February 19, 2009

KdF Ships and the Prora article

A modern cruise ship entering San Diego Bay framed by Anthony’s Restaurant.

Himself: Hecho em Mexico.

Herself: Today a 0930 filling at the dentists after water aerobics.

Balance: Later. LOL

I had a classmate from Germany read my piece on Prora in class yesterday so the words would be pronounced correctly. After a very strong reaction in the Thursday group, I had thought there would be some enthusiastic talk after the reading. There was little reaction, and frankly I was disappointed.

You know a piece is good when your audience tears it apart. Mine didn’t have much to say at all….a comma here and a different choice of words suggested there. When prodded a bit, they all agreed it wasn’t dry but moved rapidly on to the next work.

This class is a memoir-focused workshop…tho there is always a wide variety of writing presented. Rarely do I write memoirs usually preferring to write about something outside myself that interests me. Sometimes I’ll carry a bit of memoir into a few poetic words, but usually I hack and slash at things like architecture, ships, or even travel.

There were a few questions asked…..the same ones mostly. What got you interesting in this topic of Prora? Ships. Buildings. In the end it is all personal after all, you know. So I came home to poke and prod the internet about the ships of the KdF. I’ve amassed a nice collection of links now, but there are a few important questions still unanswered such as, “What led Hitler to suggest cruises as a carrot for the Labor Front workers?”

Always I need more research.

Kraft durch Freude and the Prora Resort


The largest remaining architectural structure from the Nazi era is Prora, a “Strength Through Joy” holiday camp, on the German island of Rugen facing into the Baltic Sea. Today thousands of tourists crowd Rugen to see this colossal, but never finished, monument to a thousand year Reich that lasted barely twelve years.

After the National Socialists took power in 1933, Robert Ley was given orders by Hitler to form the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, the national German labor organization (DAF). All non-Nazi labor organizations were banned and replaced by the DAF. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Arbeitsfront) Workers wages, taxes, and all compulsory deductions were made through the Labor Front, and German workers automatically became members of the DAF as well as the Kraft durch Freude (KdF), “Strength through Joy” Movement. (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERjoy.htm)

Vacations and leisure time activities were the carrot for the National Socialist worker. The KdF leaders hoped organized leisure would increase a workers focus for more work. (http://www.feldgrau.com/KdF.html). Dr. Fritz Stenzel (Fourwinds10.com) wrote that the government felt these activities, “led toward a new moral outlook about work, a better quality of life and to overcome the class barriers. …At the same time the amount of vacation days were doubled.” Workers were also given the right to paid vacations and paid holidays, something unique in that era with an initial goal of creating “a controllable work force.” (http://www.feldgrau.com/KdF.html)

Robert Ley quoted Hitler as saying, “I wish that the worker be granted a sufficient holiday and that everything is done, in order to let this holiday as well all other leisure time to be truly recreational. I wish this, because I want a determined people with strong nerves, for truly great politics can only be achieved with a people that keeps its nerves.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kraft_durch_Freude)

The KdF was divided into several departments. Workers were encouraged to take part in “factory concerts, singing lessons, entertainment evenings, chess championships, gymnastics, as well as swimming courses.” Day trips were offered, and, as cruise ships were drafted then built for the KdF, longer cruises to Madeira, Italy, and Norway were offered. 43,000,000 KdF tours were sold to German workers who had never traveled before, and the KdF became the world’s largest travel agency. (A HREF= http://www.fourwinds10.com/siterun_data/history/european/news.php?q=1228776770)

As part of the KdF worker program, Hitler encouraged the construction of five 20,000 bed holiday camps modeled on the British Butlins camps. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prora) The first, and in the end only, resort was begun on the Rugen Island in 1936. Prora’s concrete design by Clemens Klotz filled the oceanfront with its dramatic arching line of buildings with all rooms fronting onto the beach.

Geoff Walden, at Third Reich in Ruins writes, “The Prora resort was planned to consist of two complexes - North and South - each consisting of four blocks of ten housing units each, providing rooms for 20,000 vacationers. Between the two complexes there would have been administration buildings and a large open festival square with an assembly hall at one end. The housing sections were joined by community buildings and swimming halls. When completed, Prora would have stretched along the beach for almost five kilometers.” A large quay built in the center of the complex had moorings for the KdF cruise ships "Robert Ley" and "Wilhelm Gustloff." They could easily unload their passengers just yards from their low cost vacations.

Construction began on Prora in 1936 using German workers. In 1939, materials began to be siphoned off for war use and construction was halted. During the war, the buildings were used for refugees and for a hospital. At the end of the war in 1945, the KdF ship the William Gustloff was sunk by the Soviet sub S-13 taking with it 9,343 lives and the William Ley was bombed in Hamburg Harbor. These losses put the finishing touches on the Strength Through Joy movement. (http://www.greatoceanliners.net/robertley.html) (http://www.feldgrau.com/wilhelmgustloff.html)

At the end of the war, the unfinished Prora structures were taken over first by the Russians then by the East Germans. Utilized for bombing exercises then partially rebuilt by East Germany as a hotel, Prora has been used for everything from fire control training and artillery practice, to military exercises since 1945. Since reunification, Prora has stood mostly empty except for a small museum and a youth hostel.

Hitler’s architect Albert Speer had proposed "A Theory of Ruin Value" on which…Hitler's thousand year dreams could be based. Speer explained this theory in his memoirs as (1970: 56): "…buildings of modern construction were poorly suited to form that 'bridge of tradition' to future generations which Hitler was calling for. …rusting heaps of rubble could (not) communicate these heroic inspirations which Hitler admired in the monuments of the past. We should be able to build structures which even in a state of decay…would more or less resemble Roman models.” (Landeszentrale 1994: 36, 69) (https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/citd/holtorf/7.4.html)”

Just as the ruins of classical Rome that Hitler so admired continue to be visited by tourists today, so do these massive, ruined buildings of Prora remain a great visitor draw as the largest remaining Third Reich structure. Part of Prora was sold in 2008 to a private corporation, and there are plans for condos, a resort, and a new youth hostel to fill the long empty rooms. One local historian, Heike Tagsold, speaks out as the lone dissenting voice saying that Prora’s “…past made it an inappropriate location for tourists.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prora)

However, history shows the tourists continue to crowd in because of the past.


  1. How did you ever get started on this kind of research? It is fascinating, but something it never would have occurred to me to look at.

    BTW, the things I am most serious about never get much response. You are not alone.

  2. Seems to me this study would require a lot of research into the life of Hitler himself. It would make a good dissertation I think. Are you ready to go back to school Maggie?

    Like Ruth, though, it's not something that I would ever have looked at. And I gave up long ago trying to figure out what to write that might get responses. So I just write whatever I feel like and, more importantly, whenever I feel like it. Not enough time in the world for everything I'd love to do.


Please, take just a moment to leave me a note. I really appreciate notes.


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