Saturday, March 21, 2009


Published by (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.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Nazi Party and Berlin

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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009



Published by (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.[1] 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.[2] 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."[3] 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.


[1]. All but two of the essays are in German, though English abstracts are provided for all of the essays.

[2]. 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.

[3]. Karl Scheffler, _Berlin, ein Stadtschicksal_ (Fannei & Walz: Berlin, 1989), 219.



Published by (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.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Tempelhof is designed as a semi-oval with 14 towers. The roof was originally intended to be used as a viewing platform for the audience at big Nazi events, such as Hitler's birthday. The airport was only completed during World War II and was used as a giant aircraft factory.

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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Featured Website: Download Nazi architecture 3D models

by Generalfeldmarschall (OKL)
Nazi planned and built structures.

Germania: Hitler's Big Plans for Berlin

Germaniamain.jpgOne of Hitler's favorite daydreams was a new, rechristened Berlin -- Welthauptstadt Germania, the worthy and illustrious capital of the One Thousand Year Reich. Together with pet architects like Albert Speer, the Führer liked to unwind from a hard day of military disaster on the Russian Front by plotting the lovely Germania, where everything was monumental, marble-plated, and situated on a boulevard at least a mile wide. Speer's office had a whole room given over to a scale model of the city of the future, which Hitler could access from the Chancellery gardens and pore over in private.

He instructed his designers to take their inspiration from the glory days of Rome, Athens, and Paris, and then to blow the proportions up to Valhalla-size. Money was no object, and the required labor force would solve unemployment. Swathes of tenements were marked for demolition to create a giant cross stamped on the heart of Berlin: east-west would follow the Strasse 17 Juni and Unter den Linden, north-south bisecting it somewhere in the Tiergarten. Work began in the 1930s, but pesky World War II got in the way, and Allied bombers took over demolition duty. Here are the high (or low) points of the monstrous metropolis that never was.


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.”

Hitler's Favorite Sculptor Stirs Debate, Antipathy

Hitler's favorite sculptor Arno Breker, the creator of monumental statues glorifying the Third Reich, is stirring debate with the first retrospective of his work in a German public museum since World War II.

It's perhaps not surprising that his art -- or what survives -- has mainly been stashed away in museum vaults. Described by Hitler as ``the best sculptor of our time,'' Breker modeled Ubermensch heroes incorporating Aryan ideals and made busts of Nazi leaders including Hitler and Goebbels. He designed outsized sculptures for ``Germania,'' Hitler's megalomaniac vision of a vast new Berlin to be built by Albert Speer. Like Germania, most of the statues never made it into stone.

The Schleswig-Holstein-Haus in Schwerin, the capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is exhibiting about 70 works owned by Breker's widow. Rudolf Conrades, the curator, says his goal was to provoke a discussion about Breker, who died in 1991, and break the taboo surrounding his art.

Featured Website: Albert Speer's Berlin

Welcome to Albert Speer's Berlin

In 1937, Speer was appointed “Generalbauinspektor for the Reich's Capital” by Adolf Hitler. In this capacity he had the responsibility to rebuild the city of Berlin into a modern metropolis of power for the German Reich – Germania. For this series Speer’s work has been recreatedin detail, from his first commission for the Nazi Party in 1932, to the “Hall of the Nation” that Hitler wished him to complete before 1950. Thus it is now possible to draw a direct comparison between the historic architecture of the old Berlin, and the buildings that were constructed and planned by the Nazi’s. Some of these buildings, that were originally erected under Albert Speer, still dominate the cityscape of modern Berlin, although their origin is largely unknown today.

Germania calling

Theatre byDavid Jays

Holocaust denial will only grow more plausible with the ageing of survivors and the dismal erasure of time. Facts will be disputed, and even a film as well-meaning as Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful implicitly massages the horrors of genocide into poignancy. Esther Vilar's play Speer examines a figure who, in trying to assess his own tainted past, subjected it to inevitable, equivocating metamorphosis. Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, armaments minister and eventually second-in-command, was the only leading Nazi to accept guilt at the Nuremberg trials. He spent the rest of his life fencing in the half-light of denial, the possibility of repentance and explication.

