Fascist architecture in Germany
Nazi architecture is an often dismissed and derided aspect of Nazi plans to create a cultural and spiritual rebirth in
Hitler's fantasies about being the founder of a thousand-year Reich were in harmony with the Colosseum being associated with eternity. Hitler envisioned all future Olympic games to be held in
Most regimes, especially new ones, wish to make their mark both physically and emotionally on the places they rule. The most tangible way of doing so is by constructing buildings and monuments. Architecture is the only art form that can actually physically meld not only the world, but the people who inhabit it. It forces people to move in a determined way, to look at specific things and conduct their lives in certain ways. Architecture affects not only the physical environment, but mental environment of the populace. The Nazis believed architecture played a key role in creating their new order.
Hitler the architect
Hitler was quite fond of the numerous theatres built by Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner, who built in the late baroque style. In addition, he appreciated the stricter architects of the nineteenth century such as Gottfried Semper, who built the Opera House, the Picture Gallery in
Ultimately, he was always drawn back to inflated neobaroque such as Kaiser Wilhelm II had fostered, through his court architect Ihne. Fundamentally, it was decadent baroque comparable to the style that accompanied the decline of the
The Führer did not have one particular style; there was no official architecture of the Reich only the neoclassical baseline that was enlarged, multiplied, altered and exaggerated, sometimes to the point of ludicrousness. Hitler appreciated the permanent qualities of the classical style as it had a relationship between the Dorians and his own Germanic world.
It would be a mistake to try to look within Hitler's mentality for some ideologically based architectural style. That would not have been in keeping with his pragmatic way of thinking.
Three primary roles
Nazi architecture has three primary roles in the creation of their new order: (i) Stage; (ii) Symbolic; (iii) Didactic. In addition, they saw architecture as a method of producing buildings that had a function, but also served a larger purpose. For example, the House of German Art had the function of housing art, but through its form, style and design it had the purpose of being a community structure built using an Aryan style, which acted as a kind of temple to acceptable German art.
Many Nazi buildings were stages for communal activity, creations of space for the construction of the myths on which the National Socialist ideology was based. From Albert Speer's seemingly iconoclastic use of banners for the May Day celebrations in the Lustgarten, to the Nazi co-option of the 'Thing' tradition, the Nazis wanted to link themselves to a German past.
The link could be direct; a Thingplatz or Thingstätte was a meeting place near or directly on a site of supposed special historical significance, used for the holding of festivals associated with a Germanic past. This was an attempt to link the German people back to both their history and their land. The use of 'Thing' places was closely associated with the 'blood and soil' part of Nazi ideology, which involved the perceived right of those of German blood to occupy German land. The Thingplatz would contain structures, which often included natural objects like stones and were built in the most natural setting possible. These structures would be built following the pattern of an ancient Greek theatre, following a structure of an historical culture considered to be Aryan. This stressing of a physical link between the past and Nazism aided to legitimatize the Nazi view of history, or even the Nazi regime itself. Still, the 'Thing' movement was not successful.
The link could be indirect; the May Day celebrations of 1936 in
The Nazis would bring the community together using architecture, creating a stage for the community experience. These buildings were also solely for the German people, the great hall in Berlin was not a supranational People's House like those being built in the Soviet Union, but the stage where tens of thousands of recharged citizens would enter into a solemn mystic union with the Supreme Leader of the German Nation. The sheer size of the stage itself would magnify the importance of what was being said.
How these stages were set was also an issue, from the most mundane building to the grandest, the form and style used in their construction tell a great deal about and are symbols of those who created them, when they were created and why they were created. Designs of this kind occasionally occur by accident; however, the architectural styles speak to the tastes of those who constructed the building or paid for its construction. It also speaks to the tastes of the general architectural movements of the time and the regional variants that influenced them. Nazi buildings were an expression of the essence of the movement, built as a National Socialist building should be, regardless of the style used.
Determining what National Socialists saw as the concept of Nazi Architecture is problematic. Various members of the leadership had differing views and tastes and commentators see the same style in different ways. Roger Eatwell sees the format used at the
In general, there were two primary National Socialist styles of architecture. Nazi Architecture in its crudest sense was either a squared-off version of neo-classical architecture, or a mimicry of völkish buildings and structures.
