Gerlingstraße, 45127 Essen | 51.461334, 7.018715, +51° 27′ 40.80″, +7° 1′ 7.37″
There was a terrain in the eastern town centre which was called Gerlingswiese (engl.: „Gerling’s meadow“) in the vernacular. Here, in the Weimar era, (political) events took place regularly. Essen’s Social Democrat Party (SPD) and the trade unions called upon the people for visiting their demonstrations, warning about the fascist threat. On March 5, 1933, a demonstration organized by the SPD was stormed by SA and SS thugs – right in front of police units, not intervening at all, as though it wasn’t their business. The SA (Sturmabteilung) and the SS (Schutzstaffel) were found within the Nazi movement in 1922 and in 1925/26 respectively. Their main aim was to intimidate the Nazi’s political opponents by means of partly inconceivable terror. The civil service of the Weimar Republic – proved again by the aforementioned example – was, unfortunately, too often „blinded in the right eye“ (alluding to a well-known German phrase underpinning that someone is eager for pointing the finger at left-wingers while underestimating the criminal deeds of right-wing persons). Offenders with a right-wing background, belonging to the SA, the SS or similar paramilitary organizations, were often punished slightly. Clear antifascist signals born of the government’s initiative were rare. First of all within the bourgeoisie a left-wing revolution led by communists was considered to be the most dangerous threat to be prevented at any price. Thus, right-wing terror was either underestimated or – behind closed doors – embraced by the privileged. In addition, the Nazi’s anti-Semitic world view was shared by numerous people. So were other hostilities spread by the fascists – for instance, the denigration of homosexuals.
A picture of the Gerlingwiese, around the year 1930 (source: Horst Zimmer)
Just few metres away from the Gerlingstraße, there was a small pub called Eldorado – its today’s name is Panoptikum. This pub was a popular meeting point for homosexual people. Soon after the SA stormed the Gerlingswiese, the Nazis shut down the famous local. They also withdrew the concession from the operators of the pub which therefore had to close down. Likewise in the immediate neighbourhood runs the Viehofer Straße, which was named after Hitler by his supporters. On the Gerlingplatz, the Nazis staged their burning of books on 21st July 1933. Like in many cities in early Nazi Germany, the works of authors whose thinking and writing were unpleasant to the Nazi regime were burnt. The Nazis considered the burnings of books as a symbolic act which was to predict the dawn of a „new German spirit“.
The burning of books on the Gerlingplatz; staged by the Nazis in 1933 (source: Essener Haus der Geschichte / Stadtarchiv)
The conflicts between opposing political groups and thus the formation of so-called Kampfbünde were typical features of the allday life in the Weimar Republic. The literal translation of Kampfbünde (fighting associations) already gives a hint for what people participating in these groups usually gathered. In 1924, the communist Rotfrontkämpferbund (close to the Communist Party, the KPD) and the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold (heavily influenced by the Social Democrat Party, SPD) were founded in reaction to the right-wing threat personified by the SA and the SS. The Reichsbanner identified with the Weimar Republic and the liberal revolution from 1848, whereas the communist organizations fought against „Weimar“ considering it to be still a capitalist state in the first place, proceeded by the former elites of the German empire (which formally ended up at the end of World War I in 1918, due to the the Novemberrevolution). Against this background, conflicts even between Communist-led and social-democratic associations were not unusual, although both trends were rooted in the worker’s movement.
1) Ponder on some interesting methods that could be used to illustrate the history of the Gerlingstraße. For example, you could create a presentation which you project on a wall after sunset, when it’s already dark. It’s possible to use the pictures given on this site – as long as you point to the sources of these pictures. If you like, you may stage a quiet demonstration, remembering the victims of SS and SA.