Klaus Maria Brandauer, who also directs, is excellently cast as Speer. In his most celebrated film roles (Mephisto, Colonel Redl ), the actor dances cheek-to-cheek with opportunism, reputation and connivance. Vilar imagines Speer invited to East Berlin for a lecture in 1980, the year before his death. Bauer (Sven Eric Bechtolf), a state official, returns him to the workroom where he designed the reconstruction of Berlin as the towering city of Germania. Amid a dereliction of planks and unshaded light bulbs, Speer's host presents a model of the gargantuan domed assembly hall that would have dominated his new city. Glaring white, in- humanly pristine and so large that people seem superfluous, it exemplifies the architect's icy disregard. Germania was to be built on a scale ludicrous in a single state, but tailored to global domination. "For the capital of the world," Speer explains, "one needs the world."

Speer looks beyond architecture. While dogs of retribution yap at the doors, the men play cat-and-mouse. What lies behind Bauer's needling questions and professional deference? And what is the tightly poised Speer, still standing to attention, guarding now? His own rebuilt reputation, perhaps? The plot provides a denouement of cheap reversals, and Speer makes better discussion than drama. Though details chime with Gitta Sereny's study of Speer's battle with truth (and her own battle with his charm), Vilar takes a harsher line. Her Speer will acknowledge any number of faults so long as he can shuck the big one, complicity in genocide, but neither his ignorance nor subsequent public repentance seem to convince her as they did Sereny.

Brandauer makes an elegant Speer, his narrow eyes embedded in plush flesh. Expression seeps guardedly over his face, he sits with hands folded perfectly, and even the actor's subdued inflections contribute to the character's unreadability. This Speer is all containment, though occas-ionally something more sneaks out, as in a gradual smile when sipping champagne, the slyly sensuous finger tracing his lips. He comes to life only when recreating his projected metropolis with planks and sacks, hands busy, cheeks bulging with pleasure.

Challenged about the Jews, the amiable mask crumbles, then closes down. When he bellows, hoarsely, "I was not an anti-Semite!", Brandauer's hand marks the beat of his denial, as if conducting his own exculpation. During the play, Speer variously describes himself as Hitler's manager, the functional equivalent of a taxi driver, while as architect, he insists, "I was his toymaker". "This is where you both came to play," Bauer proposes. It is significant that Vilar imagines Speer lecturing on architecture, for she shows his grotesque revisioning of Berlin replaced with the painstaking reconstruction of his own reputation.

She also suggests parallels between the totalitarian Germanies, Nazi and communist, until it becomes almost credible that Honecker's bankrupt GDR might implore the inspired pragmatist to pull them from the mire, and Brandauer grows sleek in expectation. But eliding these grandiose, contemptuous ideologies proves too much for the play's shaky structure, and Speer is most incisive when returning to the protagonist's bleached evasions.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Germania: Visions of Grandeur

Speer's "Great Hall" would have dwarfed the Brandenburg Gate

Had Hitler won the war, his plan was to transform Berlin into Germania -- the city he planned with architect Albert Speer. A film, a tour and the twists of time have conspired to create new interest in his evil vision.

Berlin bears many historical scars, but only a few point to the maniacal vision of its future harbored by Adolf Hitler and his chief architect, Albert Speer: A few spots where roads were widened in preparation for the central axis of Germania; a few traffic tunnels that have since been filled in; some streetlamps designed by Speer which survived the war intact.

The rest is all ideas -- miniature models, sketches, blueprints. Germania, with its imposing concrete monstrosities, its monuments to a victory that never came, was swallowed in the rubble and ash that covered Berlin in 1945.

There are only a few examples of Nazi architecture left standing today to give visitors a sense of what Hitler's ideology of hate and domination looked like when rendered in concrete and stone.

Berlin's Finance Ministry

Berlin's Finance Ministry

One of them is the building currently housing the Ministry of Finance (photo). It's no accident then, that this is the starting point for a new city walk entitled "Capital of the Reich, Germania -- Destructive Visions" offered by tour operator Stattreisen Berlin.

Guide Hartmut Kappel immediately addresses one of the questions foremost in the minds of the 20 people who gathered on a Sunday afternoon in search of Germania: How do you conduct a tour where you can't really show people anything?

The walk led the group through central Berlin, along the axis where Hitler planned to build his mammoth new "Chancellery of the Reich," as well as a huge victory arch designed to dwarf the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and Germania's crowning glory, the Große Halle, or "Great Hall." The structure was intended to accommodate a million people, and was capped with an impractically large dome that would have been over 200 meters (700 feet) high and 250 meters (800 feet) in diameter.

