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Nazi Architecture: A History of Repression

On the 30th of January 1933, Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany; his control over the state resulted in major shifts within the economic, political, and social discourses. The reshaping that took place is reflected within the architecture produced at this time. Hitler strived to create a powerful country, which was unified under Nazi ideologies. The foundation of his new policies was solidified by one dominating concept: racial superiority. Hitler intended to reflect stratification through propaganda. Total architecture was used as a symbolic, non-verbal gesture to present the German people as a dominant “race”. The actions under the Nazi regime were justified though the de-humanizing of groups of individuals such as Jews, homosexuals, disabled people, and other “undesirables”. (Stewart, 1973) In addition, the Nazi doctrine included the cleansing of previous architecture that was not considered to be German in origin by Nazi standards. In fact, Hitler believed that modern architecture was Jewish, and thus, inferior. Movements such as the Bauhaus style were prohibited in Germany during the period of Hitler’s reign. The Nazi party went so far as to hold a Degenerative art expo; an event that showcased condemned modern art and presented artists as inferior, depraved individuals. (Stewart, 1973)

Since the beginning of Hitler’s reign a monopolization of design occurred. Much like the aristocrats of France or the monarchy in England, Hitler controlled design. Buildings were supposed to be physically functional, but also serve a larger purpose; bringing together the German community through architecture was the driving force behind design. Ultimately the buildings that were designed were not supposed be pleasing, but their purpose was to fulfill a conventional and larger ideological task. (Stewart, 1973)Roman and neoclassical styles of architecture dominated the landscape in Nazi Germany. Hitler believed that ancient Aryan peoples invented these styles. (Scobie, 1990) Buildings such as the Altar Victory were inspired by Greek antiquity; these structures were used as monuments, which represented a new order within Germany. The three goals of Nazi propaganda architecture were theatrical, symbolic, and, didactic. Hitler viewed architecture as a means of manipulation, and control over the German public. Through meticulous architectural planning, a cult of victory ideology was implanted in Nazi Germany. (Scobie, 1990)

Theatrical buildings served two main purposes in Germany, to create indirect and direct ties to the German past. Direct ties offered a link to the past for German people. Buildings with historical significance were transformed to serve Nazi purposes. Hitler believed it was important to create a “blood and soil” link for German people. His idea was that German blood should occupy German land thus; German people should make buildings out of materials in Germany and be constructed by the citizens of the state, exclusively. (Scobie, 1990) Art shifted from a means of individual expression to a discourse that would serve and grow Nazi ideologies. All previous artwork that was materialist, Marxist, or Communist in nature was immediately disposed of by the Nazi party. Hitler performed a selective cleansing of past German architecture, and only selected works that would represent his long term plans for Germany. In Joseph Gobles “Speech of Justification” he stated: “When you students take upon yourselves the task of casting this and where the filth into the flames, then you must also take it upon yourselves the duty of replacing it with real German spirit of the street”. (Zalampas, 1990) An example of the cleansing that took place in Germany is the Degenerative Art Expo of 1937. Styles such as DaDa, Bauhaus, and, Surrealism were showcased to create a dialectic opposition between the German public and the Nazi-party’s list of “undesirables”. Hitler intended to showcase these “degenerates” as individuals who were “born criminal” they were characterized as people who were unable to create coherent art, and were considered “unnatural” and “abnormal”. (Saylor Academy, 2011)

The “blood and soil” mantra of the Nazi party is reflected in classical Roman inspired architecture of the Hellenic past. Hitler yearned to create “thing” places of historical significance. These architectural feats were physical locations Germans could visit and embrace their German heritage. All of the “thing” places were part of the Nazi approved list of the German past. (Taylor, 1974) One of the approved buildings was the Altes Museum. This building was constructed between 1823 and 1830, and designed by architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The neo-classical designed building was originally used to house the Prussian royal family’s art collection. Hitler used this building as a symbol of the past royal Berlin; he adorned the building with Nazi flags as a symbolic joining of classic past with the new Nazi order. (Taylor, 1974)

The Museum has been designed in the neoclassical style; there is a strong rectilinear line that follows along the coliseum, the columns are fashioned in the Ionic order, but the roof is adorned with eagles. The interior features a coffered ceiling, and a large oculus is present in the atrium of the building. Hitler admired the temple construction of the building; the grandeur of the museum of Altes was representative of Nazi ideologies. It symbolized the strength and power of National Socialism. Furthermore, the use of cut stone and muted tones reflects Hitler’s mission to create a uniform and resilient image of Germany for the German people. Hitler despised materials such as reinforced concrete and plaster; he cited their weak composition and inferior design as reasons to no include them in construction.. He felt that these materials were the anti-thesis to the Nazi ideologies of strength and eternal greatness. During Nazi occupation, this building was used to deliver speeches to the public. The ceremonies acted as a celebration of the German race, and included overwhelming displays of pageantry. The many swastikas and flags that invaded the building showed the dominance of National Socialism. The Nazi’s goal was to create a stage for the community experience. Ultimately, Nazi architecture was not supposed to be visually pleasing, but its purpose was to fulfill it’s given task. (Taylor, 1974)

In September 1937, Hitler commissioned architect Albert Speer to construct the German Stadium which would be used for sports spectacles at the Nazi rallies. The project cost the Nazi regime over 115 million to produce, but was never fully constructed due to the onslaught of World War II. It was designed to hold 400 000 people, rising up to five stories high. Its construction was to feature a brick core, with a granite face; this allowed material such as steel and reinforced concrete to be avoided. The use of Granite and brick served to fulfill ideological goals, linking the structure to the classical German past and further ties to Greek architecture, peoples that were supposedly Aryan in origin.

