Hitler’s Germania: A capital fit for a megalomaniac

Hitler's Germania: A capital fit for a megalomaniac
A model of the Volkshalle. Photo: dpa
Only steps away from Berlin’s Holocaust memorial and the site of Hitler’s bunker, a new exhibition explores the Nazi leader’s plans to turn the city into Germania – a capital full of architecture fit for a megalomaniac.

Berlin, with its huge new glass and steel train station, the nearby imposing Chancellery building, and the rebuilt and reborn Potsdamer Platz, has become synonymous for bold modern architecture in recent years.

But what’s considered “bold” these days is put into a whole new perspective when compared to what Albert Speer – Adolf Hitler’s favourite architect – had planned for the city. A new exhibition titled “Myth Germania: Shadows and Traces of the Imperial Capital” explores what could be best described as megalomaniac urban planning.

Organized by the non-profit group Berliner Unterwelten – known for its expeditions into the extensive subterranean tunnels underneath the German capital – is billing the show as the largest and most comprehensive look at Hitler’s audacious plans for a creating a monumental Berlin ever.

“At first (Hitler) had conceived that Berlin needed to be bigger and better than London and Paris,” Dietmar Arnold, president of the Berliner Unterwelten Association, told The Local at the exhibition opening. “Later, even after the war seemed lost, he was convinced it should be bigger than Babylon and Rome. To say the plan was painted with the brush of megalomania would be a bit of an understatement.”

Officially unveiled by German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück last week, the exhibition – located in a pavilion in the heart of Berlin – opened to the public on Saturday. Steinbrück’s ministry – once home the Reich’s Air Ministry – is one of the few structures remaining in Berlin intended to be part of Hitler’s Germania. He welcomed the exhibition’s proximity to the sprawling Holocaust memorial near the Brandenburg Gate, saying it puts the Nazi architectural “vision in perspective and reminds us of Hitler’s intentions to exterminate the Jews.”

Much as Hitler wished to dominate Europe, Germania’s skyline would have been ruled by the colossal Volkshalle. The huge dome, modelled on the Pantheon in Rome and large enough to hold a crowd of 150,000 for Nazi rallies, would have been almost 300 metres high – as tall as fifteen Brandenburg Gates stacked on top of each other.

The centrepiece of the new exhibition is a huge scale model of Speer’s plans for Germania on loan from Constantin Film, which was originally used in the 2004 movie “The Downfall” about Hitler’s last days in Berlin.

Initially intended for completion by 1950, the Germania project was sidelined as the Second World War raged on and Nazi Germany’s defeat edged closer. Most of the material Speer had acquired ended up being used to build air raid shelters once the Allied bombardment of Berlin began in 1940.

But evidence of the project’s infancy still dot the German capital today; for example the relocated Siegessäule, or Victory Column, was moved from in front of the Reichstag to Germania’s planned massive north-south axis cutting through the Tiergarten park. Visitors in Berlin can also see the huge concrete foundations near Templehof airport designed to test the soil for the huge triumphal arch, upon which Hitler planned to have the names of Germany’s fallen soldiers emblazoned.

Hitler had in his youth dreamt of becoming a famous painter, but after he was refused from the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1907 the future dictator developed an affinity for architecture. He first conceived the idea of the Welthauptstadt – or World Capital – while imprisoned at Landsberg Prison in 1924 following the failed Nazi Beer Hall Putsch in Munich a year earlier.

The concept was later developed by Hitler’s favourite architect Speer, but the name Germania was actually never used by either of them. Ironically, it was only added later when the publisher of the Speer’s memoirs needed a catchy name for the project.

The exhibition Myth Germania is presented in both German and English and will run the rest of the year. Entrance costs €6 (€4 reduced price), with children under 12 free.