. Staff are sitting at the tables sorting index cards.

The central register of Party members was initially administered in the card index room of the “Brown House,” 1931 | © Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München / Bildarchiv

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, political opponents were kept prisoner in the basement of the “Brown House” and tortured there. In the surrounding neighborhood an extensive Party quarter grew up, where the administration, central authorities, and various branches of the Party were located. In 1937 the new “Führer Building” on Arcisstraße became the Nazi power center and the Party’s growing administrative apparatus was gradually moved to buildings in the vicinity, but the “Brown House” remained an important location for Nazi propaganda

What happened to the historical site after 1945?

The “Brown House” was almost completely destroyed by a bombing raid in January 1945. The remains were removed in 1947. The two other Party buildings, the former “Führer Building” and the “Administration Building,” remained intact but were soon repurposed for cultural uses. The significance of the area around Brienner Straße and Königsplatz— the former showcase administrative center of the Nazi Party—was thus largely forgotten. In 1946, the traffic circle between Brienner Straße and Maximiliansplatz was named Platz der Opfer des Nationalsozialismus for the victims of National Socialism and thus designated as Munich’s central remembrance location for the Nazi era.

Voices from Munich society repeatedly called for a more open and critical approach to the city’s Nazi history. Particularly in the 1990s, artists and other committed members of civil society drew attention to the historical significance of the location with temporary art events.

Bombed-out remains of the facade of a house with a pile of rubble lying in front of it.

Ruins of the “Brown House,” 1945 | © Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo

Founding of the nsdoku

The floor plan of a house is discernible from the remains of the walls sticking out of the earth.

Remains of the “Brown House,” 2006 | © Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo

In 2001/02 the City of Munich decided to create a place of political education and remembrance on the site of the former Nazi Party headquarters in order to highlight and document Munich’s central role in the Nazi movement. The German federal government, the State of Bavaria, and the City of Munich reached an agreement to share the costs of the project to create this new place of remembrance. The city council agreed that the City of Munich would be the body responsible for the new center and would assume the operating costs. Construction work began in 2011. In 2012 Professor Winfried Nerdinger was appointed founding director.

With the opening of the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism in May 2015 the historic site was transformed into an open venue for information and discussion dedicated to remembering the crimes committed by the Nazi dictatorship and to addressing the origins and manifestations of Nazism and its lasting impact right up to the present day.  In 2018, the historian Mirjam Zadoff succeeded Professor Nerdinger as director of the Documentation Center.