July 8, 2008

Nazi Architecture: with photos and links

Two examples of the Neo-Classical Style Nazi Architecture. Left: This was a series of office buildings in a semi-circle around an open area, featuring decorative sculptures by Werner March. Most of these decorative works are now gone, but some remain. (Werner Rittich, "Architektur und Bauplastik der Gegenwart," Berlin, 1938. Right: Olympic Stadium, (period photo from Werner Rittich, "Architektur und Bauplastik der Gegenwart," Berlin, 1938). Photos and captions courtesty Geoff Walden, Third Reich Ruins.

I grew up with an interest in architectural history and followed this with graduate work. After attending a convention in Minneapolis in 2000 and discovering the great swath of burned and abandoned early industrial inner city mills, I came away fascinated by these monumental ruined structures. Last week, while immobilized by a common cold, I was online looking for abandoned sites when I found a link to Geoff Walden’s Third Reich Ruins. There in front of me were hundreds of pages containing an abandoned and ruined powerful political architecture.

Following link after link I learned that Hitler rejected the use of the popular, curvilinear “Moderne” as “intellectual Bolshevism” (www.nzetc.org/). He urged his architect, Paul Troost, a Bauhaus trained engineer, (www.spiritus-temporis.com), to rethink the Roman influence and mix it with a bit of baroque. This new pared down Neo-Classical style was established as "the Fuhrer's Style" before Speer or others became a part of the Hitler’s architectural hierarchy. This now focused architecture was used for the important public buildings and large public and ceremonial areas. The reshaping of Berlin into a neo-classical city began in early 1936 with the Olympic Stadium. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welthauptstadt_Germania) Speer’s plan to create a new German Capital, Germania, from the old Berlin were put on hold in 1939 to save strategic materials. (Speer, Albert (1970). Inside the Third Reich)

The simple lines and Roman influenced colonnades of the new Nazi formal architecture were often adorned with many-story-tall flags, and banners in striking red with the black swastika. Alexander Scobie writes in Hitler's State Architecture: The Impact of Classical Antiquity, “Flags and insignia played an important part in Nazi ceremonial and in the decoration of buildings. The eagle-topped standards carried by the SA at Nuremberg rallies were reminiscent of Roman legionary standards, the uniformity of which Hitler admired.” (Hitler, Table Talk, 146) This eagle, often seen gripping a wreath enclosed swastika, was used to adorn many facades of Hitler’s more formal structures. Scobie continues, “There can be little doubt that Hitler’s state architecture, even when seen today in photographs of architectural models, conveys a sense of "Power and Force." Albert Speer took these Roman themed symbols and liberally used them to reinforce the powerful propaganda uses of the buildings and spaces created for the Third Reich.

Flags flanking the Lustgarten and on top of the May Pole, Berlin. The Lustgarten is a large open area flanked by museums. The May Pole (Maibaum) can be seen with with the Altes Museum in the background, during a May Day celebration. Photo and captions courtesy Geoff Walden, Third Reich Ruins.

Scobie also quotes Speer saying, “The Romans built arches of triumph to celebrate the big victories won by the Roman Empire, while Hitler built them to celebrate victories he had not yet won" (Scobie 133-134).”

Leon Krier writes in his article The Suppression of Classical Architecture in Postwar Germany, “It is undeniable that Classical architecture was one of the most important and reliable of all the methods of Nazi propaganda.” The grand gathering places such as the Nuremburg Party Rally Grounds, the official buildings in Berlin, and the Templehof airport were dramatic in their designs and enhanced by over sized sculptures and giant banners which added to their propaganda factor.

Many of Hitler’s other grand plans were not started before the beginning of the war. Some massive groupings of buildings, such as the Prora KdF Resorts by architect Clement Klotz, remained incomplete by the end of the war. Geoff Walden writes in Third Reich in Ruins, “Among the most ambitious of the Third Reich construction projects were five planned seaside resort complexes for the Kraft durch Freude (KdF - Strength Through Joy) workers association…..these seaside resorts were meant to provide affordable vacations for [20,000 of] the average German worker[s].” Today the several kilometer long Prora Resort lies empty and crumbling along the seacoast and is classified as a historical monument. (http://www.inst.at/trans/15Nr/10_5/rostock15.htm)

The North arm of the Prora complex from the "Deutsche Wochenschau" weekly newsreel, from about 1941. Note the three foundations for Community Houses jutting out onto the beach. Photo and caption courtesy Geoff Walden, Third Reich Ruins.

Many individual neo-classical structures such as Hermann Göring's Air Ministry complex, Joseph Goebbels' Ministry of Propaganda, and the Olympic Stadium by architect Werner March were completed and survived the war almost intact. Many other buildings damaged during the war, were destroyed post WWII by massive dynamiting rather than being repaired, in an attempt to remove all signs of this classical architectural propaganda. Leon Krier says, “Classical architecture has become both the unknown ghost and the tragic victim.” Jeffry Diefendorf writes In the Wake of War that, “Krier admires and applauds the architectural monuments of the Third Reich as powerful, seductively beautiful objects of art….and “dares” his readers to “find a beauty in an architecture that has clearly and intentionally served to legitimize a political system we clearly despise.”

