Relics of the Reich

Posted on Tuesday 12th April 2016

Establishing the faith (Gruding der glaube)
Most of these buildings are in Bavaria – the effective birthplace of the party – and associated mainly with the years before the Nazis came to power in 1933 or with the peacetime years of their rule before 1939.
"Honouring the Fallen" on the Luitpoldarena, the original area used for the Nazi Party Rallies in Nuremberg, September 1934 (Bundesarchiv, unknown)
Nuremberg is a natural starting point for an examination of the buildings and spaces bequeathed to Germany by the Nazi regime. The Rally Grounds are one of the largest Nazi sites and arguably the most symbolic. It was probably the most important location in propaganda terms and the rallies held there played a major role in strengthening the hold of the Nazis over Germany, in developing the cult of personality around Hitler and in showing off Nazi Germany to the world. Along with a number of other places in the Nazis’ birthplace of Bavaria, some built and others appropriated by them, it is part of the story of how they gained and maintained power.
The Reichsparteitagsgelande (Nazi Party Grounds) Documentation Centre which opened in Nuremberg in 2001 in the remains of the Congress Hall building (Nuremberg Museums)
In 1999 the Federal Government agreed to help fund the project and in 2001 a museum-style Information Centre, or Documentation Centre as they are known in Germany, was opened describing the role that Nuremberg played in the Nazi story. Symbolically, a single shard of glass cutting through the building was incorporated into the design to demonstrate the break with the past. In 2006 interpretation boards were placed at various points around the site explaining its history.
Wewelsburg Castle near Paderborn in the North-Rhine Westphalia was a retreat for leaders of Heinrich Himmler's feared SS (Schutzstaffel) (Wewelsburg Kreismuseum)
As well as building arenas like the Nuremberg Rally Grounds where this inculcation could take place they also adopted a number of pre-existing buildings and spaces which they invested with a Nazi significance. The castle in the village of Wewelsburg near Paderborn in North-Rhine Westphalia was one of the most notorious of these. Wewelsburg Castle was built in the early seventeenth century as a secondary residence for the Prince-Bishops of Paderborn. It was largely destroyed in the Thirty Years War, rebuilt, later damaged by fire and, in the 1920s owned by the local council. It was renovated as a youth hostel, museum, restaurant and banqueting hall. After the Nazis came to power in 1933 Heinrich Himmler visited Wewelsburg and decided that its castle was a suitable location for an educational centre for the SS (Schutzstaffel or ‘protection squad’). Work started on converting it and in September 1934 a ceremony was held to mark the opening of Wewelsburg Castle as an SS training centre. It was initially envisaged that the ‘SS Schule Haus Wewelsburg’ would provide education for the SS leadership but over the years its function appeared to change.
Strength Through Joy (Kraft Durch Freude)

