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.

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.