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'''Nazi architecture''' is an often dismissed and derided aspect of Nazi plans to create a cultural and spiritual rebirth in Germany
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 mold not only the world but the people who inhabit it. It forces people to move 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 user as well The Nazis saw this aspect of architecture as playing a key role in creating their new order
The Nazis saw architecture as playing three primary roles in the creation of their new order: as a stage for party and community events as a symbol of the new National Socialist Germany and in a didactic role meant to teach specific lessons They also saw architecture as a method of producing buildings that had a function but also served a larger purpose The House of German Art had the function of housing art but through its form style and design it also had the purpose of being a community structure built using an Aryan style and to act as a kind of 'temple' to 'acceptable" 'German' art

Architecture as a stage

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 in part also legitimated 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 Berlin took place in a Lustgarten that had been transformed into a stage This transformation was not the standard dressing of a specific place but a creation of a new 'anonymous pure cubic space' that 'freed itself from the immediate history of Berlin the church and the monarchy yet was still associated with the distant aura of an Hellenic past' This was simply the creation of a new ceremonial place in direct competition with the former royal palace and Altes Museum both even in the 1930s still symbols of a royal Berlin The symbolism was clear Any speaker at the event would be standing in front of an Altes Museum which housed Germany's classical collection that could only be seen by the audience through Nazi banners There was a link between the new order and the classical past but the new order was paramount
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 as well as when they were created and why they were created Designs of this kind occasionally occur by accident The architectural styles speak to the tastes of those who constructed the building and?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

