‘The Third Reich, after all, was the dark side of speed, motion and industrial modernity: Air travel and air forces, autobahns built for tanks and armies, boxcars full of Jewish prisoners, industrialized death on the battlefield and in concentration camps. Nazi Germany moved to the rhythm of a collective purpose, with no place for idling flaneurs.’
That’s from Brian Ladd’s Ghosts of Berlin, a simultaneous history of Berlin and its architecture. It’s really fascinating how places like Potsdamer Platz, the Times Square of Berlin before World War II, was such a huge part of German identity that its post-Cold War restoration was both totally necessary and utterly unfathomable.
Yesterday I went to Tempelhof Airport, which was closed in 2008 and reopened as a park, runways and all, last year. Ladd describes the terminal, still one of the ten biggest buildings in the world, as a feat of Nazi architecture.
According to Ladd, the objective of Nazi architecture was to demonstrate the uniformity, strength and, above all, permanence of the Nazi regime and the German people. Albert Speer specifically designed buildings to leave attractive ruins.
The facade of Tempelhof Airport is about as welcoming as a sneer, but you can appreciate the superiority Speers and Hitler were going for. Even if I saw this building plopped in the middle of, say, Illinois, I feel like my reaction would still be ‘Damn, that is Nazi as hell.’
Hitler’s architectural plan for post-war Berlin (after Germany won, of course) planned a series of boulevards wider than the Champs Elysees and the world’s largest marble dome.
Ladd describes how Speers, after his Nuremburg trial, said his primary mistake (aesthetically, anyway) was neglecting the individual. Everything was designed for triumphant marches and vast rallies. There was no room for solitude, self-expression or contemplation in the Germany of the future.
Tempelhof airport is still here, but it’s not the silent, unbeckoning monument Speers intended. It’s just a mean babysitter watching over hundreds of families, joggers, barbecuers, softball players and dog-walkers. It’s a tribute alright, but not to the triumph of Germanity over everything else.