The Beer Hall Riot That Changed the World

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

Scuffles at bars and pubs are common. Even full-blown fights that involve most of the establishment’s patrons are known to happen. Beer hall riots that end up launching a World War—those are rare.

In July 1921, a police spy and former WWI soldier named Adolf Hitler was elected as leader of the National German Socialist Workers’ Party, newly renamed the “Nazi Party." By 1923, the Nazi Party decided that they had enough clout and manpower to take over the Bavarian government by kidnapping Gustav von Kahr, state commissioner of Bavaria. They planned to capture him by storming his November 8 speech at Bürgerbräukeller, one of Munich’s largest beer halls.

At first, everything went as planned. Hitler and some of his closest pals burst in, with Hitler firing a threatening shot into the ceiling for good measure. Von Kahr and two of the leaders with him agreed to help Hitler with the rebellion, and they were eventually let go. Once free, however, von Kahr went back on his word and called in reinforcements. By the time Nazis tried to take over various government buildings the next morning, von Kahr’s troops vastly outnumbered them. Less than 24 hours after it had begun, the Nazis' attempt to take over Bavaria had turned out to be an utter failure.

On April 1, 1924, Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison for high treason for his part in the Beer Hall Putsch. During the trial, his impassioned and well-written speeches were printed in the newspapers, which resulted in a whole new slew of Nazi supporters. Not only did he serve less than one of those five years—in a fairly cushy prison, by the way—it also gave him time to write the first volume of Mein Kampf.

When Hitler exited prison after serving less than one-fifth of his sentence, he and other high-ranking officials in the Nazi Party had decided that physical force wasn’t the way to get Germany to support their cause. Instead, they would infiltrate the political system and work from the inside out—which is exactly how they ended up gaining power.

Sadly for von Kahr, Hitler never forgot the failed kidnapped attempt and the false promise of rebellion. In 1934, the 71-year-old man was found hacked to death by a pickax on the Night of the Long Knives, a purge that took out nearly 100 of the Nazi Party’s political enemies.

The rest, unfortunately, is history.