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What remains of Nazi architecture in Berlin?

The sinister architectural legacy of the Third Reich in 12 buildings

Nazi architecture in Berlin reached nowhere near the scale the National Socialists had in mind. But buildings from this dark period are still part of the cityscape today. From 1933 onwards, the Nazi ideology penetrated almost all areas of life; building and urban planning were central pillars of the aggressive power politics.

Modernism and Bauhaus influences were ostensibly rejected and banned. Instead, Hitler’s chosen architects, most notably Albert Speer, oriented themselves towards classical stylistic elements, nationalist symbolism and the private preferences of the Führer. Nevertheless, even the National Socialists couldn’t escape modernism; they adapted the concepts and countered them with their own totalitarian version.

Here are 12 buildings in Berlin that bear witness to the Nazis’ architectural legacy to the present day.

Olympiastadion

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The bell tower at the Maifeld, Olympiapark. Photo: Imago/Schöning

 

A high point of Nazi strategy was the staging of the 1936 Summer Olympics. Hitler positioned Berlin as the centre of an emerging nation and used the sporting event as a huge propaganda opportunity for Nazi Germany. Against this backdrop, the Olympic Stadium was built according to the plans of Werner March, whose assignment to the project predated the Nazi regime but whose designs nonetheless pleased Hitler.

The stadium was newly built, with the Reichssportfeld (a 132-hectare athletic complex) and the Maifeld (a huge lawn for gymnastic displays) also part of an architectural concept designed to radiate power. 

Olympic Stadium Olympischer Platz 3, Charlottenburg

Funkturm: Haupthalle and Messegelände 

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Entrance hall to the exhibition grounds at Hammarskjöldplatz. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

 

Richard Ermisch was a Berlin architect who survived the turbulent times with a great deal of opportunism. He planned and built public buildings in Berlin from the early 1920s onwards and simply carried on after 1933 – in contrast to many of his colleagues who fell out of favour as Jews or ‘cultural Bolshevists‘ and were forced into exile.

Ermisch’s biggest project from the Nazi era is the 240-metre-long exhibition hall under the Funkturm (the iconic radio tower in Charlottenburg), built between 1935 and 1937. Here, the influence of modernism can be felt in the clear formal language and the use of innovative building materials. At the same time, Ermisch opted for the imposing pillars of classical-monumentalism, in keeping with the spirit of Nazi architecture.

Messehallen Hammarskjöldplatz/Masurenallee 12, Charlottenburg

Japanese Embassy in Berlin

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Embassy of Japan in Berlin. Photo: Imago/F. Berger

 

The construction of the Japanese embassy in Berlin between 1938 and 1942 was overseen by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, although the original design was by Ludwig Moshamer.

The building was badly damaged during the war and stood empty for a long time in West Berlin. At the end of the 1980s, it was rebuilt as the Japanese Cultural Centre. After reunification and Berlin’s designation as the German capital, it once again serves as the official Japanese embassy.

Japanese Embassy Hiroshimastraße 6, Tiergarten

Fehrbelliner Platz

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Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment, Württembergische Straße, Wilmersdorf. Photo: Imago/Schöning

 

Fehrbelliner Platz is a good place to imagine what Berlin – or the Nazi capital ‘Germania’, as Hitler had planned – would have looked like if history had taken a different course. Around the square in Wilmersdorf stand colossal functional buildings that once served as office complexes for insurance companies and state associations such as the German Labour Front.

Until 1934, the square between Grunewald and the city centre was still partially undeveloped. A competition was launched by city planners, won by the architect Otto Flirl, who designed this totalitarian juggernaut before the Second World War and adorned it with the hallmarks of Nazi architecture: heroic reliefs, natural stone slabs and colossal figures.

Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment Württembergische Straße 6, Wilmersdorf

Federal Ministry of Finance (Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus)

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An example of Nazi architecture in Berlin can be found on Wilhelmstraße. Today, the Federal Ministry of Finance uses the building. Photo: Imago/Schöning

 

Few buildings from the Nazi era are as interwoven with Germany’s recent history as the Federal Ministry of Finance. The monumental office building on Mitte’s Wilhelmstraße was designed in 1935-36 at the behest of Hermann Göring by the Nazi-affiliated architect Ernst Sagebiel and corresponded exactly to the visually dominating architecture favoured by the regime.

Initially, the building housed the Reich Aviation Ministry; after the war, the Soviet Military Administration moved into the Nazi structure, and later the GDR’s National Economic Council. From then on, the building was called the ‘House of Ministries’ and the wall reliefs showing marching Wehrmacht soldiers were replaced with socialist motifs.

After reunification, the Treuhand moved into the complex, and the building was named after its director Detlev Rohwedder (1932-1991), who was murdered by the RAF. It is now the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Federal Ministry of Finance Wilhelmstraße 97, Mitte

Ernst-Reuter-Haus

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Ernst-Reuter-Haus, Straße des 17. Juni, Charlottenburg. Photo: Imago/Imagebroker

 

Albert Speer was certainly the most famous architect of the Third Reich. He maintained close contact with Hitler, designed the megalomaniac plans of the ‘World Capital Germania’ with him, was Reich Minister for Armaments and Ammunition from 1942 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison as a war criminal in Nuremberg.