The neo-classical style was primarily used for urban state buildings or party buildings such as the Zeppelinfeld in
The völkish style was primarily used in rural settings for accommodation or community structures like the Ordensburg in Krossinsee, the walls and watchtowers of KL Flossenbürg and KL Mauthausen. It was also to be applied to rural new towns as it represented a mythical medieval time when
Most Nazi Architecture was neither novel in style nor concept; it was not supposed to be. Even a cursory inspection of what was intended for
National Socialism is often viewed as anti-modern and romantic or having a pragmatic willingness to use modern means in pursuit of anti-modern purposes. This confuses the Nazi dislike of certain styles like the Bauhaus with a blanket dislike of all modern styles. This was based mainly on what the Bauhaus and others were seen as representing, like foreign influences or the decadence of the
The neo-classical style used was not novel for the time; it was firmly anchored in time. Speer's style was assimilating the international 1930s style of public architecture, which was then being pursued as a modernizing classicism. This is in direct contrast to Peter Adams's attempts to separate Nazi art from the Zeitgeist and present it as something that can only be looked at through the lens of
Hitler saw the buildings of the past as direct representations of the culture that created them and how they were created. Hitler believed they could be used by man to transmit his time and its spirit to posterity and that in his time, ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture. Nazi Architecture should speak to the conscience of a future
Central to this was Albert Speer's Theory of Ruin Value, in which the Nazis would build structures which even in a state of decay, after hundreds or thousands of years would more or less resemble Roman models. Speer intended to produce this result by avoiding the elements of modern construction as steel girders and reinforced concrete, which are subject to weathering and by designing his buildings to withstand the impact of the wind even if the roofs and ceilings were so neglected that they no longer braced the walls. In this respect, it can be seen that by going back to the materials of the past and by the proper engineering of buildings it was possible to create a permanence that was impossible with contemporary building materials and styles. It has been suggested that the use of stone was more a result of economic necessity or the product of an attempt by the SS to build up a stable position within the German economy, but both are at most secondary to the desire for the permanence stone gives. To Hitler, only the great cultural documents of humanity made of granite and marble could symbolize his new order.
The theory of ruin value could be seen as a backward looking concept; however, what it actually does is look at the type of buildings that survive from the past and why they survived and attempts to build into the new buildings of the Reich such principle. In addition, the infrastructure and organization behind the provision of material was purely of the time. Hitler was not like Shelley's Ozymandias, a leader boasting about his power to the future, but rather the builder of symbolic expressions of the movement and the new
These buildings were not to be like the Reichstag, seen as a grandiose monument conjuring up historical reminiscences, but as symbols of a new
Symbolic architecture need not be built as it often already existed. In 1941 the SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps published an essay by Heinrich Himmler entitled "German Castles in the East", in which he wrote, "When people are silent, stones speak. By means of the stone, great epochs speak to the present so that fellow citizens; are able to uplift themselves through the beauty of self-made buildings. Proud and self-assured, they should be able to look upon these works erected by their own community." Himmler continues by creating a cyclical process linking the people, their blood and their buildings, "Buildings are always erected by people. People are children of their blood, are members or their race. As blood speaks, so the people build."
Where buildings held important cultural items, they would either be remodelled like Braunschweig Cathedral, which was the burial place of Henry the Lion, co-opted like Strasbourg Cathedral as the monument to
Like the Sacré-Coeur basilica in
Symbols were not just limited to permanent buildings; familiar symbols of the north European past were used regularly in the decorations for Nazi festivals. An example of this is the use of the Maypole at the May Day celebrations. It is the traditional symbol throughout northern
Hitler saw architecture as, "The Word In Stone," a method of imparting a message. This is not regime architecture primarily for general propaganda purposes as argued by
The Nazis chose new versions of past styles for most of their architecture. This should not be viewed simply as an attempt to reconstruct the past, but rather an effort to use aspects of the past to create a new present. Most buildings are copies in some form or other, but for the Nazis, copying the past not only linked them to the past in general, but specifically to an Aryan past. Neo-classical architecture and Renaissance architecture were direct representations of Aryan culture. Völkish architecture was also Aryan but of a Germanic nature. Still, these analogues were not part of an attempt to recreate an actual past, but were meant to emphasize the importance of Aryan culture as a justification for the actions of the present. Many other nations from the Austro Hungarian Empire to the
While Hitler saw the architecture of the
Engineering could be coupled with architecture to teach lessons too. It is clear that the Autobahn was seen as a way of creating a community, which was both physically and symbolically linked. When Carl Theoder Protzen entitled his painting of the Autobahn bridge at Leipheim, "Clear the forest - dynamite the rock; conquer the valley; overcome the distance; stretch the road through the German land," he was linking clear connections between what should be done and what it was to accomplish. Building the Autobahn would not only teach the German people that they were linked together but would also show that it had been accomplished by Germans working together. It would be a mile post for the construction of the community of the German People. The effort that went into the styling of Autobahn bridges and garages show plainly that it was more than just a motorway. In some circumstances the design used for the Autobahn actually affects the functioning of its supposed purpose.
