Insanity on the Spree: New Exhibit Explores Hitler's 'Germania'

By Michael Scott Moore in Berlin

Hitler was confident of winning World War II and planned to give Berlin a monumental makeover by 1950. A group in Berlin has collected records about his 'Germania' vision -- and plans to lead tours through what's left of the old construction site.

Hitler never liked Berlin. He saw it as a dirty, liberal-minded place and was disdainful of its leftist political leanings. But he had an idea for fixing it after World War II came to an end. His famous vision of Berlin for 1950 -- planned in detail by his architect, Albert Speer -- was a grand Fascist city called "Germania," and a new Berlin exhibition looks at models and physical traces of it left behind by Hitler's regime.

The exhibit, called "Myth Germania," shows just how far from reality Hitler's mind wandered when he dreamed about Germany's future. One centerpiece is a scale model of the Volkshalle, a gargantuan domed auditorium that Speer imagined rising over the River Spree. The Volkshalle dome would have risen 290 meters (951 feet) into the air, higher than some New York skyscrapers. The exhibit's model makes scale models of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag look like toys from a model train set.

The exhibit also includes building plans, photos and documentation from Nazi schemes to relocate Jews in Berlin. And it features a model from the Hitler movie "The Downfall," showing the so-called "North-South Axis" -- a multi-lane boulevard Speer hoped to build from the Volkshalle to a future "Südbahnof" near Tempelhof airport.

Other German cities like Nuremberg and Munich were also due for a Fascist makeover after the war, as was Linz in Austria, but Hitler wanted Berlin to soar on an epic scale. His Volkshalle was modelled on Hadrian's Pantheon in Rome, and in 1942 he said, "Berlin will be comparable as a world capital only to Egypt, Babylon or Rome. What is London or Paris in comparison?"

Underground Tours of Germania?

Models and building plans of Germania have been exhibited in museums before, but the new show's organizers, "Berliner Unterwelten," want to lead tours through Germania construction sites dug by the Nazis under Berlin's Tiergarten park. Blind tunnels started as early as 1938 -- subway and traffic tunnels, mainly, lined with marble -- were rediscovered in the 1960s. These remnants of Germania were first made semi-accessible after 2001, when a new underground road called "Tiergarten Tunnel" was finished.

But Sascha Keil, spokesman for Berliner Unterwelten -- which normally conducts tours of unused tunnels and bunkers in Berlin -- said it was too early to announce a formal start date for the tours. "It will be several weeks from now," he estimated. "That's public property (under the Tiergarten), so it takes time to get permission."

For now he hopes the Germania exhibit will find a permanent home in Berlin. Berliner Unterwelten has rented an independent space for the show through 2008 near the Holocaust Memorial and the Brandenburg Gate -- about half a kilometer from the old planned site of the Volkshalle.

"Myth Germania" opens Saturday, March 15, and runs until December 31, 2008.

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