Link - article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams

Imperial dreams... and the agony of taste

Fascist and communist governments in the first half of the twentieth century both created monumental architecture, largely to intimidate their people and showcase the regime's strengths.

In a totalitarian system such as existed in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, the government attempted to control every aspect of daily life. It used architecture to some degree to achieve this, to firmly establish its authority leaving no doubt as to who was in charge. One of the chief aims of Nazi architecture was also to reflect the beliefs of National Socialism, celebrate the German national identity and glorify the idea of the master Aryan race, as perceived by Hitler and his associates.

(images via 1, 2)

Imperial Rome all over again

There was no official Nazi architectural style although most of the structures and monuments designed by Albert Speer and others imitated Imperial Rome. Hitler was an admirer of the Roman Empire and imagined himself to be creating a realm to both rival and then surpass that of the Caesars. The Nazis, who dismissed much of the customary decoration and used only the raw, muscular elements, exaggerated the classical Roman style, which portrayed their ideal image of a strong, warlike state. This was known as stripped classicism and was not only used in Germany, but was relatively popular in other countries as well in the inter war period.

(images via)

World Capital Germania

Hitler had Speer, his favoured architect, design plans for the rebuilding of Berlin. This was a monumental task in itself, to create Welthauptstadt ("World Capital") Germania, the new city, which would be the capital of German-dominated Europe. The photographs of the plans for Hitler's city survive to this day in the German federal archives.

(images via 1, 2)

A grand boulevard, three miles in length, to be known as Prachtstrasse, ("Street of Magnificence") would run from north to south. A huge arch would be located at the southern end, which would be almost 400 feet high and able to fit Paris' Arc de Triomphe inside it. At the northern end would be the Volkshalle ("People's Hall"), an enormous domed building designed to be the centrepiece of the new Berlin.

(images via 1, 2)

Based on the Pantheon in Rome, the Volkshalle would still be the largest enclosed space on the planet if it had ever been built. It would have been over 700 feet high and 800 feet in diameter, sixteen times larger than the dome of St. Peter's in the Vatican. Inside, there would have been space for 180,000 people and there is speculation that such a huge capacity could have caused the building to have its own weather system. In colder temperatures, the perspiration and breathing of so many people might actually precipitate and fall back to the ground, almost as indoor rain.

(image via)

The Big Dumb (Concrete) Object

Berlin is located on marshy ground and there were some concerns as to whether the land would actually be able to sustain such massive structures. Consequently some testing was undertaken. The Schwerbelastungskörper ("Heavy load-bearing body") was constructed in 1941 to test the muddy ground.

(image credit: epha)

The mushroom shaped cylinder is made from 12,650 tons of concrete and is sixty feet high. Instruments measured that the huge block sank seven inches in three years, more than the 2.5 inches deemed acceptable, making it unlikely the soil could have supported Hitler's new capital without substantial preparation work. The massive Schwerbelastungskörper couldn't be demolished at the end of the war because of the proximity of nearby apartments and has been considered a historical monument since 1995.

Olympic Stadium for the Superior Race' Triumph in Sports

Most of the huge projects were halted with the outbreak of war in 1939 or as the war progressed, then turned against Germany and the country's attention turned to more pressing matters. Some structures were completed however, including the Olympic Stadium. Germany was awarded the 1936 summer Olympics in 1931, and once Hitler came to power he was determined to use the event for propaganda purposes. Work on the stadium was begun in 1934 and when completed in time for the Games had a capacity of 110,000.

(images via 1, 2, 3)

An even bigger stadium, the Deutsches Stadion, designed for some 400,000 people, was planned for Nuremberg, but the project was abandoned shortly after the foundations were completed. Had the stadium actually been built it would still be the largest arena of its kind in the world.

Berlin's Olympic Stadium survived the war relatively unscathed and the area was used as a headquarters by the British occupation forces in the city until 1994. The stadium was at one time considered for demolition, but was eventually completely renovated and played host to the World Cup Final in 2006.

The Reich Chancellery, built to intimidate

Another building that was actually finished was the new Reich Chancellery, which was built in only nine months after Hitler asked Speer to design it in early 1938. The structure's Marble Gallery alone was twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and measured 480 feet in length. The complete collection of rooms making up the approach to Hitler's reception gallery was 725 feet long, while Hitler's private office was 400 square metres.