The role the Nazis hoped architecture would play in the creation of a new order was like that of a book: to provide a place to hold the message, the symbols to impart it and a teacher to read it. Architecture, like every other art form, would be produced to serve the new Nazi order. For them, if this meant following existing architectural styles or providing analogues of other buildings, then so be it.
Cult of victory
Both the Nazis and the Romans employed architecture of colossal dimensions to overawe and intimidate. Both cultures were preoccupied with architectural monuments that celebrated or glorified a victory ideology: triumphal arches (the largest in the world on
The Nazis planned and built many military trophies and memorials [Mähnmaler] on the eastern borders of the Reich. In the same way, the Romans had built celebratory trophies on the borders of their empire to commemorate victories and warn off would-be attackers. One of the most prominent memorial buildings intended to commemorate
Flags and insignia played an important part in Nazi ceremonial and in the decoration of buildings. The eagle-topped standards carried by the SA at
Inevitably, after Hitler's defeat, the colossal dimensions of his buildings tended to be seen, as they were by Speer in his memoirs, as symbols of Hitler's megalomania. This is perhaps a valid view point, but it is also something of an oversimplification, since at the time the buildings were planned and erected, they were valid symbols of
Had Hitler achieved all his political and military aims and had his successors consolidated and perhaps even expanded his territorial gains, the art and architecture of Germany would undoubtedly have reflected the sentiment that pervaded much of Rome's art in the Augustan period, that is, a confidently assumed right to dominate others, which Virgil elegantly, if brutally, expressed in Aeneid 6.851-53: "Remember, Roman, to exercise dominion over nations. These will be your skills: to impose culture on peace, to spare the conquered and to war down the proud." This passage, so much in tune with Nazi aspirations is repeatedly referred to in the political literature of
In Mein Kampf Hitler states that industrialized German cities of his day lacked dominating public monuments and a central focus for community life. In fact, adverse criticism of the rapid industrialization, of German cities after 1870 had already been voiced by other critiques.
The ideal Nazi city was not to be too large, since it was to reflect pre-industrial values and its state monuments, the products and symbols of collective effort [Gemeinschaftsarbeiten], were to be given maximum prominence by being centrally situated in the new and reshaped cities of the enlarged Reich.
Hitler's comments in Mein Kampf indicated that he saw buildings such as the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus as symbols of the political might and power of the Roman people. Hitler stated, "Architecture is not only the spoken word in stone, it is the expression of the faith and conviction of a community, or else it signifies the power, greatness and fame of a great man or ruler." In Hitler's cultural address, "The Buildings of the Third Reich," delivered in September 1937, in Nuremburg, he affirmed that the new buildings of the Reich were to reinforce the authority of the Nazi party and the state and at the same time provide "gigantic evidence of the community" [gigantischen Zeugen unserer Gemeinschaft]. The architectural evidence of this authority could already be seen in
On September 19, 1933, Hitler told the mayor of
Albert Speer’s vision of Hitler’s monumental capitol building Albert Speer was commissioned to draw up the plans, which have been discovered by historians examining his papers. They had been stored in a secret room inside In total, there were more than 200 boxes of files belonging to Speer, whose grand designs for the rebuilding of Nazi Berlin under Hitler were already well known. But the plans for a new, Germanic version of St. Peter's Square - complete with a giant statue of Mussolini - in Speer built a scale model of how he planned to recreate the columns of St. Peter's Square, which encircle the piazza in front of the Basilica. The plan was for the Hitler would declare Speer's plans included the columns from the square and at the centre instead of a fountain as in Hitler considered the Speer's documents show that Hitler took a great interest in the plans and was delighted with the architect's model. He also viewed several castings of Mussolini's statue which were commissioned but the plans were eventually abandoned at the end of 1943 as
Albert Speer was commissioned to draw up the plans, which have been discovered by historians examining his papers.
They had been stored in a secret room inside
In total, there were more than 200 boxes of files belonging to Speer, whose grand designs for the rebuilding of Nazi Berlin under Hitler were already well known.
But the plans for a new, Germanic version of St. Peter's Square - complete with a giant statue of Mussolini - in
Speer built a scale model of how he planned to recreate the columns of St. Peter's Square, which encircle the piazza in front of the Basilica.
The plan was for the
Hitler would declare
Speer's plans included the columns from the square and at the centre instead of a fountain as in
Hitler considered the
Speer's documents show that Hitler took a great interest in the plans and was delighted with the architect's model.
