The Nazi Phantom: German Cities Confronting their Past
This paper seeks to examine the ways in which German cities confronted the heritage of Nazi Architecture. The Issue of remaining Nazi Architecture is neglected in the field of art and research. It seems that this neglect reflects dilemmas regarding normalization and personification of the Nazi era. German cities have adopted different strategies to confront the issue; the first that aims to demolish the buildings; the second aims at addressing history and conserve the architecture; the third redefines the roll of the buildings and gives them new meaning through this mechanisms. Transparent Commemoration is another solution discussed in this paper. Given the complicated relations between history and memory within German cities, these new functions cannot escape some historical ironies.
This paper seeks to examine the ways in which German cities have confronted the heritage of Nazi Architecture since 1945. After the Holocaust and World War II Nazi architecture, though very hard to conceal, stood untouched like a phantom in the midst of urban spaces. The decision not to decide what to do with these remnants of Nazism resulted from great embarrassment and therefore seemed the only logical solution. For many decades these structures were neglected and ignored.
Unlike this negligence, concentration camps have been a major topic of research since the end of the War. Professionals from a variety of fields have dealt with various aspects of the preservation of the concentration camps, not just because of the nature of these sites, but also because concentration camps function as “ghettoes of memory"; the fact that they were geographically separate from the places where life went on made them, paradoxically, easer to deal with.
Over the years various solutions have been adopted for the Nazi phantoms left untouched in the center of urban spaces. Certain solutions, such as the destruction or neglect of the buildings, were adopted immediately after the War, but after many decades of negligence, and particularly after reunification, German cities began to look their history straight in the eye. At this point, awareness and careful consideration of how to deal with these Nazi remnants influenced the solutions suggested, such as reusing them or turning them into historical monuments. These solutions were heterogeneous in nature and adopted after careful consideration, but they could not minimize the historical irony. Almost every attempt to make these buildings part of the urban space resulted in severe criticism. From the beginning this may have been an impossible mission, but it does reflect an attempt to rewrite history and overcome trauma.
Some of the solutions for this problem, such as destruction, deletion, negligence, and ignoring, were adopted between 1945 and the 1990s, and are discussed below. Since reunification, reuse, absorption into urban space, and transparent commemoration have been preferred. These new results have led to a commemoration industry with the Third Reich at its center. This industry, consumed mainly by tourists, is paradoxically characterized by a blurring of the lines between opressors and victims. The tension between transparent commemoration and the commemoration industry is discussed in detail at the end of this paper.
After the War, Nazi architecture became the topic of comprehensive research. This research increased the amount of information available about public and official buildings, but normally overlooked the ordinary architecture of the Third Reich. The gaps between the monumental and colossal public architecture which evoked fascination and the banal ordinary architecture may explain this focus. Research into the architecture of the Third Reich focused mainly on the architects and the reasons behind the choice of style. Most architectural historians have claimed that Nazi architecture was not unique at all. It lacks aesthetic value, having mainly copied earlier styles (mainly Neo-Classicism), and was therefore described as “non-architecture”. The Nazi planners and architects were described as opportunists who were quite happy to replace modern and avant-garde architects like those active in the Bauhaus.
It is therefore not surprising that the center of attention after 1945 was mainly on the styles which the Nazis had hoped to destroy, such as the Bauhaus. In recent decades, however, this focus has shifted to the architecture of the concentration camps and to dealing with the complex issues of preservation which have become acute in an era of Holocaust denial. At the same time, the remnants of Nazi architecture, the topic of this article, have received little attention until recently and that mostly outside of academia, on the internet and in avant-garde documentary films, quite possibly because research on the remnants was seen and interpreted as a kind of normalization, or because too little time had elapsed.
These remnants have quite probably suffered from negligence due to the embarrassment described above, but the negligence was also functional, as it enabled historical memory to be blurred and evaded. The buildings designed by Albert Speer still standing in the middle of German cities such as Berlin and Nuremberg clearly enhance the problematics of the situation and indicate the difficulties facing decision makers in the fields of culture, research, and preservation. Dealing with Nazi architecture today may seem like just another step in coming to terms with the Nazi past, and therefore most of the solutions to this problem were adopted in the two decades since reunification. They all imply that the time has come for normalization.
Still, all the solutions cause dissonance. In extreme cases the Nazi remnants have been turned into a successful tourist industry which creates more paradoxes and causes even more embarrassment than the buildings did when they were overlooked. The combination of the random tourist and the site where the decision on the Final Solution was made is inevitably going to create impossible situations. A tourist with historical awareness will stand in front of what was once the Haus der deutschen Kunst and feel uncomfortable. This building, completed during the 1930s, was left untouched for decades until it was turned into the Haus der Kunst in the 1990s, and thus it is again used for its original purpose.