(images via GermanArchitecture)

The incredibly long, richly decorated corridor was designed to intimidate foreign dignitaries and politicians when they came to see Hitler. Speer was told that the cost was immaterial and 4000 men worked in round the clock shifts, with the final cost of the building estimated at ninety million reichsmarks, the equivalent of over one billion dollars in modern currency.

Beneath the new Reich Chancellery was the bunker where Hitler spent the last weeks of the war and where he committed suicide in April 1945.The Chancellery was severely damaged in the Battle of Berlin in 1945 and then demolished by the Soviet occupation forces, who used some of the red marble from Hitler's palace to complete the Red Army war memorial in Berlin's Treptower Park:

(image via)

The largest office building in the world (1936)

Also in Berlin, Herman Goring's Reich Air Ministry was the largest office building in the world when it was completed in August 1936. It has been described as being "in the typical style of National Socialist intimidation architecture", with a floor area of 112,000 square metres, 2,800 rooms, 7 km of corridors, over 4,000 windows and 17 stairways.

The huge complex was the headquarters of the Luftwaffe and Germany's civil aviation bureaucracy. Fifty quarries were used as sources for stone used in the building's construction, which took only eighteen months, the vast army of workers employed in multiple shifts, seven days a week.

(images via)

The Air Ministry was one of the few major buildings in Berlin to survive relatively unscathed during the Allied bomber offensive and the Soviet assault at the end of the war. During the Cold War, the building was used by the East German government and today is home to the German Finance Ministry. Witness how Nazi ornamentation co-exists side-by-side with socialist murals inside this cavernous building:

The Zeppelinfield Arena - big enough to launch a fleet of airships

Allied bombing took a huge toll on German cities and Berlin suffered greatly in the Soviet assault in the spring of 1945. Some buildings however survived intact or are still visible as ruins. Some of the better known structures are in Nuremberg, site of the huge Nazi rallies throughout the thirties. The Zeppelinfield Arena was one of Speer's first projects for the party in 1934 and was based on the Pergamon Altar, an ancient Greek structure, which has featured in lists of wonders of the world. Used for the enormous Nazi rallies and party ceremonies, the arena was built on a huge scale and could hold 240,000 people.

Speer also created the arena's famous balcony from which Hitler gave many of his speeches to the party faithful. Despite its ancient Greek influence, the structure is essentially stripped classicism, with no decoration and only the very basic monumental elements.

And in conjunction with the arena, Speer also helped organize the rallies and developed the idea of pointing 1000 searchlights directly into the sky, creating what was known as the Cathedral of Light, the upright beams almost mimicking the columns featured so frequently in Nazi architecture.

(images via)

Nuremburg was also home to the Congress Hall or Kongresshalle, which although it was never completed, is the largest preserved monumental building from the Nazi period. It was designed by Ludwig and Franz Ruff and was to be a party congress centre with 50,000 seats. Begun in 1935, the exterior bears some resemblance to the Roman Colosseum.

(images via 1, 2)

Nazi Worker's Paradise: Seaside Resort and Spa

One of the biggest Nazi structures which still survives is the Prora resort and spa on the Baltic Island of Rugen, built between 1936 and 1939 (work ceased at the outbreak of war). A series of five seaside resorts were planned, to provide vacations for the average German worker, but the Rugen location was the only one that was actually started (more info):

(images via)

Like most of the other Nazi era projects, the scale was massive, involving some 9000 workers and every major construction company in Germany. The plan was to construct two complexes with four blocks of ten housing units in each one. There would be rooms for 20,000 people, each room with its own sea view and the resort would have extended for over five kilometers along the beach.

(images via)

There would also be buildings for administration, workers accommodation, large festival squares, assembly halls, huge swimming pools, restaurants, theatres, sports arenas, a large quay for mooring cruise ships, as well as a train station and all the infrastructure and utilities needed for such a massive undertaking. It never fulfilled its intended purpose and housed refugees from Hamburg and other cities towards the end of the war, as well as being utilized for military personnel and as a hospital.

(images via 1, 3)

Prora was briefly used by the Soviet army after the war, then by the East German military until the early nineties. The remains of the Prora complex are the largest Third Reich era building still in existence and debate continues as to whether the site should be preserved.