Construction of what was said to be the biggest holiday complex in the world on the Baltic coast, the Prora-Rugen KdF (Strength Through Joy) complex, 1937 (Bundesarchiv, unknown)
The Nuremberg Rally Grounds are the most iconic surviving Nazi site and, arguably, the Prora-Rügen holiday complex on the Baltic coast is the most surreal. Its post-war fate also symbolizes the continuing debates about what to do with Third Reich buildings. Prora Rügen was conceived as a giant ‘Strength through Joy’ holiday camp which would provide seaside holidays for the German masses on the Baltic coastline. It was designed to accommodate 20,000 holidaymakers in eight huge buildings which extended almost 5km along the beach. The complex was designed following an architectural competition overseen by Albert Speer and, as well as the eight housing blocks, there were plans for swimming pools, theatres, cinemas and a festival hall which could have accommodated all 20,000 people staying there at one time. Construction of the complex started in 1936 but was stopped on the outbreak of war in 1939. It was never completed and no one ever had a holiday there under the Nazis. During the war some Hamburg residents, escaping the Allied bombing of their city, took refuge in one of the blocks.
The Dietrich-Eckart-Buhne on the Berlin Olympic site just before the outbreak of war in 1939 (Bundesarchiv, A. Frankl)
The Dietrich-Eckart-Bühne, designed by Werner March, was built on the Olympic site in Berlin. A production of a specially commissioned drama, Eberhard Wolfgang Möller’s Frankenburger Würfelspiel, was premiered on 2 August, the day after the opening of the Games. The amphitheatre was used for a number of Olympic events including boxing. Afterwards, like other Thingstätten, it was used more widely for choral and opera performances and played a role in the 1937 celebration of the 700th anniversary of the founding of Berlin. September 1965 ended in a riot with major damage to the arena. The ruins of the first Thingstätte at Brandberge are designated a historical monument but many others, including the largely intact arena in Heidelberg, are still complete and used as public parks.
The seat of Germany's fragile democracy during the Weimar Republic - the Reichstag in 1932 (Bundesarchiv, unknown)
The single most iconic building in Germany to be all but destroyed during the Nazi era was the very heart and symbol of German government and its fragile democracy – the Reichstag.
The wanton devastation of ‘Kristallnacht’ – 9 and 10 November 1938 – when over 1,000 synagogues were destroyed and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses were attacked probably constitutes the single most shocking act of state-sponsored destruction of the property of its own citizens in modern history. Attacks on Jews and their buildings were, of course, not confined to that night and were part of a theme of destruction undertaken by the Nazis against people and objects they considered ‘un-German’ – including the notorious burning of books and destruction of works of art.
The Reichstag, restored as the seat of the German Parliament after reunification in 1990, is now a major tourist destination (Colin Philpott)
SHowing off to the world
View of the Olympic Stadium, Berlin from the air during the 1936 Summer Olympic Games (Bundesarchiv, Heinrich Hoffman)
This view makes it difficult, if not impossible, to separate the architecture from the political motivation. The stadium and the other associated structures are irredeemably grim and foreboding. It is almost as though the walls have trapped within them the cheers of 100,000 people welcoming Hitler with Nazi salutes. Newsreel images of swastikas fluttering in the wind alongside the Olympic flag still seem to haunt the place. The alternative view is that the Berlin Olympic Stadium is a superb example of 1930s architecture. Perhaps its most striking feature is the way it is deliberately sunk into the ground with the surface of the sporting arena 12m below ground level. The effect is to make it look smaller from the outside. Once inside the stadium itself the volume and scale of the arena below ground level become apparent. The neo-classical concrete symmetry of the stadium is both compelling and impressive and makes this an appropriate building for an event of truly international significance.
Interior of Berlin Olympic Stadium after its refurbishment for the 2006 football World Cup (Colin Philpott)
Of the other Olympic structures, the Deutschlandhalle, which hosted boxing, weightlifting and wrestling, was finally demolished in 2011 despite its historical monument status. It had been rebuilt after the war as a multi-purpose sports and entertainment venue but by the twenty-first century was outshone by other and newer Berlin venues. A purpose-built ice arena now stands on the site.
Planes on the tarmac at Berlin Tempelhof, 1948 around the time of the Berlin Airlift (US Air Force)
Two airports in Germany’s two leading cities, both created as monuments to Nazism and both now closed to air traffic, are further examples of the grandiose architectural ambitions of the Third Reich. Although no longer airports, they both survive in the twenty-first century with new uses but with the Nazi connection ever-present. The former Tempelhof Airport, south of the centre of Berlin, is yet another pre-existing site which was appropriated by the Nazis after their assumption of power for propaganda and practical reasons. Tempelhof was an airfield in the early years of flying before the First World War and the great aviation pioneer Orville Wright was one of the first to land there. The first operational terminal building dated from 1927 but, after 1933, Albert Speer commissioned Ernst Sagebiel to redesign Tempelhof in a style befitting the capital of the Third Reich.
Interior of main hall at Berlin Tempelhof - visitors can tour the building and see this remnant of Nazi architecture (Alan Ford)
Construction of the Nuremberg Congress Hall on the Rally Grounds site during 1939 (Nuremberg Stadtarchiv)
War and Implosion
Bendlerblock, berlin
Bendlerblock building today - as well as being a memorial site, it is home to the German Federal Defence Ministry (Beek 100)
