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Friday, May 18, 2012

National Socialist Art - 8


National Socialist Art - 8
The Architects

Divine destiny has given the German Folk everything in the person of one man. Not only does he possess strong and ingenious statesmanship, not only is he ingenious as a soldier, not only is he the first worker and the first economist among his Folk, but, and this is perhaps his greatest strength, he is an artist. He came from art, he devoted himself to art, especially to the art of architecture, this powerful creator of great buildings, and now he has also become the Reich's builder. -- Die Begabung des Einzelnen -- Fundament für alleHakenkreuzbanner -- Swastika Flag, June 10th, 1938.)



Hitler with the model of Adolf Hitler Square, Weimar


Hitler with the model of Adolf Hitler Square, Weimar

                Hitler saw himself as the artist of the Nation, and above all as its architect. He often said that if he had not gone into politics he would have become an architect. He liked to show off his architectural knowledge, often drawing details of buildings, facades, pillars, and vaults.

                His delight in the architecture of Wien -- its neobaroque and neoclassical buildings -- never left him. In most of his own drawings he favoured a monumental style. He read extensively about architecture while imprisoned in Landsberg Prison, and his private library contained quite a few books and magazines on the subject. He also had an extraordinary memory for architectural details and often astonished his associates with his extensive knowledge of buildings in foreign countries, sometimes down to the most precise details. England's neogothic Houses Of Parliament he considered the perfect expression of a civilisation. Everything large and impressive found favour with him. Rome's Colosseum, Basilica of Saint Peter, and Pantheon were for him the best examples of monumental buildings, an architecture produced by the Folk Community. These and the Madeleine in Paris, and especially the dome of Les Invalides, inspired his building plans for Berlin. All the buildings had to be clear and light. He disliked the excessive playfulness of Gothic cathedrals; they were not really German for him. He preferred the solidity of the Romanesque. The models for his new cities were those of 
The Ring in Wien, or Haussmann's Paris.

                Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's photographer, reports that when Hitler was asked once why he had not become an architect, he replied: 
I decided to become the master builder of the Third Reich. Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler Was My Friend, page 184.)

                He liked to be photographed and painted with plans and models. 
We are realising the ideas of The Leader, wrote Albert Speer. Hitler the supreme builder was proclaimed in signs on buildings which read: We owe it to The Leader that we build here. A large portrait of Hitler the architect and sculptor by Fritz Erler hung at the entrance to the Great German Art Exhibition, 1938.

Fritz Erler: Portrait of The Leader -- the House Of German Art is in the background at the left


Hitler and Paul Ludwig Troost with the model of the House Of German Art, München

                The obsession with architecture never left Hitler. At the end of his life, he spent hours in the bunker of the Reich Chancellery looking at models for a new town centre for Linz, and he would talk about new buildings with the architect Hermann Giesler.

                Hitler was eager that many buildings should be linked with his name, especially those in which he had been actively involved either by furnishing drawings or by making concrete suggestions. He wanted to be seen as the mentor and initiator of German architecture. But he also took great care that only those buildings in which he actually played a part were allowed to mention this fact. The accolade 
Architektur des Führer -- Architecture Of The Leaderwas not given to just any building. Architecture was for him the highest form of art. Architecture leads all other arts. It shows, everywhere, the great hand of our Leader. From him come the greatest impulses for the creation of and the search for new ways. In this way, architecture, too, has a political and cultural role to play, said a speaker at a conference of several hundred architects in München in 1937. (Franz Moraller, cited in Mitteilungsbiatt der Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, August 1st, 1937, page 12.)

Hitler and Albert Speer looking at architectural plans

                Buildings, better than anything else, were able to express National Socialist thoughts in a permanent form. His faith in the superiority of architecture was total; to him it was a discipline above mean, transient criticism. 
Who can be so arrogant as to measure, with our small minds, the work of the creative, godblessed Nature of the very great? Great artists and architects have a right not to be judged by small contemporaries. Their work will be assessed by the centuries ..... Do not forget that in this hour we lift the curtain to reveal works which will mark not decades but centuries ..... that will endure, strong and irrevocably, by their beauty and their harmonic measure. (Hitler at München, January 22nd, 1938, cited in Folkish Observer, November 24th, 1938.)

                Architecture was seen as part of the German revolution, buildings as an act of faith; no longer the work of individual architects, but the work and holy concern of the whole Nation.