Today, only a handful of Speer’s fully realised buildings remain standing in Berlin. As an urban planner, however, he is present in almost all Nazi architecture, and his interest in neoclassicism can still be seen in Walter Schlempp’s Haus des Deutschen Gemeindetages. Schlempp designed the monumental building as part of the ‘Germania’ project. The office building was renamed ‘Ernst-Reuter-Haus’ and is now the headquarters of the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning.

Ernst-Reuter-Haus Straße des 17. Juni 110-114, Charlottenburg

Flughafen Tempelhof

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Tempelhof Airport, Platz der Luftbrücke, Berlin. Architect Ernst Sagebiel. Photo: Imago/IPON

 

The planning and first use of Tempelhofer Feld as an airfield dates back to the early 20th century. In the 1920s, Berlin’s city planners finally decided to build a central airport, while the subsequent expansion and the mighty facade were the work of the National Socialists.

In 1934, Nazi favourite Ernst Sagebiel was commissioned by the Reich Aviation Ministry to build the new central airport and submitted a plan for a monumental structure. At the time, the largest building in the world in terms of area had a length of 1,200 metres, making it one of the longest structures in Europe.

Tempelhof Airport was to play an important role in Albert Speer’s plans for the planned ‘world capital Germania’. Today, Tempelhofer Feld has become a space of freedom and revelry for Berliners of all backgrounds.

Tempelhof Airport Platz der Luftbrücke 5, Tempelhof

AVUS Grandstand und Motel

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Motel at the AVUS in Charlottenburg. Photo: Imago/Schöning

 

“Hitler built the autobahn” is a misconception commonly held by those who think something good must have been left behind by the Third Reich. Well, it’s not true about the autobahn – the AVUS race track in Berlin dates from 1921 and has nothing to do with Nazi architecture or the National Socialists in its origins. But Hitler, with his love of speed, technology and, apparently, car racing, had a spectator stand added in 1937, extended the track and ordered the construction of a finish-line tower next to the track.

This curious round building is still visible today to every Berlin motorist driving the adjacent autobahn, while the building with the funny tower is used as a motel.

AVUS Grandstand Halenseestraße 51, Charlottenburg

Italian Embassy in Berlin

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Italian Embassy in Berlin. Photo: Imago/Günter Schneider

 

The histories of the Italian and Japanese embassies in Berlin are similar. No wonder; both countries belonged to the so-called Axis powers during the Third Reich. The massive building was erected in 1939-1941 by the architect Friedrich Hetzelt.

Hetzelt took his cue from neoclassicism and had the façade clad in Italian limestone. Like the Japanese Embassy, the Italian Embassy was badly damaged during the war, later stood empty for a long time and was only renovated after reunification. 

Italian Embassy Hiroshimastraße 1, Tiergarten

Nazi architecture in housing: The estate on Grazer Damm

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Grazer Damm housing estate. Photo: Roomsixhu/Wikimedia Commons/CC 3.0

 

The Nazis were also behind many residential buildings in Berlin. They invented a style of architecture that followed, inevitably, the modernist principles of the 1920s, but expanded them to include complexes in the Heimatschutz style.

A good example of Nazi architecture in housing is the estate on Grazer Damm in Schöneberg, built between 1938 and 1940 by a team of architects led by Ludwig Spreitzer and Carl Cramer. The approximately 200 flats were designated as ‘people’s flats’ and were intended as an example for housing in Nazi Germany.

In fact, the Nazis became less active in housing construction, concentrating instead on impactful architecture, symbolism and monumentalism. Costly housing projects were not worthwhile for them, and from 1939 onwards the war devoured all resources anyway.

Grazer Damm Schöneberg

Julius Leber Barracks

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Julius Leber Barracks of the German Armed Forces. Photo: Imago/Stefan Zeitz

 

From 1936 onwards, the Nazis, who had little in common with the Prussians in terms of militarism, had a large-scale barracks complex built in the far north of Berlin, consisting of about 130 buildings. The lightly plastered ensemble with bomb-proof gable roofs served as a base for the Luftwaffe infantry regiment ‘General Göring’.

After the war, the French Allies moved in, and today the area is used by the Bundeswehr as the Julius Leber Barracks.

Julius Leber Barracks Kurt-Schumacher-Damm 41, Reinickendorf

Schwerbelastungskörper

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The Schwerbelastungskörper is a hefty concrete cylinder on General-Pape-Straße, Tempelhof. Photo: Imago/Schöning

 

The Nazis had this massive concrete cylinder built around 1941, supposedly to simulate the structural dynamics of a gigantic triumphal arch that formed part of Hitler’s ‘Germania’ plans after the final victory.

This did not come to pass, but the 12,650-tonne behemoth still stands protected as a monument in the no-man’s land between Schöneberg and Tempelhof and causes consternation to anyone who discovers it. 

Schwerbelastungskörper General-Pape-Straße 34A, Tempelhof

Original article by Jacek Slaski for tipBerlin