In May 1942, Professor Konrad Meyer delivered the memorandum 'Generalplan Ost: Legal, Economic and Spatial Foundations for Development in the East'. The plan, which exists only in summarised form, envisaged the creation of three vast 'marcher settlements' (Ingermanland, Memel-Narew and Gothengau) which would consist of 50 per cent German colonists, linked to the Reich at 100 kilometre intervals by thirty-six 'settlement strongpoints' whose inhabitants would be 25 per cent German. The plan would take twenty-five years to implement, would involve five million German settlers and would cost 66 billion Reichsmarks.
The deteriorating course of the war put a stop to the planning activities of Professor Meyer in the spring of 1943, although Himmler continued to fantasise about settlements in the East long after the Red Army had crossed the frontiers of East Prussia. Ultimately, as we know, the moral and material might of the Allies prevented the realisation of the nightmarish scenarios of the SS. The expulsion and flight of millions of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe and the division of Germany for forty-five years ensued. But it is important to remember that German victory on the Eastern Front would have had wider consequences than those affecting the population of the Soviet empire.
Historians have long debated whether Hitler's final goal was simply the conquest of 'living space' in Eastern Europe or whether this was 'merely' the prerequisite for world domination (implying an ultimate conflict with Britain and America). Some historians, notably Hugh Trevor-Roper and Eberhard Jàckel, insist that Hitler was a 'continentalist', with his final objective consisting of the acquisition of Lebensraum in the East and the resolution of the 'Jewish Question'. Others, notably Giinther Moltmann, Milan Hauner and Meier Michaelis, have insisted that Hitler's ambitions were 'globalise. In fact, the two positions are not mutually exclusive, but rather reflect different emphases. The continentalists point to the frequency with which Hitler dilated upon the East, relegating his more expansive remarks to the world of fantasy; the globalists piece together his more random utterances about colonies or a war with America and take them seriously. Some historians, for example Andreas Hillgruber, have systematised Hitler's statements into a 'programme' for aggression:
After the creation of a European continental empire buttressed by the conquest of Russia, a second stage of imperial expansion was to follow with the acquisition of complementary territory in Central Africa and a system of bases to support a strong surface fleet in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Germany, in alliance with Japan and if possible also Britain, would in the first place isolate the USA and confine it to the Western hemisphere. Then, in the next generation, there would be a 'battle of the continents' in which the 'Germanic empire of the German nation' would fight America for world supremacy.
Subsequent research, while not endorsing the notion of a 'programme', does appear to confirm that Hitler's aims were global. It has drawn attention to Hermann Rauschning's liberal, rather than literal, accounts of Hitler's conversation in 1933-4, accounts originally designed, of course, to deter fellow conservatives from their liaison dangereuse with Nazism. In this period shortly after the 'seizure of power', Hitler announced his intention of 'creating a new Germany' in Brazil and taking over the Dutch colonial empire, Central Africa and 'the whole of New Guinea'. The allegedly dominant Anglo-Saxon influence in North America would be subverted 'as a preliminary step towards incorporating the United States into the German World Empire'. These objectives were accompanied by quasi-messianic declarations of intent about 'recasting the world', or the 'liberation' of mankind from the restraints of intellect, freedom and morality.
Hitler and his associates returned to these themes during the first flush of victory. In 1940 Ribbentrop and officials in the Foreign Ministry were thinking of augmenting the 'Greater European economic sphere' with a 'supplementary colonial area' carved from British and French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, the Belgian Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Zanzibar and Northern Rhodesia, with Madagascar acquired for the purpose of 'resettling' the Jews. The Racial Political Office of the NSDAP began detailed planning for the creation of colonial regimes in Africa and for the regulation of relations between whites and blacks. Back in Europe, neutrality, benevolent or otherwise, was no guarantee against attack. Operation Tannenbaum was designed to conquer Switzerland, which was to be divided between its neighbours; Operation Polar Fox would secure the iron ore reserves of Sweden; while Operations Isabella and Felix would secure respectively Portugal and Gibraltar, in the latter case with or without the consent of Franco.
In the aftermath of a victory on the Eastern Front, Hitler would have been in a position to dictate terms to Britain. If the government had once again rejected his offers of peaceful coexistence, then the resources of the occupied East would have been deployed in a sustained air war against Britain, a war which, if won, could have resulted in the eventual activation of Operation Sealion (see the previous chapter). The war would then probably have extended into the late 1940s. Only a Russian recovery behind the Urals and an American intervention with atomic weapons would have averted the consolidation of Nazi rule throughout the continent of Europe and the conquered regions of the Soviet Union - and neither of these would have been guaranteed if Britain had been defeated.57 Indeed, they would have been positively unlikely if Hitler had made more effective use of his alliance with Japan, which formally joined the German-Italian axis in September 1940, against the Soviet Union or against the British Empire. Hitler could, for example, have agreed to concentrate on driving the British out of Egypt and the Middle East, leaving Japan to direct its military efforts against the British in Singapore and India. Alternatively, he could have coordinated the German and Japanese attacks on the Soviet Union. Either way, there would have been a pincer effect which would have been very hard to defeat. And, of course, the Americans would have still been on the sidelines, because Pearl Harbor would not have been attacked.
Instead, of course, the Japanese were allowed to conclude a neutrality agreement with Stalin just two and a half months before Barbarossa was launched, and were actually encouraged by Hitler to attack the United States in November 1941. The next month, on 6 December the Russian counter-offensive was launched; and, two days later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the Americans into the war. To compound the mistake, Hitler declared war on the US on 11 December. This decision has often been seen as a short-sighted and fatal mistake. Yet Hitler seems to have envisaged confrontation with the United States from a relatively early stage. For some time, he persisted in the delusion that Britain would accept German leadership in a 'revitalised' Europe, turning with Germany upon the USA: 'I shall no longer be there to see it, but I rejoice on behalf of the German people at the idea that one day we will see England and Germany marching together against America'. But, in the event that neither the prospect of an alliance with Britain nor an economic blockade would bring the USA to its knees, he seems to have been willing to contemplate transatlantic aggression. He toyed with the idea of air-strikes against America from bases in the Azores and Canary Islands, commissioning the development of Messerschmitt four-engine bombers, capable of delivering eight-ton payloads at a range of 11,000-15,000 kilometres. Similar ambitions were also apparent in his special 'Z plan' naval directive of 27 January 1939, for a fleet which by 1944-6 would be capable of challenging any power on the high seas from its vast base at Trondheim. The 800 ships were to include 100,000-ton battleships with a length of over 300 metres and guns of 53 cm calibre.
In sum, there is some evidence that Hitler's objectives were almost without limit. Nor was his planning hampered by questions of cost, human or otherwise, for war in his eyes had a positive, regenerative value for the 'health' of the race and nation. As he said, 'We may have a hundred years of struggle before us; if so, all the better - it will prevent us from going to sleep.'
