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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 4 Monumentality and Major Projects on the North-South Axis


Chapter 4 Monumentality and Major Projects on the North–South Axis In the Greater Berlin Plan, buildings inspired by modernist theories and equipped with the latest technology dominated the North–South Axis. Speer and the GBI architects invested a great deal of time in each individual building in the Greater Berlin Plan. These monumental designs pandered not only to Hitler’s ambition to dominate the world, but also to Germany’s desire to participate in the international community. From the Great Hall and the Triumphal Arch to the South Railway Station, these mega-scale buildings represented Hitler’s determination to transform Germany into a world-leading modern state in terms of technology, politics and also nationalistic fervour.1 In this chapter a series of theoretical discourses – the international style of the 1930s, eternity and the ‘ruin theory’, the focal point, death, Hochhaus debates and mobility – are chosen to interpret 1 Interviewed by Gitta Sereny, Speer explained: ‘Of course I was perfectly aware that he sought world domination, … What you – and I think everybody else – don’t seem to understand is that at that time I asked for nothing better. That was the whole point of my buildings. They would have looked grotesque if Hitler had sat still in Germany. All I wanted was for this great man to dominate the globe.’ See Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, 186. It did not seem to occur to Speer that the ef fect of coldness and uniformity that he created in his buildings was to shatter the...

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