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The Germania dystopia

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The Germania dystopia


Model of the north-south axis in the area of Runden Platz, planning status from 1940. © Archiv Jörn Düwel , Hamburg

At the Reich Party Congress in 1936, Adolf Hitler announced the “rebuilding of Berlin as the capital of the German Reich”. With works for eternity, Berlin was to be developed into the “symbol of German world standing” and, after its transformation, was to bear the name Germania. In the distant future, its monumental buildings to be erected were to be compared with the pyramids of ancient Egypt, with Babylon and Rome. Hitler imagined a state architecture that aimed exclusively at the supra-temporal self-representation of the Reich and its Führer. It was to be for eternity and make him immortal. The sheer size of the buildings – the Great Hall was planned as the largest domed building in the world with 315m×315m floor space and 320m height – and the absence of functional approaches show the clearly laid out dystopian character of this utopia. It already appeared as unapproachable architecture and a sign of megalomania to his contemporaries. Its obvious gigantomania made it no less dangerous, for Hitler was determined to make the utopia a reality. Albert Speer’s appointment as General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital (GBI) on January 30, 1937, and the “Law on the Redesign of German Cities” enacted on October 4, 1937, laid the legal foundation for implementing the plans. Speer was directly subordinate to Hitler. He was responsible for designing the Reich Capital according to the ideas of the Führer. To this end, he had far-reaching powers and authority to issue directives to the urban planning authorities. Albert Speer’s axis plan was the most comprehensive and radical plan for the transformation of Berlin in the city’s history.

The East-West Axis

The core and starting point of Albert Speer’s planning was a cross of two new monumental axis, 40 and 50 kilometers long respectively. Their point of intersection was to be located in the Tiergarten at the exact spot where the Soviet memorial stands today. A seven-kilometer section of the east-west axis, which ran from the Brandenburg Gate to Adolf-Hitler-Platz (now Theodor-Heuss-Platz), was extended starting in 1935. Charlottenburger Chaussee (today Strasse des 17. Juni) was widened to ten lanes in the Tiergarten. As a visual focal point, the Victory Column was moved from Königsplatz in front of the Reichstag to the Grosser Stern and raised by 7.5 meters in the process. The new “via triumphalis” received gatehouses at the Grosser Stern and was representatively illuminated with two-arm east-west axis candelabras designed by Speer on the left and right of the route between the Theodor-Heuss-Platz and the Tiergarten train station. The first construction phase was inaugurated on Hitler’s 50th birthday on April 20, 1939.


The photograph from 1947 shows the view from the Roland statue on Kemperplatz through Tiergarten to the newly erected Soviet memorial at the planned intersection of the north-south axis with the east-west axis. © bpk / Friedrich Seidenstücker


Willy Pragher’s photograph from March 12, 1938, documents the construction work on Charlottenburger Chaussee from Grosser Stern in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate. : © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 013161 /Fotograf: Willy Pragher


This photograph documents the removal of the Victory Goddess Victoria to the Grosser Stern in Berlin Tiergarten. On January 21, 1939, her head floats upward, held by a crane rope. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 013161 /Fotograf: Willy Pragher


Photograph of the east-west axis in fixed lighting from the eastbound platform of the Berlin-Tiergarten train station. The photo was taken in April 1939, probably on the occasion of the opening of the road on Hitler’s birthday on April 20. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 015640 /Fotograf: Willy Pragher

The North-South Axis

The approximately 6km long core section of the 40km long north-south axis was to run between the new North Station in southeast Moabit and the new South Station in Tempelhof. It was planned as a 120-meter-wide boulevard of the Nazi state, along which all important Reich and party offices as well as company headquarters and cultural institutions were to be located. As an urban planning highlight, the Grosser Platz was planned as a parade ground for up to one million people. It was to be surrounded by the Great Hall, the Führer Palace, the Greater German Reichstag, the Reichstag building, the High Command of the Wehrmacht, and the new Reich Chancellery. At the intersection with Potsdamer Strasse, the “Runden Platz” was planned, around which the House of Tourism and the headquarters of the Allianz insurance company were to be grouped. The entire Tiergarten district was to be transformed into the Army High Command. The connection to the north-south axis was formed by an enormous soldiers’ hall.


Concept of an axis planning by Martin Mächler from 1919. Important ministries and numerous Reich authorities are arranged along the north-south axis. © Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität Berlin, Inv . Nr. 8093


Albert Speer’s concept of the north-south axis borrows heavily from Martin Mächler’s 1919 axis. The overlay plan shows the monumentality of the plans in the historic city layout and the massive loss of building fabric they cause. © Archiv Jörn Düwel , Hamburg


The eastern Tiergarten district is completely obliterated by Albert Speer’s planning. One may assume that it is no coincidence that military buildings are planned here of all places. The upper middle-class residential quarter of Berlin’s Jewish upper class is literally erased as if under the imprint of a boot. This is an act of extermination. © Archiv Jörn Düwel , Hamburg


Photograph of the model of the Runden Platz with the new administration building of the Allianz insurance company in August 1939. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 015680 / Fotograf: Willy Pragher


The diagram shows Albert Speer’s design for the buildings for the Army High Command. In the foreground is the monstrous “Soldiers’ Hall” by Wilhelm Kreis. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek

The Embassy district

The Embassy district forms the western part of the Tiergarten district. It is bordered by Tiergartenstrasse, the Landwehr Canal and Stauffenbergstrasse, which is adjoined by the Kulturforum. The area of the Embassy district was not incorporated into Berlin until 1861. The development plan for the quarter, then called Albrechtshof, was developed by Friedrich Hitzig in 1863. Since the last quarter of the 19th century and increasingly since World War I, numerous embassies and consulates settled there. Under National Socialism, this process also spread to the eastern part of the Tiergarten district. The Italian Embassy acquired a prestigious villa there at Matthäikirchstrasse 31. Due to the planned demolition, it received a replacement property and a monumental new building on Tiergartenstrasse a short time later. In 1937, the quarter was officially declared a “diplomatic quarter” as part of the National Socialist Reich Capital planning.


