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.