Dec '10 - Aug '11
Before heading back to Edinburgh, one of the great things I saw this Christmas holiday, while visiting a close friend and his welcoming family, was the daunting Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. Not far from there, the Christmas Angel had already opened her market, the largest one of its kind in Germany, with wooden stalls selling bratwurst and glühwein. She had recited biblical words from the gallery of the Church of Our Lady, preaching messages of brotherhood to be faithfully followed. All the while, I couldn’t help to think of other messages of brotherhood that had once been preached, also from spectacle-driven architecture, on these same grounds.
This is not your average parade ground. It was here, a site in the southeast of Nuremberg with a size of eleven square kilometres, where the Nazi party rallies were held from 1933 until 1938. It was designed by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer and, to this day, the remains of the buildings with their immense proportions are a vivid testimony to the megalomania of the National Socialist regime. This is where Architecture met Power. Not to be missed is Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumph of the Will’ (Triumph des Willens).
I visited the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, a recent addition to the north wing of the Congress Hall, a coliseum-like, Hitler-utopian arena designed to house 50,000 spectators but never fully built. The Documentation Centre was designed by Austrian architect Günther Domenig, winner of a competition held in 1998, and is worth a close look in itself. The 1,300 square meters of permanent exhibition, entitled ‘Fascination and Terror,’ focuses on the history of the rallies, its buildings, and the problem of dealing with the National Socialists’ architectural heritage after 1945. Highly recommendable.
The rally grounds raise interesting architectural issues related to spectacle, power, symbolism, and politics that are not too far from contemporary architectural discourse. It speaks of extraordinary clients with extraordinary briefs and suggests architecture’s unique capacity in the dissemination of ideas. It is fascinating to learn architecture’s important role in the turning of a whole nation to a single ideological pursuit.
So what are the rally grounds used for today? Well, I went ice skating next to the Zeppelin Field.