The official plan for rebuilding Berlin, which Albert Speer (“the first architect of the Reich”) was put in charge of, was called Gesamtbauplan für die Reichshauptstadt (“Comprehensive Construction Plan for the Reich Capital“). Construction (as from scratch), not reconstruction.
The name of the future German capital gave a clear indication that Adolf Hitler intended it to become the greatest, the grandest and the most magnificent and impressive city on the whole Earth.
Speer was appointed the project manager for this mammoth project because Hitler was sufficiently impressed with his work on buildings at Nuremberg. Which were deliberate reinterpretations of classical architecture into massive, distinctly austere Nazi architecture intended to inspire, awe, intimidate and overwhelm.
The plan was developed in 1937 and actual construction started about a year later. The whole plan was supposed to be completed by 1950, but it was not to be.
Construction of Welthaupstadt Germania was suspended for the first time in September of 1939 – right after the invasion of Poland (which made sense). However, it was resumed in about a month – after the surrender of Poland.
After the lightning-fast victory over France, Adolf Hitler visited Paris for a short period with Speer and a few chosen others. He got so impressed by the city – and so determined to make Berlin better that he (not without Speer’s insistence) not just doubled the resources allocated to the project, but signed a decree which read:
“In the shortest possible time Berlin must be redeveloped and acquire the form that is its due through the greatness of our victory as the capital of a powerful new empire. In the completion of what is now the country’s most important architectural task I see the most significant contribution to our final victory”
However, the crushing defeat at Stalingrad in the winter of 1943 forced the Führer to radically reassess his priorities. Consequently, construction of Welthaupstadt Germania was halted for good in March 1943.
So was the renovation/construction work in Wewelsburg – the “Mittelpunkt der Welt” according to Heinrich Himmler (whose vision of the future of Germany and Europe in some aspects was radically different from Hitler’s).
Only a handful of buildings were built, the largest and the most important (and impressive) being the new Reich Chancellery. Its most distinct feature was the Long Hall twice as long as Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, which inspired it.
However, it did not survive the war. It was severely damaged by Allied bombings and finished off by the Red Army during the Battle for Berlin in April 1945. Hitler wanted Speer to build a third, even larger Chancellery, but (for obvious reasons) construction was never commenced.
However, an extensive demolition program has been carried out to free space for the gigantic buildings. The razing of old buildings to make way for transformation of “old” Berlin into Welthaupstadt Germania the reconstruction of Berlin began in 1938 in various places around the city.
These places included the Alsen district, where the Great Hall would stand, and the Tiergarten district, where Speer planned to build the House for German Foreign Transport, and where the Kaiser-Wilhem-Strasse would intersect with the great East-West Axis which was to be built.
Speer and his team bulldozed buildings that contained over 60,000 apartments thus making more than 100,000 Germans (they were subsequently relocated to other buildings).
The hardest hit were, obviously, the Jews. There would be no place for them in this new city (or anywhere in German-controlled territories, for that matter). So 25,000 apartments were seized from the Jews. Evicted, they were sent to ghettos, then to concentration camps and finally to gas chambers, while homeless Germans were crammed into their apartments.
According to Speer’s plan, Welthaupstadt Germania was to be structured along a central 7 km boulevard to be known as the Prachtallee (“Boulevard of Splendor”). Its key ideological objective was to create an overall narrative demonstrating Nazi Germany’s superiority over all its rivals to German citizens and visitors alike. To achieve this objective, Adolf Hitler intended to take the best monuments Europe had to offer, super-size them and then place them along the Prachtallee.
This street would run south from a crossroads with the East-West Axis close to the Brandenburg Gate, following the course of the old Siegesallee through the Tiergarten before continuing down to an area just west of Tempelhof Airport.
This new North-South Axis of the giant city would have served as a parade ground, and have been closed off to traffic. Vehicles would have instead been diverted into an underground highway running directly underneath the parade route.
Sections of this highway’s tunnel structure were built, and still exist today. No work was ever begun above ground although Speer did relocate the Siegesallee to another part of the Tiergarten in 1938 in preparation for the avenue’s construction.
The East-West Axis was completed in time for Hitler’s 50th birthday celebration in 1939, when Speer ceremoniously presented it to Hitler with the words
“My Führer. I should like to report the completion of the east-west axis. May the work speak for itself.”
At the south end of the Prachtallee, would sit the Triumphal Arch, designed to dwarf its inspiration – the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The latter could fit inside the former six times.
At the north end, the Prachtallee would open up into the Großer Platz (“Grand Square”) – a large open plaza with an area of around 350,000 sq. m. which would have made it the largest square in Europe by far.
The Grand Square was to be surrounded by the grandest buildings of all, with the colossal Führer’s Palace on the west side on the site of the former Kroll Opera House, the 1894 Reichstag Building on the east side and the mammoth Reich Chancellery and OKW (the high command of the Wehrmacht) on the south side.
