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 Defendants in the Beer Hall Putsch trial

The Beer Hall Putsch: Hitler's failed coup d'état

Defendants in the Beer Hall Putsch trial (colourised) | Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 de

On the 8th of November, 1923, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party infiltrated a beer hall in Munich with the intent of starting a revolution that would change the German political landscape forever. Despite careful planning, Hitler’s plans for that fateful night didn’t end with revolution but instead resulted in bloodshed, gunfire, and a dramatic escape in the back of a getaway car.

So what was the Beer Hall Putsch, and how did it go wrong?

What is a Putsch?

A Putsch is an attempt to overthrow a governing body in power, often through extreme and violent measures. Kept secret until the very last minute, these sudden strikes are designed to destabilise the established authority in favour of a new party.

The Beer Hall Putsch, also known as the Munich Putsch, was driven by Hitler, who had led the growing Nazi Party since 1921.

Why did the Beer Hall Putsch happen?

Uprisings were taking place across Germany throughout this period. Radicalised parties on both the left and right were fuelled to revolution by the unstable economy, the general dissatisfaction with the Weimar Republic and the frustrations at the limitations imposed on Germany as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

Although a minor political organisation at the time, the socio-economic climate in Germany following WWI had allowed the Nazi Party the unique opportunity of capturing the anger of everyday frustrations of disenfranchised German citizens at a time of vulnerability. It wasn’t long until the Nazi party numbered over 50,000 members.

Inspired by Benito Mussolini’s successful March on Rome, which put the Fascist Party in power, Hitler had hoped that his coup on that night in November would result in a new start for Germany with the Nazi Party leading the charge. Things didn’t quite go to plan, however.

What happened at the Beer Hall Putsch?

Having worked hard building his plan to overthrow the Weimar Republic, Hitler, his bodyguards, and many of his supporters assembled at the Bürgerbräu Keller, a beer hall in Munich. Inside the beer hall, Gustav Von Kahr, the State Commissioner for Bavaria, was addressing a large crowd.

Kahr, whom Hitler had initially lined up to lead the march, was interrupted when Hitler fired a shot into the ceiling and declared a national revolution. Guiding Kahr, along with two other Bavarian leaders, von Lossow and von Seisser, into a back room of the beer hall, Hitler held the three men at gunpoint, demanding that they back his revolution. Thinking he had won the leaders over, Hitler returned with them to the hall, where they announced their solidarity for the putsch.

Believing himself in a strong position, Hitler left the beer hall, leaving control of the putsch to one of his co-conspirators, Erich Ludendorff - an error that would prove disastrous. With Hitler gone, Ludendorf allowed Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser to leave the hall. As soon as they were free, they denounced their support of the putsch and called in the military and the Munich police to help suppress the movement.

Despite the plan crumbling around him, Hitler still led a force of around 2,000 people and marched into Munich. Disorganisation and strong resistance from the Police resulted in a shootout that left 16 members of the Nazi Party dead and many more injured and disillusioned.

What Happened to Hitler after the Beer Hall Putsch?

Badly injured in the shootout, Hitler managed to crawl with a dislocated arm to a nearby getaway car, where he escaped to a nearby friend’s house. After hiding out for a couple of days, Hitler was eventually arrested and tried for high treason.

On the 26th of February, Hitler was found guilty but only received the lightest sentence possible for the crime - five years in prison. It was there that he wrote his inflammatory political memoir, Mein Kampf.

While the putsch may have been a disaster, it taught Hitler a great deal and changed the way that he would approach politics over the coming years. No longer opting for the violent and sudden grabs for power, the Nazi Party instead worked towards quietly manipulating the political system and radicalising the nation. Just ten years after the failed putsch, Hitler was made chancellor of Germany, where he would lead the nation into WWII.