The Currents of History
I am always fascinated by the way history seems to find eddy’s and whirlpools in the space time fabric, seemingly causing some days in history to be forever linked in ways that aren’t always obvious. For example, April 15th is one of “those days” that seem to be a focal point in history.
Today marks the anniversary of a dark day, the 1923 so-Called Beer Hall Putsch led by Adolph Hitler and the as yet unknown Nazi Party. The putsch was an attempt, led by Hitler, to seize control from the Weimer Government via force, inspired by the success of Mussolini and his Fascist march on Rome.
In Southern Germany in the the early 1900’s, Beer Halls were the social gathering places, the Facebook, if you will, of the day. The larger halls could hold hundreds of people at a time, and were the place for political discourse and discussion. As the German government struggled to maintain order in the face fo depression, Hitler and his Nazi’s announced that they would make the rounds of fourteen beer halls to hold political rally’s. The Government reacted by outlawing the gatherings, the Nazi’s responded on the night of November 8th and into the afternoon of the 9th of November by storming a Munich Beer Hall, setting up a machine gun and announcing that they were going to take over the country by force.
Standing before the crowd in the hall, Hitler declared that the action he was taking was not against the police or military, but against the “Berlin Jew government and the November criminals of 1918.” An eyewitness to the speech, Dr. Karl Alexander von Mueller, who happened to be a Political Science Professor at the local University, later reported that:
“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 had 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.”
The speech may have been magical, but the local police didn’t fall for it. The fighting soon erupted, and by the next afternoon, sixteen Nazi’s and four police officers were dead, the first of tens of millions to die in Nazi violence. Among the dead was not Adolf Hitler, who had promised the crowd the night before that either the revolution would would begin, or he would be dead by morning.
He would be arrested in the next days, sentenced to prison, serve only part of his term while writing his manifesto, Mein Kampf, and go on to rip apart the world with his insane world war. A war that ended with Germany broken and devastated as it had been in November of 1923. Only now, thanks to Hitler, Germany was also divided. East and West. Berlin also, like a miniature Germany, split in half, with a concrete wall and concertina wire scarred across the center of the city, symbolic of the long term effects of the evil unleashed in Munich.
And yet, it was also on November 9th that the world stopped and stared at our TV’s. I stood alone in my living room watching with chills and tears, knowing that the world I was raised in and the war in which I served was at last beginning to end. The Berlin Wall was at last breeched. Not by tanks, screaming through the city in the early stages of an invasion, but by sledgehammers and picks. By cheering people urged on by the promise of freedom.
There was a moment when that first wall segment finally broke loose, when for me at least, everything stopped for a heartbeat, as if we were all unsure of what would come next. Would gunfire ring out? Would the crowds riot?
Just like that, it was over. A head poked through, a person followed. A wave of humanity cheering and celebrating pored into the streets. The horror and destruction that Hitler had wrought had finally been ended.
On the same day that he had tried to start it.
That’s why sometimes I sit in wonderment at the way history moves and shapes itself. It has a wonderful sense of dramatic timing.