In National Socialism, there were two architectural styles. It took me far longer to find a trail to the Volk architectural style. A Thomas Zeller article about Alwin Seifert finally caught my eye. Almost at the same time as the neo-Classical style appeared in the German cities, Seifert began to mold the countryside into a new philosophical and political shape. Zeller wrote of Seifert in Molding the Landscape of Nazi Environmentalism, that the arrogant, brusque Seifert made all of Germany his garden. He believed that the connection between landscape and the human soul was uniquely German. He also believed that a particular type of human soul, Nordic, embodied the values of a specific community. He felt this ethnic view would capture the soul in landscapes and of the new folk buildings that were designed to preserve the spirit of the essential link between Germanic nature and culture.

Anthony Storr in Dimensions, (vol.6, No 2), reviewing Guy Padfield’s Himmler says that, “The urge to create a mythical medieval Germany populated only by the Volk was already evident in the eighteenth century.” An expansion of Seifert’s ideas and beliefs helped create the second form of invented propaganda architecture. Seifert felt his ethnic view would capture the Germanic soul in landscape as well as in the new, deliberately designed folk buildings. Tom Fletcher, in nyc-architecture.com, wrote of this invented design, “The völkish style was primarily used in rural settings for accommodation or community structures like the Ordensburg in Krossinsee, the walls and watchtowers of KL Flossenbürg and 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.” Other uses were the administration building for the federal post office, barracks, KdF hostels, and in any situation where the architectural form would strengthen the National Socialist philosophies. These were often homey structures, comfortably situated in their environments, with shutters, sometimes with murals, and always with deep eaves and steep roofs derived from the Bavarian.

Examples of the “Volk” Architectural style. Top Left:This Ordensburgen, or "School Castles" where the future leadership of the Nazi Party would be trained. were built at Sonthofen in the Allgäu (Bavaria). 1936. Top Right: Hitler’s mountain cabin the Berghof, after its first reconstruction. Bottom left: now the Gasthof Auerwirt in Oberau, was remodeled in 1937 as a home for the Hitler Jugend. Bottom Right: The post office in Gmund am Tegernsee, built 1939, featuring a wall painting by Georg Demmel. The building is almost entirely unchanged today. Photo and captions courtesy Geoff Walden, Third Reich Ruins.

While searching for these two types of Nazi fascist architectures, I found myself looking at these structural styles with a new eye. I noticed that many of the neo-classical buildings were destroyed, altered, or damaged by order of the Western occupying forces after WWII. The large neo-classical pieces, seen to be most representative of Hitler’s larger plan, policies, and propaganda, were most frequently vilified, dynamited, and bulldozed away. The Military Academy, one of the few architectural complexes that was fully completed by the end of the war, was buried under a mound of debris that is now the Teufelsberg in Berlin. Even into 1971, Speer’s elegant Berlin lampposts were strongly opposed and some even removed. (Oppositions, 404, 406).

Visible signs of wartime bombing of the folk style architecture can be seen, but many of these structures were repaired and put back into service. Some seem to have survived with little damage. Many murals and mosaics also remained intact with only the swastikas removed. Postwar, more of this invented folk architecture was rebuilt because it was truly needed as housing during the post war period. Although Hitler’s country home, and the homes of his closest followers were, in time, leveled to the ground and the materials used to create post war housing, his small tea house, the Eagles Nest, survived because Hitler didn’t like heights and visited it only14 times. (http://www.kehlsteinhaus.com/)

After days of following leads and links, I returned to my computer in an attempt to make some sense of these political architectures. As I traced the remarkably rapid recovery of Post WWII Germany, “which had risen anew by the late 1950s in West Germany” (Diefendorf, In the Wake of War), I saw that this recovery utilized both new and the much older architectures while bulldozing Nazi structures through “moral necessity.” (Oppositions Reader: 404) Still in my mind the dichotomy of the pure Nazi neo-Classical and folk architecture contrasted strongly with the swaths of destruction symbolized by images from Oradour-Sur-Glane, (Massacres and Atrocities of WWII). There, in a quiet French villiage where all were massacred and the buildings burned by the hand of one over zealous Sturmbannführer, Adolf Diekmann, (http://www.oradour.info/), you see the true monument to Nazi Architecture in the silent miles of rubble that remain behind today.

A search for Nazi Architecture: Links:

Third Reich in Ruins: Photos and photo credits courtesty of Geoff Walden

Tom Fletchers’ NYC-Architecture Fascist Architecture in Germany

Wikipedia: Nazi Architecture

Art and Architecture Blog: Why Nazi aesthetics are a dangerous minefield

New Zeeland Electronic Text Center: Architecture and Politics

"Oppositions, the journal of the New York-based Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies: Page 416, , Princeton Architectural Press

ACLS Humanities E-Book: Hitler's state architecture: the impact of classical antiquity; Scobie, Alexander

Wikipedia: Hitler’s Table Talk

Thomas Zeller: Molding the Landscape of Nazi Environmental,

Totalitarian Art: ideologues of the "Kampfbund"

Himmler: A review by Guy Padfield

KdF - The Proposed Seabath of the 20000 at Prora on the island of Rügen: Prora, by Katharina Rostock

Prora: documentations center, Prora

an-architecture: Prora

Wikipedia: Germania

In the Wake of War: The Reconstruction of German Cities After World War II, By Jeffry M. Diefendorf P44

Paul Troost: Brief bio

Oppositions: P404 through 406, defense of classical architecture
Destruction of neo classical, "Oppositions, the journal of the New York-based Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS), Princeton Architectural Press

Oradour Information


  1. I went recently to the Olympic stadium in Berlin for the first time. Even trying to look at the architecture neutrally was not easy to do, it was seeped too much in history and therefore the buildings and layout struck me as unsettling and ugly. Their sparseness of lines does not come across as beautiful, as does some of the Scandinavian architecture for instance.

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