How long would a Nazi empire have endured if Hitler had been successful in at least one part of his programme, the defeat of the Soviet Union? A hundred years, as he himself envisaged? Certainly, that was the assumption on which he based his grandiose projects for the reconstruction of postwar German cities. Hitler, the failed architecture student and small-town bohemian, was obsessed with architectural planning. During the last weeks of the war, with Soviet soldiers scuttling through the debris of Berlin, he spent much of his time reshuffling architectural models in the glare of spotlights positioned to simulate sunlight. The main purpose of Hitler's architecture was to overawe through excesses of scale and to give his regime the aura of power and permanence by reducing human beings to the scale of Lilliputians. Hitler made his views on the function of architecture quite clear when he remarked in 1941, 'Those who enter the Reich Chancellery should feel that they stand before the lords of the world.' He gave this a characteristically barbaric twist with regard to the surviving population of conquered Russia: '... once a year, a troop of Kirghiz will be led through the Reich capital in order that they may fill their minds with the power and the grandeur of its stone monuments.'
This need to overawe was accompanied with an obsession with scale which bordered on the infantile. Musing with Himmler in 1941, Hitler remarked:
Nothing will be too good for the beautification of Berlin One will arrive there along wide avenues containing the Triumphal Arch, the Pantheon of the Army, the Square of the People - things to take your breath away! It's only thus that we shall succeed in eclipsing our only rival in the world, Rome. Let it be built on such a scale that St Peter's and its Square will seem like toys in comparison!
Similar competitive gigantomania was evident in his plans for the redevelopment of Hamburg. These included plans for a massive suspension bridge across the Elbe, with pylons soaring to 180 metres. He explained the project to his army commanders as follows:
You will perhaps ask: Why don't you build a tunnel? I don't consider a tunnel useful. But even if I did, I would still have the largest bridge in the world erected in Hamburg, so that any German coming from abroad or who has the opportunity to compare Germany with other countries must say to himself: 'What is so extraordinary about America and its bridges? We can do the same.' That is why I am having skyscrapers built which will be just as 'impressive' as the American ones.
The skyscrapers included a new NSDAP Regional Headquarters, designed to relegate the Empire State Building in the league table of tallest buildings. (Some idea of the scale is conveyed by the fact that due to the poor sub-soil, the structure had to be reduced by 250 metres.) Modernity, megalomania and vulgarity were to be conjoined in a gigantic neon swastika on top of the building, which would guide vessels at night into the Elbe.
The largest buildings were inevitably reserved for Berlin, which in 1950, once building work was complete, would have been rechristened 'Germania'.6 0 The city was to be rebuilt around a vast axial grid, whose avenues would be over a hundred metres wide. Emerging from railway terminals larger than Grand Central Station, the visitor would be confronted by wide vistas and enormous marble-clad buildings. A triumphal arch, double the height and breadth of Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe, would be inscribed with the names of the fallen, while defunct enemy weaponry would be displayed on plinths erected for the purpose. Passing the new 'Führer Palace', equipped with a dining hall for thousands and a private theatre, the visitor would arrive at the great Hall, billed as the largest assembly hall in the world. With a capacity of a quarter of a million, the light in the cupola could alone encircle the dome of the Pantheon, the condensation thus raising the problem of interior rainfalls. Above, some 290 metres from the ground, a lantern supported an eagle perched at first upon a swastika, and then in the revised version, upon the globe.61 These buildings, and the parade grounds that went with them, were to be the stage for the choreography of millions, marching, singing, acclaiming seas of people, beneath the glacial shafts of a hundred searchlights. And they were intended to last. As Hitler once remarked: 'Granite will ensure that our monuments will last for ever. In ten thousand years they'll be still standing, just as they are, unless meanwhile the sea has again covered our plains.' The materials were to come from a new generation of concentration camps, established by the SS in the vicinity of stone quarries.
Beyond Germany, architectural planning became a matter of Wilhelm Kreis's monuments to the dead which were to punctuate the landscape from Africa to the plains of Russia. More importantly, the regime planned major changes to Europe's infrastructure. Canals would bring the grain and petroleum of Russia along the Danube, and three-lane motorways would enable German tourists to speed along in their Volkswagens from Calais to Warsaw or Klagenfurt to Trondheim. In early 1942, Hitler and his chief engineer, Fritz Todt, began plans for a four-metre-gauge railway, which would convey double-decker trains at 190 kilometres an hour to the Caspian Sea and the Urals. Some time after the defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk, Hitler was still designing saloon and dining cars to take ethnic German settlers to and fro in Russia.
Of course, historians who stress the chaotic and ultimately self-destructive character of the Third Reich would have us believe that all such plans were mere fantasy: the Third Reich was preprogrammed to collapse in 1945. What remains unclear, however, is how far their assumptions of an inevitable Nazi defeat are based on a realistic assessment of what could have happened - and how far on mere wishful and teleological thinking. Certainly, many aspects of Nazi planning appear so bizarre to us that it is hard to imagine their ever having been realised. But not all. While Himmler planned his ethnic revolution and Hitler built his architectural models, other agencies were mapping out futures for ordinary Germans which were far from unrealistic in their conception. Robert Ley's mammoth German Labour Front apparatus (DAF) was the socially 'progressive' arm of a regime better known for repression and terror. Through its subordinate 'Beauty of Labour' and 'Strength through Joy' organisations it endeavoured to bring improved conditions, cheap holidays, sport and a greater sense of worth to the 'German worker', and hence to boost his or her productivity while breaking down traditional class solidarities. Even the exiled SPD leadership was forced to acknowledge the efficacy of these policies, lamenting the 'petit bourgeois inclinations' evinced by sections of its erstwhile constituency. During the first years of the war, the DAF's Scientific Labour Institute made detailed plans for the provision of comprehensive health, insurance and pension coverage, thus simultaneously generating and responding to expectations of a postwar reward for present deprivation. Interpreting a specific mandate to improve public housing - a field hitherto neglected in favour of monumental building - as a general commission for welfare reform, Ley and his staff made proposals which bear some superficial similarities to the Beveridge Report. For example, there was to be a new national pensions scheme whereby the over sixty-fives would receive 60 per cent of their average earnings over the last decade of employment. These plans were augmented with a child benefit scheme and measures to reform health provision.
Only a closer examination of these schemes reveals that the benefits were contingent upon past 'performance', and that whole categories of people were to be excluded from any provision whatsoever on the grounds of race or 'asocial' behaviour. The projected health-care reforms, including the provision of public clinics, factory physicians and affordable spas and sanatoria, also concealed a collectivist and mechanical view of human beings as epitomised in the chilling slogan 'Your health does not belong to you', or in the objective of 'periodically overhauling' the German population in the same way as 'one services an engine'. This would have been a welfare state only for those Germans who were not imprisoned, sterilised or murdered as 'ballast existences', 'asocials' or racial 'aliens'. Perhaps it is this aspect of the counterfactual of a German victory which is most chilling of all - precisely because in its superficial 'modernity' it is so easy to imagine it coming true.
Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (January, 2009)
Paul Ciupke, Franz-Josef Jelich, eds. _Weltanschauliche Erziehung in Ordensburgen des Nationalsozialismus: Zur Geschichte und Zukunft der Ordensburg Vogelsang_. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2006. 190 pp. EUR 19.90 (paper), ISBN 978-3-89861-713-0.