                Hitler's plans for large national buildings dated from the early 1920s. As soon as he came to power in 1933, he began to realise some of these projects: in München, the 
Braunes Haus -- Brown House, the layout of theKönigsplatz, and two large Party buildings, the Leader Building and the Administration Building Of The National Socialist German Worker's Party. In October of the same year he also laid the foundation stone for a new House Of German Art, in München. For Berlin too he began to initiate buildings, which were based on plans he had devised in the 1920s.

                He gathered around him a group of efficient and professional architects able to realise his dreams: Paul Ludwig Troost, Albert Speer, Hermann Giesler, and Fritz Todt. Hitler considered Troost the greatest German architect since the nineteenth century neoclassicist Karl Friedrich Schinkel. After Troost's death Hitler was tempted with the idea of taking over his architectural practice, but declined the opportunity.

                Hitler knew that architecture was able to unite people behind a strong aesthetic idea, to celebrate the lasting quality of the Reich, and most of all to give his regime authority. 
Our enemies will guess it, but our own Folk must know it: new buildings are being put up to strengthen our new authority, he said at the Reich Party Day in 1937.

                Again and again he stated that great buildings were products of historic times, as well as manifestations of absolute political power. 
The great building program is a tonic against the inferiority complex of the German Folk, Hitler said. He who would educate a Folk must give to it visible grounds for pride. This is not to show off but to give self confidence to the Nation. A Nation of 80,000,000 has the right to own such buildings. The buildings also represented absolute power. Our enemies and our followers must realise that these buildings strengthen our authority. (Hitler at Nürnberg, cited in Folkish Observer, September 9th, 1937.)

                They were securing Hitler's power for all time. Generations would recognise them as they recognise Gothic or Renaissance architecture. 
The magnitude of these works is not measured by the need of 1938, 1939, or 1940 ..... our task is to give the Folk who have existed for a thousand years, with their millennial past of history and civilisation ..... a millennial city for the limitless future which lies before them. (Hitler at Berlin, November 27th, 1937, cited inFrankfurter Zeitung, November 29th, 1937.)

                Architecture became the most forceful expression of the National Socialist idea. Here 
the word had become stone in order to express true German greatness. Philosophy is more visible in architecture than in any other art form ..... The buildings of The Leader are the signs of the philosophical change of our time. They are National Socialism incarnate ..... Hitler formed in these buildings the noblest qualities of his Folk ..... The greatness of the German soul eternalised in stone, witnesses of heroism ..... they are the holy shrines of our Folk. Their destiny is to proclaim our philosophy. (Nationalsozialistische Baukunst, in Mitteilungsblatt der Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, September 1st, 1939, page 1.)

Advertisement for the Hochtief Construction Company showing modern industrial architecture

                In the beginning there was an overlap of the old and the new. Until 1930 the Party did not openly criticise the industrial and social building programs of architects like Walter Gropius or Mies van der Rohe. And even later, motorways, many factories, the newly built airports in Berlin at Gatow and Tempelhof made much use of modern functionalism and technology borrowed from the Bauhaus architects. 
There is a danger that we might relapse into a senseless and soulless imitation of the past. The architect will not hesitate to use modern building materials just as he will not hesitate to return to those elements of form which in the past were invented by the genius of a race similar to his own. Buildings created by the Folk must represent the whole of the Folk. (Hitler at Nürnberg, September 11th, 1935, cited in Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, September 13th, 1935.)

Support buildings for an experimental airfield. Architects: Hermann Brenner and Werner Deutschmann

                For Hamburg, for instance, which struck Hitler as somewhat American, he wanted a 250 metre high skyscraper. He knew that Hamburg, open to the world, needed its own style.

Power station without smokestacks. Architect: Emil Fahrenkamp

                During the first few years National Socialism did not slavishly follow one architectural style. Not all the architects who came to prominence were Party hardliners, nor did they all follow the same style or aesthetic principles. There were those who favoured a vernacular style and those who followed neoclassical models. Ernst Sagebiel and Roderich Fick supported the official building program. But in 1936 the influential magazine 
Moderne Bauformenreproduced their work next to the modern buildings of Hugo Häring in Berlin's Siemensstadt and Mies van der Rohe's modern apartments in the Afrikanische Straße. (Moderne Bauformen, volume 35, 1936.)