The villa at Matthäikirchstrasse 31 was built in 1900 by Alfred Messel for the banker Felix Simon. The picture shows the building after it was taken over by the Italian Embassy and partially remodeled by Friedrich Hetzelt in 1934. © Architekturmuseum der TU Berlin, Inv . Nr. F 16140


The photograph shows the long side of the Italian Embassy at Standartenstrasse 11 on the corner of Margaretenstrasse. Matthäikirchstrasse was renamed Standartenstrasse from 1934-1947. The reference to the SA and SS standards (“Standarten”) is probably related to the “Aryanization” of the Tiergarten district. © Architekturmuseum der TU Berlin, Inv . Nr. F 16141


The old building of the Italian Embassy at Viktoriastrasse 36 was used from the mid-1930s as a consulate general and house of the Italian Fascist Party (“casa del fascio”). The house had been built by the architects Gropius & Schmieden for the former Reich Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. © bpk / Geheimes Staatsarchiv, SPK / Bildstelle GStA PK


The new building of the Italian Embassy on Tiergartenstrasse was designed by Friedrich Hetzelt. The building is reminiscent of Roman palaces of the Quattrocento. It was built between 1939 and 1941 and was severely damaged at the end of World War II. It was not until after the reunification of Germany that it underwent fundamental renovation. © bpk

Aryanization, expropriation, demolition

The persecution of Jewish Germans began in the Tiergarten district in 1933 with the Aryanization of the numerous commercial enterprises, art stores and auction houses around Kemperplatz. This was followed by economic plundering through confiscatory taxes and levies, such as the Reich Flight Tax and the Jewish Capital Levy. For the homeowners in the Tiergarten district, the expropriations of their properties posed a further existential threat. For the construction of the north-south axis alone, entire streets with about 45,000 apartments were to be demolished. Jewish owners and tenants were evicted from their apartments on the orders of the General building inspector for the Reich capital (GBI). “Aryan” Germans were assigned to so-called “Judenwohnungen” (apartments for Jews) in other parts of the city that had become vacant. In the spring of 1938, the first 25 buildings were demolished for the “Runden Platz” (Round Square) on Viktoriastrasse after expropriations. In the presence of Adolf Hitler, the foundation stone for the Haus des Fremdenverkehrs (House of Tourism) was laid on June 14, 1938.


Willy Pragher’s photograph from February 4, 1938, documents the systematic demolition of houses in the Tiergarten district. The building materials are taken away separately to be reused. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 013151 / Fotograf: Willy Pragher


The photograph shows demolition work on houses on Viktoriastrasse in April 1938. Passersby and automobiles populate the neighborhood. The old corner house of Friedrich Hitzig at the intersection of Viktoriastrasse and Margaretenstrasse can be seen in the background. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 015647 / Fotograf: Willy Pragher


This photograph from August 1939 shows the construction clearance achieved on the building site for the new administration building of the Allianz insurance company on Runden Platz. The building was to be erected opposite the Haus des Fremdenverkehrs (House of Tourism). © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 015645b / Fotograf: Willy Pragher


The photograph documents demolition work at the corner of Potsdamer Strasse and Admiral-Ufer in August 1938. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 013166 / Fotograf: Willy Pragher


The photograph from August 1939 shows the construction sign on the building site for the new administration building of the Allianz insurance company at Runden Platz. © Staatsarchiv Freiburg W 134 Nr. 015644 / Fotograf: Willy Pragher


The Haus des Fremdenverkehrs (House of Tourism) shortly before its completion at the newly emerging Runden Platz on Potsdamer Strasse in 1943. © bpk / Arthur Grimm

The destruction

At the end of the Second World War, the destruction caused by the bombing campaign and the final battle for Berlin left the Tiergarten district a wasteland of rubble of enormous proportions. By the time the bombing of Berlin began, the planners of the General building inspector for the Reich capital (GBI) had not progressed beyond the shell of the Haus des Fremdenverkehrs (House of Tourism) with their redesign of the quarter. They had initially welcomed the destruction caused by the air war, as this saved expensive deconstruction. Reconstruction plans of the GBI became obsolete with the capitulation and the collapse of National Socialism. Many questions remain surrounding “zero hour”: What happened to the residents of the Tiergarten district? Who was deported and murdered in the concentration camps? Who died from the bombs and the fighting? Who was able to emigrate? Who started a new life outside of Berlin? The destruction of the Tiergarten district was total. It affected the building fabric, the residents, and the social community. To this day, this has not been overcome.


This photograph from 1945 shows the wartime destruction of Berlin’s Tiergarten district. Only the outer walls of most of the houses are still standing. In the foreground, you can see the Landwehr Canal, the Potsdamer Bridge, and the “Haus des Fremdenverkehrs” (House of Tourism) on Potsdamer Strasse, which survived the bombing comparatively well. © bpk


This photograph from the end of the 1950s documents the progressive debris removal in the Tiergarten district. The ruins of the houses on Potsdamer Strasse and on the site of the Philharmonie have already been largely cleared away. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Dietmar Katz