“Hitler’s Constructions” is an apt name for this video/dvd, because no other aspect of German culture was more directly influenced by the Fuehrer than architecture. His personal taste is evident throughout the major projects that sprang up between his assumption of power in 1933 and the beginning of World War Two, just six years later. That so many large-scale buildings came into existence during this brief but momentous period of peace was in sharp contrast to the preceding Weimar Republic, when its depression all but ground nation-wide construction to a halt.
Indeed, the Third Reich’s architectural florescence was made possible by and an expression of a revived German economy. The two went hand-in-hand: The masses of unemployed were put to work on public works enterprises. The result was Hitler’s dream come true in materialization of the designs he envisioned, some of them since his student days as a young artist.
The film opens with an uncredited statement that nonetheless closely parallels his thoughts on the subject: “The history of culture is the mirror of world history. Decisions of pivotal importance to the existence of peoples have invariably opened the way for new shapes and forms. And alone, above all else, it is construction which reflects most clearly the evolution of human outlooks and objectives.”
Then follow visuals of medieval magnificence in the Ulm Cathedral, the richness of Baroque architecture, and 19th Century Classicism, until this healthy development is stopped short by the sudden appearance of the word, “Decay”. It refers to a sterile “modernism” instigated by Weimar’s self-styled “Bauhaus” designers, whose boxy, look-alike structures resulted in the urban anonymity of today’s big cities. The Third Reich structures presented in this film are altogether dissimilar.
There are Hitler Youth hostels, government offices, stadiums, roads and bridges. Although each is radically different from one another, they all share a mix of structure, sculpture, and banners to break up the inherent monotony of monumental configuration to provide a sweeping sense of form. They are all airy and open, with a shared emphasis on light, yet seem eminently livable and accommodating, less formidable than welcoming, as exampled by Munich’s Party headquarters, with its many windows. But their most salient common denominator was an apparent insistence on harmony with the natural environment. The Reich’s Autobahn so conforms with the landscape its roads seem less like highways than meandering rivers. These images will seem familiar to American viewers, because U.S. engineers copied today’s modern highway system after the Reich’s Autobahn.
National Socialist architecture --- which is to say, Hitler’s architecture --- was a fusion of these fundamental requirements built on traditional forms, while mindful of the demands of modern function. The result was an original style evolving from the best of the Aryan past. A cogent example was the Hitler Youth hostel at Croessinsee, in Pomerania, modeled after a Viking meeting hall. Another example was the Reich Sport Field, a 20th Century inflection on the ancient Greek outdoor theater to Apollo, at Delphi. Fronting the House of German Sport was a new take on the Egyptian obelisk: twin pillars, each one surmounted by spread-eagle statues.
The Honor Temple, in Munich, makes for a particularly interesting scene, as we witness the precise drill of its changing-of-the-guard. The structure itself achieves monumentality less through size than cleanliness of design. The soldiers take up their posts in front of great
columns that seem to be representations in stone of the men standing before them. Indeed, Hitler’s buildings were everywhere populated by statues of the idealized human form, in which night-time illumination also served as an architectural medium. Added to the organic impression made by these structures was an abundance of fountains and waving, colorful flags.
Outstanding was the German Center, in Paris. A great, squarish tower with a powerful eagle-sculpture gazing skyward from its roof is mirrored in a reflecting pool. Flanking its massive entrance are statuary groups extolling the family and Aryan racial unity.
Nuremberg’s colossal Zeppelinfeld was the scene of Party rallies, wherein literally tens of thousands of participants from every NSDAP organization gathered in pomp and circumstance every September. It was topped by a gigantic stone swastika the Americans took special delight in demolishing after the war.
Very few of the structures presented in “Hitler’s Constructions” survived into the 21st Century, making this film an especially valuable documentary. It quotes him as having said in 1938, “The nation has risen to new feats through and in us. In calling on German art to meet today’s great, new challenges, we do so not only to satisfy the hopes and desires of the moment, but to leave a legacy to endure though millennia.”
“Hitler's Constructions 1934 - 1940"
by Marc Roland