The changes in the approach to Nazi architecture as the decades went by were inevitable and natural; German cities, like other cities, could not stop developing. The remnants could not be overlooked forever and treated as if they were invisible.
looking into the various solutions adopted regarding these remnants I would
like to add a personal note. My interest
in these buildings, which are both apparent and latent or invisible, stems from
the mid-1980s, when I first tried to visit the
Figure 1: Dana Arieli-Horowitz,
A. The Nullification of History: Destruction and Deletion
destruction or deletion of traces of Nazism was possible for a very short time. This strategy was chosen by the Allies
after World War II and was meant to completely annihilate the history of the
Third Reich and allow a new beginning. The bombings resulted in the demolition
of some 160 German cities. Special emphasis
was given to the complete destruction of Nazi symbols of power and sovereignty,
perhaps as an answer to the Nazi emphasis on monuments and symbols. The
complete deletion of power symbols such as the Neue Reichskanzlei (New
Reich Chancellery) was thus more than just a symbolic act. The building was
designed as an explicit symbol of the power of the Third Reich by Albert Speer
(1905-1981). It stood at the heart of Das Regierungsviertel (the
government quarter) [Figure 2] at the corner of Voßstraße and Wilhelmstraße
Figure 2: The New National Socialist Government Quarter in
According to Speer’s self-justifying testimony in Inside the Third Reich, the Chancellery was built in less than a year after his meeting with Hitler.
"At the end of January 1938 Hitler called me to his office. ‘I have an urgent assignment for you’, he said solemnly, standing in the middle of the room. ‘I shall be holding extremely important conferences in the near future. For these, I need grand halls and salons which will make an impression on people, especially on the smaller dignitaries. For the site I am placing the whole of Voss Strasse at your disposal. The cost is immaterial. But it most be done very quickly and be of solid construction. How long do you need? For plans, blueprints, everything? Even a year and a half or two years would be too long for me. Can you be done by January 10, 1939? I want to hold the next diplomatic reception in the new Chancellery’. I was dismissed”.
In order to complete this assignment on time some
"Forty-five hundred workers had labored in two shifts to meet the deadline. There were several thousand more scattered over the country who had produced components. The whole work force, masons, carpenters, plumbers and so on, were invited to inspect the building and filed awestruck through the finished rooms….”
these efforts came to nothing six years later, when the New Chancellery was badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin. After the war, the remnants were
demolished at the orders of the Soviet occupation forces. Today, only a
transparent sign (see below) hints at its location. Like the Chancellery, the
bunker used by Hitler was sealed or ruined and there are no traces of its
existence in present-day
The research indicates that the bunker was actually a
complex underground world, a combination of the Vorbunker from 1936 and
the Führerbunker, built in 1945 and far deeper underground (
Hitler’s bunker plan
1947 the Soviets tried to bomb the bunker but only the outer walls were
damaged. The government of the D.D.R. made a second, unsuccessful attempt in
1959. At the end of the 1980s, as part of the preparations for developing and
building in the area, a few rooms of the Vorbunker were discovered and
later demolished. When the area was prepared for the Pink Floyd concert The
Wall in July 1990, another secret entrance to a bunker was discovered. At
first it seemed that this entrance led to the Führerbunker, but further
exploration indicated that the entrance led to a hiding place for an elite SS
unit. In May 1995 the local parliament of
Chancellery and the Fürher’s bunker are two examples of attempts to
nullify history through processes of destruction and deletion, but both
examples indicate that the absence of a building may also be fascinating (see
below). These sites are still the subjects of a great deal of interest, as a
quick look at the web indicates, and much effort is devoted to their virtual
reconstruction. Decades after their destruction they still motivate art,
culture, and research. [Figure
a. Anselem Kiefer, Innenraum, 1981. b. Image form Downfall
B. First preservation strategy: Looking straight at the Nazi Phantom
The bombings of
example is the case of the Zeppelin Field in
Given the great symbolic importance of Speer’s complex, the removal of the swastika and the iron eagle was documented, [Figure 5 a+b] but while the Allies were debating among themselves which parts of the complex to bomb and how to use explosives in a clever way, Albert Speer, the architect and later Minister of Armaments, could ironically see his Theory of Ruin Value [Ruinenwert] being put into practice.
Bombing the swastika
was preoccupied with the ways in which his building could look once destroyed.