The building was the Bendlerblock which had originally been built as the headquarters of the Imperial German Navy in 1914. It was named after Johann Christoph Bendler – a Prussian landowner and Berlin City Councillor. After the First World War it became the headquarters of the German Army, a role which was expanded after the Nazis came to power in 1933, and served as the base for several departments of the Wehrmacht High Command during the war. It was here that ‘Operation Valkyrie’ was masterminded. Originally this was a contingency plan developed by the Wehrmacht to maintain order in the event of a breakdown of civil order in wartime Germany. It was, however, modified by a group of high-ranking officers with access to the plan. They plotted to assassinate Hitler and install a new leadership in Germany to make peace with the Allies. The leaders were General Friedrich Olbricht, Major General Henning von Tresckow and Claus von Stauffenberg. On the very evening of 20 July 1944 the conspirators were summarily executed in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock. In the final days of the war, the Bendlerblock was used as a military command post; it surrendered to the Russians but, under the occupation agreement, became part of the western sector of Berlin. Part of it now houses the Memorial to the German Resistance – a museum chronicling not only the ‘20 July Plot’ but all resistance during the Third Reich. A plaque in the courtyard commemorates the site of the plotters’ execution. Since German reunification many other parts of the building have become the home of the Federal Defence Ministry. Makers of the 2008 Tom Cruise film Valkyrie, which told the story of the ‘20 July Plot’, were given permission to film the execution scenes in the Bendlerblock courtyard.
Garden of the Reich Chancellery under which lay the bunker complex where the last days of the Third Reich were played out (Bundesarchiv, unknown)
The bunker where the last days of the Third Reich were played out was deep below the garden of the Reich Chancellery in the centre of Berlin. This building was the centrepiece of the German Government although Hitler spent relatively little time in Berlin, particularly during the war. The native Austrian with a fondness for Bavaria was not particularly enamoured of the German capital. Nevertheless, in the death throes of the Nazi regime, he announced that he would stay in his capital city and fight to the last. From January until his suicide at the end of April he spent nearly all his time there.
The rebuilt Frauenkirche, Dresden rededicated in 2005 - part of the impressive rebuilding after the wartime damage (Harold Hoyer)
Dresden, like many other German cities, has now been impressively rebuilt. Since 1959 Dresden has been twinned with Coventry, itself the victim of a ferocious German bombing raid in 1940.
"It was one of the darkest, albeit short-lived, periods in human history - the reign of terror unleashed by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. The sense of shame, guilt and disgust associated with such an evil regime is heightened because it arose in an apparently developed, sophisticated and cultured country. After three quarters of a century an enduring fascination with the Third Reich remains even though very few people who could be said to be meaningfully complicit in its horror are still alive."
Left: The Zeppelin Field Grandstand is one of the most iconic Nazi remains anywhere in Germany (Steven Wagner)
Above: The remains of the Zeppelin Field Grandstand from which Hitler addressed the annual Nazi Party Rallies in Nuremberg (Adam Jones)
Munich's premier beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus, is still a thriving tourist attraction but was the scene of many Nazi party meetings in the 1920s
Much of the early history of the Nazis in the 1920s involved beer halls – a slightly incongruous fact given Hitler’s teetotalism. The two most famous Munich beer halls in the Nazi story were the Bürgerbräukeller and the Hofbräuhaus. The Hofbräuhaus is still in use. It was badly damaged by Allied bombing towards the end of the war but was repaired and reopened in the 1950s. Packed with locals and visitors, it is now part of the thriving tourist economy of Munich. Beer served in tall glasses is delivered to the tables in an exuberant fashion by waiters and waitresses in traditional Bavarian dress. While enjoying beer in the large main room it is difficult to connect the colourful vibrancy of twenty-first century Munich with the black and white images of Hitler and other Nazis delivering fiery speeches there almost a century ago.
The Hofbräuhaus dates back to 1589 and, by the beginning of the twentieth century, had become a major meeting place with a variety of function rooms as well as its main beer hall. It is said to have been frequented by Mozart and later by Lenin. It was well established as a venue for political meetings before the First World War and natural that the Nazis should use it. They are thought to have held their first meetings there in early 1920 – including on 24 February when Hitler delivered a twenty-five point National Socialist programme before 2,000 people. It is claimed that some of his earliest anti Semitic speeches were delivered there. Unsurprisingly the account of the history of the Hofbräuhaus on its own website does not mention the Nazi connection.
The new Nazi Documentation Centre opened in April 2015 in Munich on the site of the former Braunes Haus, once the Nazi Party HQ (Munich Tourism Office)
At the end of April 2015, a new Nazi Documentation Centre opened in Munich detailing the story of the city’s role in the Nazi era. The opening, on the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Nazi regime, was a highly significant event in the continuing debate over Germany’s handling of the Third Reich legacy. Politicians, academics, families of victims and citizens of the Bavarian capital had argued for decades about the need for such a centre and, if so, what form it should take. The view from elsewhere in Germany and from many inside Munich was that the city, often dubbed ‘The Capital of the Movement’, had been too slow to acknowledge its complicity and significance in the emergence of Hitler and his party. The Documentation Centre was opened on the site of one of the most important buildings bequeathed by the Nazis to Munich – the Braunes Haus, or Brown House, on Brienner Strasse. The building, which was originally built in 1828 as a private residence called the Barlow Palace, was offered by its owner to the Nazi Party. It was agreed that the gifted building should replace the party’s existing undersized national headquarters in the city and conversion work was undertaken prior to the opening on 1 January 1931. Hitler and a number of other leading Nazis maintained offices there.