Each of these architectural structures was dependent on the building economy; the political management of resources was essential to enable the construction of these mega-structures. Because certain materials such as stone were utilized, quarries were expected to output large amounts product at any cost. Stone masonries were revitalized in this process, and specialization within stone craftsmanship became an in-demand occupation. Subsequently, quarries would often utilize the labour of concentration camps; SS soldiers would obtain contracts from the government and conduct quantative strategies for producing the largest amount of stone. (Jaskot, 1999) Nazis, who held powerful positions within concentration camps considered workers to be expendable. They ignored the relationship between labor conditions and output, and would focus their output goals on the mass deterioration and replacement of workers. This depraved system allowed mega-structures to be completed at a rapid rate, but at the cost of thousands of human lives.

The relationship between the architectural structure and the individual was a concept, which was very important to Hitler. The architecture of this period was designed not to represent freedom of choice and personal expression, but to be used as a tool to coerce individuals into involuntary compliance. (Stewart, 1973) Hitler spent as much of his time focusing on military maps, as he did on architectural blueprints. His most prominent architect said this of him: “Hitler’s designs are like his speeches… filled with an inescapable, machine like force. He has no perceptible sense of proportion, interval, space, or even ornament. But he did know that very big buildings tend to make very big impressions on people. And that was enough.” (Stewart, 1973) Although Hitler designed new buildings in the Greek, Roman, and neoclassical styles he was not concerned with the origins of these styles and the original purposes behind each distinct building and style. Hitler only was concerned with what the buildings and architecture were able to represent. The joining of the German community was at the utmost of importance when designing all structures; the grandiose designs that Hitler commissioned were envisioned as pieces that would strike fear and awe into the members of the state, and to all outsiders looking into Germany at the time. His plans of world domination, and his own personal narcissism drove him to create buildings that rejected the Greek principles of symmetry and individual achievement. The concept of arte in Greek antiquity, and the socialist principles found the structures of the bathhouses in Ancient Rome were dismissed in favour of dominating architecture. These buildings had the mission of unifying German people and ostracizing all other groups who opposed Nazi ideologies.

The Waldbühne was one of the many mega-structures that represented the cult of victory ideology that Hitler was striving for. This building held the Olympic Games of 1936 and was designed by Werner March. The bulding was done in the style of a classical Greek theatre, and the venue was able to hold over 22 000 people. Holding the olympic events was designed to create a sense of national pride, and instill a superiority of race in the German people. The lack of ordemenation that the building posessed appealed to Hitler, as he despised the gothic style. He viewed this style as having cosmetic appeal in its design. The high peeked steeples, and superflous flying butresses would destract the observer from the true purpose of he building –community. However, community in this definition did not entail actually desigining buildings that would meet the social needs of the community. (Scobie, 1990) (Taylor, 1974)

The architectural achievements of Nazi Germany were only able to be fulfilled though the dehumanization of other groups of people. The Nazi’s worked people to the point of death in concentration camps in order to create the materials to make architectural buildings. In May of 1940 Auschwitz became an operational concentration camp, and housed over 30 000 people at a time. Its purpose was to put people to work in the gravel pits, and also carry out the ethnic cleansing orders of the Nazi party. The architectural designs of the camp included the efficient, systematic killing of thousands of people. Auschwitz had multiple bunkers, and by 1943 the average killing rate reached 800 people per day. By 1944 more than half a million Jews were killed in Auschwitz. (University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada, Jean-Claude Pressac, 2010) During its operation, Auschwitz underwent countless re-designs, which would increase the output of bodies. The camp was designed to be inconspicuous; chambers were put underground, and the smoke the admitted was explained a result of auto factories near by. The Auschwitz camp was recorded to have murdered between 1 and 1.1 million people, mostly of Jewish heritage. (University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada, Jean-Claude Pressac, 2010) The creation of these camps is the ultimate manifestation of the depraved nature of the Nazi doctrine.

Over the course of Hitler’s reign, Germany underwent immense economic, political, and, social changes. The architecture that he commissioned was to be an example and a reflection of the stratification he instilled within the state. The grandiose structures that were concieved were designed to be a physical manifestation of the racial superiority which Hitler believed to be true. The mission of the Nazi party was to create buildings that had theatrical, symbolic, and diadetic components. These pieces of architecture would be used as a method of control and manupliation for the citizens of Germany. In addition, the directive of Nazi occupation included world domination, repression, and, murder for all people who did not conform to the rigid guidelines of the Nazi docterine. Architectural buildings of Nazi origin stand as a monoumet of warning to future societies.