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.

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