Vienna tour aims to demystify 'Hitler balcony' after far-right clip

Adolf Hitler gave his iconic speech from the balcony after Austria's 1938 annexation (Alex HALADA)
Adolf Hitler gave his iconic speech from the balcony after Austria's 1938 annexation (Alex HALADA)

A guided tour is seeking to demystify the so-called "Hitler balcony" in Vienna after the notorious landmark appeared in a video promoting Austria's far-right party.

The balcony -- where Adolf Hitler spoke after the Nazis annexed his homeland Austria in 1938 -- is currently not in use and closed to the public.

But images of it were included in a promotional video in August from the youth wing of the Freedom Party -- which is expected to win next year's election in Austria.

Amid loaded imagery, including Paris's Notre Dame in flames, the video shows the party's youth wing taking part in torchlight processions and standing below the balcony.

The clip sparked outrage in Austria, prompting the House of Austrian History -- which today is housed in the building with the balcony -- to offer the visits.

"We noticed there is a societal need, a curiosity. And we also see that education is needed, because especially if you look at (online) forums now, there is a lot of incorrect information and misinterpretations," museum director Monika Sommer told AFP.

She said the tours focusing on the balcony, a vast terrace flanked by neoclassic columns in Vienna's historic centre, came in response to the far-right video.

- 'Dare for new approach' -

Thursday's first of five tours scheduled so far was fully booked out with 35 people listening to Sommer, in front of the closed wood-frame glass doors leading onto the balcony.

Several of those attending were disappointed not to be able to step outside.

"It should be stripped of its taboos," Markus Mitterhuber, 56, a theatre actor who took the tour, told AFP.

The balcony has only been opened on very select occasions, such as a speech by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel in 1992 and a private New Year's party in 1999-2000.

The House of Austrian History has long been pushing to have the balcony opened up, launching an online collection of ideas in 2019 for its future.

"We should dare to approach this place in a new way. Making the place publicly accessible, for example in the form of registered tours, could be a way of demystifying it," Sommer said.

So far the authorities have refused to open the balcony, citing safety fears, such as because of its low balustrade.

Austria long cast itself as a victim after being annexed by Nazi Germany.

Only since the 1980s has the country begun to seriously examine its role in the Holocaust when more than 65,000 Austrian Jews were killed.


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