As if to underscore the insanity of the plans, Kappel took the tour participants past an unassuming parking lot in front of a late-GDR era apartment complex. The area beneath the parking lot, he explained, was the site Hitler's bunker -- the place where his vainglorious imaginings of the Thousand Year Reich and the new "World Capital Germania" took their final, undignified end.

Hartmut Kappel leads the Germania tour past the site of Hitler's bunker

Hartmut Kappel leads the Germania tour past the site of Hitler's bunker

"I don't sensationalize this aspect of the tour," said Kappel. "It's a conscious decision, because the personal tragedies that unfolded don't have to do with the topic, which is: Why did the Third Reich exist, and how was it possible?"

Film caused new interest

Still, Kappel acknowledged that there is a persistent fascination about all things connected with the Third Reich, and of late, a resurgent interest in the relationship between Hitler and Germania's architect, Albert Speer.

The interest can partly be explained by the showing on German public broadcaster ARD of a new three-part movie, "Speer and He," examining that relationship. Kappel said that Stattreisen planned its Germania tour to coincide with the media coverage of the film.

Tobias Moretti as Adolf Hitler (l) und Sebastian Koch as Albert Speer in

Tobias Moretti as Adolf Hitler (l) und Sebastian Koch as Albert Speer in "Speer und Er"

"Speer and He" takes a critical look at Speer's role in the darkest chapter of German history. How much did he know about Hitler's plans to rid Europe of Jews, and to what extent did he manipulate his legacy after the war?

Though he expressed remorse during the Nuremberg trials, Speer always maintained that he knew nothing about the Nazis' crimes against the Jews. He was one of a handful of leading Nazis (including Rudolf Hess) to escape execution following the trials, serving a 20-year prison sentence instead.

The director of "Speer and He," Heinrich Breloer, makes it clear that Speer was more deeply implicated than he claimed. The film concentrates on Speer's plans to evict thousands of Jews from their Berlin homes to clear building space needed to realize Germania.

"He was more than just a cog in the works," said Breloer. "He was not only entangled in the works, he was the terror itself."

Academy of Art comes back home

Part of Speer's defense was that he cooperated with the Nazis in order to fulfil his dream of becoming a great architect. He pursued this dream in the building that, until 1937, housed Berlin's Academy of Art. Speer and his staff took over the space on Pariser Platz that was once the heart of Germany's intellectual, artistic community, and it was there that he developed and exhibited the models for Germania.

The view through Hitler's planned victory arch would have centered on the

The view through Hitler's planned victory arch would have centered on the "Great Hall."

On this same location this past weekend, German dignitaries gathered to set right a mistake of the past, officially opening the new Academy of Art as a place where artists can be as political as they like without fearing the kind of censure the Nazis routinely imposed on "dissidents."

Deanne Corbett, DW-WORLD.DE

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 - Video Widget

1936 Olympics

The success of the Olympic games of 1936 was one of the Nazis’ greatest propaganda victories. The staging of the games, awarded to Germany in 1931, was threatened by Hitler’s seizure of power. The Nazis, it was well known, disliked internationalism and the participation of Jews and blacks in “healthy” sporting competition. But Hitler placed the anticipated diplomatic benefits and propaganda display above ideology. The German people would see how the world accepted and admired Nazi government. In June 1933 he informed the International Olympic Committee that Germany would adhere to its rules, and Jews would be allowed to compete. The threat of boycott increased after the passage of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, especially in the United States, but was headed off by the International Olympic Committee and Avery Brundage, chairman of the U.S. National Olympic Committee.

In the event, the weeks of the Olympics provided a brief respite for Germany’s Jews. Signs forbidding access to Jews were removed from Olympic areas and sites likely to be visited by tourists. But the games were used as a pretext for the rounding up of hundreds of Gypsies in Berlin and their transfer to a de facto concentration camp at Marzahn. The American liberal periodical The Nation (1 August 1936) reported that one “sees no Jewish heads being chopped off, or even roundly cudgeled. . . . The people smile, are polite and sing with gusto in beer gardens. Board and lodging are good, cheap, and abundant, and no-one is swindled by grasping hotel and shop proprietors.Everything is terrifyingly clean and the visitor likes it all.” But behind the scenes the Jewish high jumper Gretel Bergmann was excluded from the German team on a technical pretext, along with the part-Jewish fencing champion Helene Mayer. Only one Jew, the ice hockey player Rudi Ball, was allowed to compete for Germany.

