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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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The dilemma that faced us in our work proved to be the first phenomenon for investigation: the self-destruction of the Enlightenment. … If enlight- enment does not accommodate ref lection on this recidivist element, then it seals its own fate. If consideration of the destructive aspect of progress is left to its enemies, blindly pragmatized thought loses its transcending quality and, its relation to truth. In the enigmatic readiness of the tech- nologically educated masses to fall under the sway of any despotism, in its self-destructive af finity to popular paranoia, and in all uncomprehended absurdity, the weakness of the modern theoretical faculty is apparent. — Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, 19441 Fascism did not result from chaos, from the heat of madness, but was administered through an impeccable, faultless and unchallenged rule of law and order. The good Nazis were, after all, those who like you and me, did what was expected of them, followed orders. — Peter Beilharz, 20002 A German publishing house recently cancelled their publication contract with Thor Kunkel, a young German author, for his book on the Nazis’ unknown trade in pornographic films. The reason is that the hero in the book works for a fictional SS Hygiene Institute in Berlin. A job like this is too rational and glamorous for a Nazi and contradicts the demonic image that the National Socialists were given in history. Besides, Kunkel down- plays the Holocaust in the book.3 This is one of many examples of how 1 Max Horkheimer and Theodor...

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