Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gestapo in Itaewon

[Update at bottom] On January 7, 1988, the Korea Times published the following letter by a long-term expat:
There's not much more to do than to shake your head and wonder "Itaewon?!" One can only imagine that people were clueless that it would cause such offense. More about this bar can be found in an AP article printed in Stars and Stripes on October 30, 1991 (sorry, the photo's not clear at all):
The German Embassy has raised a fuss over this beer hall, called Hitler, near Seoul, South Korea.

'Hitler' pub draws protest from Germans
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - The German Embassy is asking the government to force a popular new beer hall called Hitler to change its name and get rid of its blinking name signs and Hitler matchbooks and pictures. The embassy also wants the beer hall to get rid of a Federal Republic of Germany flag that has a Nazi swastika stitched onto it. The embassy said the beer hall is defaming a national emblem. "We consider the use of Nazi pictures and symbols as hurting ... German feelings and detrimental to our reputation," embassy spokeswoman Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig said Tuesday. The use of Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, which has sought to repudiate dictator Adolf Hitler, who ruled from 1933 until near the end of World War II in 1945. The swastika was used as a Nazi emblem. In 1987, a bar called Gestapo in Itaewon near a sprawling U.S. Army base changed its name after complaints by the German Embassy. The Gestapo was Hitler's secret police. His namesake beer hall, which seats 100 customers, opened about two months ago in Kwangmyong City, an industrial area about 12 miles southwest of Seoul. The embassy said it only recently discovered it.
Interesting that, despite a foreign embassy complaining, Hitler bars continued to appear throughout the country until at least the mid-2000s (some photos are in the Metropolitician post here). And that in 2007 Rhie Won-bok could refer to the 'fact' that the Jews run America (as detailed in his comic book about America) as 'common knowledge.' And that a year later a cosmetic company would run a commercial (viewable here) mentioning Hitler. 

Even more interesting might be that Yi Pom Sok, South Korea's first prime minister and minister of defense (who the Metropolitician mentions in his post), told an American journalist in 1946 that one of the things he planned to teach at his school to train anti-communist youth group leaders - which was funded by the US government - was "the history of the Hitler Jugend." A story for another day, I suppose. 

Update: The most recent article about a Hitler bar was from 2007, though no photos were shown. As that ROK drop post mentions, in 2000 Time did an article about a Hitler bar (one of three said to be in Seoul at the time) which had changed its name after complaints from the Third Reich to the Fifth Reich (the main attraction of the Nazis? "They dressed well."). That same year Pusanweb interviewed the owner of a Hitler bar in Busan who eventually changed the name to Ddolf Ditler (it's long since gone); the owner made clear he meant no offense. In 2005 photos of the interior of a Hitler bar in Daejeon were posted at this blog, and another photo of it was gathered with photos of a few other bars in this posting. It's entirely possible that they disappeared by 2007. To be sure, with around 25,000 foreign English teachers spread throughout the country, if such bars still existed they would probably be pretty well documented by this point.

Update 2: As noted in the comments, here is a Crown Confectionary ad featuring comedian Shim Hyeon-seop doing a parody of Hitler, though this may actually be a reference to Charlie Chaplin's 'Great Dictator.' 

Update 3: (July 22, 2021). In February 2021, it was reported that "Sowon, a member of K-pop act GFriend, apologized Monday for posting photos of herself hugging a mannequin dressed as a Nazi soldier at a cafe in Paju, Gyeonggi Province." The offending images are here; this one shows several such mannequins at the cafe.

(Photo from Donga Ilbo)

Perhaps now isn't the time to mention the controversy that arose 3 years ago over Nazi imagery used or worn by members of BTS?


Chris in South Korea said...

Have you heard of any Hitler bars still existing today?

matt said...

Not that I know of. I get the feeling they disappeared a few years ago.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

You mention the cosmetic ad that featured Hitler, but there was another one that appeared a few years prior to it... believe it or not, it was a chocopie commercial with a Korean comedian dressed in full Hitler regalia/mustache. To sell CHOCOPIES?!? I don't recall it being formally pulled from the air, but it wasn't on air more than a couple weeks.

Wish I remembered the comedian's name. He was one of the top Gag Concert comedians at the time.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

Found him. The chocopie Hitler's name is 신현섭. Google for photo.

kushibo said...