Reviewed for H-German by Mark A. Bullock, Department of History, University of Illinois at Chicago
Vogelsang: A Castle Made of Sand
In 2006, _Ordensburg_ Vogelsang, in Germany's Eifel National Park, was opened to the public for the first time since the end of the Second World War. This opening sparked a debate among scholars, concerned citizens'associations, and local and regional government agencies about how this former training ground for a Nazi elite should be utilized and remembered.
This "castle," unbeknownst to many of its recent visitors, was part of an ambitious Nazi project, initiated by Robert Ley, to educate and train a corps of young Germans to lead the Third Reich into its thousand years of glory. The editors of this collection, Paul Ciupke and Franz-Josef Jelich, after introducing Vogelsang's past, ponder its future, asking if such places of "evil" should be ignored and allowed to fall into ruins. Or, should Vogelsang be retained as a special place for learning about and remembering Germany's past? As scholars, they only consider the second answer to their rhetorical question, arguing that Vogelsang provides new insights about how National Socialism sought to sustain itself.
The story of Vogelsang remained obscure because there was no general access to the area, which was used as a training ground for British and Belgian soldiers until 2005. Built to blend into the surrounding landscape overlooking a valley, Vogelsang is one of the largest remaining examples of National Socialist architecture. It also represents yet another case of an ideology-fueled Nazi project that fizzled out. Constructed after 1934 to train "_Ordensjunker_," Vogelsang was one of four planned _Ordensburgen_.
These institutions were a part of the rather inchoate state and party apparatus that sought to provide further ideological education to young Germans both during and after primary school. Vogelsang competed with the Labor Service, Hitler Youth, and various Reich- and district (_Gau_) schools for recruits and influence over education. From 1936 until the end of the war, Vogelsang was used to teach young Germans Nazi ideology; first to the _Ordensjunker_, and later as an Adolf Hitler School (a type of boarding school for boys aged twelve to eighteen frequently described as a "prep school" for the _Ordensburgen_, founded in 1937 by Ley in cooperation with Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth). Unlike other Nazi sites of commemoration, no obvious atrocities were planned or committed at Vogelsang.
Instead, it was a place of socialization and instrument of domination, where the Nazi state engendered acceptance and support from young Germans. The history of Vogelsang tells us more about Nazi fantasies than anything else, for it never fulfilled its primary mission, having never graduated a single class of "cadets."
Although opening Vogelsang to the public entails some risk, it also presents an opportunity for discussing how the Third Reich sought to wed its ideology to pedagogic theory to indoctrinate a faithful corps of young adherents. The editors grapple with the problem of deciding which elements of Vogelsang's history are useful for furthering the understanding and discussion of the Nazi past. The contributors to this book approach Vogelsang from a variety of academic disciplines. Their essays span the disciplines of history, architecture, history of education, and cultural studies.
One complex of essays in the volume treats the theme of education, its content, and its audiences. Lutz Raphael's essay recapitulates the components of Nazi ideology, pointing out that Nazis targeted males under thirty more intensively than all other groups. But, of the some 500 young men who began the elite school in 1937, only 17 percent finished the first year. Vogelsang was similar to other types of Nazi schooling in that it emphasized military order, discipline, and hardness, as well as submission of individualism to the community. Kiran Klaus Patel discusses extracurricular National Socialist pedagogy in the so-called "camp" system.
Patel notes the generally low academic standards maintained in the "camp" schools, which focused on drilling ideology. Vogelsang, despite its designation as an "elite" school, had much in common with the low academic achievements of the camp system. Even worse, according to the author, Vogelsang included no practical training for running party and state organizations. Patel claims that this emphasis on ideology over praxis is typical of Ley's contribution to the Nazi educational system.
Vogelsang did little beyond conveying superficial propaganda, a fundamental problem that largely explains why the _Ordensburg_ failed to attract or retain a sufficient number of candidates. Gisela Miller-Kipp's contribution focuses on the concept of "elite" education in the Third Reich. Based on an analysis of the Adolf Hitler Schools (AHS) and oral histories of former students, she argues that elite schooling for the best male students is really a postwar concept and that the AHS did not, in fact, differ significantly from other, non-elite schools under the Nazis. While former students might remember themselves as part of an elite, historians should not describe this institution as successfully producing a corps of superior young Germans. Instead, Miller-Kipp contends that the AHS engendered an "elite consciousness" among its students by filling them with a sense of awe at the massive, monumental scale of Vogelsang. They came to see the greatness of the Third Reich and internalized a sense of power based on their close proximity to the state.
Physical education in AHS is the subject of Harald Scholtz's contribution, which discusses how Hitler's "inversion" of traditional, humanist educational theories was put into practice by his paladins. One such contrast was the predominant role of physical education. Entrance "exams" for the AHS focused primarily on the child's physical and mental hardness.
Upon entry, Hitler's "elite" students were subjected to a mostly improvised course of instruction, since school leaders failed to draft lessons plans for most subjects before 1944. AHS students, who graduated with the _Abitur_, did not attend regular classes for more than four years. Alfons Kenkmann's contribution clarifies the identity of the _Ordensjunker_.
Candidates to the _Ordensburgen_ were between twenty-three and thirty years of age, and those over twenty-six had to be married. In addition, they had to be party members, or at least demonstrate proof of participation in Nazi organizations, and be physically healthy and racially "pure." Successful candidates were admitted to a four-year course of study, each year at a different _Ordensburg_. The first class was admitted in 1937, but no cohort ever completed the full four years, as the war interrupted the program in 1939.
A second group of essays documents Vogelsang's institutional and architectural contexts. Gerhard Klein recounts the history of Vogelsang's sister _Ordensburg_, Sonthofen, in Bavaria. Constructed in 1934, Sonthofen, like Vogelsang, played a marginal role in training _Ordensjunker_. Klein notes that Sonthofen could claim a number of world-class athletes among its student recruits.
Sonthofen's alpine location afforded the athletes optimal training conditions, while the state provided financial support. But Sonthofen's most important function in the Third Reich was as an AHS after 1937. Monika Herzog's essay on the construction history of Vogelsang notes that, other than its monumental scale, no one feature defined Nazi architecture. Most buildings constructed during the Third Reich were admixtures of old and modern styles, for Hitler did not want to merely copy the great structures of the past, but believed that his Germany should create its own style.
Vogelsang's designer, Clemens Klotz, adhered to neither the old nor new schools, but he still effectively combined the two styles in his plans for the _Ordensburg_. Relying on wood and stone, Klotz designed a building complex that placed a new, National Socialist spin on an object representing Germany's crusading past--the castles of the Teutonic Knights, which were both temples of worship and staging areas for military conquest. Klotz intentionally incorporated these concepts in Vogelsang's design, creating a totalizing aesthetic concept to house and train a corps of young men to spread their quasi-religious racial beliefs as they expanded Germany's power.
