Germans debate whether streets should be named for Hindenburg | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.07.2015
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Germans debate whether streets should be named for Hindenburg

Streets all over Germany are still today named after Field Marshal Paul Hindenburg, the president who paved the way for Hitler's rise. Some cities took the name off their maps, others quite deliberately didn't.

Mustachioed and aristocratic, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was a decorated World War I hero - but he was also the president who swore in Hitler as Chancellor in 1933 and signed off a law granting Hitler sweeping emergency powers.

The name Hindenburg might ring a bell for many because it was the name of the huge zeppelin airship that exploded after a transatlantic journey in New Jersey in 1937.

Many streets and squares in towns and cities across Germany also bear his name, a fact that occasionally divides Germans more than 80 years after Hindenburg's death.

Time and again, the question arises whether to honor his memory and leave street signs in place or take the name off city maps for his legacy of having enabled Nazi terror and World War II. Some citizens urge renaming Hindenburgstrasse and Hindenburgplatz in their towns and cities, while others oppose the move and join "Pro Hindenburg" campaigns. Street names, after all, can have great symbolic value.

Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler

Hindenburg, reportedly not very fond of Adolf Hitler, neverthelss made him Chancellor

Controversial legacy

Hindenburgplatz in the northwestern city of Münster became Schlossplatz in 2012 after a referendum showed 60 percent of local citizens in favor of renaming the square.

The city council in the Bavarian city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen also voted to rename their Hindenburgstrasse - but the decision was thwarted by citizens who weren't in the last bit interested in a name change. A referendum in 2013 forced the city to take back its plan.

To avoid a similar situation, the city of Bad Tölz, also in Bavaria, came up with a novel approach.

"We didn't simply want to delete history," Klaus Pelikan, personal assistant to the city's mayor, said.

Ambiguous figures

By April 2015 and after two years of meticulous planning, the barely one-kilometer-long street was dotted with thick flexed stone slabs complete with photos and information on Hindenburg.

"We felt it was important to ensure that history is not forgotten," Pelikan said.

He added that high school teachers now take students to the street for an open-air history lesson, and recently, William Moeller, a former US Consul-General in Munich, "showed great interest."

Stone slabs on Hindenburg street, Bad Tölz

The Bad Tölz street project cost 70,000 euros ($77,000)

There are other intriguing aspects to the Hindenburg controversy.

Last year, an artist removed a bronze Hindenburg bust from a monastery in Dietramszell. In 2013, the small Bavarian town south of Munich made headlines after the town council opposed taking Adolf Hitler off its list of honorary citizens - a decision that was retracted in the face of fierce protests.

Setting an example

Hindenburg, too, was made an honorary citizen in numerous German towns and cities during Nazi rule. Many cities, including Cologne, Munich, Halle, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Augsburg and Kiel, have meanwhile removed Hindenburg from their rosters.

Germany's capital Berlin hasn't. Just a few months ago, the city for the third time voted down a proposal from the Left party - the successor to the East German communist party - to strike his name from its list of honor.

Hindenburg's honorary citizenship is "downright intolerable," the Linke's Wolfgang Bauer said, arguing that the man appointed Hitler chancellor in 1933. The city's Christian Democrats said that specific event shouldn't be the sole basis for taking Hindenburg off the list, because the president also loyally defended the democratic Weimar Republic.

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