So Munich is where Hitler and the Nazi party began, and Berlin is where they managed to gain power (the Reichstag is there), but Nürnburg is where the Nazi party built momentum once they were established. The Building of the Congress Hall and the Zepplin Field along with the numerous Nazi Rally’s are part of Nürnburg’s much more recent history, along with the infamous Nürnburg trials. The experience in Nürnburg was an interesting one – very educational, and very eerie. Uncomfortably so. In fact, I’m still processing a lot of it, so please bear with me (and in turn, this may be a long post…)
There are two important historical sites that we visited in order to expand our understanding of the role of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. The Topography of Terror in Berlin focused on the used of the SS, SA and Gestapo as instruments of power, and the concentration camps were focused on the persecution of the people. But the Documentation Center was built to educate mostly about the rise of Hilter and the NSDAP as a political force to be reckoned with. While the issue of persecution and war come up throughout the experience, the main focus is to educate on the political actions, those involved, how it happened, and why it happened. I always ask Ray how something or something as extreme as Hitler/Nazi’s rose to power. I mean, did people not see it happening? And the answer to that is – no. The NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party – or to us English folks, the Nazi’s, though that term is not used so frequently here) were a widely supported widely accepted political party with almost a cult-like love of their leader. A leader who attempted a Pusch, was arrested, spent time in jail, wrote a book that sold 10 million copies, became super rich and then used that power and influence to turn his early political movements (and early deaths of others) into a system of martyrdom for a movement. And people bought this. It took very little time once the momentum was rolling for the NSDAP to take control of the Reichstag, and then, write into law the power and persecution we’ve come to know Hitler and the Nazi’s for. The Documentation center is worth €5,00, the comes with an English audio guide. As you walk through the exhbit, you type in the numbers and it walks you through the entire history, including the early stages, peopel involved, war, opposition, persecution and end of the Nazi party. I wish I could recount everything I learned for you, because there is SO much. It is so different to see how the German’s present their history opposed to the version of it that I feel I was given during my education in Canada. It’s not a matter of truth, but a matter of perspective. The story if one of extremes from the outside, and one of subtle movements on the inside. Some would argue brilliant small movements with the right people at the right time to create the buy in of a nation. Enough buy in at the right time to build the kind of power that none of them were anticipating. It’s extraordinary to think something so significant in history arose in a way that very few saw it happening. It makes you wonder if anything in our history if happening in the same fashion – that historians will look back and say “how did they not see this happening?” This was an educational display that I felt told a story in a way that was FAIR and HONEST and showed a great amount of balance, and if possible, objectivity. So go. I recommend it.
The exhbit exists in the corner of what is known as Congress Hall. Now me, in my ignorance and pure lack of research, assumed that Congress Hall is where congress met, and there was just a little museum in the corner. That makes sense, right? Um…no. Congress Hall was a huge, elaborate compound that was being built by Hitler. The largest construction project ever taken on by the Nazi’s. It was modeled after Rome’s Colliseum, and meant to have a 50,000 person stadium/rally ground in the center, and marbled building (in a U-shape) surrounding, with spaces for entertaining, offices, common rooms and meeting rooms for high ranking Nazi officials, a place to entertain guests and foreign dignitaries etc. Of course, the war ended before this project was completed. And it just stopped. And sat there. And did nothing. At one point in late 1980’s a group petitioned to take the building and make a mall. There was talk of finishing it and turning it into a concert venue. But the cost was too great, and more importantly, the City of Nürnburg declined to do anything with it, but instead keep it as a reminder of Hitler and the Nazi’s (a “learn from our past” symbol). It wasn’t until 2001 that they opened the documentation center to educate visitors and German’s alike on NSDAP history. So for over 50 years this giant building sat empty. Even now, it is mostly used for storage for the city. STORAGE. You can see out into the courtyard through glass, and view the outside from all sides, including across the lake. A lake that was suppose to be drained and turned into a ralley ground for 400,000. But that project never even got off the ground. It wasn’t until last year that the center added a memorial to the Jews – a symbolic train track. There are cards with names of those who died. 1 card per every 100 people. If they had all the names the memorial would be 4 km long. But this center and memorial seem to be coming to the game late, if I do say so. This giant monument sits empty, easy to see, but being ignored for over half a century. It’s like Nürnburg had no idea how to approach it’s history, so it just ignored it. Except the Congress Hall is a pretty significant elephant in the room.
And the Congress Hall isn’t the only elephant. Next door to the stadium that we went to for the Soccer game is the Zepplin Field – site of the Nazi Rally’s. The grounds are greater than 12 football field together, surrounded by 34 outer pillars and bleachers (each with a bathroom in it) and then a front stage that was modeled after the Pergamon Alter, that originally had a giant swastika on the top of it. The Zepplin field could hold 200,000 people and was used for mass parades of german labaour service (Wehrmacht) and the NSDAP, and of course to rally continued support for the Führer. The grounds for the participates are grown over and closed off because they are unsafe, but the front stage is accessible to the public. There are a few signs there explaining the history of the building, but over all it is like the Congress Hall – neglected for years. No one knew what to do or how to respond. To fix up the grounds to useable (for sporting events, concerts etc) would cost over €70 million euros. However, to keep the building from falling apart costs €100,000 euros per year. And that is what they do. Each year they do the bare minimum necessary to keep the building from deterioriating, but no money is being put into fixing, addressing or improving the conditions of it. in 1967 the city removed the pillars on either side because they were becoming dangerous, as well as reduced the height of other pieces of the front staging. They keep the grass from growing over the steps so people can walk up them, and the front pedestel where Hitler once stood is in tact, as well as the main door behind and the stairs he would have walked down. The seating for the higher ranking Nazi officials on either side is still together as well. On April 22, 1945 the US Army had a victory parade on these grounds and blew up the swastika on the top as a sign of ending the Nazi’s. And the building and grounds have been falling apart slowly since. Only a lake seperates the Congress Hall and Zepplin Field. There is a few maps up now (again, recent) showing a route you can walk to see all the buildings and spots in Nazi history, but there is no tour companies our advertising tours or guides walking through the grounds. When we were there, we crossed paths with 4 other tourists over a 1 hour period, as well as 3 people making a documentary (the on camera actor, his son, and a videographer). I was surprised that there was this little. But again – Nürnburg doesn’t seem to be advertising or promoting the history. They don’t want to tear it down. They don’t want to build it up. They are just stuck. It’s unusual, and I’m not sure what to make of it.
What I do had to say, is that it was eerie. To walk where Hitler walked. To stand where he stood. In fact, on the podium at the front, from where he stood and rallied his supporters and troops, I couldn’t move up the steps. I just COULDN’T. I could see it. I could imagine it. I could remember each scene I saw at the documentation center the night before and I could close my eyes and hear the crowds. And I just could not force myself to take those last 3 steps up to the top and look out onto the fields as he did. I walked around. I climbed the steps, and I took some photographs. I moved slowly, trying to absorb the significant of this place. Because moments here – well – they changed the world. And not for the better. History is full of keystone moments that impact history in really really SIGNIFICANT ways. And this place held one (or a few) or those kind of moments. And that was a lot to take in. So look at the photos. Look at the podium. Look out onto the crowd and imagine it. Commit it to memory. And then don’t let it happen again.