I sat in Adolph Hitler’s chair last week. Not actually his own personal choice of furniture, but one he had been made to sit on at the HQ of Munich Police. As you can see from the photograph it’s a bland, dull little chair, hardly worthy of its small and somewhat insignificant role in world history – and in the continuing unfolding world of crime in Munich today. For this is the chair that every suspect arrested in Munich is sat in to be photographed – frontal and both sides – for as far back in time as anyone there can remember.
Suspect ID set-up
Hitler was sat and photographed in this chair when he was arrested following the Putch, in 1923 – his disastrous attempt to seize power through a national Nazi revolution (there is fascinating reading about this on many websites – a particularly vivid one is The History Place.) which left sixteen Nazis and three police officers dead, several of Hitler’s henchmen wounded and Goering shot in the thigh.
It has long been a boast (and no idle one) of police forensic scientists that if anyone has ever entered a room, at any time in their life, not matter how long ago and for however fleetingly, given enough time they will find the evidence to prove it. It might be a hair follicle, a clothing fibre, or one of the soup-bowl full of skin cells each of us sheds every week. (Separate fact – a lot of household dust is comprised of dead skin) It was an eerie feeling to be in that room, to sit on that drab, inanimate object, and sense that there were floating around in the air, or ingrained in the walls or floor, some tiny particles of that man who affected my family’s life and my own in so very many ways.
I wondered why they still kept – and used – this chair. The obvious reason is that it is an extraordinary link with history. But it is a history that pretty well every German I have met wants not merely to forget, but to bury in a deep seal vault from which it can never escape. No one boasted to me about this chair when I was at the HQ – I only found out about it afterwards, when my editor, who had accompanied me on the visit, along with Andy and Sabine, who organize so brilliantly the largest crime writers festival in Germany, the Munich Krimifest, whispered it to me in the taxi as we left.
It made me feel I needed a large drink – and I was probably in the best city in the world for that! Beer doesn’t come any larger or more abundantly or dangerously moreish than in Munich. A cynic might be tempted to say that people drink so much there in order to drown the memories of their dark past. But one of the big surprises of my life is how I have found the city and its people to be a constant delight. Although I confess to struggling, just a little, with the traditional Munich breakfast of weisswurst sausage, sweet mustard and a pretzel the size of a tractor tyre, washed down with a stein of weissbeer. And it has to be breakfast – tradition dictates that weisswurst may not be eaten after midday! And you need a pretty solid chair after that…