Automobile highway bridge near Rüdersdorf

                Modern architects such as Heinrich Tessenow (1876-1950) and Peter Behrens, both opponents of the National Socialist Party, were allowed to continue to design, at least for a while. Some, like Paul Bonatz, who was not a member of the Party, and Werner March (1894-1976), were not, at least in the beginning, opposed to modern solutions. German Bestelmeyer (1874-1942) and Paul Ludwig Troost were stern defenders of the new architectural theories, based on historical styles; Paul Schmitthenner (1884-1972) pursued a vernacular architecture.

                What soon united National Socialist views on architecture was the rejection of a modern style. A quaint vernacular style for housing and a monumental style for public buildings became the order of the day. 
In the future there will be no more boxes for living, no churches that look like greenhouses, no glasshouse on top of columns ..... built as a result of professional incompetence. No prison camps parading as workers' homes, subsidised by public money. Get compensation money from those criminals who enriched themselves with these crimes against national culture, wrote the famous Bettina Feistl-Rohmeder, castigating the modern Siedlungen -- multiple dwelling complexes of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Bruno Taut, and other representatives of the modern movement. (Bettina Feistl-Rohmeder, Was die Deutschen Künstler von der neuen Regierung erwarten, 1933, in Im Terror des Kunstbolschewismus, Karlsruhe, 1938.)

                In architecture, Jews and communists were barred from the official Chamber Of Architects, which meant they had little chance of building anything. In an open competition for a design for the State Bank, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Hans Pölzig submitted entries. The winner selected by Hitler was Heinrich Wolff. His proposal, traditional in its form, modern in its construction, shows what was the favoured Party style.

                The National Socialists did not wholly reject modern technology. They often used the most advanced building techniques hidden behind neoclassical facades. In the same way as Hitler liked to show off the technical advances made by Germany in the field of cars, cameras, and aeroplanes, so he also boasted of technical advances in architecture. 
The rise of Germany since National Socialism took power is unique. Our constructions are the most exemplary of their kind. The precision of German workmanship does not have to fear anything done by foreign countries; on the contrary, it is technically the very best, stated Hitler, opening a motor show.

                The motorways became one of the best examples of modern technology and design and were much admired by foreign countries, a fact Hitler never ceased to stress. 
The British press says, The German motorways are second to none and lead the world. The Dutch say, We are filled with admiration for this great German achievement. Yugoslavia: As the pyramids record the history of the Pharaohs, so too the motorways will remind the German Folk forever of the most extraordinary figure in its history. A man of the Folk who single handed, with no other help, by virtue of his own will has created a new German Reich, went the commentary in a documentary film about the new German highways. The motorways were another symbol of the glorious and relentless advancement of the National Socialist Movement. It inspired such verses as:
 
A ribbon of stone does span our land,
A Folk has built with all its might,
Stands ready now for a new fight.
The Leader's mind did think it out,
A faithful Folk brought it about.
A triumph of power, the work is done.
The first battle has been won.
A Folk free of want and shame,
The future calls with higher aim.
The Leader gives us faith again.

(Commentary from the film 
Beim Bau der Autobahn, Bundesarchiv Koblenz.)

                Automobile highways were the best means of giving people work and of getting the economy going. But most of all they were seen as yet another achievement to boost the confidence of the Nation, elevating it into a powerful symbol. 
The new German automobile highway network is not only in its concept the most powerful in the world but also the most exemplary. It will help more than anything else to bind the Regions and the States and force them into a unity. The documentary film in which Hitler made this statement brought the message home. In it workers proudly proclaimed to the interviewing reporter: Tell the people at home that we are building bridges unlike any that existed before, and that we all work together, and that we know what is at stake. (Commentary from the film Beim Bau der Autobahn, Bundesarchiv Koblenz.)

Kettler: Organisation Todt

                The fascination was total, and impossible for decent people to resist. It is hard for us nowadays, used to cars and motorways, to understand the enthusiasm that greeted each new bridge with its four lane highway. Hitler was filmed in an open Mercedes, followed by a fleet of brand new Mercedes and Volkswagen cars in neat formation, driving down every new stretch of the motorway, crossing bridges decorated with large columns and eagles carrying Swastikas. Thousands lined the roads and cheered the spectacle of gleaming metal and shining leather coats.

Automobile bridge, Waschmühltal. Architect: Paul Bonatz

                While the building of such an innovatory and vast motorway network was politically and strategically motivated, it was also an extraordinary technical and aesthetic tour de force, Even today much of the extraordinary and continuing respect of Hitler is based on his achievement with the motorways. A powerful symbol of political strength, willpower, and achievement, they were meant to provide the conquering military with easy access to the rest of Europe. They were called 
Hitler's Streets. In Germany plans for the first motorway date from 1926; the first test road between Köln and Bonn was opened in 1932.

