Officials in Braunau Am Inn, Austria are stuck in a years-long stalemate with elderly resident Gerlinde Pommer, over the charming yellow building on Salzburger Vorstadt Street that has been in her family for over a century. It was inside this two-story structure in 1889 that Adolf Hitler was born.
Back when the Pommers moved in, no one yet knew the name of the man who would eventually become Braunau’s most infamous resident. But the fateful connection to history’s largest-looming monster has sparked a fraught legacy within the small Austrian town. So strong is the present-day association of Braunau with Hitler that some residents hesitate to bring up their hometown’s name.
Nowhere is this history more palpable than at the home where the former chancellor was born, and officials have struggled with what exactly to do with a site that simultaneously represents history and evil. But questions of what to do with the property have so far been left unanswered, and the property has been sitting vacant for years.
Braunau authorities say they have consistently tried to coax the reclusive Pommer to sell the place, but she has steadfastly refused. So the town struck up a compromise — since 1972, the government has been renting the home from Pommer as a tenant. Authorities also maintain constant surveillance over the site, to be sure it never becomes a sort of shrine for neo-Nazis.
But the question of what purpose the building should serve is a complicated one. While no one wants it to become a destination for pilgrimage, not acknowledging the history of the place borders on erasure. The City of Braunau hopes to find a “social or educational” purpose for the building, but have had few takers. For many years, the building was occupied by a care center for people with disabilities, a positive solution that served as a defiance to Hitler’s ableist ideology. But the organization vacated the premises in 2011, when the building fell deeper into disrepair. Now, Pommer refuses to authorize necessary renovations. As such, Braunau has simply continued to pay over $5000 a month to keep the building empty. Authorities are so fed up with the situation that they have allegedly begun to explore legal options to dispossess Pommer of her property.
Some residents have proposed converting birthplace into a museum dedicated to Nazi-era crimes, in keeping with the historical plaque installed at the site in 1989. But until the issues surrounding ownership and repairs are solved, this is unlikely to be a feasible project.
And even if it were, some residents of Braunau feel too fatigued by their link to Hitler to support it. As a baby, Hitler remained at the home on Salzburg Vorstadt for mere weeks until his family moved elsewhere in town, and they moved to the city of Linz when he was around eight. Furthermore, residents say, a city as large as Berlin enables a dark history to commingle with modern life but the identity of a tiny place like Braunau can be submerged by such weighty historical burdens.
Until something changes, that legacy will have to wait inside a vacant building.