He was interested in modifying the fragments of his buildings by strengthening some
elements and weakening others, so that decades later they would still function
as a monument for themselves. Speer had been deeply impressed by the ruins
which he saw during his trip to
’A Theory of Ruin Value’… The idea was that buildings of modern construction were poorly suited to form the ‘bridge to tradition’ to future generations which Hitler was calling for. It was hard to imagine that rusting heaps of rubble could communicate these heroic inspirations which Hitler admired in the monuments of the past. My ‘theory’ was intended to deal with this dilemma. By using special materials and by applying certain principles of statics, we should be able to build structures which even in a state of decay, after hundreds or thousands of years would more or less resemble the Roman models.
If he would be successful, then the destiny of his designs would be the same as that of their Italian predecessors:
Today, for example, Mussolini could point to the buildings
of the Roman Empire as symbolizing the heroic spirit of
The massive use of materials, particularly stone, embodied Speer’s desire to create monumental and colossal architecture. It was meant to insure that the Nazi ruins would be left as evidence of the power of the Third Reich centuries after their demolition. Indeed, seventy years after some of these buildings were completed, getting rid of the fragments of Nazi architecture still seems impossible. The complex in Nuremberg looks almost untouched, a fact which did not prevent Speer from saying, after being released from prison and visiting the site, that he was sorry that the original columns had been shortened in some cases. [Figure 6 a+b]
Nurenberg arena during the 1940's and today
The stadium designed for the 1936 Olympic Games in
Little has changed; history reveals itself to the visitor.
C. Second preservation strategy: Repositioning or repopulating buildings designed during the Nazi era
Only a fraction of the Nazi buildings built between 1933 and 1945 were designed for political functions and had particular symbolic value. Most of the buildings were used for everyday purposes and survived the War. After reunification great consideration was given to the ways in which these buildings could be made part of their contemporary urban environments. The issues connected to this process are far from being resolved and continue to be problematic. Almost every decision made has led to debates, ironies, and incomprehensible situations.
The Haus der deutschen Kunst is an example. Hitler
initiated the project as a temple for mobilized art; it was built according to
plans drawn up by Paul L. Troost (1878-1934). Its first use was in 1937 for the
first Grosse deutsche Kunstausstellung. By 1944 eight such exhibitions
were held inside this neo-classical building; Hitler’s cultural speeches echoed
past its huge columns.
After the War, the building was left untouched, a phantom in the midst of
Haus der deuschen Kunst in the 1930's and today
The Nazi Air Ministry building (initiated by Herman Göring) was designed by Ernest Sagebiel and completed in 1936; it is another example of a Nazi building which has again become part of the contemporary urban landscape. Even though Nazi architecture did not reach its intentioned thousand years, traces of the style of Albert Speer are apparent. As with Riefenstahl in the film industry, Speer set the tone and principles of Nazi architecture. This structure shows how other Nazi architects internalized his principles.
During the 1950s, after the division of
Nazi Air Ministry building in the 1940's and today
The fact that government representatives use the premises for administrative work, doing what the building was originally designed for, causes problems. After the fall of the nearby Wall, a transparent memorial was placed in the courtyard. [Figure 9] The principle of the transparent commemoration, which is discussed in the next section, creates here a mixture of ironic historical paradoxes; the transparency of the materials gives an even better view of Sagebiel’s Nazi architecture.
Dana Arieli-Horowitz, Transperent commemoration number 1, 2002
D. Transparent Commemoration, Depressed Commemoration, and the Commemoration Industry
German cities in general, and particularly
Transparent signs, as can be seen here, [Figure 10] appear
Dana Arieli-Horowitz, Transperent commemoration number 2, 2002
1995 Bibliothek memorial in the middle of the Bebelplatz in
These methods of commemoration raise questions about
psychological issues of awareness and suppression, but at the same time
converse with history. The fact that Ullman’s library may be unseen for some of
the visitors to the Bebelplatz is crucial, not only because it suggests the
history of the pits in which the Nazis carried out mass murder, but mainly
because it is functional for those who live in Berlin and are struggling to
survive. The combination of transparent commemoration and depressed
commemoration which may be unseen is characteristic of Ullman’s work, and has
had a profound impact on other commemoration projects completed in
and depressed commemoration, in dialogue with Young’s “Counter-Monument”, call
for commemoration that is part of the scene, yet does not dominate it. In doing so they negate the logic and conventions of
the period between the wars, when the monumental and the colossal were the
leading concepts. In using the term “transparent commemoration” I refer
not only to the materials used but also to their location in the urban space.