The Winter Games were held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen from 6 to 16 February, with 756 competitors from twenty-eight countries; the Summer Games in Berlin from 1 to 16 August with 4,069 competitors from forty-nine countries. This represented the largest number of participants up to then, and the Winter Games broke all attendance records. The huge Olympic Stadium was completed in the nick of time, and Olympic rituals now considered “traditional,” such as the lighting of the flame and the carrying of the torch from Greece to the host city, were invented in keeping with the Nazis’ sense of pageantry.

German athletes were more successful than expected, winning more medals than either the United States or Italy. Hitler appeared almost daily as the patron of the games, rejoicing at German victories but ostentatiously ignoring black American winners, most famously Jesse Owens. Otherwise quite rational observers thought that whenever Hitler appeared, Germany won: the London Sunday Times reported on 9 August 1936 that “it is uncanny how often Adolf Hitler’s entrance coincides with a German win” (Welch 1983a, p. 118). For all the superficiality of the Nazis’ tolerant pose, the propaganda risk paid off, and Leni Riefenstahl’s visually adventurous film of the Olympiad provided a notable expression of Nazi ideals.

Suggestions for further reading:

Graham, Cooper C. 1986. Leni Riefenstahl and Olympia. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Hart-Davis, Duff. 1986. Hitler’s Games: The 1936 Olympics. London: Century.

Mandell, Richard D. 1987. The Nazi Olympics. Urbana: University of Chicago Press.

Welch, David. 1983a. Propaganda and the German Cinema 1933–1945. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

NAZI Architecture

Hitler always claimed that as a youth his overwhelming desire was to be an architect. However, his failure to get into the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts to study painting may have had much to do with this. He later wrote that he first went to Munich with the aim of one day becoming a famous architect, but his conflicting accounts of the steps he took to get training and work seem to indicate that, in reality, he drifted as indolently and aimlessly as he had in Vienna. Only the coming of World War I was to reveal Hitler’s true vocation. Yet architecture was to remain an obsession with Hitler, and one that as Führer of the Third Reich he could indulge on a megalomaniac scale, in theory if less in practice. He would cut short important meetings to pore over architectural models and plans with Albert Speer and up to the end in his bunker would chatter enthusiastically about his plans for Berlin and Linz.

Hitler’s tastes in building were predictably conservative, confined mostly to the neobaroque and neoclassical. He admired the neoclassical facades and wide boulevards of Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse and the similarly monumental constructions of the Munich of the Wittelsbach kings and, according to Speer, also rhapsodized about Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera House. The avant-garde and all forms of modernism, as in every other branch of the arts, completely passed him by. Under the aegis of the young and ambitious Speer and in full accord with Hitler’s ideas, a crude and grandiose neoclassicism became the dominant style for the public buildings of the Third Reich. Above all it was scale that appealed to Hitler: the constructions of the Reich were to be monumental, conveying an impression of solidity, power, and permanence. The viewer or visitor was to be overwhelmed rather than merely impressed. Hitler’s and Speer’s plans for “Germania,” the new Berlin, were meant to put the Paris of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the shade.

Supporters of modernism in architecture had initially hoped that Hitler’s Reich, like Mussolini’s Italy, would seek to present a dynamic and progressive image and encourage innovation, at least up to a point. But they were rapidly disillusioned. Hitler personally ordered the removal of modernist elements from the stadium designed by Speer for the 1936 Olympics. Functionalist architecture in Hitler’s Germany was largely reserved for industrial buildings, such as power stations or the Heinkel aircraft factory at Oranienburg, whereas for popular housing, schools, Hitler Youth hostels, and other “vernacular” projects the regime adopted a “Blood and Soil” regionalism. But the “regional” elements were largely decorative, grafted on to a standardized design. The docile inhabitants of the fantasy world of Hitler, the failed architect, were meant to dwell happily in a world of kitsch, leaving their quaint and caricatured versions of Bavarian or Tyrolean farmhouses for work in their techno-functionalist factories and gaping in awe at the herculean constructions of the state, the party, and the Führer’s ego.

Suggestions for further reading:

Art and Power. 1995. Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930–45. London: Hayward Gallery.

Scobie, Alex. 1990. Hitler’s State Architecture: The Impact of Classical Antiquity. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Speer, Albert. 1970. Inside the Third Reich. New York: Macmillan.