Automobile suspension bridge, 1938-1941. Architect: Paul Bonatz


Automobile suspension bridge, 1938-1941. Architect: Paul Bonatz

                With their stunning bridge constructions and sweeping lanes, the automobile highways were a remarkable piece of modern architecture built by the best architects to blend with the landscape. Roderich Fick built a bridge over the Isar River mostly made of wood to blend with local architecture. Bonatz designed a bridge near the Romanesque cathedral of Limburg that reminded one of a Roman aqueduct. Petrol stations were often built in a modern style growing out of the Bauhaus teaching.

Rendering of a bridge. Architect: Fritz Tamms


Model of an automobile bridge across the Oder River. Architect: Fritz Tamms


Rendering of a bridge with towers across the Weichsel River near Danzig. Architect: Fritz Tamms


Rendering of a bridge with towers across the Weichsel River near Danzig. Architect: Fritz Tamms


Automobile bridge. Detail. Architect: Fritz Tamms

                The automobile highways were masterminded by Fritz Todt, an early Party member, a nature and music loving German who became a hero, especially among the young, for the exploits of his Organisation Todt. With the help of this organisation, Todt -- an engineer, not an architect -- conquered land and cleared swamps. He was considered one of the highest artists in the land, and honoured as such. His automobile highway was not just a road but technology elevated to art. He was sensitive to the details of traditional craftsmanship and included them in his bridges. Todt was open minded enough to consult Mies van der Rohe and to employ architects such as Bonatz, who was reputable and not known for Party faithfulness. Albert Speer took control of the motorways after Fritz Todt died in a car crash in 1942.

Colonnade of the garden facade of the Chancellery, Berlin. Architect: Albert Speer

                The controversy over modern architecture was vehement during the Weimar Republic; the fight over gabled roofs dominated architectural discussion in the twenties in Germany. Buildings by modern architects were widely criticised and only the 
Deutsche Werkbund, the Bauhaus, and some intellectuals mostly associated with the left supported a new building style. Many smaller building firms and many construction workers feared that a more industrialised building industry fostered by this new style would mean a loss of jobs for manual workers. They were easy converts to Hitler's architectural policies.

German Embassy in Saint Petersburg, 1911. Architect: Peter Behrens

                Having banned the architects of the twenties, Hitler looked for new talent. Among them was the talented Fritz Tamms (born 1904). Franz Moraller spoke for many: 
We architects want to create a new architecture, based on tradition. It reflects our philosophy of life. Bad building, empty effects, and the search for the sensational must be stopped. The great buildings of the Movement are not built for their own sake. They must demonstrate to the German Folk the determination, unity, strength, and power of the State.... The style of the buildings must reflect the will which formed it. (Moraller, cited in Mitteilungsblatt der Reichskammer der bildenden Künste, August 1st, 1937, page 12.)

The Chancellery, Berlin. Architect: Albert Speer

                From 1938 onward there were representative 
German Architecture And Craft Exhibitions in München, which Hitler opened personally There were only three official German architecture exhibitions, the first in January, 1938, the second in December of the same year, and the third in July of 1939. The war criminally imposed upon the decent Germans stopped all further displays. Other similar exhibitions toured the country. The exhibitions showed mostly plaster models of the new buildings; large wood and plaster models were also carried in processions through the streets of München during the Day Of Art parades. These exhibitions, like the buildings, were widely reported in the press, but as in painting, architectural criticism hardly existed, despite the large number of books published on this subject. Instead, devoted National Socialists described them honestly. Werner Rittich, coeditor with Robert Scholz of the magazine Die Völkische Kunst -- Folkish Art, became one of the leading National Socialist writers on architecture, as did Rosenberg and Schultze-Naumburg. To all of them architecture was a political weapon, a domain in which to fight out ideological battles.

Peristyle of the grandstand, Zeppelin Field, Nürnberg, 1934. Architect: Albert Speer

                On the whole, the architecture of the Third Reich closely followed, in form and content, the architecture of the past. There was no revolution, scarcely even a break, but there was tremendous development and improvement and coordination. The two prevailing trends for public buildings were monumentalism and neoclassicism. Neoclassicism has long been the language of political power. It was by no means exclusive to Germany or to totalitarian systems. It was the official style of many countries. France, Russia, Italy, and the United States had all used it for their town halls, public libraries, universities, railway stations, and museums. In the nineteenth century a system of codes was invented by architects and architectural theorists that echoed a general nostalgia for a stable world, a world of historical continuity. Classical, Gothic, and even Egyptian elements satisfied these longings.