A third group of essays addresses the structure's postwar history. In his first essay, Michael Schröders gives a brief history of Vogelsang after its capture by American troops in early 1945 and subsequent use as a barracks and training area for British and then Belgian soldiers. The Belgians took pains to preserve the historical substance. In addition to repairing structures damaged during bombing, the Belgians even restored some of the Nazi reliefs, despite their overt fascist symbolism. In a second essay, Schröders describes the fate of Vogelsang's significant library in the years following the war. In an effort to protect the collection, its head librarian dispersed it across several local schools. Presumably half of these items were never recovered, and records were poorly maintained after the war. The universities of Bonn and Cologne, whose libraries were damaged in the war, ended up with some 20,000 volumes. Aside from small holdings of Nazi literature, the bulk of which was in the form of party journals and magazines, Vogelsang's library was indistinguishable from any academic library containing standard collections on history, theology, law, political science, art, and literature.
The volume closes with several pieces on the current significance of the structure. Fortunately, Vogelsang will not suffer abandonment or destruction, as its unique surroundings led to the formation of the Eifel National Park in 2004. Moreover, several foundations and local, regional, and state governments have banded together to determine how to best transform Vogelsang into a documentation center, as well as a multi-use tourist destination. Efforts are already underway to create an on-site museum that places the castle's history within the context of the Nazi quest to build a racially pure nation. The elite schools stood alongside the Nazi euthanasia and forced sterilization programs in Hitler's plan for a "new" Germany. Yet Vogelsang's future also includes a museum for nature and environment, as well as an administrative and visitor center for the national park. Volker Dahm argues that allowing the site to fall into ruin, or barring public access, will establish a counterproductive "aura of secretiveness" about the location.
The program for the site's rehabilitation can only be understood in the context of similar activities elsewhere. In separate essays, Manfred Struck and Bernd Faulenbach describe how former Nazi sites are selected for preservation and how public access is controlled. They enumerate recent trends in how Nazi sites are preserved and utilized for future generations, pointing in particular to sites like Vogelsang, where none were tortured or murdered. While much consideration is given to the recently opened displays at Obersalzberg and Nuremberg, the articles by Struck and Faulenbach ignore other innovative efforts to preserve, or at least find new uses for, structures from the Nazi past. Mostly local groups have enthusiastically sought to preserve and document the massive flak towers and air-raid bunkers that still exist, most notably in Berlin-Gesundbrunnen and Hamburg. For example, Berliner Unterwelten, e.V. provides chilling tours of the bunker complex and flak tower in Humbolthain Park. Hamburg's flak tower now contains recording and radio studios. The omission of these imposing remnants of Nazism seems like a missed opportunity to widen the scope of these articles, for these flak towers and bunkers have been preserved and simultaneously found new uses, including as economically sustainable educational centers.
The final essay, by Rainer Stommer, considers the modern fate of another monumental project by Vogelsang's architect: Prora, formerly known as KdF-Seebad Rügen, which lies incomplete on the Baltic coast, encompassing an area nearly the size of the Nuremberg party rally site. Intended as a seaside resort, the project's massive scale prevented its completion before the outbreak of war. From 1952 until German reunification, the resort served as a barracks for East Germany's army. Stommer mainly details the German federal government's efforts to find new uses for this massive complex, much of which lies in ruins. A central block of the development now holds museums, both private and state-owned, but many buildings remain unoccupied.
Success in attempts to attract buyers to convert the functional structures into hotel, retail, and residential spaces has been mixed, as refurbishment costs are prohibitive. Stommer laments this troubling state of affairs and argues that purely economic considerations should not determine the fate of Prora. To allow it to fall apart would be to lose not only the chance to document and teach about the Third Reich, but also an opportunity to support an economically depressed region through sponsoring tourism.
Vogelsang is an exceptionally complex space due to its combination of landscape, architecture, and former political function. While not a place to memorialize the victims of a criminal regime, Vogelsang nonetheless reminds of the Nazi past. It was, as the volume's editors write, "a place of educational power, of selection, and indoctrination" (p. 11). This collection casts light on an interesting and little-understood component of the National Socialist education system. The largest criticism I have to offer lies in the organization of the volume; often vital information that would be helpful to understanding material at the beginning of the volume is not discussed until later essays; both Kenkmann's and Klein's essays cover material that really belonged in the editors' introduction. Although some articles lack enough context and frequently overlap in terms of material covered, they nonetheless offer an insightful and cross-discipline analysis of Vogelsang. They provide a glimpse into the deliberations behind the project of preserving and documenting historical structures bound to the Nazi past. But their primary contribution comes in the field of educational history. Several authors debunk the myth of "elite" schooling in the Third Reich through their close analyses of the _Ordensjunker_ program and the AHS housed in Vogelsang.
In 1929, the Nazi Party won seats in the parliament of Berlin. Almost half a million people were unemployed in Germany at this time. That same year Otto Braun's Prussian government was ousted by a military coup, and the republic was approaching its collapse. Hitler became chancellor, after pushing out the Social Democratic Party in 1933. The Nazi movement originated in Bavaria, but Berlin eventually became the capital of the Third Reich. In 1933, the Parliament building was set on fire. This was a turning point in the establishment of Nazi Germany, because Hitler used this occurrence as an excuse to abolish the constitution.
In the summer of 1936, Berlin hosted the Olympic Games, which were used as a showcase for the new Nazi regime. Another one was the fact of persecuting German Jews from the very beginning. Their community was almost wiped out during the Third Reich. Thousands of Jews in Berlin were held captive after Crystal Night, a mass riot in 1938. Jewish shops and homes were ransacked throughout the country and in Vienna. Windows were broken and the streets were covered with so much shattered glass that it glowed brightly in the moonlight, a phenomenon that inspired the poetic term - Crystal Night. Over a thousand synagogues and many Jewish cemeteries were destroyed. There were still 75,000 Jews in Berlin in 1939, the year World War II broke out. Most were transported to death camps like Auschwitz. Around 1,200 Jews survived by hiding in Berlin.
Hitler welcomed the Allied air raids over Berlin, as they were a cheap way of demolishing the city that he considered to be the ugliest in the world. The Nazis developed elaborate plans for postwar Berlin. Together with his architect, Albert Speer, Hitler planned the Great Hall, the Avenue of Victory, a huge Arch of triumph and other projects of this magnitude. Speer planned to erect the Great Hall next to the Reichstag. It was to be seven times higher than the Basilica of St Peter in Rome, rising a full 250 metres, topped by a giant copper dome. It was originally planned to host170,000 people. There would have been a new train station at the other end of the Avenue of Victory, adjacent to Tempelhof Airport. As for the arch, it would be built in honour of those who perished in World War I and World War II. The project was due to be completed in 1950. That year Hitler planned to rename Berlin 'Germania'.
As one can see, had Hitler won the war, the city would have looked totally different today. Several buildings remain as monuments to these ambitious plans, such as the National Ministry of Aviation, the Tempelhof, and the Olympic Stadium. Soviet occupation forces destroyed the Reich Chancellery, and the red marble from the building was used to restore the adjacent underground station. The residual rubble was used to build the Soviet War Memorial in the Treptower Park.
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (March, 2009)
Thomas Biskup, Marc Schalenberg, eds. _Selling Berlin: Imagebildung und Stadtmarketing von der preußischen Residenz bis zur Bundeshauptstadt_. Beiträge zur Stadtgeschichte und Urbanisierungsforschung. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2008. 356 pp. ISBN 978-3-515-08952-4; $100.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-515-08952-4.