Hitler and Berlin

Remnant of Nazi design - a Speer street-lamp

Before coming to power Hitler had mixed feelings about Germany’s capital. On leave there in 1916 he had been shocked by the gloomy “unpatriotic” atmosphere, and as an adopted Münchener he shared some of the traditional Bavarian resentment toward Berlin. After 1918 the nationalist Right attacked “Red Berlin” as the cradle of the November Revolution and the Spartacus uprising, the source of the supposed moral and cultural “decadence” of the Weimar Republic, and the home of one-third of Germany’s Jews. However, postwar claims that Hitler always disliked Berlin are unconvincing. “I have always been fond of Berlin,” he claimed. “If I’m vexed by the fact that some of the things in it are not beautiful, it’s precisely because I’m so attached to the city” (Richie 1998, p. 962).

It was Josef Goebbels who was responsible for creating Hitler’s new affection for the “truly Germanic” city of Frederick the Great and Bismarck. As Gauleiter of Berlin Goebbels created and built up the Nazi organization, which had less than 200 members when he took over, into a dominant force in the city, confronting the Communists and Socialists on the streets and in the meeting halls, penetrating the huge working-class districts as well as middle-class areas. He brought Hitler to speak in Berlin for the first time on 16 November 1928, before 16,000 people in the Sportspalast, the first of many such rallies in years to come. Nevertheless, the Nazi vote in free elections was always lower in Berlin than in Germany as a whole. At the height of their electoral success in 1933, when the Nazis gained 43.9 percent of the national vote, the figure for Berlin was 34.6 percent.

In the early years of the Third Reich Berlin continued its decadent ways as “an island of modernity in a world of Nazi provincialism” (Richie 1998, p. 442). Its opulent hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs provided a suitable setting for the hypocritical corruption of the Nazi elite, in stark contrast to the peasant fantasies they were peddling to the people. Here the elite and rich could dance to “decadent Negro” jazz music, theoretically banned in the Reich, and consume the finest food and wines. But the vibrant avant-garde culture of the Weimar period was destroyed and hundreds of artists imprisoned or driven into exile, while the persecution of the Jews destroyed a community that had lived, prospered, and made an enormous contribution to the life of Berlin for centuries. Hitler had his own plans for the capital of the Reich.

Hitler reportedly told Albert Speer in 1936: “Berlin is a big city, but not a real metropolis. Look at Paris, the most beautiful city in the world. Or even Vienna. Those are cities with grand style. Berlin is nothing but an unregulated accumulation of buildings. We must surpass Paris and Vienna” (Speer 1971, p. 122). Hence his megalomaniac plans for rebuilding the city. Berlin would become “Germania,” the leading city of Europe, filled with monstrous neoclassical buildings and monuments. “His motivating idea,” Alexandra Richie writes, “was that everything had to be longer, bigger, wider, taller and more massive than the buildings in any other capital” (Richie 1998, p. 471). The centerpiece, a 3-mile north-south avenue, would stretch from the new central railway station, under a gigantic Triumphal Arch bearing the names of all the Germans who died in World War I, and culminate in the domed Volkshalle, the largest building in the world, seven times greater than the dome of St Peter’s in Rome.

Comparatively little was actually built, and few of Hitler’s buildings survive today. Berliners, Germans, and the world were meant to be overawed and intimidated by Hitler’s new Reich Chancellery, 150 times the size of Bismarck’s residence, Hermann Goering’s gargantuan Air Ministry, and Goebbels’s suitably overpowering Propaganda Ministry. Hitler delighted in scrutinizing the models built by Speer, even down to the last days in the bunker. His real legacy to Berlin, however, was the almost complete destruction of the city by Allied bombing and the final horrendous battle against the Red Army. The broad and grand “East-West Axis,” along which the Wehrmacht had marched proudly on Hitler’s fiftieth birthday in 1939, became a guiding path for bombers bent on the destruction of Berlin. The capital of the new Reich ended as a divided city, the beleaguered center of Cold War conflict. The Wall separating East and West Berlin, the symbol of Hitler’s legacy of Cold War division, was finally demolished by crowds from both sides on 12 November 1989.

Suggestions for further reading:

Richie, Alexandra. 1998. Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin. London: HarperCollins.

Schäche, Wolfgang. 1995. “From Berlin to ‘Germania,’” in Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930–45. London: Hayward Gallery, pp. 326–329.