Though they're cretins for employing Nazi chic to attract patrons, I give them creativity points for renaming "Gestapo" as "Gesta IV," which would, in Korean, be written almost the same as the original (게슈타포어 instead of 게슈타포).

Anonymous said...

I was in a burger place recently and the uniforms had a happy face, US flags, and Nazi isigna decorating their bright and bubly uniforms.

Roboseyo said...

One of the most head-shaking moments of my entire teaching career (other than the time two kindergarten students thought it would be funny to pee on each other) was the time I asked a class the discussion question, "Which person from history would you bring back to live life a second time?" and a student said "Hitler -- to see if he could do some good this time around instead of just evil" Forget giving DaVinci modern technology and materials to play with, forget giving Einstein or Mozart or Albert Schwitzer or Ghandi a chance to do MORE good... let's give the most horrifically evil individual a chance to be a little LESS evil, and maybe aspire so high as to be a neutral cipher: a forgettable art-school grad!

matt said...


I thought the 'Gesta IV' renaming was clever enough as well.

Darth Babaganoosh:

As for the chocopie commercial, I assume that's what Time was referring to:

"And what was Crown Confectionery thinking when it kicked off an ad campaign for chocolate covered cakes? Inspired by Charlie Chaplin's Hitler in the 1940 movie The Great Dictator, the ad featured one of Korea's top comics as the Fuhrer. After taking a bite, Hitler suddenly switches from German-sounding gibberish to fluent Korean and his mood mellows. The campaign was pulled after the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles protested to Korean diplomats in the U.S. Stylist Koh Jung Won, who designed Hitler's wardrobe (she used an East German army uniform and sewed on Nazi patches bought in Seoul) says the ads weren't meant to offend. It was a fun thing, she says."

On the one hand, you could, say, look at weddings in Korea and see the style of a western wedding without the substance and perhaps apply it to this. But I think what's at the bottom of this is the inability to empathize with other conquered countries because, well, how can you empathize when you're told that you've suffered more than any other people in the world? (A jaw-dropping example of this can be found here). Even foreigners who write about Korea mention that Korea has been constantly invaded. As if every country on the Eurasian landmass (and elsewhere) hasn't? That question, however, ignores the exaggeration at work; the Joseon dynasty's first 500 years saw two major invasions - by Japan 1592-98 (with three years of actual fighting) and two separate invasions by the Manchus in 1627 and 1636. As catastrophic as the Japanese invasions were, I'm sure most countries would love to have had only 5 years of war in the 500 years prior to 1900.


What Nazi insignia was it?

Mike said...

I've seen Nazi cosplay twice in Korea. Once in Seoul station (walking the opposite direction on the other side of the railing) and again in Yeogok (a meter away at a crosswalk). The first was in simple gothic black clothes with a swastika armband, but the hat gave the effect of full uniform. The second was in full SS uniform (again with the swastika armband)... the first time shocked and angered me. The second time, I started swearing at him in English and Korean... he ignored me and I let him get away. I've mentioned these incidents to Koreans, and they said, "oh he probably doesn't know what it means."

Antti Leppänen said...

(A jaw-dropping example of this can be found here).

I was also reminded of my old blogpost, perhaps my most commented ever. However, I've been considering removing the whole post or at least adding a disclaimer, because I didn't find anything like the quoted introduction in the editions of Jo Jung-rae's Arirang currently in print. The author's introduction in the available prints that I browsed in Seoul seems to be the original one, and it had no reference to Jews whatsoever. What is, then, the source of Jo's alleged introduction that I quoted, I don't know. Oh well, just a second... Here's a Korean blogger who evidently has reproduced several long passages from Arirang to his blogpost. The foreword quoted in my blogpost would've appeared in the 4th volume (which I didn't check). The quote is about two thirds down the long post. So no need for me to add disclaimers yet.

Roboseyo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roboseyo said...

Fantastic link, Antti Leppanen. I've heard the head-shaking assertion that Koreans suffered more than the jews before, and it's interesting to learn more about what my friend might have been reading, to come up with that assertion.

matt said...

I just found the Crown Confectionery commercial referred to above at this blog: "심현섭 - 크라운제과 롱스 프리미엄."