The Nazis dreamed of a Thousand Years Reich and wanted architecture that would reflect this ideal. Like the Romans before them, they wanted to leave a lasting legacy, to the point of adapting Albert Speer’s ‘Theory of Ruin Value’ to build structures without using the modern building elements like reinforced concrete and steel girders and relying instead on natural materials like stone. Structures that would then not be much affected by weather and would linger on in an aesthetically pleasing manner much the same way as Roman and Greek building structures had over the centuries.
Apart from its lasting quality, the Nazis wanted to create architecture that was both practical and impressive. Their ultimate aim was world domination and they knew the value of good propaganda. There was just nothing like imposing and intimidating architectural structures, with specially created atmosphere thrown in, to overawe and capture the imagination of the masses, as the Nazis had amply demonstrated during the Nuremberg Rally with their flags, insignia, swastika-topped standards, and lighting effects.
It has become common nowadays to describe the grandiloquent Nazi architectural aims, along with their ideas of world domination, as “megalomania.” Empire building, however, was the factual dream of the British too, not to mention the Romans, and that lot are still usually feted for their ambitions. Constructing buildings and structures with future fame in mind is actually a common pastime with most regimes.
In the case of the Nazis, Adolf Hitler’s personal interest in architecture played a key role in the megalomania dream. He considered himself an artist and had once had the opportunity to study architecture in Vienna, prevented from this ambition by the fact of his not having completed high school. He was particularly inspired by the Neo-Classical and Baroque ideals of nineteenth century architects like Hermann and Ferdinand Fellner (Palais Lanckoronski in Vienna, Austria), Gottfried Semper (the Dresden Opera House), Baron Theophil Freiherr von Hansen (the Austrian Parliament building) and Poelaert (Palais Garnier, Paris). The pomp and pageant of the Roman Catholic Church also made its mark, leading the Nazis to step up their own showmanship.
Along with his favorite architect Paul Ludwig Troost, Hitler drew up plans to rebuild Berlin on a gigantic scale; other German cities and towns were to follow suit. After Troost’s death in 1934, he enlisted the help of his second favorite architect Albert Speer, who was later to become the Armaments Minister in wartime Germany.
Well-constructed autobahns, with bridges and garages, would join the cities and towns, and victory monuments like triumphal arches, columns and temples would celebrate Germany’s greatness and the martyrs that had fallen in the course of pursuing this greatness. The German people were to be made aware both of national rebirth and the coming glory and the reconstructed past that, thanks to Nazi philosophy, linked them to the Aryans and thereby to the Romans and the Greeks.
A secondary aim of Nazi architecture was also to create jobs for unemployed Germans and thus rev up the Depression-era economy. There was some success in this, but poor work conditions led to disgruntled workers and the Gestapo was roped in to handle strikes and recalcitrant workers.
Concentration camps and prisons were set up to house both the enemies of the state within and without Germany and the unfortunate Jewish, Slav, and Gypsy victims of the Nazi racial laws. After the breakout of the Second World War and Germany’s impressive early victories, slave labor from the Occupied Countries was brought to Germany to work on the building projects and in the quarries to extract the building materials. These construction activities, already slowed down by the war, ended with the eventual defeat and demise of Nazi Germany. The buildings of the Thousand Years Reich were occupied and, in some cases, demolished by the Allies and the materials reused for other, less impressive purposes.
Here is a list of some Nazi buildings that were built:
- Air Ministry building, Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin.
- Wehrmacht headquarters, Bendlerstrasse, Berlin.
- Hitler’s Chancellery, Berlin.
- Ministry of Propaganda, Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin.
- Olympic Stadium, Berlin.
- Ordensburg Sonthofen, Bavaria.
- Tempelhof Airport, Berlin.
- Zeppelinfeld, Nuremburg Party Rally Grounds, Nuremburg.