Hallo Deutschland! Part II

February 20, 2013 / by / 0 Comment

“You know more of a road by having travelled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world.” – William Hazlitt

When I visited Germany, I was very much aware of its historical past. While being happy is an essential part of any pleasant journey, this trip wasn’t just about having fun. It’s also about seeing the other side of the world and learning about their culture, but culture rarely stands alone by itself, for it is often intricately interwoven with history.

Granted, many decades have passed since the Nazi era and the end of the Cold War, and one might say that what’s in the past should stay in the past. But letting go of the past doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to forget it – rather, it means being able to confront the truth and make peace with it. And this was precisely what I found in Germany – the past hadn’t been forgotten at all. In fact, there was a general consensus that its history had to be passed on from the generation to generation, so that the hard lessons learnt will not be lost through the abyss of time.

Our first step towards discovering the history of Germany was our visit at the Nazi Party rally grounds – the Reichsparteitagsgelände – in Nuremberg. It was a place designated for the Nazi Party to hold mass rallies, but most of the architecture there remained unfinished due to the interruption of war. The grounds were also intended to demonstrate to the world the might and strength of the Nazi Party. The splendid proportions of the buildings were meant to suggest to individuals that he was part of a grand project while emphasizing his insignificance as a mere single entity.

The site is now a memorial, and the place we visited was the (unfinished) Congress Hall, which houses a documentation centre today. The Congress Hall was originally planned as a congress centre for the Nazi Party, but it was never finished. The Hall was modelled after the iconic Colosseum in Rome. Indeed, a lot of Nazi architecture at that time was designed with special reference to Ancient Roman architecture. This probably had to do with Hitler’s staunch admiration for imperial Rome, and his desire to impress.

For example, take a look at the photo below. The Zeppelin Field formed part of the Nazi Party rally grounds, and was modelled after the Pergamon Altar from Greece. It is one one prime example of the Nazi’s attempts to make individuals feel their own inadequacy, a feeling compounded by the sophisticated use of lighting effects. In this photo, a lighting show is on display at the Zeppelin Field, which gives the place an almost sacred and godly feeling such that the Germans would willingly submit themselves to state authority.

I know very little about architecture, for I’m not an architecture student, so perhaps my analysis is quite inadequate. However, as a layman, I was very much impressed by the Nazi Party’s use of architecture as a part of its political agenda. The buildings are now preserved, not to commemorate, but to serve as a reminder to everyone that this was what happened in the past.

This idea, again, could be found in the architecture of the Congress Hall, which now has a reconstructed roof. The roof is slanted, with windows in the shape of slanted rectangles. Our museum guide told us that this was done on purpose – they had deliberately built the windows in such a way so that the four angles in a rectangle wouldn’t be exactly 90 agrees. This was meant to give off an unpleasant feeling to visitors in order to remind them of the unpleasant nature of the Nazi’s rule in Germany.

Prior to visiting the Nazi Party rally grounds, I never knew that the Nazis used architecture in such a way to advance their political agenda, so it was truly an eye-opening experience. I also admired how the Germans were able to face their past – the good and the bad – as well as their insistence on teaching younger generations the bare truth, without keeping it under wraps. Although history doesn’t always repeat itself, it rhymes.