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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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Chapter 2 The Discourse of Monumentality before 1933


The ‘Monumental’ Tradition1 The word ‘monumental’ in Latin, monumentalis, monument-um, conveys the sense of ‘something that reminds.’ In Brockhaus’s Conversations-Lexikon (1853), the definition of ‘monumental art’ is ‘Monumente, Monumentale Kunst. Monumente sind Kunstwerke, meist von größerer Ausdehnung, welche zum Andenken an eine merkwürdige Begebenheit oder hervor- ragende Persönlichkeiten errichtet werden. Dazu kann die Baukunst, die Sculptur und die Malerei aufgerufen werden.’ [Monuments, monumental art. Monuments are works of art, usually of greater dimension, which are built in memory of a remarkable incident or outstanding peoples. This may appears in the forms of architecture, sculptures and paintings.]2 While the commemoration of a distinct event or person is the chief meaning, the characteristics of gigantism and impressiveness are already commonly rec- ognized in the definition of monumental art. The Illustrirtes Bau-Lexikon (1866) defines monumental to be ‘ein Gebäude dann, wenn in seinem 1 The theme of ‘monumental’ as monument and its relation with commemoration and national identity, especially in the Kaiser Wilhelm era, is a well-researched area and will therefore not be included in this book. A selection of essays in Kunstverwaltung, Bau- und Denkmal-Politik im Kaiserreich, compiled by Ekkehard Mai and Stephan Waetzoldt, gave a sophisticated account of debates and discourse of the Nationaldenkmäler-Bewegung from various aspects. 2 F. A. Brockhaus, ed., Conversations-Lexikon, Vol. 10, no. 10 (Leipzig, 1853), 642; cited by Lutz Tittel, ‘Monumentaldenkmäler von 1871 bis 1918 in Deutschland: Ein Beitrag zum Thema Denkmal und Landschaft’ in Kunstverwaltung, Bau- und Denkmal-Politik im...

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