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Deconstructing Nazi Architecture

In 1935 in Nuremberg, the Nazis built the "Congress Hall", designed to be 60 metres high and to hold more than 50,000 people. It was never finished. It now holds a brand new Documentation Centre.


Bringing the finishing touch to the new exhibition

A diagonal walkway, made of glass and steel, pierces the intimidating grey stone hall – cutting its way through the main building on what used to be the Nazi Party's Rally Ground.

This building, once the Nazi party's breeding grounds for mass propaganda and self-glorification, is situated on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in the city of Nuremberg. The grounds have been open to the public since 1985 –until recently, however, only in the summer months.

The new Documentation Centre was opened on November 5. The centre, which is open all year, is located in the unfinished Congress Hall building situated on the former Rally Grounds. The new centre offers a permanent, all season exhibition on more than 1,300 sq metres of space, as well as space for special, temporary exhibitions. A key element of the new centre is the Education Forum. Here, seminars and education programmes for both children and adults alike will be held.

No easy task

In summer 1998, the city of Nuremberg issued an architectural competition for the design of a Documentation Centre on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. No easy task for the architects – not only did the design brief have to fit the proposed Documentation Centre in the North Wing of the former Nazi Congress Hall. The design also had to find a way of dealing with the intimidating Nazi architecture on the site and the sinister ideas behind the Rally Grounds.

Graz architect Günther Domenig won the competition.

Piercing the severe geometry

With his idea of a steel and glass shaft - a visitors' walkway - architect Günther Domenig made a clear architectural mark. The walkway cuts the building diagonally in two, destroying the carefully planned, severe Nazi geometry.

Otherwise, the architect left the building much in its original state. Despite its sinister history, both architect and exhibition-makers were careful not to change the essence of the building.

This also included leaving the building in its unfinished state. The new centre was not designed to finish off what Nazi builders had began. Therefore, a large number of the exhibition rooms still have bare, brick walls.

However, it is this raw, unfinished state, behind the mythology and glorification of the Nazi party which somehow manages to show just the banality of the whole Nazi set-up.

"The world's largest building site"

Nuremberg was designated "City of the Party Rallies" for mainly pragmatic reasons. The city, situated in the centre of Germany, sported excellent traffic conditions. Although known to have been a social democratic stronghold, the local police were said to sympathize with the Nazi party – an important factor in Hitler's decision to choose Nuremberg as the "City of Nazi Party Rallies" back in 1933. It was here, that Party Rallies were held once a year, in September.

In 1934, Hitler decided to reconstruct the chosen site, which - with its stadium, public swimming baths and zoo – was in the 20s considered to be one of the most modern recreational areas in the country. Hitler's plans meant the removal of any "obstacles", such as the zoo. Nazi architect Abert Speer was given the construction management.

Despite a rapid start, construction was almost brought to a standstill by World War I. But the war also "helped" continuation – prisoners of war were used for the construction of the Congress Hall and the foundation of the German Stadium. It was here, that under the motto "extermination through labour", thousands of concentration camp inmates were worked to death.