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Monumentality and Modernity in Hitler’s Berlin

The North-South Axis of the Greater Berlin Plan


Hsiu-Ling Kuo

The contentious relationship between modernism and totalitarianism is a key element in the architectural history of the twentieth century. Post-war historiography refused to admit any overlap between the high modernism of the 1920s and the architecture of National Socialism, as it contradicted the definition of modernism as the essential architectural expression of liberal democracy. However, National Socialist architectural history cannot be fully explored without the broader historical context of modernity. Similarly, a true understanding of modernism in architecture must acknowledge its authoritarian aspects.
This book clarifies the architectural discourse in which the Greater Berlin Project of the Third Reich was produced. The association of monumentality with National Socialist architecture in the 1930s created a polarization between the classical tradition and radical modernism that provoked vigorous and acrimonious debate that lasted into the 1980s. In the attempt to reconcile the paradoxical and competing aspirations for monumentality and historicity on one hand, and for technological advance on the other, the planning of Berlin is shown to reflect the wider paradoxes of National Socialist ideology.


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Figure 1 Heinrich Tessenow, Festhall, Hellerau, 1910–1912. (Müller-Wulkow, Deutsche Baukunst der Gegenwart, 1929, 78) Figure 2 Martin Mächler, a drawing of the general plan of Berlin, 1917. A clear North–South Axis dominates the whole plan. Apart from the Reichstag complex next to the bank of the Spree, two major railway stations located respectively in the north and in the south were also included in the design. (Martin Mächler, ‘Ein Detail aus dem Bebauungsplan Groß-Berlin’, in Der Städtebau, vol. 17, no. 5/6, 1920, 54) Figure 3 Mächler’s general plan for the Greater Berlin area, published in Der Städtebau, vol. 17, no. 1/2, 1920. The graphic chart shows Mächler possi- bly adopting Ebeneser Howards’ urban planning theory to analyse and to plan for the greater Berlin. Figure 4 Ludwig Hilberseimer, the north-south street of a high-rise city, 1924. (Ludwig Hilberseimer, Groszstadtarchitektur, 1927, 18) Figure 5 Hermann Distel, drawings for university buildings for the Hochschulstadt on the East–West Axis, 1940. (Bundesarchiv, KS 3615) Figure 6 The GBI, a drawing for Marine barracks in modernist style high-rise resi- dential buildings along the wide boulevard. (Bundesarchiv, KS 3637) Figure 7 The GBI, a drawing for Marine barracks. (Bundesarchiv, R4606, KS 3637) Figure 8 An article in the Völkischer Beobachter announcing the completion date for the East–West Axis of the Greater Berlin Plan. (Völkischer Beobachter, 12 April 1938) Figure 9 Proposals for traf fic arrangement in the re-construction of Berlin, 1942. The...

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