He also viewed several castings of Mussolini's statue which were commissioned but the plans were eventually abandoned at the end of 1943 as
The order for the reshaping of other German cities was signed by Hitler on October 4, 1937. The plan that Speer coordinated as 'Inspector General of Construction' (GBI) for the centre of Berlin was based on Roman, not Greek, planning principles, which might or might not have been influenced by Roman-derived town plans in Fascist Italy. Speer's plan was to create a central north-south axis, which was to join the major east-west axis at right angles. On the north side of the junction a massive forum of about 35 hectares was planned, around which were to be situated buildings of the greatest political and physical dimensions: a vast domed Volkshalle on the north side, Hilter's vast new palace and chancellery on the west side and part of the south front and on the east side now-dwarfed the pre-Nazi Reichstag and the new High Command of the German armed forces. These buildings placed in strong axial relationship around the forum designed to contain one million people were collectively to represent the "maiestas imperii" (The Majesty of the Empire) and make the new world capital,
The new community buildings were not to be randomly cited in town, but were to have prominent (usually central) positions within the town plan. The clarity, order and objectivity that Hitler aimed at in the layout of his towns and buildings were to be achieved in conquered territories in the East by founding new colonies and in
Nazi architecture was also both in appearance and symbolically intimidating, an instrument of conquest; total architecture was an extension of total war. Speer wrote in 1978 "My architecture represented an intimidating display of power."
The colossal dimensions of Roman and Nazi buildings also served to emphasize the insignificance of the individual engulfed in the architectural vastness of a state building. The philosopher Jean-Jacques_Rousseau's reactions on visiting the Pont du Gard in 1737 produced in him the response that Hitler hoped for
Architecture as religion
A major difference between the neoclassical state architecture of Nazi Germany and neoclassical architecture in other modern countries in
The first Nazi forum, Königsplatz, in
Priority was given to the erection of two "martyrs" temples Ehrentempel and ??? of identical shape, placed just too either side of the square's long axis. The Ehrentempel Königsplatz was demolished in 1947.
In 1935, Hitler said the martyrs' bodies were not to be buried out of sight in crypts, but should be placed in the open air, to act as eternal sentinels for the German nation. Hitler later insisted on this detail when Hermann Giesler planned the Volkshalle for Wiemar's forum. He asked his architect to ensure that the two crypts, which were to contain the bodies of Brown Shirts SA killed in Thuringia, which were to placed at the entrance to the Volksahlle, be lit by open oculi. It is interesting to that later still 1940 Hitler asked Giesler to plan his own mausoleum in
Troost's temples in Königsplatz were thus regarded as guard posts, a notion reinforced by the presence of SS sentinels who stood guard at the entrance of each temple. A year earlier Hitler had said that the blood of the martyrs was to be the baptismal water[Taufwasser] of the Third Reich. Such imagery perhaps disturbed devout Christians, yet it left no doubt that the cult of Nazi heroes was to replace the worship of Christian martyrs. This objective was demonstrated in another way: No Nazi forum planned for any German city was to incorporate a new church. Indeed, a cathedral [Quedlinburg] was turned into a shrine by the SS, who planned to treat the cathedrals of
On September 6, 1938, Hitler made his position clear about the attitude of the Nazis toward religion. He said that in its purpose National Socialism had no mystic cult, only the care and leadership of a people defined by a common blood relationship. He continued with the remark that Nazis had no rooms for worship, but only halls for the people (that is, no churches, but Volkshallen) no open spaces for worship, but spaces for assemblies and parades [Aumarschplätze]. Nazis had no religious retreats, only arenas sports and playing fields [Stadia] and the characteristic feature of Nazi places of assembly was not the mystical gloom of a cathedral, but the brightness and light of a room or hall that combined beauty with fitness for its purpose. Three days prior to making this statement, which relates precisely to the functions of Nazi state building plans and types, Hitler had stated that worship for Nazis was exclusively the cultivation of the natural (that is, the Dionysiac). In addition, Alfred Rosenberg made it clear that Nazism and the Christian Church we incompatible.
Thus, the huge Volkshalle was to dominate
No two buildings could better illustrate the differences between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy with respect to Christian worship. Fascist Italy incorporated
Not only were churches excluded from the new fora but so was the town hall [Rathaus] since the mayor [Bürgermeister] yielded to the Führer as the representative of local community and nation. This was an essential feature of the leader principle [Führerprinzip].
In the Nuremburg Party Rallies, leader and led met together and everyone was filled with wonder at the event, in one of Hitler's
Not every one of you sees me and I do not see every one of you. But I feel you and you feel me!