Exporting totalitarian architecture to the rest of the world

And finally, showcasing Nazi architecture was not limited to Germany. When the International Exposition Dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life was held in 1937 in Paris, the two most prominent pavilions were those belonging to Germany and the Soviet Union, which were located directly across from each other. With a height of 500 feet, the Nazi pavilion designed by Albert Speer, was topped with a tower displaying a gigantic swastika and eagle, symbols of National Socialism.

(images via 1, 2, 3)

Like the Zeppelinfield in Nuremburg, at night Speer used floodlights to illuminate the structure. The pavilion's purpose was to showcase German pride and the strength of Nazi Germany as a bulwark against Communism, symbolized by the Soviet pavilion directly opposite.

Article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.



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Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the best articles in the last few weeks.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is why I visit your site everyday.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

michael palin visited prora in his last bbc series, you just reminded me of the name. thanks!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

superb article!

Anonymous Rob De Witt said...

Thanks once again for a great post. The learned architectural comments highlight the decided similarities between Socialist and National Socialist art, and reinforce the insight that Nazism was in fact merely a heresy of Marxism.

A useful comparison would be to the neo-Imperialist architecture of the new 0bama displays, beginning with the faux-Roman structures at the Denver convention. Not much changes.

Blogger Alejandro said...

I like your web since long time ago and this is a very interesting article.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob de Witt is another ignoramus who graduated at the Norris-Palin University of Political Science...

Anonymous Valar said...

Great architecture! Beautiful and clasic!

Anonymous Michael said...

I enjoyed reading / watching your article, especially as a German. I really appreciate your neutral description of German history, maybe better than some contemporary German historians do. This helps the younger people to get distance to things my generation never dealt with.
I don't forget history, but I live in present. Great contribution, thanks!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!!! I like this site very much, it's very funny and informative. However, it's sad that such a great post just made the De Witt guy reinforce his wrong insights...

Anonymous Gimble said...

like the first comment says, One of the best articles last weeks.

about the Prora Rugen, There are plans to make it into a youth hostel. A dutch architect -Kempe Thill- has won a recent (2007) competition about "what to do with the building"

here is the site:

Blogger Maggie said...

There remain huge debates as many classical buildings are still being pulled down as the unwanted "wrong kind of architecture" for a modern Germany.

The other invented architecture, Volk, has usually been assimilated, and the only alterations one usually sees is removal of various swastikas. Hitler's personal home, tea house, and other homes in the Volk style in Berchtesgaden on the Obersalzberg were destroyed during or immediately after the war. Most other buildings in this style were just reused and accepted.

I'd like to see another illustrated article on this invented architectural style.

Much of Prora has recently, (2008), been sold and condos seem to be in the structures future.

Blogger Michael said...

Grotesquely imposing structures, dwarfing the pathetic human form...didn't Albert Speer also design the Hummer?

Anonymous Rob De Witt said...

I'm happy to have given you all the opportunity to practice your condescension. I'm certain you have done sufficient research to refute my point, since you were proud enough of your opinions to post them anonymously ;-}.

Anonymous ryan said...

I always wondered about Hitlers fascination of the Romans. He was obsessed with Nordic lore, but Roman architecture.
It was the naked men sculptures, had to be.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

been visiting your blog for years. nice find.

Anonymous Slow Joe Crow said...

Robert Hughes' "The Shock of the New" has a good discussion of totalitarian architecture, where he describes the pseudo-classical architecture as "totalitarian doric" and also observes that the buildings in the New York state government mall in Albany would like perfectly natural with hammer and sickle or swastika decorations.
On a related note, the Beijing Olympic structures seem like a modern version of this.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you guys for all the info, this is why we totally enjoy comments on DRB :)

Blogger DesScorp said...

Just goes to show that bad regimes can make good art and impressive architecture. It was ironic that everytime we saw a new concrete-and-steel box go up in our town... a school, or an office building, and we'd deride it as "communist looking". And yet when you compare postwar architecture of the US and the USSR, the Soviets were the ones making beautiful, impressive buildings, while it was we who were making the plain, soulless glass boxes. East Germany promoted that kind of Phillip Johnson asthetic, but the Russians knew how to make an impressive building (though often constructed poorly). I'll take the magnificent Moscow State University main building anyday over soul-sucking boxes like the Seagram Building.

