Hamelin, the German provincial town famous for its 16th-century Pied Piper, was at the centre of an embarrassing row yesterday after one of its premier hotels admitted holding mock "prison parties" for guests in cellars once used by the Nazis to torture and murder their opponents.
More than 470 prisoners were either executed, starved or tortured to death by the Nazis in the cellars of Hamelin's 200-year-old Prussian-built prison. In 1993, the building was extensively modernised and turned into the City of Hamelin Hotel, with its cellars intact.
Yesterday, historians revealed that as part of its programme to attract custom, the hotel organised regular "prison parties" in the cellars where guests wore obligatory striped prison uniforms and were ordered about by staff masquerading as truncheon-wielding warders.
The hotel website showed that party-goers would be charged a €44 (£38) entrance fee. "Every prisoner has to begin detention sober and washed," reads the accompanying text. "Anyone who wishes to go to the loo has to report their requirement to the guards by standing to attention," it adds.
The website showed photographs of smirking, uniformed warders waving truncheons at giggling party-goers or locking them in wooden stocks. It said the parties, evidently often booked for groups of office workers, usually culminated with a "boss" being locked up in a mock solitary confinement cell: "to the great amusement of all!"
The site made no mention of the Nazi era. It said only that the underground vaults once belonged to a Prussian detention centre. "The building was used as a prison for 150 years," the site said. After the war, the building was used by the British Army for executions following the Nuremberg trials.
Maurice Born, a retired history professor, who has extensively researched Hamelin's Nazi past, said he had decided to publicise details of the hotel's prison parties after receiving no reply to letters of complaint he had sent to both the hotel and Hamelin's mayor. "When I saw the adverts for the prison parties I simply couldn't believe it. I was outraged," he said.
The manageress of the City of Hamelin Hotel said yesterday that she did not think there was anything wrong with the hotel's prison parties. "We don't think we are hurting anyone," she told Der Spiegel magazine online. She refused to say why there was no mention of the Nazi era on the hotel website.
Hamelin's press spokesman said the city's mayor had "not found time" to reply to Mr Born's letter of complaint about the prison parties. "We understand his feelings very well. The hotel can do whatever it wants but if one realises what went on there, it is of course, tasteless," he added.
Hamelin first unveiled a plaque recalling the plight of its Nazi era prisoners in 2006. The city describes the period of Nazi terror as "everyday cruelty".