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Hitler's Austrian 'culture capital'

The Austrian city of Linz is tackling its Nazi past as it prepares to become Europe's capital of culture in 2009, the BBC's Bethany Bell reports.

Adolf Hitler looks at a model of Linz
Hitler had planned a grand theatre and even an Adolf Hitler Hotel in Linz

Adolf Hitler had ambitious plans for Linz, the city where he grew up.

He wanted to make the town on the Danube into one of the five Fuhrer cities of the Third Reich, along with Berlin, Hamburg, Nuremberg and Munich.

Linz is now examining this page of its past in an exhibition called the Fuhrer's Capital of Culture.

Martin Heller, the artistic director of Linz 2009, says there was an obligation to tackle the city's Nazi history.

"We want to reflect back and show how cultural and political ambitions went together in the Nazi time," he says.

"Talking about culture always means talking about politics."

'Treading fine line'

During the Nazi era, Linz was transformed from a small town into an industrial city, but Hitler's ambitions for his hometown went far beyond that.

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Inside the exhibition about Hitler's plans

Exhibits at the Castle Museum show some of the detailed designs commissioned by Hitler: A series of grandiose buildings, including a monumental theatre, an opera house and an Adolf Hitler Hotel, all surrounded by huge boulevards and a parade ground.

Few of these extravagant plans were realised, but the fantasy stayed with Hitler right up to his final days in the Berlin bunker in 1945.

Photographs in the exhibition show Hitler poring over intricate models of the city.

I am upset by the delusional madness of these plans. It would have been a catastrophe
Heinz, visitor

On display are plans and diagrams, but the organisers - who are concerned not to encourage nostalgia for the Nazi regime - have not recreated the models, which are believed to have been burnt in 1945.

However, there are some items that are not often on display, including some Nazi propaganda material and portraits of Hitler.

The director of the Upper Austrian State Museums, Peter Assmann, acknowledges the exhibit treads a fine line, but he rejects charges of glorifying Hitler's memory.

"I don't see any glorification of Hitler in the exhibition. Hitler is fact, so we just face this fact and we face it with many arguments, with a lot of information about that time."

"People walk through the exhibition and they get impulses for discussion," Mr Assmann says.

'Missed chance'

The high point of Hitler's Linz was to be a huge art museum to rival galleries like the Louvre or the Uffizi.

Building works in Linz in 1940
The organisers say they want to spark a debate about Linz's Nazi past

It was to be filled with artworks looted across Europe by the Nazis from museums and private collections, many of them Jewish.

Historian Tina Walzer is concerned that the exhibition has not tackled this subject in enough detail.

"The Nazis looted art from all over Europe, from France, from the Netherlands, from Poland, from Italy, from Austria, from Hungary, gathering this huge mass of very valuable paintings, but you don't see any of this in the exhibition and I think that is a pity."

"This is a missed chance," Ms Walzer says.

While the first part of the exhibition focuses on Hitler's cultural and political planning for Linz, the second part looks at the impact of National Socialism on art, music and literature in the region.

It explores the cult of Anton Bruckner and shows costumes from productions of operas by Richard Wagner and operettas by Franz Lehar - favourites with Hitler.

For some local visitors, confronting the past can be unsettling.

"I am upset by the delusional madness of these plans. It would have been a catastrophe. The culture that is encouraged now is free - the culture back then was dictatorship," says Heinz, after visiting the exhibition with his wife.

Ingrid, who was a child in Linz during the Third Reich, says the exhibition reflects her own memories of the period.

"I found the exhibition to be very informative and correct. It objectively shows the period as it was back then, because up to now many inaccuracies have been put about."

The organisers say they want to spark debate, but more than 60 years on, Hitler's legacy is still a very difficult and sensitive topic.

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