The best comment ever made about our numbing modern architecture of the postwar years was made by Tom Wolfe, when he looked at the rows of plain, glass and steel boxes of Manhattan and called it the "Rue De Regret".

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

DesCorp - Moscow University Building perhaps needs an article in itself...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lichterdom was - according to Speers son - one of the works he was most proud of.
Actually it was a solution to a funny problem: Four groups of the armed forces were to parade: Army, Navy, Airforce and the 'Desk-force'. The latter were not so fit for parading - out of practice and out of shape. To hide this is it was decided to make the parade at night! But the decorations were made for daylight use and Speer came up with the idea of the unusual use of searchlights. Between 1 and 200 were needed and this covered the entire German searchlight reserve. Hitler had to be asked and was delighted: Our enemies will never believe, that we use all our reserves - off course we do it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pic of the 1937 is amazing considering it's context and time. I'd not seen it before. Thank you.

If you've not done an article on it yet, it would be interesting to compare the architecture of the same time between the Soviet Union and the US (Germany could be included). As an example, Moscow State U's building is remarkably similar to what was happening in lower Manhattan (and Rockefeller Center).

Keep up the great work DRB.

Anonymous Jim said...

Thanks for the very interesting and informative article.

Rob De Witt would have fit in & thrived in Germany as chief sophist at the time.

Blogger History Cellar said...

This was a great detailed article. Thanks for the great work.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The architecture featured at my Youtube channel may interest you: www.youtube.com/luddite333

Blogger Damien DeBarra said...

Wonderful piece. Thankyou. Have added outgoing links back to here from a piece on Blather which touches on this: http://www.blather.net/globaleyes/archives/2009/01/welcome_to_the_game.html

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nazi arquitechture is the most boring bad taste ever.Not even impressing. In fact, Hitler didn't like the Olimpic stadium because wasn't big enough...or it really was dull! Amazing Speer was so valued then. We'll demonstrates Hitler's sick mind.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came to this site expecting some typical trivia / top 10 lists, but man, I was wrong. With thorough, interesting and well-researched articles like this, I wouldn't bother reading the contents of your site as a paper magazine. Peace.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

DesScorp said...
"Just goes to show that bad regimes can make good art and impressive architecture."

Bad regimes?

If the Axis won WW2 and Russia won the cold war we'd be the 'bad' guys and the suppressed horrors committed by the Allies and capitalists would be propagated and exaggerated in the same way Hollywood treats the Holocaust.

History is written by the victors!!

All humans are capable of despicable brutality and angelic compassion, there is no good or evil people, good and evil are perceptions conditioned by society. Fear and stupidity is what turns men into monsters, the enlightened oppressed become the egoistic oppressors on a whim.

Anonymous Javier said...

DRB has style.

Blogger PeachyLogic said...

Thank a merciful God that Hitler expended such a mind-boggling amount of recources and these buildings. That was time, material, and manpower that did not go into the war effort.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a building here in Birmingham Alabama that was built in the 1920's that has two swaztikas on the steps out front. I was told before WWII it was an Indian symbol for luck. Still creeps me out though.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is said that good architecture needs totalitairian regimes to be build.

I think a lot of these buildings are quite good as pieces of architecture but seem to be 'polluted' by the function they once had. If they were build in England no one ever would have have thought about demolishing them and they might have been examples of typical stripped-classicism as part of a counter-functionalist movement.

I hope enough of them survive till the time we have enough distance from the past to see them as things-in-themselves instead of symbols they once been though for. Just think about the Roman Colloseum. Financed by money from the plundering of Jerusalem it was the place where prisoners (mainly Christians) were to fight with lions and other wild animals. Nowadays nobody thinks about tearing it down because of the cruelty it was once meant for...

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Wonderful comment... thank you for this. I might agree on this saying about totalitarian regimes / architecture connection. But I would say "epic architecture", not necessarily "good architecture".

Anonymous Anonymous said...

World Capital Germania
Human sculptures: GAY!!!!
(Himmler's taste, maybe)

Blogger feuerbach said...

Thanks for this article. If you are looking for more information’s about still existing Nazi architecture in Berlin you can visit this website: http://www.panorama-b.de/en/nazi-architecture


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