There is evidence to suggest Hitler started documenting his ideas as early as 1926, with two postcard-sized sketches he made of the “Great Arch,” which he envisaged as a reinterpretation of Germany’s defeat in World War 1. He handed these to Albert Speer in the summer of 1936 and the following year he created the Inspector General of Buildings (GBI), appointing Speer its head, tasked with planning and organising the comprehensive redevelopment of Berlin that was to correspond with Hitler’s conquest of Europe. Had they succeeded, the capital of the Third Reich, in keeping with the wishes of Hitler and Speer, would have been altered beyond recognition, “comparable only to ancient Egypt, Babylon or Rome” according to plans that survived.
The idea centred around a grand, seven-kilometre north-south avenue, which was to link two new railway stations, connecting the new “Grand Hall” and the “Great Arch,” following the destruction of 100,000 local houses.
However, there was an issue.
Micha Richter, a Berlin architect, revealed in 2016: “Berlin’s swampy ground was seen as a potential hindrance for such a massive structure, so the engineers of the German Society for Soil Mechanics were commissioned to check the extent to which it would have to be reinforced.
“Its 12,650 tonnes of concrete were poured over seven months in 1941.”
Adolf Hitler’s crazy plan was played out
Construction in the Forties
The name only emerged after the publication of Speer’s 1969 memoirs, Inside the Third Reich
This led to the construction of a heavy slump of concrete used to test how much weight the ground was able to carry, by architects to test whether the ”Great Arch” could be built.
The Schwerbelastungskörper sank 18cm in three years, but it still stands today, an eerie reminder of what could have been.
Some of the projects were completed, though, such as the creation of a great East-West city axis, which included broadening Charlottenburger Chaussee and placing the Berlin victory column in the centre, far away from the Reichstag, where it originally stood.
Others, however, such as the creation of the Grosse Halle (Great Hall), had to be shelved owing to the beginning of the war.
A great number of the old buildings in many of the planned construction areas were, however, demolished before the war, and eventually defeat stopped the plans.
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The plan for Berlin
Berlin historian Gerlot Schaulinski explained in 2016 why the name Germania was donned by Speer, and why it is so important today.
He said: “The name only emerged after the publication of Speer’s 1969 memoirs, ‘Inside the Third Reich,’ and is actually based on casual remarks made, we believe, just twice by Hitler in conversation with a close circle of acquaintances.
“It combines the image of a visionary city of the future with that of a megalomaniac dictator.
“Now, ‘Germania’ stands for the hubris of the Nazi system and the failure of those big plans, because it only exists in drawings and model images.
“It supported his attempts to prove the strength of Hitler’s allure and why Speer – the architect – was so taken in by his egotism.
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The structure still stands today
Hitler revelling in his plans
“It serves to divert our attention from architectural castles in the air and therefore manages to purposely blank out the criminal consequences of the project.”
After the war, Speer tried to distance himself from the worst atrocities of the Third Reich and claimed he was unaware of Nazi extermination plans.
Speer’s claims probably saved his life. He was found guilty of war crimes at the Nuremberg trials but was not sentenced to death meaning he died a free man in 1981, after serving a 20-year prison term.
However, the relationship between Speer’s building of Germania and the concentration camps could not have been closer.
The demand for labour and materials led to many of the camps being built very near to quarries – among them Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald and Mauthausen.
Thousands died of exhaustion while quarrying stone or baking bricks for it, not to mention the many Prisoners of Wars who made up a 130,000-strong workforce in Berlin.
Demand for labour was so great that from June 1938, police forces were ordered to round up any homeless too.
Many thousands of ordinary Germans also felt the sting from 1939, as they were forcibly rehoused to make way for the new city, the government buying up much of the property that was to be destroyed.
Often they were given new homes where Jewish families had lived, as Jewish citizens were moved to ever more cramped accommodation, and later to ghettos and then concentration camps.
The plans to demolish large swathes of the capital were, in fact, only helped by the massive allied airstrikes on the city, as Speer himself liked to point out.
Today, while Germania seems like a distant nightmare it still maintains a certain hold on the city.
New Berlin was founded following the 1991 move of the capital from Bonn and was deliberately built on the opposite axis to the one planned by Speer, a move that its architects described as “historical decontamination”.