The combination is as a survival strategy; if you feel like it, you can look,
but if you don’t, you can walk through without looking. Otherwise it is impossible
to survive in
Twenty years ago it was almost impossible to visit Nazi sites and buildings, but today the opposite is true; there is a commemoration industry which includes Holocaust sites, commemoration sites, and the remnants of Nazi architecture. Tourists move from one site to another. Tours following Nazi architecture do not restrict themselves any longer to sites of oppression, but now include sites of aggression where the Nazi elite spent time, dined, or ruled. The commemoration tourist industry raises again the idea of “fascinating fascism”, the question why is Nazism so fascinating? This fascination is not limited to Nazi architecture; the Nazi phantom has been brought back to life in films dealing with the period, such as The Downfall (2005) and Rosenstrasse (2003). Walking in the footsteps of the dictatorship became even more real through the processes of personification intensified by movies like Goodbye Lenin (2003) or The Lives of Others (2006). The reconstruction of everyday life, obtained through objects and personal artifacts certainly contributed to this intensification.
2002, while staying in
Yoav Horesh, Third Reich tour photo group,
In some cases in the meeting points between transparent
commemoration, depressed commemoration, and the commemoration industry are absurd;
the 2002 Michelin guide to
Michelin Tourist guide to Berlin, 2002
Even in the midst of the postmodern era, when there seems to be an agreement that there is no one historical “truth”, it appears that dealing with the remnants of the oppressors can be problematic, at the very least. This problematics becomes apparent when looking at cities which are trying, at the beginning of the 21th century, to include the remnants of Nazi architecture as part of their urban spaces. These sites of oppression become even more problematic when tourists began visiting, due to a mix of fascination and horror.
of history are evident everywhere. In
Phantoms of history are evident yet latent in big cities. They create traces of memory. Dealing with these fragments is always a complex issue, and it appears that in the case of German cities trying to come to terms with their past is an even more complex issue. The radical changes in German cities after the Allied bombing left fragile urban spaces, and given the circumstances city authorities, architects, and urban planners wanted to delay the discussion of the Nazi phantoms left behind as long as possible. After reunification, some German cities adopted the solutions discussed in this paper, which can often be described as trying to have their cake and eat it too. German cities are trying to do the impossible: combining ancient legacies, buildings designed during the Third Reich and left untouched for decades, and modern and postmodern construction. The resulting mixture has a complexity not found anywhere else.
solutions adopted in order to face the architecture of oppression have
paradoxically given birth to a commemoration industry where the boundaries
between oppressed and oppressors have been blurred. They illustrate why
The New National Socialist Government
3. Hitler’s bunker plan
4. a. Anselem Kiefer, Innenraum, 1981. b. Image form Downfall
5. Bombing the swastika
6. Nurenberg arena during the 1940's and today
7. Haus der deuschen Kunst in the 1930's and today
8. Nazi Air Ministry building in the 1940's and today
9. Dana Arieli-Horowitz, Transperent commemoration number 1, 2002
10. Dana Arieli-Horowitz, Transperent commemoration number 2, 2002
Yoav Horesh, Third Reich tour photo
12. Michelin Tourist guide to Berlin, 2002
 The term Nazi Architecture refers to
public and private buildings designed and built in German cities and elsewhere
 Barbara Miller-Lane, Architecture and Politics in Germany, 1918-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985); Alexander Scobie, Hitler's State Architecture: The Impact of Classical Antiquity (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990); Brandon Taylor and Wilfried van der Will, eds., The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture and Film in the Third Reich (Hampshire: Winchester Press, 1990); Dana Arieli-Horowitz, “An Architect of Race: Paul Schultze-Naumburg and National-Socialism,” Yad Vashem Studies 24 (1994), 223-246.
 Hans M. Wingler, Das Bauhaus:
 In recent years pioneering research
has been done on Nazi architecture and the mechanisms for mass murder. See Paul
Jaskot, The Architecture of Oppression: The SS,
Forced Labor and the Nazi Monumental Building Economy (
 Nazi buildings are thoroughly discussed in Wikipedia. The site Third Reich in Ruins deals with the fate of Nazi architecture after 1945. Jeff Walden is responsible for updating this site. See http://www.thirdreichruins.com. See also "Top Ten Nazi Architecture,"
The 2003 documentary Visions of Space by the
architectural historian Robert Hughes focuses on Albert Speer. It is part of a
trilogy including Gaudi and van der Rohe. See Robert
Hughes, Visions of Space: Albert Speer – Size Matters (
 Movies like Die Untergang are
great examples of the process of personification. Other examples are artworks
such as Maurizio Cattelan, Him (2001), Boaz Arad, Vuzzvuzz
(2007). For more on this topic see Dana Arieli-Horowitz, “Boaz Arad: Vuzzvuzz”,
In: Protocollage: Selected essays form Protocols: History and Theory (
 For Speer’s architectural designs, see Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich – Memories (New York: Bonanza Books, 1982); Joachim Fest, Speer: The Final Verdict (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001); Karl Arndt, George Friedrich Koch, and Lars Olof Larsson, Albert Speer: Architektur, Arbeiten 1933-1942 (Vienna: Propylaen,1995); Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); Stephen Helmer, Hitler's Berlin: The Speer Plans for Reshaping the Central City (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1985); Leon Krier, Albert Speer: Architecture (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1989).