Reviewed for H-German by Emily Pugh, Art History Program, Bard College
A Long History of "New" Identities
Most of us think of the marketing of cities as more or less a modern trend, concomitant with the rise of economic globalization and the technological advances that have made international travel relatively easy and economically accessible. However, as Thomas Biskup and Marc Schalenberg point out in their introduction to this essay collection, the effort to craft cities' public images--to "brand" cities"--is anything but a modern innovation. In fact, as Biskup and Schalenberg argue, municipal political and economic leaders have long been concerned with how their cities are regarded both on a regional and international scale, and have moreover recognized that such identities, however informally formed or held, have measurable political, economic, and social impacts. The collection represents an important contribution to the history of the city in part because it covers a large historical arc.
The essays, originally presented as part of a February 2005 conference, attempt to explore not only the roots of city branding or marketing but how these practices have developed over time in the specific context of the city of Berlin. Berlin is, in fact, a particularly appropriate city for the subject of such an investigation. A major focus of city branding efforts is, after all, the creation of a distinct identity both for the city in question, and this effort takes on a particular national significance in a capital city, which is charged with communicating national values and identities via its own. Berlin's designation as the German capital has been repeatedly questioned, and its relationship to any sense of unified "Germanness" has been an uneasy one. Indeed, historian Andreas Daum argued recently that Berlin's importance as a city that represents German culture and identity has been to some extent a myth rather than a reality. He is by no means the first to state this claim. At the same time, Berlin's relative youth in comparison with other European urban centers has, at times, resulted in a kind of heightened tension in efforts to establish a definitive identity and historical lineage for the city, an effort complicated by the city's association with several different regimes and its Cold War division. In light of such ambiguity, Berlin's identity is often explained through Karl Scheffler's famous 1910 declaration: "Berlin is a city condemned always to become, never to be." How Berlin's leaders and citizens have, from the eighteenth century to the present, attempted to both understand and represent their city is thus a question of considerable richness and complexity.
To answer it, the contributing authors of _Selling Berlin_ present a series of case studies of specific examples of image-construction and marketing in Berlin. The essays are divided into four sections, arranged more or less chronologically: "Ambitionen in der Residenzstadt," covering the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries; "Repräsentation und Eigensinn in der Metropole," which examines the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries; "Profilierungen in der geteilten Stadt," which deals with the period of the city's Cold War division; and "Visionen und Erinnerungen," which takes on the legacies of division and efforts to (re)create post-1990 Berlin. As Biskup and Schalenberg explain in the introduction, these essays together explore attempts to "sell" Berlin, by asking the questions, "'who is selling?', 'what [are they selling]? (that is, which Berlin-image)' and 'to whom?'" (p. 15). Or, more specifically, who gets to define what is "Berlintypisch" both locally and for "outside"audiences? (p. 15).
To do this, Biskup and Schalenberg focus less on "actual urban practice," choosing instead to emphasize both formal and informal "negotiations of the city-image" (pp. 12, 15). Their analysis is furthermore understood in terms of three subject areas: the "official," political level of city-branding or image-making; the efforts of citizens' groups and/or economic interests to create a positive image for their city; and the critiques of these institutionally defined city images by opposition groups. Indeed, many of the essays fit neatly into one of these three categories. For example, essays by Melanie Mertens ("'Unsern hiesigen Residentzien ... in mehreren Flor und Ansehen zu bringen': Zur späten Bau- und Kunstpolitik von König Friedrich Wilhelm I"), Daniel Schoenpflug ("Hymenaeus und Fama: Dynastische und stadtbürgerliche Repräsentation in den Hohenzollernhochzeiten des 18. Jahrhunderts"), Robert Graf ("Die Inszenierung der 'Reichshauptstadt Berlin' im Nationalsozialismus"), and Alexander Sedlmaier ("Berlin als doppeltes 'Schaufenster' im Kalten Krieg") all deal with various attempts by political leaders of various eras and regimes to fashion a Berlin that corresponded with their own ideals and aspirations. Mertens, an architectural historian, describes how Friedrich Wilhelm I, despite his reputation as a parsimonious "soldier king," attempted to re-shape Berlin's identity in the late period of his reign, away from its reputation as the "largest barracks in the world" through the use of architecture and the arts (p. 44). Schoenpflug describes how Berlin became a "stage set" for the public expression of the dynasty's political power in the context of Hohenzollern weddings, but also how such occasions became an opportunity for citizens' self-representation; that is, a way to situate themselves in relation to the political identity and leadership of Berlin (p. 45). Similarly, Graf, a historian and theater scholar, focuses on Berlin's configuration as a theatrical set, this time to advance and impose the ideals of the Nazi regime. Dealing with the Cold War era, Sedlmaier considers how the governments of both East and West Berlin, as well as the United States and Soviet Union, used images of affluences and prosperity to make arguments about their own political legitimacy vis-à-vis Berlin.
So-called "boosterism" on the part of civic and economic groups to is the subject of essays like Tilmann von Stockhausen's "Markenpolitik im 19. Jahrhundert: Die Berliner Museumsinsel als Public-Relation-Idee," Daniel Kiecol's "Berlin und sein Fremdenverkehr: Imageproduktion in der 1920er Jahren," and Hendrik Tieben's "'Hauptstadt der DDR', 'Zukünftige Bundeshauptstadt', 'Europäische Stadt', 'Stadt der Avantgarde'--Berlinbilder im Umfeld des 750-jährigen Stadtjubiläums 1987." Von Stockhausen, art historian and marketing director for the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, explains how the museum island was fashioned as a cultural and historical but also "branded" center in Berlin from the early nineteenth century to the turn of the twentieth.
The creation of "new identity" for Berlin is the focus of Kiecol's discussion of Weimar-era marketing efforts, which attempted to define the city as a center of "urbanity, internationality and modernity" (p. 161). A similar attempt to create "new" East versus West identities is discussed in Tieben's essay on marketing in East and West Berlin around the 1987 celebration of the city's anniversary.
Also included are critical responses to such efforts at creating a positive public image for Berlin. "Die Doppelbödigkeit des biedermeierlichen Stadtbildes: Heinrich Heines Briefe aus Berlin," by Esther Kilchmann, explains how Heine's account of his experiences wandering the streets of Berlin reveals the contradictions inherent in the governments' attempt to define their city. In her essay on representations of East Berlin, "Bild-Störungen: 'Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR' als Ort Staatlicher Repräsentation und Kritischer Gegenbilder," political scientist Angela Borgwardt considers not only officially sanctioned images of the "Hauptstadt der DDR," but critical "Gegenbilder" originating from the city's population of dissidents and underground groups.
On their own, these three ways of understanding efforts to define and market Berlin are indeed illuminating, but the collection is most compelling when these discussions are in direct or indirect discourse with one another. For example, reading Kilchmann's essay on Heine's _Briefe aus Berlin_ is particularly interesting in the context of the preceding two essays by Biskup and Schalenberg: "Auf Sand gebaut? Die 'Boomstadt' Berlin in der deutschen Öffentlichkeit um 1800" and "Berlin auf allen Kanälen: Zur Außendarstellung einer Residenz- und Bürgerstadt im Vormärz." After reading these essays, which describe efforts on the part of Berlin's municipal political and cultural authorities to define Berlin's public image, Kilchmann's contribution provides an interesting counterpoint by offering a critique of the institutionally defined images of Berlin that Biskup and Schalenberg outline. Likewise, the essays by Sybille Frank and Thomas Albrecht are presented as two alternative understandings of the complex of buildings constructed on Potsdamer Platz from the late 1990s to early 2000s.