Work on the Prora-Rugen holiday complex was never completed as it was abandoned on the outbreak of the war in 1939 (unknown)
Promotional image of some of the new holiday apartments being created at Prora-Rugen (Standpark)
No one ever had a holiday at the Prora-Rugen KdF holiday complex during the Third Reich but the buildings remain (unknown)
Heiligenberg Thingstattem Heidelberg remains like many Thingstatten across Germany and is now part of a public park (Bishkekrocks)
The Reichstag well alight on the evening of 27 February 1933 - the Nazis used the fire as a pretext for violent anti-Communist persecution (US National Archives and Records Administration, unknown)
Allied bomb damage at the Reichstag towards the end of the war in early 1945 (Sergeant Hewitt, British Army Film and Photography Unit)
The distinctive 1930s architecture of the Olympic Stadium, Berlin - the pillars surrounding the stadium (Colin Philpott)
Berlin's Olympic Stadium has hosted many major sporting and cultural events since the Nazi era (Colin Philpott)
Remains of the Olympic Village swimming pool - there are hopes of restoration of this site as a housing development (N. Lange)
The most forlorn remains of the 1936 Olympics are a few miles away from the stadium at the sire of the Olympic village. This was part of the Soviet zone of occupation and was used as an interrogation centre by the KGB. Since the Soviet departure in the 1980s it has remained a riun.
Berlin Tempelhof Airport Main Buildings which remain since the closure of the airport in 2008 (Alan Ford)
In the latter half of the 1930s, as commercial aviation grew in popularity, Tempelhof became one of the busiest airports in the world and compared with Paris-Le Bourget and London Croydon as the glamorous hubs of a new form of transport only available to the wealthy. At its peak Tempelhof received over 100 flights daily using the old terminal building while the new one was under construction – and that remained unfinished during the Third Reich. Part of Tempelhof was built on the site of one of the earliest Nazi concentration camps, Columbia, which had opened in 1933 but which was closed three years later to make way for the airport. By the 1990s Tempelhof’s position as Berlin’s leading airport was already weakening. A non-binding referendum in Berlin failed to stop the closure and the last flights left Tempelhof at the end of October 2008. Tempelhof has since enjoyed a new lease of life. It is now a massive urban park known as Tempelhofer Freiheit, bigger than New York’s Central Park, and crowds flock there daily to enjoy Berlin’s ‘urban lung’. Concerts and sports events are staged and tours can be taken around the old preserved terminal buildings. The historical legacy of Tempelhof is also marked by a memorial to those who suffered and died at the Columbia Concentration Camp.
Future Fantasies (Zukunftsphantasien)
The remains of the Nuremberg Congress Hall from above - much of the building is now used as a store for the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra (Nico Hoffman)
The Nuremberg Congress Hall today - it is the largest remaining Nazi era building in Germany (Stefan Wagner)
The Nazis wanted a classically-proportioned indoor space for use during the annual party rallies to complement the outdoor Zeppelin Field. Modelled on the Coliseum in Rome, it was designed by the Nuremberg architects, Ludwig and Fran z Ruff. The foundation stone was laid in 19 35 and the building, had it been completed, would have reached a height of 70m and a diameter of 250m. Construction was halted on the outbreak of war with the roofless building only half complete. Yet another grand design of the Third Reich came to nothing but more work had been done on the Congress Hall than any other of these visionary projects. The post-war fate of this building provoked the question of what to do with something that wasn't small enough to ignore and for which, unlike many Nazi structures, there was no obvious alternative. Parts of the building are now in use. It has been a store for the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra for many years and, since 2008, the orchestra has also staged a series of summer concerts in part of the outdoor space within the Congress Hall walls in an area known as the Serenadenhof. Most importantly, one end of the building houses the NS-Documentation Centre for the Rally Grounds.
Railway lines leading to the Auschwitz extermination camp - the image which has come to symbolise the Holocaust (Angelo Celedon)
"The Holocaust was brutally simple in its objective but complicated, far-reaching and devastating in its impact. The terrible implementation happened over several years at a range of locations both inside and outside Germany."
The new Reich Chancellery, Berlin designed by Albert Speer in the late 1930s (Bundesarchiv, unknown)
The original Reich Chancellery had been established as the official residence of the German Chancellor in the Bismarck era in 1878. The building was a revamp of an earlier palace in Wilhelmstrasse. During the Weimar Republic it was extended and, after the Nazis came to power, it was further redeveloped in the mid-1930s as Hitler’s residence by the architect Paul Troost. The alterations included the creation in 1936 of an air-raid shelter complex beneath the Chancellery known as the Vorbunker and during the war a deeper bunker, the Führerbunker, was added.

Further Reading

Relics of the Reich
(Hardback - 216 pages)
ISBN: 9781473844247

by Colin Philpott
Only £19.99

Relics of the Reich is the story of what happened to the buildings the Nazis left behind. Hitler's Reich may have been defeated in 1945 but many buildings, military installations and other sites remained. At the end of the War, some were obliterated by the victorious Allies but others survived.

For almost fifty years, these were left crumbling and ignored with post-war and divided Germany unsure what to do with them, often fearful that they might become shrines for neo-Nazis. Since the early 1990's, Germans have come…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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