 Jörg Friedrich, Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945 (Berlin: Propylaen, 2002).
 The map comes from Alexandra Richie, Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin (New York: Carol & Graf, 1998).
 Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich – Memories (New York: Bonanza Books, 1982), 102. On the web there are many movies depicting the Neue Reichskanzlei in third dimensional graphics. Some of them have very nostalgic narrators. For an example, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bk5VlMfnMA0&feature=related
 Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich – Memories, (New York: Bonanza Books, 1982), 114.
 A sign relating the history of the bunker was placed at the corner of Gertrud-Kolmar and Ministergärten streets, next to the Potzdammerplatz, in 2006.
 Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days
of Hitler (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992); Joachim Fest, Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich (
 Oliver Hirschbiegel directed this
fascinating movie with Bruno Ganz as Hitler. The movie describes Hitler’s last
days in his bunker in
 Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
 Alexandra Richie, Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin (New York: Carol & Graf, 1998).
 For further information, see:
 The Nazi party rally grounds complex includes the Zeppelin Field, the Lvitpoldarena, the Märzfeld, and the Deutsche Stadion, all designed by Speer. The Congress Hall, which was also part of this huge complex, was designed by Ludwig and Franz Ruff.
 Riefenstahl produced four films during the Third Reich: Der Seig des Glaubens, 1934; Triumph des Willens, 1935; Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht, 1935; Olympia: Fest der Völker und Fest der Schönheit, 1938.
 French photographers of the late nineteenth century were the first to adopt this solution.
 Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich – Memories (New York: Bonanza Books, 1982), 56. See also Paul Virilio, Krieg und Kino: Logistik der Warhrnehmung (Munich: Hauser, 1986).
 The original interview was recorded
for BBC Radio during the 1970s. It is included in Robert
Hughes, Visions of Space: Albert Speer – Size Matters, (
 Susan D. Bachrach, The Nazi
 These 1916 summer Olympics was
cancelled due to World War
Dana Arieli-Horowitz, Romanticism of Steel: Art and Politics in Nazi
Germany (2nd edition
 Richard Bauer , Hans G. Hockerts, and Brigitte Schütz, München – Hauptstadt der Bewegung, Bayerns Metropole und der Nationalsozialismus (Munich: Edition Minerva, 2002).
 Ernest Sagebiel (1892-1970) later
designed the Tempelhof airport building in
 In this context, like many others, I
have found Dominick LaCapra's book very helpful. See Dominick LaCapra, Writing
History, Writing Trauma (
 Jeffrey Alexander, “Toward a Theory
of Cultural Trauma” in Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, eds.
Jeffery Alexander, Ron Everman, Bernhard Giesler, Neil Smelser, and Piotr
 Ullman won the esteemed Israel Prize in 2009.
 James E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); idem, “Memory and Counter-Memory: Toward a Social Aesthetic of Holocaust Memorials” in After Auschwitz: Response to the Holocaust in Contemporary Art, ed. Monica Bohm-Duchen (London: Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, 1995), 78-102.
"Monument against fascism" was designed by Jochen Gerz and Esther
Shalev-Gerz. The commemorative pillar is twelve meters tall and was placed
 Yoav Horesh's project is included in
History and Theory: Protocols (vol. 14, 2009). The pictures were taken
in 2007 and 2008 when Horesh visited
 Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, "The
Architects’ Debate," History and Memory 9 (1997), 189-225; Mark
Godfrey, Abstraction and the Holocaust (
 James Young uses the term Museum Boom, claiming that for various cultural and demographic reasons the memory of the Holocaust has reached critical mass in the last two decades. See James Young, ed., The Art of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in History (New York: Prestel, 1994), 19.
Dr. Dana Arieli-Horowitz, Senior Lecture and the Head of the History and Theory Department in Bezalel. She studies the interrelations between art and politics in totalitarian and democratic regimes. Currently she is working on a new book entitled Art, Trauma, Terror and Politics: The Israeli case.