Nazi Architecture and Rollerbladers

‘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.

1 Comment

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One response to “Nazi Architecture and Rollerbladers

  1. Peter

    “Autobahns built for tanks and armies” is not correct. The highways where not constructed for heavy loads like tanks. That kind of transports went by train. The main routes of the Reichsautobahn were planned before Hitler, but the main work started under Hitler’s rule, and a lot of effort was made to build the highways in harmony with the surrounding enviroment and nature, so they didn’t always build them on the most practical routes. Big parts of the Reichsautobahn had to be repaired after the war, because of the heavy loads of the invading enemies and retreating german troops with their tanks. The roads where never built for war in mind.

    “industrialized death on the battlefield and in concentration camps” is also incorrect. The german equipment on the battlefields were very similar to the Allies equipment, and often less good. The german Navy was tiny compared to the british.

    The gas chambers in the concentration camps were very crude and make-shift made from morgues (in Auschwitz). Wooden doors with keyholes and glass windows. Far from the advanced industrialized gas chambers in the USA.

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