Friday, February 13, 2009

How top Nazi's aide dared to mock Hitler's Germania

Stefan’s cartoons poke fun at Hitler’s ‘tallest, widest …’ mantra



THIS is one of the plans for Germania that Hitler did not sign off – and ones that would have seen their author beheaded or sent to a concentration camp if the Fuhrer had seen them.

The remarkable cartoons, which poke fun at the pompous, grandiose vision of Hitler for a super-capital of his 1,000-year Reich were thought lost in the bombing that reduced Berlin to dust in the Second World War.

But they surfaced recently and are being seen by citizens of the German capital for the first time. They show that, even in the most self-conscious, self-important police state of the time, there was dissent – albeit clandestine.

The sketches were made by Hans Stefan, an architect on the staff of Albert Speer, Hitler's court builder who was charged in 1937 with the planning for the megalopolis that would reflect the might of the Ayran rulers of Europe and Eurasia.

"Tallest, highest, widest, biggest, grandest" was the mantra of Hitler, the failed architectural student and painter. His legacy was to be preserved in buildings that would dwarf the structures of ancient Egypt and Rome, standing as testament to his leadership and his peoples' might.

Speer was ordered to cull architectural styles from ancient empires and slap them together to make the world hold its breath. Stefan, who was a Nazi party member, saw much of the designs for the self-aggrandising rubbish they were. The cartoons poke fun at the "tallest, highest, widest, biggest" concept that Germania embraced.

One has the German eagle, the national symbol, perched on top of the planned Great Hall, which was to be twice as big as St Peter's in Rome. All he hears are the "Heils!" from within and he asks a passing bird: "Can you go back under and tell me what's happening there!"

Another shows the planned east-west axis of the city being so big that people in Czechoslovakia can see it. Then there is a house dwarfed by the hideously overbearing structures of Germania with people within saying: "Do you think we are going to be a part of Germania too?"

Another shows a giant crane grabbing a chunk of the Reichstag – Berlin's most imposing building – by mistake, illustrating how small it is next to the planned Great Hall.

"The Pedestrian Convoy" cartoon is almost straight out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, showing the problems for humans in the mammoth mechanised city that Hitler envisaged and which, incidentally, he told Speer he had no time for human sentiment – ie, the views of the residents of Berlin – getting in the way.

"The state visit – the gigantic extremes of architecture won't only intimidate visiting ambassadors" – ridicules the Hitler mindset that wanted to make all visitors to the new city feel awed and small by German greatness.

The reality, of course, turned out to be far different. By 1945 just the east-west axis and a few streetlights were the sum total of Germania's realisation.

The cartoons are on show at the Architectural Museum of the Technical University of Berlin and have been drawing large numbers of people.

Experts say they served as a "safety valve" for the team put together by Hitler to design Germania and were almost certainly enjoyed by Speer. "They are less about subversion and more about being able to ventilate about the regime," said Hans Dieter Naegelke, director of the museum. "But they would scarcely have amused Hitler; he would not have liked the caricatures."

Stefan survived the war and became a designer of civic buildings, many of which survive to this day; none as grand as those drawn up by Hitler.

The sketches were discovered in a Prussian military archive, which handed them on to the museum for the display. An exhibition earlier in Berlin this year displayed the actual plans for Germania, including a massive model of the Great Hall that Speer made.

Hitler intended for the subject peoples of his Reich to journey once in their lifetimes to be awed in the "Reich Capital" before returning to their spartan villages and towns. However, he died in his bunker on 2 May, 1945, with sketches of Germania on his desktop that he was studying until minutes before the end.


The east-west axis and a few streetlights were not quite the sum total of Germania's realisation as there were preparations made underground (which were halted by the outbreak of war but which still exist) and also the Olympic Stadium (now the home ground of Hertha Berlin). As Olympic stadiums go it is not bad and has stood the test of time.


ALBERT Speer was the son Hitler never had and a rarity among his inner circle; an intellectual who cared little for power-grabbing.

In the middle of the war he became armaments minister.

Tried at Nuremberg as a war criminal, he acknowledged his guilt while denying the existence of the Holocaust, but escaped the gallows.

He was sentenced to 20 years in jail which he served, writing formidable memoirs afterwards about his time at the centre of Nazism.

He continued to deny knowledge of the Holocaust right up until his death in 1981.

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