Symbolic architecture

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 Eatwell sees the format used at the Nuremberg rallies as 'a mixture of Catholic ceremony and left-wing Expressionist form and lighting while Sir Neville Henderson saw 'a cathedral of ice' Still if a building was designed and built using the Nazi version of what was 'German' it was considered 'Nazi' architecture
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 Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg the planned 'Volkhalle' for Berlin and the Dietrich Eckart Stage in Berlin This style was not just used for physical constructions but on the ordered columns of searchlights that formed Speer's 'cathedral of light' used at the Nuremberg Party Rallies
The völkish style was primarily used in rural settings for accommodation or community structures like the Ordensburg in Krossinsee the walls and watchtowers of Flossenbürg camp|KL Flossenbürg] and Mauthausen-Gusen camp|KL Mauthausen] It was also to be applied to rural new towns as it represented a mythical medieval time when Germany was free of foreign and cosmopolitan influences This style was also used in a limited way for buildings with modern uses like weather service broadcasting and the administration building for the federal post office
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 Berlin finds analogues all over the world Long boulevards with important buildings along them can be found in the grid pattern road structures of Washington and New City|New York] the Mall and Whitehall in London and the boulevards of Paris Large domes can be found on the buildings of the Mughal Empire of India as well as on the Capitol in Washington the Pantheon and Basilica di San Pietro in Rome Even the Kraft durch Freude ("Strength through Joy") resort at Prora is not wholly unlike the buildings envisaged by Le Corbusier in his 'City of Three Million Inhabitants' The building of a formal governmental zone outside the center of an old city or totally on its own had become commonplace by the 1930s This is not to say their plans were simply an attempt to copy others but that they were following a pattern already established in human society The forms used may have been inspired by other city redevelopment plans like Lutyens' Delhi Burnham's Chicago or even Burley Griffin's Canberra but they were not an attempt to copy them The Nazis sought not to rebuild but to build
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 Weimar Republic The lack of any human scale details or plain exteriors may have produced an overwhelming effect but this style was common from the 1910s onwards This modern approach was not limited to the neo-classical buildings for city centers but was also used for völkish buildings like Ordensburgs and Autobahn garages
The neo-classical style used was not novel for the time It was firmly 'anchored in [1] time' Speer's style was 'assimilating the international Thirties style of public architecture which was then being pursued as a modernizing Classicism' This is in direct contrast to Peter Adam's attempts to separate Nazi art from the zeitgeist and present it as something that can only be looked at 'through the lens of Auschwitz camp|Auschwitz]' This is trying to establish by default a thesis that ugly regimes must produce ugly buildings and that such regimes are so evil that everything they produce must be evil or 'third-rate' The reality was that destroying to build anew was 'a standard polemical gesture of the Modernist movement' and the styles chosen were not unlike the ones being used at the time To criticize Speer's architectural style is to criticize buildings being built at the same time all over the world Ultimately Nazi architecture was not supposed to be pleasing; its purpose was to fulfil its task
Hitler saw the buildings of the past as direct representations of the culture that created them as well as 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 Our architectural works should also speak to the conscience of a future Germany centuries from now"
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 (such were our reckonings) 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 whereas what it actually does is look at the type of buildings that survive from the past and why they survived It also attempts to build into the new buildings of the Reich such principles Also the infrastructure and organization behind the provision of material was purely of the time Hitler was not to be like Shelley's Ozymandias a leader boasting about his power to the future but the builder of 'symbolic expressions of the movement' and the new Germany they would create
These buildings were not to be like the Reichstag seen as 'a grandiose monument conjuring up historical reminiscences' but as symbols of a new Germany These buildings had to be suitable for their intended role An example of this is the rebuilt Reichskanzlei that was planned as a symbol of the Greater German Reich which included Austria even though at the time of planning the Anschluss was still three years away So important was the symbolism of the buildings that their form was decided on long before their construction and in some cases before the events they were to symbolize Speer himself remarked that many of the buildings Hitler asked him to construct were 'glorifying the victories he hasn't yet in his pocket' Hitler had drawn sketches of buildings he hoped to build as early as the 1920s 'when there was not a shred of hope that they could ever be built' These buildings also had to look the part The Reichskanzlei must look like 'the center of the Reich' not the 'head-quarters of a soap company' These building would be the 'great cultural documents' that the new order would create in their 'stronger protected community'
Symbolic architecture need not be built as it often existed already In 1941 the SS magazine Das Schwarze Korps published an essay by Himmler entitled "German Castles in the East" in which he wrote that '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' He 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 remodeled like Braunschweig Cathedral which was the burial place of Henry the Lion co-opted like Strasbourg Cathedral as the monument to Germany's unknown soldier or moved to a more appropriate position like the Victory Column in Berlin
Like the Sacré-Coeur basilica in Montmartre or the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome the new buildings of the National Socialists would replace the commercial buildings that were signs of the 'cultural decay and general break-up' of the Berlin of the 1930's To express their true Aryan nature the Nazis had to destroy the creations of non-Germans and the decadent past and accept Hitler's judgment as to 'which way German art must go in order to fulfil its task as the expression of German character' The new Berlin like the new National Socialist Germany would superimpose itself onto the decadence of the old The Nazi vision of a city would replace the visions of the past They would replace the 'twilight' or the past with 'clarity cleanliness and pure distinct lines'
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 Europe of the end of winter and of the reawakening of nature' as well as the focus of community events At the doors of the German Pavilion at the 1937 Exhibition] were two sets of seven meter high statues that symbolized family and community The pavilion that was designed as a blatant symbol of Nazi Germany was planned by a German Albert Speer and built solely out of German materials shipped from within Germany There can be no clearer symbol of the importance a person attaches to a symbol of his country than the expense and effort of shipping such a quantity of material to another country

Didactic Architecture

Hitler saw architecture as 'the Word in stone' a method of imparting a message This is not 'regime architecture' as primarily for general propaganda purposes as argued by Benton but is work meant to impart a specific message This would be a message that all 'decent Germans' would understand like the lessons of events like the Degenerate Art exhibition staged in Munich in 1937 They would not understand it because they were told to; they would understand it simply because of who they were
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 It is 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 United States have constructed major government buildings in historical styles to get across a specific message
While Hitler saw the architecture of the Weimar Republic as an object lesson in cultural decline the new buildings he would build would teach a different lesson that of national rebirth The size of the buildings proposed for Berlin was not megalomaniacal; size was meant to 'restore to each individual German his self-respect' and to signify the insignificance of the individual in relation to the community as a whole The distinct lack of any detailing at a human scale in the urban neo-classical building would have simply overawed imparting the message without any subtlety If the message was not understood it would be drummed in by 'making people go in straight lines to predetermined positions' The message of community would even affect holidays Clemens Klotz's Prora would not only have a Festhalle in which people would hear speeches and get involved in communal events but would also give everyone 'the same view of the sea'
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 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

See also