Model of an office building for the North-South axis road, Berlin. Architect: Gotthold Nestler

                Hitler too looked for buildings which were already programmed in this way. The 
Walhalla and the Befreiungshalle, both designed by Leo von Klenze (1784-1864), were two buildings which Hitler utilised for his own purposed. He made them his buildings, frequently holding celebrations and meetings there. Their pathos of eternity, expressed by massive architecture in heavy stone, entered the architecture of the Third Reich.

Walhalla near Regensburg, 1830-1842. Architect: Leo von Klenze


Befreiungshalle near Kelheim, 1842-1863. Architect: Leo von Klenze. Hitler speaking here on October 22, 1933


Model of an office building for the North-South axis road, Berlin. Architect: Hans Freese

                For the National Socialists each building was not merely a building. It had to be a monument. Even administration buildings had to express the ideology of the regime. 
These works of ours shall also be eternal, that is to say, not only in the greatness of their conception, but in their clarity of plan, in the harmony of their proportions, they shall satisfy the requirements of eternity ..... magnificent evidence of civilisation in granite and marble, they will stand through the millennia ..... these buildings of ours should not be conceived for the year 1942 nor for the year 2000, but like the cathedrals of our past they shall stretch into the millennia of the future, Hitler proclaimed at Nürnberg, cited in Folkish Observer, September 9th, 1937.

                The National Socialists were consumers of cultures as well as makers of it, and they blended a excellent conglomeration of traditional styles into a unifying overall National Socialist style. Many of the public buildings share a specific handwriting which makes them instantly recognisable as the product of the Third Reich. There were the stripped down porticos, the stark rectilinear look emphasised by the heavy horizontals of cornices and rows of windows with deep frames.

                A monumental symmetry dominated their facades, thanks to ranks of windows set in walls of roughhewn stone. The shallow windows in such heavy walls were designed to evoke images of fortresses and give the building a feeling of impenetrability. The cambered walls and massive timbered gables impressed and commanded respect.

                Much of the public architecture of the late nineteenth century was smothered in ornaments. The National Socialists, in contrast, shunned too much ornament in their drive for clarity. 
To be German means to be clear was one of Hitler's often quoted phrases. The facades of the Third Reich were simpler than those of their predecessors. Pillars and pilasters that had structural functions were admitted into a modern combination of technology and decoration. And of course there were decorations in the form of mosaics, friezes, and wreaths surrounding the honoured Swastika, which was sometimes stylised into geometrical patterns, and finally, the ubiquitous eagle.

                Another distinction was the emphasis on the material used. The symbolic meaning of stone was stressed. The feeling for material was as intense as the feeling for buildings. The use of stone confirmed the great truth of a living handicraft tradition. There was also a practical reason for the use of granite and other local stone. The medieval handhewn finish of the buildings in massive stone and wood saved on steel and concrete, which was needed to build defensive bunkers. Words like 
austeresober, and Nordic were used by the architectural press to describe these attractive buildings.

                One critic spoke of a 
self willed style and of severe beauty. Much of National Socialist architecture looks military, and in fact, most buildings were part of an extensive network of underground airraid shelters. The structures were blank and orderly. All decoration was austere. There was less room for playfulness. The human being was often dwarfed by the scale of the buildings, reduced to an insignificant prop, which took on value only in an organised and choreographed mass. In a drawing by Hans Liska depicting the studio Speer built for Thorak, one can see the dwarfed studio assistants chiselling away to create the New Man.

Drawing by Hans Liska of Thorak's studio, 
Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, 1938, Number 51, Page 2103

                Like Hitler's speeches, his architecture was huge, awe inspiring, uplifting, magnificent. Buildings had massive proportions. And there was good workmanship in details. The architects well used the language of classicism -- portals, pillars, and stone.

                But if the National Socialists' buildings were meant to impress and to intimidate, they were also meant to unite the Folk. They were the result of a collective effort like the one that had produced the great buildings of the past, the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the great monuments of Rome. Buildings became objects of identification. Together with their flagpoles, braziers, grandstands, and the people who filled them, they became lighthouses illuminating the way for a whole Nation into a bigger and brighter future.

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