Germania: Hitler’s failed plan to tear down Berlin and build a Nazi Supercity

Berlin under Nazism. Image: Getty.

It’s fair to say that Berlin didn’t have a whole lot of respite in the 20th century. Before the Cold War schism was tearing communities apart, there was the destruction of the Second World War. Before even that, far predating any Allied bombs reaching the city, the Nazis had already begun work to flatten it.

In fact, the whole city was at risk of being torn down to fulfil one of Hitler’s many, many mad dreams – building a Nazi metropolis. Now you might assume that as a fan of all things urban, I would love the idea of a Supercity. Alas. Planned cities are the worst and if Nazis are the ones doing the planning then it’s going to really suck. Think Welwyn Garden City on fascist steroids.

In fact the best existing comparison to the planned Germania is Capitol Hill in Washington DC, another awful example of urban design. Huge spaces punctuated by massive buildings, built with military parades and grandeur in mind, and few regular city dwellers.

But back to the Nazi Supercity, with which the first glaring problem is that it was to be called Germania, which is obviously a very boring name. A world filled with equivalent, eponymous capitals would be miserable indeed. But they started the way they meant to go on: unimaginatively.

Like a student sneakily copying their neighbour’s answers during a test, it was decided that imitating ancient Roman and Greek architecture would be better for Germania than expressing an ounce of originality. Of the supposed capital of the German empire and centre of the new Nazi World Order, Hitler said, “As a world capital Berlin will only be comparable with Ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Rome! What is London, what is Paris compared to that!”


And as such, the dictator himself drew up plans for what was essentially massive copy of Rome’s Pantheon. This would be the Volkshalle (People’s Hall), and it would tower over the new city.  And I mean tower over. Including the huge dome, the building was to be 290m high, which is just 16m shy of the Shard, London’s tallest building. It would have been able to fit 180,000 people. Thankfully, like most of Germania, the Volkshalle was never built.

Planning for a People’s Hall is ironic, given the city was being built at the people’s expense. Around 60,000 homes, not to mention huge swathes of old districts like Alsen and Tiergarten, were destroyed to make way for the plans of Hitler and Albert Speer, his architect. Known as the “first architect of the Third Reich”, Speer designed many of the giant buildings of Germania. After the war he ended up in prison for 20 years. He somehow managed to dodge a conviction for crimes against urbanism.

Once the war started, the grand redevelopment plans were put on hold. They were eventually thwarted by the Nazis’ defeat and Hitler’s death. The dreams of Germania were abandoned and the city moved on into a turbulent new era. Pieces of the grand plan still remain but they are slowly getting lost in the thriving city. Fading relics of the grim utopia the Nazis hoped to build.

 
 
 
 

What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.


Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.