On the north side of the Großer Platz, straddling the River Spree, Speer planned to build the centerpiece of the New Berlin (and thus of Europe and of the whole world) – the grandiose domed Volkshalle which would have filled the entire north side of the forum.
Not surprisingly, Volkshalle was supposed to be connected to the Führer’s Palace with a cryptoporticus – a covered corridor/passageway
Also known as Große Halle (“Great Hall”) or Ruhmeshalle (“Hall of Glory”), the Volkshalle (not surprisingly) was designed by Hitler himself. Which proved beyond the reasonable doubt that The Führer was, indeed, a gifted and competent architect.
Although due to the outbreak of the Second Great War construction of Volkshalle was never commenced, all the necessary land was acquired, and the engineering plans were worked out. Which was no surprise at all, given who was the architect of the building.
According to Albert Speer, the gargantuan Volkshalle was inspired by Hadrian’s Pantheon in Rome, which Hitler visited privately on May 7, 1938 during his official visit to Italy on the invitation by Il Duce – Benito Mussolini.
However, Hitler’s interest in and admiration for the Pantheon predated this visit by more than a decade, since his first sketch of the Volkshalle dates from about 1925. It is also believed that St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City was another inspiration behind the Volkshalle.
The magnificent monster of a building would cover 99,000 square meters and would be capped with a colossal dome 300 meters high and 250 meters in diameter making it sixteen times larger than its inspiration – the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Its projected weight was estimated at whopping 200,000 tons.
Designed to be a sort of Nazi cult site (more on that later) would be the largest enclosed space in the world, able to hold 180,000 people inside it. It was even feared that the breath from the crowd would have created the building’s own rainfall as it precipitated from its ceiling.
Another key part of the new city would be the stadium for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, built five miles from Berlin’s center. It was the largest in Europe, modeled off the Roman Colosseum, but 200 meters longer.
After the game’s success, Hitler decided he needed a more massive arena, which, was it planned, would house every Olympic Games hence. It was only partially built when the war brutally intervened and stopped its construction for good.
The rest of Welthauptstadt Germania would consist of new ring roads, autobahns, tunnels and living areas. Traffic lights and tramways would be a thing of the past, forcing pedestrians underground into a system of tunnels just to cross the roads and negotiate the complex roadways.
Like just about all major construction projects, Welthaupstadt Germania was supposed to be built with slave labor. As was to a significant extent Saint Petersburg 250 years earlier.
Most of the slave labor force was, obviously, Jewish. Speer apparently remarked: “The Yids got used to making bricks while in captivity in Egypt.” Which, by the way, was not true – pyramids and other major buildings in Ancient Egypt were erected by free (and well-paid) contract laborers.
Many believe the “Night of Broken Glass” (November 9-10, 1938) was when the Nazis began to persecute the Jews in earnest. In reality, persecution started months earlier with Germania’s construction. Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen concentration camps were built near quarries, while Sachsenhausen was built near a brickworks.
Speer signed a contract with the economic department of the SS to have all bricks shipped to Germania’s construction sites. Sachsenhausen was 35 kilometers from Berlin’s center, so canals ferried the quarried stone to the Welthauptstadt Germania construction sites.
These brickworks proved the harshest labor in all camps. Literally, tens of thousands were worked to death. As were the builders of St. Petersburg (the death toll is estimated at around 100,000).
The workforce of 130,000 included not only Jews but POWs. Then in June 1938, police started rounding up tramps, gypsies, homosexuals, and beggars off the streets to increase the size of the project labor force.
However, Welthaupstadt Germania could have very probably never been built even if Adolf Hitler had won the Second Great War. For purely natural (i.e. geological reasons).
Many prominent German geologists, architects and civil engineers expressed serious doubt in the technical feasibility of the project. More specifically, they doubted that the marshy Berlin ground could have taken the load of the proposed gargantuan buildings. St. Petersburg had the same (if not worse) problem but its buildings were incomparably smaller – hence the problem was successfully solved.
Unlike Adolf Hitler, Speer listened to concerned professionals and considered their doubts serious enough to warrant the construction of an exploration building (Schwerbelastungskörper – heavy load-bearing body), near the site where the Arch of Triumph was supposed to be built. The building still stands.
The structure is very simple – It is basically an extremely heavy block of concrete used by the architects to test how much weight the ground was able to carry. Instruments monitored how far the block sank into the ground.
The Schwerbelastungskörper sank 18 cm in the three years it was to be used for testing, which was triple the maximum allowable settlement of 6 cm. Which, obviously, was a loud and clear indication that to make the Berlin soil support planned gargantuan structures, some very creative solutions had to be applied.
Hitler’s reaction? He shrugged and ordered the project to be implemented regardless (a very typical reaction of The Führer).