In "Mythenmaschine Potsdamer Platz: Die Wort- und Bildgewaltige Entwicklung Des 'Neuen Potsdamer Platzes' 1989-98," Frank, an urban sociologist, offers a critical view of the development of Potsdamer Platz, suggesting that the focus this area of the city was fueled by a semi-fictionalized myth of the area's pre-World War II importance. In contrast, Thomas, in "Die Neugestaltung Berlins zwischen Planungsprozess und Städtebaulicher Vision," presents a more positive view of the development informed by his role as an architect and urban planner involved with its execution.
The long span of time covered in the book allows the reader to see individual developments in a broader context, allowing for connections between historical eras and even regimes with seemingly nothing in common.
One thing that becomes clear in reading the essays is how many times Berlin's civic and political leaders have attempted to create a "new"identity for the city in the past one to two hundred years. The book not only extends our knowledge of Berlin history, it provides new ways of practicing urban history more generally. It does this by engaging in the important work of bringing image together with reality; that is understanding representations of the city--whether visual or less tangible, whether informal or formal--as more than "mere" images. These essays help to illuminate the connections between popular notions of a particular city and how such notions are actively formed or capitalized on by institutions. The book's interdisciplinarity is part of how it achieves this. Different fields and points of views are offered, resulting in a wide scope of perspectives on the issue of city branding. Though the essays work best together as a whole, individual essays do provide valuable insight into particular time periods. In particular, the essays on the Cold War era by Sedlmaier, Tieben, and Stephanie Warnke ("Mit dem Bädecker nach Ost-Berlin? Baustellen-Tourismus im Kalten Krieg [1945-1970]"), take the welcome approach of comparing and contrasting East with West Berlin, rather than dealing with one or the other in isolation. I would recommend this volume of essays for any scholar of Berlin.
. All but two of the essays are in German, though English abstracts are provided for all of the essays.
. Andreas W. Daum, "Capitals in Modern History: Inventing Urban Spaces for the Nation," in _Berlin-Washington, 1800-2000: Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities_, ed. Andreas W. Daum and Christof Mauch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 3-4, 14.
. Karl Scheffler, _Berlin, ein Stadtschicksal_ (Fannei & Walz: Berlin, 1989), 219.
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (March, 2009)
Krijn Thijs. _Drei Geschichten, eine Stadt: die Berliner Stadtjubiläen von 1937 und 1987_. Cologne: Böhlau, 2008. 378 pp. ISBN 978-3-412-14406-7; EUR 44.90 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-412-14406-7.
Reviewed by Brian Ladd, Department of History, University at Albany
The Politics of History in Berlin
Most of us have forgotten that, at the time, 1987 was supposed to be a particularly significant year in Berlin's history, as two entrenched regimes commemorated its 750th birthday by staking rival claims to the city's past.
Long after the events of 1989 buried that rivalry, it may also be difficult to imagine why anyone would write (or read) a book about those nearly forgotten celebrations. Yet Krijn Thijs's book is anything but an antiquarian exercise. He takes advantage of our historical distance from 1987, and from the previous anniversary in 1937, to offer a judicious analysis of the politics and rhetoric of historical writing. Since 1989, events, sites, and scholar-activists in Berlin have to a great extent set the agenda (certainly in Germany, and even beyond) for efforts to reconcile scholarship on local history with politically charged claims to local places and local stories. Thijs reminds us that many of these attempts to fashion post-fascist, post-nationalist, and post-communist local histories began before the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Thijs has found a rich lode of material in the behind-the-scenes wrangling that accompanied official interpretations of the city's history by three of Berlin's regimes. The book examines various forms of commemoration offered in 1937 and 1987--parades, for example: because the National Socialists had held one, West Berlin decided it could not, whereas the GDR had no such _Berührungsängste_. However, the bulk of the book is devoted to an analysis of the official written histories that accompanied each commemoration, comparing the final products to ideas and projects that were discarded along the way.
The briefest of the three cases studies is the first, reflecting the relative insignificance of Berlin's earliest birthday celebration. Berlin had not previously celebrated its anniversary, since the story of its birth was shrouded in darkness. By the early twentieth century, local historians concluded that the city had been founded around 1230, prompting some to propose a 700th anniversary celebration to be held in 1930. That plan came to nothing, in part because the oldest known document mentioning the city dated only to 1237. This date suggested the possibility of a commemoration in 1937, by which time the city was in Nazi hands. The celebration became the pet project of Berlin's Nazi mayor, Julius Lippert, a figure of no great significance in the Third Reich. For all their obsessions with German national history, more powerful Nazis cared little about Berlin's local history, and in fact Hitler did not bother to show his face at the official ceremonies, while Gauleiter Joseph Goebbels barely put in an appearance.
Lippert, however, presided over a minor spectacle that propounded a history calling attention to Berlin's putative role as a medieval bridgehead for the Germanization of central and eastern Europe, a story that not only suited Nazi purposes but also was largely compatible with the views of most experts in local history. The focus on early Berlin also reflected a growing nostalgia for an imagined Old Berlin that was being swamped by the tide of modernity.
Half a century later, in a West Berlin struggling with the hereditary taint of Nazism, plans for a new celebration were automatically suspect in view of the fact that the Nazis had at least arguably been responsible for enshrining 1237 as the year of Berlin's foundation. Doubters were, however, reassured by evidence that plans for the 700th anniversary predated the Nazis and, more dubiously, by the claim that the whole idea had been the brainchild of the city archivist, Ernst Kaeber. Thijn argues that the liberal Kaeber was given too much posthumous credit because he had been the one prominent local historian least tainted by the Nazis: although he lost his job, most other local historians found that their conservative and nationalist interpretations of the past were largely acceptable in the Third Reich.
West Berlin's plans for 1987 were shaped in part by the Federal Republic's broad but politically charged revival of history, which focused on Berlin, as was apparent in a major exhibition on Prussian history in 1981 and in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's plans for a new German history museum in Berlin.
Thijs shows how the West Berlin Senate steered a careful path between conservative nationalists and the various leftists and radicals who were enacting a new "history from below." The official plans called for a pluralistic celebration, with many events offering a variety of perspectives. There was, however, an official line of sorts, one that culminated in a central historical exhibition held in the restored museum called the Gropius-Bau. Its celebration of Berlin as the metropolis of modernity parted ways with the conservative Berlin-Brandenburg tradition embodied in the Historische Kommission zu Berlin, which was largely left by the wayside, while, on the other side, the leftist Berliner Geschichtswerkstatt also received modest funding for its research and exhibitions calling attention to the industrial working class and the dark side of modernity. An incidental but important product of this official pluralism was the exhibition "Topographie des Terrors," opened in 1987 on the desolate site of Gestapo and SS headquarters, which happened to adjoin the Gropius-Bau. The Senate quietly tolerated this effort to (literally) uncover an unpleasant Nazi history; the exhibition was such a success that it was permitted to continue its somewhat awkward existence for years (and arguably it still remains an unhappy stepchild of official Berlin).
