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.

 
 
 
 

Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.