At least 474 people died in the buildings under the Nazis due to horrendous conditions, or were shot when trying to escape, as far as local historian Bernhard Gelderblom has been able to establish, he told Der Spiegel magazine.
Gelderblom said he considered the parties grotesque, and said he had often tried to raise the matter in the city. He said he was in contact with relatives of people who were held as prisoners in the building who he said were, “outraged and find it tasteless.”
The four-star Hotel Stadt Hameln, in the centre of the northern German city of Hameln – known as Hamelin in English – has a detailed account on its website of its history. A jail was built on the site in the 1820s by Georg Domeier – the city’s mayor and commissar for George IV King of Hannover and England.
Despite describing its expansion to include a factory and exercise yard, there is no mention of the first half of the 20th century or the Nazi use of the building to imprison forced labourers.
The website’s account jumps from the end of the 19th century to 1978, when the last prisoner left, in one swift move, skipping the Third Reich completely.
Rather, it offers a link to information on what it calls Prussian prison parties. There, those who have paid €44 for the privilege are ordered about by members of staff wearing prison officer uniforms.
They are given striped T-shirts to wear under the pretence of ensuring that no vermin are brought in, and even given a drink, described as a ‘oral vaccine’ before they enter the main room, which has bars at the entrance.
Managers or bosses from a group of guests can be nominated to be locked up in special cells, which the website promises is much to the amusement of their colleagues. There is even a photograph of one guest being held in stocks in the middle of the room.
Maurice Born, a retired French professor who has been researching Hameln’s history since the 1960s, said he had been outraged when he saw the advert for the hotel’s prison parties last September.
“I simply could not believe it,” he told Der Spiegel. “I thought it was a joke.”
He wrote a long letter to the hotel, the Mayor Susanne Lippmann and local political parties, outlining the building’s history and calling the prison parties ‘grotesque masquerades.’ He also pointed out what he called the ‘highly one-sided’ historical description on the hotel’s website.
His letter, send in October, did not receive an answer from any of the addressees, he said.
Hameln’s city spokesman Thomas Wahmes told the magazine that the mayor had asked him to answer Born’s letter but that he had not yet got around to it.
“We can very well understand Mr Born and his feelings,” he told Der Spiegel. The hotel was free to do what it wanted, but, “when one knows what happened there, it is obviously tasteless,” he said.
He said Lippmann was of the same opinion.
“We receive such letters from time to time,” hotel manager Gabriele Güse told the magazine.
“This hotel on this spot was the political will of the city of Hameln,” she said.
“We don’t think that we are doing anything to damage or injure anyone with our hotel.”
When asked why the hotel’s homepage did not include even a mention of the Nazis’ use of the building, she said, “I don’t wish to comment.”
In a written statement she told Der Spiegel the parties were, “not at any time even slightly connected with the history of the building quoted by Mr Born.”
She compared the parties with other mediaeval knights’ dinners on offer in other historical buildings.