Meanwhile, the GDR, too, had rediscovered local history and its leaders were determined not to let the West trump their claim to the heritage of "Berlin, capital of the German Democratic Republic," as they officially and invariably called East Berlin. Here, unlike in either Nazi Germany or West Berlin, the city's birthday became a celebration of the state--and, Thijs argues, a measure of the state's sclerosis. Attempts to produce an official Marxist-Leninist commemorative history became mired in crisis. Since the crisis played out behind closed doors, this section of the book reflects prodigious archival research and a fresh exposition of GDR history writing.
The decade preceding the anniversary had seen a renaissance of local history, as the GDR embraced its "heritage and tradition." It proved relatively easy to produce serious work on earlier periods without running afoul of party ideologues, but histories of the twentieth century, and especially of the GDR period, turned into minefields, and in the end the promised official accounts were not completed. To produce a history that unquestionably legitimated its claim to power, the Politburo had to make the proletariat vanish into the communist party, and then the city shrink to its eastern half, tasks that demanded hopeless contortions of the historical record--or hollow affirmations of party orthodoxy.
An introduction and a lengthy concluding section (a quarter of the book--perhaps more than necessary) are devoted to an analysis of the "discursive practices" that produced these "master narratives" of Berlin history. Here Thijs tries to make the case that these competing histories of Berlin offer general lessons about the writing of history in the twentieth century. Leaving aside the bureaucratic tussles and historical contingencies that shaped the official histories, Thijs analyzes texts that were in fact produced under official auspices in 1937 and 1987. Drawing on Northrop Frye and Hayden White, he analyzes their rhetorical and plot elements. He classifies their "narrative structures" as romance for the Nazis, comedy for East Berlin, and satire for West Berlin, and he describes their "horizontal" and "vertical" intertextuality--that is, their shared themes and the connections between local and national narratives. Each commemorative history, he observes, offered its own Golden Age: myth-shrouded "Old Berlin," for the Nazis; the bustling metropolis, for West Berlin; and the GDR itself, for East Berlin.
Some of us who spent 1987 in Berlin might be tempted to comb through the book in search of errors in tone or nuance. However, Thijs's careful assessment of personalities and conflicts rings true--with one exception. He intimates that the GDR's absurd quarrels over historiography foretold the imminent demise of the Marxist regime. In hindsight, his argument seems plausible, but at the time, for all the absurdities apparent to any observer in East or West, hardly anyone thought the regime was in its death throes.
Although it would be nice to think that every state faces limits to the scholarly contortions it can demand of its historians, it is far from clear how much the intellectual bankruptcy of 1987 tells us about the political bankruptcy of 1989. Nevertheless, if we think that attempts to shape official history reveal something about the narrative underpinnings of political power, Thijs's book has a good deal to teach us.
The airport is notable both for its role in the Berlin Airlift and as an example of Hitler's architectural ambitions. There are still a few remnants of the grandiose plans for Hitler's favorite airport. The present building, designed by the architect Ernst Sagebiel, was to impress visitors to Germania, the planned capital of the victorious Reich.
Despite the latest clean-up plans, the long-term future of the Tegel Airport -- historic Cold War facility -- remains unclear. Berlin's air traffic is scheduled to relocate to a large new Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport (BBI) in 2011.
In German art, a battle of death and life is raging,” Eric von Vessen quotes Paul Schultze-Naumburg, who was director of the Weimar art academy in the 1930s and coined the maxim ‘Art must be created from blood and soil.’ Von Vessen has a high forehead, fine, sand colored hair and thin mustache. He is good-looking in a ruggedly intellectual way. He’d be able to blend in on a construction site as well as at a conference on European architecture, which he both does regularly.
Born in 1948, von Vessen, after a career as architect with Eber and Carp in South Florida, where he developed shopping plazas and residential areas, found himself “longing for a challenge.” He’d made a fortune in his profession, his wife Elise inherited her father’s pharmacy empire, and his life at age fifty could not have been more comfortable. “It was deadening,” he exclaims, “absolutely deadening.”
He confesses that the approaching new millennium made him review his work of twenty-five years. He concluded that everything he’d built had been built “for today, and therefore was already crumbling. It was as if I had planned and built ruins. Dozens of the malls I designed have been torn down, the developments have turned into slums.” Von Vessen had to build for the future if he wanted to be remembered. He dreamed of an architecture that was large, well-crafted and everlasting, imagined monuments of pride.
Von Vessen, who had acquainted himself with Hitler’s favorite architect Albert Speer’s work during college, found that Speer had answers for his questions.
“I understood,” he says and laughs, “that Speer was maybe the last architect who had the imagination and the power to transform an entire country. What he didn’t have,” von Vessen adds wistfully, “was time.”
In 1999, the architect sold his stakes in Eber and Carp and bought the estate of John Erring, “a vast piece of nothingness,” in Southeast Nevada. “It was ideal,” von Vessen notes. Speer, if the Nazis had stayed in power, would have had to tear down large parts of Berlin to create what he and Hitler envisioned for the German capital. “Tear down the old, erect the new. For us, it was much easier. We were able to start from scratch.”
Just in time to celebrate the new millennium, von Vessen and his crew of 640 started work on Germania, the city Hitler and Speer could not finish. “Oh yes,” the architect says, “we had plenty of champagne ready for the occasion.”
During research for what von Vessen simply calls “his life,” he had a lucky strike of monumental proportions. “Speer built a model of Germania, 1:50, back in the 1930s. There were photos, of course, but the model was thought to have been lost during air raids on Berlin in ’45.” One day back in the spring of ’99, von Vessen received a call from New England. “This guy, Albert Leary, he had heard of my plans for building Germania through the press. We had tried to keep a low profile, but a project of that scale...He had an old barn, he said on the phone, but refused to tell me what he kept in there. He just said I’d be a fool if I wouldn’t make the trip.” Von Vessen, after receiving a second call, decided to give it a shot. In May of that same year, he arrived in Entport, New Hampshire.
“So we go to his barn, and this guy is behaving like an insane magician. We have to pull away tons of straw and wood, and I’m starting to curse my curiosity when we finally pull out this gigantic wooden crate.” Von Vessen stretches his arms like an angler to indicate how big his find was. “We have to work half an hour to open the front of the crate: more straw – I was going crazy.” But he stayed and after another hour, “there, in the middle of this red New England barn, stood the Great Hall, Albert Speer’s model of Germania’s centerpiece.”
Leary’s father, a major in the U.S. army, had shipped his souvenir to America after ’45, in a transaction that, von Vessen claims, “took guts and a good deal of bribery.”
The architect bought Speer’s Kuppelhalle, and today, weeks after his own Great Hall has been opened to the public, it occupies a special place in Germania’s Reichskanzlei. “The model helped me through all the tough times, it was a source of inspiration, it kept up my faith.”