A notable feature of these rallies was that they were often held at night with spectacular light effects, such as powerful search lights, creating pillars of white light many kilometres long around the perimeter of an assembly ground. The effect of such a contrivance was described as a "Cathedral of Light" [Lichtdom]. The term is most appropriate, since Hitler had already stated in Mein Kampf that the Church in its wisdom had studied the psychological appeal made upon worshippers by their surroundings: the use of artificially produced twilight casting its secret spell upon the congregation, as well as, incense and burning candles. If the National Socialist speaker were to study the psychology of these effects, it would be beneficial. The lighting effects in
Theory of Ruin Value
The Theory of Ruin Value [Theorie vom Ruinenwert] was conceived by Albert Speer. The theory was an extension of Gottfried Semper's views about using "natural" materials and the avoidance of iron girders.
Speer's memoirs reveal Hitler's thoughts about Nazi state architecture in relation to Roman imperial architecture:
Hitler liked to say that the purpose of his building was to transmit his time and its spirit to posterity. Ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture, he remarked. What then remained of the emperors of the
Hitler accordingly approved Speer's recommendation that, in order to provide a "bridge to tradition" to future generations, modern "anonymous" materials such as steel girders and ferroconcrete should be avoided in the construction of monumental party buildings, since such materials would not produce aesthetically acceptable ruins like those wherever possible. Thus the most politically significant buildings of the Reich would to some extent even after falling into ruins after thousands of years, resemble their Roman models.
Speer expressed his views on the matter in the Four Year Plan of 1937 in his contribution Stone not Iron in which he published a photograph of the Parthenon with the subscript: "The stone buildings of antiquity demonstrate in their condition today the permanence of natural building materials." Later, after saying modern buildings rarely last more than fifty years, he continues: "The ages-old stone buildings of the Egyptians and the Romans still stand today as powerful architectural proofs of the past of great nations, buildings which are often ruins only because man's lust for destruction has made them such." Hitler approved Speer's "Law of Ruin Value" [Ruinengesetz] after Speer had shown him a sketch of the Haupttribüne as an ivy-covered ruin. The drawing pleased Hitler but scandalized his entourage.
In Mein Kampf Hitler had stressed the need for increased expenditure on public buildings that in terms of durability and aesthetic appeal would match the opera publica of the ancient world.
In his article Stein statt Eisen, Speer published a photograph of the Parthenon as an example of what he was urging German architects to imitate in terms of materials. The choice was not fortuitous, since the Parthenon was constructed entirely from marble blocks.
However, the quarries of the Reich could not supply enough granite to build Hitler's monuments. Consequently, vast quantities of granite and marble were ordered from quarries in
After the total collapse of the Third Reich in 1945, one of Speer's major state buildings, the new Chancellery in
If Hitler planned a dynastic palace/temple complex, did he also, like Augustus and Hadrian, plan to build a "founder's" mausoleum?
During Hitler's tour of
"Imagine to yourself, Giesler, if Napoleon's sarcophagus were placed beneath a large oculus, like that of the Pantheon". He goes on to express an almost mystical delight in the thought that the sarcophagus would be exposed to darkness and light, rain and snow and thus be linked directly to the universe.
Thus, Hitler decided on a mausoleum the design of which was based on that of the Pantheon, not in its original function as a temple but in its later function as a tomb of the famous: Raphael, the kings Victor Emannuel II and Umberto I.
The mausoleum was to be connected to the Halle der Partei at
Labour and plunder
The number of skilled and unskilled workers required to erect Hitler's increasingly gigantic buildings created a labour problem. When he assumed power in 1933, there were still many unemployed workers in
However, the unemployed did not always thank Hitler for their employment; German workers employed on the building of the autobahns repeatedly went on strike from 1934 onward because of their atrocious working conditions, which led to graffiti such as "Adolph Hitler's roads are built with the blood of German workers." The Gestapo was ruthlessly used for strike-breaking and recalcitrant workers were sent to concentration camps on the assumption that they were Communists.
As preparations for war and later as the demands of war absorbed increasingly larger quantities of steel, concrete and manpower, the state building program slowed down to the point where in 1943 all work virtually came to a halt at the Nuremberg rally grounds.
New quarries within
Plans were also made to import three million Slavs [Untermenshchen] into
This use of forced (slave) labour and the massive expenditure of funds on buildings commissioned by an autocrat under no constraint to disclose or justify such an expenditure, invites comparison with Roman methods of paying for and erecting the "opera publica".
The use of forced labour on building sites both in
Thus, it seems clear that Hitler's grandiose plans for the architectural embellishment of
Political Religion and Slavery in the 20th Century