The town officials in Braunau, Austria have a bit of a problem. They have a pretty Renaissance home with “location, location, location” but also history, history, history. The picturesque corner home happens to be the birthplace of Adolph Hitler and the town is exploring ways to preventing it from continuing to draw neo-Nazis as a type of fascist heritage tour.
The town has reportedly been in a continuing dispute with the woman who owns the house over its use. Officials have complained about a steady stream of visitors who treat the place like a shrine to the dead mass murderer.
Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said his ministry is looking into expropriating the house if the owner refuses to sell it to the government. (The Interior Ministry has rented the house for years to sublet to various charity organizations but it has fallen into disrepair). The owner has refused to allow another charity to be moved into the home because of the proposed renovations planned for the house.
Notably, a Russian parliamentarian wanted to buy the house to raze it but the Renaissance-era building is under historical protection.
The use of eminent domain is interesting in this context. While obviously we cannot apply the same standards used under the Fifth Amendment in the United States, historical homes can be acquired for such a purpose and an owner forced to accept the government compensation. It is rare however to see such a use to prevent an owner from using property in a way that the government dislikes. In this case, the owner insists that she is trying to preserve the house rather than allow the government to destroy it through modern renovations. So the eminent domain is not being used to preserve a historical site as much as to guarantee that it not be used as an attraction due to its historical significance.
Of course, our own takings jurisprudence has experienced some relatively recent upheavals. Many of us expressed outrage at the actions of the city leaders of New London, Connecticut when they used eminent domain to seize the property of citizens against their will in order to give it to the Pfizer corporation. This anger grew with the inexplicable decision of the Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London to uphold the abusive action. Now, after all of the pain the city caused its own residents and $80 million it spent to buy and bulldoze the property, Pfizer later announced that it was closing the facility — leaving the city worse off than when it began. For prior testimony on the Kelo decision, click here.
The concept of eminent domain to deter the use of a home as a historical site is something new. The home appears protected due to its age rather than its most famous occupant. It appears that the government is likely to force the sale and the renovations as planned.