Some of the hard times arrived when outraged citizens organized a protest tour and arrived in Nevada with banners demanding ‘Down with the Nazis,’ and ‘Stop Facism.’
“They smeared buildings and monuments, left their garbage everywhere, and threatened to hurt workers. The police wouldn’t do a thing,” von Vessen remembers, and after the first wave of angry opponents, he brought in security. “I didn’t imagine Germania with watchmen and fences. It was a city I wanted to give to my people, to all citizens of this country. But policing Germania was the only way to protect my vision.”
His vision has been called ‘neo-fascist,’ a ‘Triumph of the Ill Will,’ and a “monument to Hitler and his genocidal politics.” But von Vessen won’t have any of that. He claims that condemning Speer’s architecture is an act that confuses politics and aesthetics. “His ideas are judged by Hitler’s killings.” This view, von Vessen claims, doesn’t do justice to the architecture realized in 1930s Germany. “We look at Speer’s buildings and think, Ooh, how shocking, these buildings breathe Nazism, breath murder and death, when really, all over Europe, you see the same style of neo-classicism, and think nothing of it. The evil people associate with Germania is a false interpretation. Hitler also built the autobahn, and people use highways without thinking, Oh my God, this asphalt is absolutely terrifying.”
Yet so far, he hasn’t convinced the growing lobby of people who want Germania to be shut down. The state of Nevada has tried to stop work on Hitlertown, as Germania is widely known in the region. After an unfavorable court decision, von Vessen had to let construction rest for several weeks, but the architect won the appeal. And although his case still awaits hearing in front of the Supreme Court, in the meantime, “Germania is growing, definitely.”
The new Great Hall seats 234,000, is 250 meters wide, and 290 high. Stone was imported from all over the Americas, Italy, and Germany. “We ran into problems early on,” von Vessen admits. “More than 200,000 people breathing and perspirating under a dome – it seemed impossible to avoid fog rendering the interior invisible.” But the installation of an intricate ventilation system – each of the green plush seats is vented and can be cooled or heated – was a giant step in the right direction. “It shrank seating capacity, but something had to give.” In the end, the problem was solved by breaking with Speer’s original plans. “We made the dome retractable.” Von Vessen says, and adds with a smirk, “Who knows? We may be awarded an NFL expansion team one day.”
Yet, as of today, Germania’s population is a meager 5,823, half of them construction workers and security guards. The rest are small entrepreneurs who supply the town with food and other daily necessities. When Hitler made plans to build his new Reichshauptstadt, Berlin was a thriving metropolis. Life would have been altered and redirected by vast reconstruction projects – the Spree River was to be re-routed to accommodate the ambitious North South axis -- but four million people were ready to make Germania their own.
Who will walk and drive along the 38.5 kilometer-long Paradestrasse, the North South axis Hitler was dreaming of? Who will promenade under the 117 meter high, 170 meter wide, and 119 meter deep Triumphbogen? Paris’ Arc de Triomphe could be placed within von Vessen’s monument. As of yet, only workers and security guards in their black and blue uniforms are regulars on Germania’s streets.
“We take our clues from Vegas,” Elise von Vessen says in front of the Great Hall. She is ten years younger than her husband, tanned and in good shape. She’s wearing a light Armani suit and likes to show new visitors around. She’s also in charge of a national advertising campaign that tries to bring new businesses and hotel chains to Germania. “You build it, they come. It’s not as easy as in the movies, but we will achieve our goals. It’s a matter of imagination and daring.” In 2001, more than 50,000 Americans and tourists from overseas flocked to Germania. Elise von Vessen plans to quadruple the numbers each year. “The city is growing, and we will keep the public interested in our wonderful buildings,” she promises. “People are already coming. Now we have to convince them to stay.”
Her husband of twenty years can only shake his head at questions about his city’s future. One day in his office at the Reichskanzlei, comfortably dressed in a blue sweat suit – he is an avid jogger and ran with both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- he tries to answer them nevertheless. “However much I hated doing malls, the knowledge I gained comes in handy. You don’t build where the infrastructure is too weak to support you. The time of our forefathers who built settlements in the desert and hoped the railroad might lay tracks through their town are over.” Work on a highway connecting Germania with Interstate 80 has been underway since the previous year and is close to completion. An airport reminiscent of Berlin Tempelhof will open soon.
Also planned for the immediate future is the Soldatenhalle, a gargantuan building that, in Hitler’s plans, was supposed to house a Hall of Honor with sarcophagi holding the remains of high ranking military officers. Now it will house a casino with more than 600 first class rooms. The Reichskanzlei too will invite visitors to gamble. The extravagant marble moasaics and tapestries were once said to document the fascists’ drive toward power. Now the offices Hitler imagined will be turned into five-star restaurants and about 300 high-end luxury suites.
Without investors, even a rich man such as von Vessen would not have been able to erect “a single wall of the Kuppelhalle.” But support has been steady and is growing nation and worldwide. “Our sources won’t dry up any time soon.” As proof, developments, townhouses, and several signature high-rises are going up in Germania. “Our workers; they need modern housing, they need stores. Trailers will be outlawed soon around here. We have created 2,500 jobs, long-term, more will be created each year.” Certain sections of Germania, starting with the area close to the Triumphbogen, will see luxury mansions. “It will be as desirable as Beverly Hills, Paris and Venice taken together. We have a unique opportunity here, and we won’t let it slip away.”
Others seem to share von Vessen’s optimism. “You see,” Ernest B., a construction worker putting the finishing touches on a row of pseudo-Gründerzeit apartment houses, says, “we’re developing the West all over again.” Isn’t he concerned about the public’s often hostile reaction to Germania? Don’t the security guards scare off tourists? “No,” he says. “When the people come, the guards will be gone. This is just the kind of project that thrives in this country. Yeah, you might have some rough stretches, but the sky’s the limit for your imagination.”
Many of the newly built apartments are still empty. Does that worry him? “They’re real nice. Wait till the casino and the girls come. We have jobs here. I mean, there’ll be jobs for the next fifty, sixty years. And it doesn’t matter where you find a job, not even what job it is. It’s important you have one.” He points to the slogan on his dirty-white T-shirt, ‘Germania – I’ve seen the future.’ “We’re in the right place at the right time.”
A state official who speaks on the condition of anonymity explains, “In Idaho or Montana – this guy would have fallen on his face, but this is Nevada. Once the court gives him green light, there’ll be nothing to stop him. Casinos and prostitution – Hitlertown is well equipped for the challenge. This is a place to die for. It will be a hip place to live, party, and spend lots of money.”
But von Vessen wants more than a fun place. “This project is bigger than myself, my money, influence. It’s bigger than anyone can imagine right now. Yes, the city has to grow, take its time, but however long that will take, the Great Hall will be here when it’s needed. Hitler was the last visionary leader, a leader who was willing to form a country after his ideas.” Von Vessen keeps a photo of the Führer in his desk. “Totalitarian, yes, cruel, yes again, but visionary nonetheless. Take Napoleon or Caesar. They were despots, yet were – and still are – revered. We still go to Europe to look at the remains of what they created. With Germania, I give people the chance to experience what Hitler intended them to see. His vision was once cut short, but is now here to stay.”