“Escape from our history, history” – Manic Street Preachers.
I headed back to Austria recently with two main places to be visited – the Republic of Kugel Mugel (a micronation in a sphere in Prater Park, Vienna) and the town of Braunau Am Inn. Braunau Am Inn is not exactly a backpacker’s paradise and is more infamous than famous. But on life’s corridor, this was a place I knew eventually I would spend a night in. Braunau Am Inn, in its charming sunshine stands out as a beautiful little typical Austrian town, sitting right on the border with Germany, separated by a bridge to the German town of Simbach Am Inn. They are like sister towns and I visited both. However, travel doesn’t always have to be to obvious places, nor to safe places, nor to happy places.
Whilst Braunau Am Inn is very pretty, very safe and for sure a happy town, there is the blemish on the town’s past which just cannot escape you somehow. Let’s hit the goriness home here. This is Adolf Hitler’s hometown. He lived here from 1889 to 1913. I’m a tourist who visits the good and bad in life. There was certainly no real need to neglect any horror or to complete any mission to visit a certain amount of these places. This could be it for me. I probably saw enough places like this, to not require a visit to any more. Sadly, this trip completed an odd and perhaps unwanted ‘hat-trick’ of dictators’ home towns for me, and continued a theme of travelling to places where the history wasn’t quite so pleasant. Calm your soul.
In 2013, I backpacked to Gori in Georgia. The Hometown of Jozef Stalin. This; A Visit to Stalin’s Town.
In 2014, I backpacked to Changsha in China. The hometown of Chairman Mao. Backpacking in Changsha.
On top of that I also visited the German Death Camps at Auschwitz, Majdanek, Stutthof and Birkenau; the genocide centre in Yerevan, Armenia; the genocide centre in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; the genocide centre in Kigali, Rwanda and Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors in Sulaymaniyeh, Iraq.
Here, at 16.23 on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October 2019, I stepped off a train into Hitler’s hometown, Braunau Am Inn. I arrived on a train from Vienna with a stop over in Neumarkt-Kostendorf. While all the previously mentioned places were grim, essential and reflective, for an odd bone chilling reason, this one felt sadder. Perhaps because I visited all those German Death camps in Poland.
A beautiful Saturday sun shone down on tranquil Braunau Am Inn. The town, is noticeably beautiful. As mentioned, it’s a typical little Austrian town with a sense of calm. People getting on with their daily lives, a pretty, colour-ridden main street straights its way through the old town – on one end a tunnel, on the other end a bridge (to Germany). The same street houses the house where Adolf Hitler was born, way back in 1889. These days, a chunk of rock with a poignant message serves as the town’s reminder of the past. This is the exact birthplace of Adolf Hitler.
The stone reads:
Für Frieden, Freiheit und Demokratie. Nie wieder Faschismus. Millionen Tote mahnen (“For peace, freedom and democracy; never again fascism: millions of dead remind us”).
It’s time to check into my hostel for the night. I didn’t go to a four star hotel, camp in a tent or live it up. I was headed for a night in a converted prison cell. The old prison here, Das Alte Gefängnis is now open for tourists and seriously, a super place to stay and very very cosy!
For those intrepid travellers, and those who don’t mind nightmares and sleeping within a few hundred metres of Hitler’s birthplace, this is a night of calm and peace.
Inside Das Alte Gefängnis, I am welcomed by the owner of this hostel, Herr Werner Wirth and I am greeted expectedly with a warm smile, a kind welcome and I am handed my keys. I am given a tour of the hostel (prison) which has a lounge, a kitchen, a washing room. I am in a cell on the top floor. The key in the lock opens with winding metal to reflect a prison cell. I have a window to the world and a shared bathroom, with my dorm buddies.
However, tonight, I’m in this room alone. It’s a huge hostel. I’m in Room Nine, as opposed to “Nein”. My lucky number is 22, so this didn’t feel so lucky.
As I chat to my excellent host Werner, I mumble nervously the words “Adolf Hitler”…
“It’s part of our history”, says my host for the night, Herr Werner Wirth. It was an eloquent response and one which made me realise – I grew up in Northern Ireland. A country rife with bombers, killers, terrorists of the most brutal order. We don’t choose where we are from. Nobody in Braunau Am Inn can be blamed for Adolf Hitler, other than Adolf Hitler himself. The conversation ends. I drop off my bags, have a shower and head out for some food and drink.
From the outside, the prison looks like this:
I have a decent night out, visiting three bars and meeting lots of locals. Sadly on that night out, I broke my phone and lost those photos and videos. Hence the next day I had to retrace my steps again to take the same photos and videos, with my old school camera this time. Although, I had a very good night’s sleep in my cosy cell. The next day I also crossed the bridge to Simbach Am Inn, in Germany. The same bridge that Adolf Hitler left the town by back in 1913.
So, face your fears and spend a night here in the Old Prison, Das Alte Gefängnis. Braunau Am Inn is a delightful little town on the Austria to Germany border.Here are the details for booking a night in the Old Prison, Das Alte Gefängnis, Braunau Am Inn, Austria:
Das alte Gefängnis Braunau
5280 Braunau am Inn
Herr Werner Wirth
Tel: +43 664 3965008
Herr Dieter Amberger
Tel.: +43 650 3202424
Here are some videos from my visit to Braunau Am Inn, Austria: