Monday 24 March 2008

Welthauptstadt Germania - Hilter's vision of a new Berlin

Looking for a city

If there was another European city I would like to live in, it probably would be Berlin, I suppose Paris would come a distant third.

However, Berlin that could be glorious in summer can be dreadfully inclement during the other three seasons.

After two utterly atrocious days of ugly weather at close to freezing with hail and sleet, I could not believe that I walked into the snow on Easter Sunday, and then Easter Monday smiled on me with sunshine as if the other days never happened – it makes you wonder what this global warming malarkey is all about.

I sometimes wish Europe were in the tropics, well, that is the Canary Islands; there is a European city down South that might unseat Berlin.

My old views of Berlin

I love Berlin all the same, I cannot count the number of people I have tried to persuade to visit Berlin for its history, architecture, heritage, art and more.

Until yesterday, I did not realise I was seeing another aspect of Berlin, beyond my fascination with mirrors of the East and the West, the architectural deluge of Potsdamer Platz, the sickening opulence of Imperial Prussia encapsulated at Potsdam in the Sanssouci Park and the museums; the Nazis had moved a number of pieces around to accommodate their intentions of grandeur.

World Capital - Germania

Well, I did not know that Adolf Hitler had such grand plans for changing Berlin entirely and even during the war was already far into plans for changing the place. That, I had to see, so off we went to this exhibition called Myth Germania.

Berlin being the seat of the Third Reich was considered too provincial by Hilter that he wanted to build a city that put Paris and Washington in the shade. Berlin under the Nazis was first showcased at the 1936 Summer Olympics where the propaganda, pomp and ceremony still has that event as one of the most talked about Olympic games.

Albert Speer was appointed the chief architect of the Reich with the title of General Building Inspector of the Third Reich and as one of the surviving members of Hilter’s inner sanctum gave insight into how Berlin was to become the world capital with the grand sounding name of Welthauptstadt Germania (World Capital Germania).

Altered to its foundations

A speech that Hitler gave in November 1937 to mark the advent of these great plans that would culminate in the opening of this world capital in 1950 is translated thus; “Today begins in Berlin a period of building redevelopment, which will alter the image – as I am convinced – and also the character of this city to its foundations”.

They did a lot, forcefully acquired the houses of Jews for the resettlement of other people who had been moved for the grand plan, monuments like the Siegessäule (Berlin Victory Column) were moved from the Reichstag to its current location, so many uncompleted train tunnels remain undiscovered and the dead were not spared – 20 cemeteries were moved out of the centre of Berlin for this grand city of the world.

The planned people’s hall was to become a world wonder, accommodating 360,000 people and up to a million in the grounds – the cult of personality would have reached a zenith never ever equalled in the history of mankind.

The destructive hubris of power

However, one could not help but realise how seemingly totalitarian regimes had a concept of art, culture, architecture, history and traditions that it did not matter to them if they razed, moved, destroyed or burnished some heritage, national treasure or cultural identity and dispossessed the people they rule over to achieve these grand aims.

In 2003, the Taliban of Afghanistan destroyed the Buddhas of Banyam because they were un-Islamic but Afghanistan is not primarily Islamic, the cultural and religious identity of a people that goes back centuries was destroyed for a passing fad of being able to wield untrammelled power.

The China we all acquiesce to with disturbing embarrassment because of its trade and economic influence has built the Three Gorges Dam that displaces 1.5 million people, destroys swathes of valuable archaeological and cultural sites; and it has significant adverse effects upon animal life.

But the powerful get away with their designs being almost unanswerable to anyone but the writ of history, long after the damage is done.

Democracies might not wield the tyranny of the powerful in this way, but they have laws like Eminent Domain in the United States or Compulsory Purchase in the United Kingdom which can be used to the same tyrannically damaging effect especially in times of war.

Obviously, there is sometimes need for laws like these before activists cloud the objectivity of debate with emotional tripe – the governments should however retain the trust of their people in these projects.

A sense of proportion

Just as Hitler had a speech around the beginning of this grand project, Albert Speer probably gave the closing remarks to this madness in words from his autobiography in 1969 – “When on the morning after my release from imprisonment I passed one of these buildings on the way to the airport, I saw in a few seconds what I had been blind to for years; our plan completely lacked a sense of proportion.”

Like then, history still repeats itself with the regularity of a grandfather clock, with no lessons learnt from the past – would we ever have a sense of proportion? Not if we remained human.

See a basic slideshow of the model of that city.

Mythos Germania Exhibition

(Shadows and Traces of the Imperial Capital)

15th of March – 31st December 2008

Gertrud-Kolmar Strasse 14/Hannah-Arendt Strasse

10117 Berlin-Mitte

Berliner Unterwelten e.V.

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