08 May 2018

Hitler's favourite hotel - from Mein Camp (1936-9) to deluxe (2016-8)

During the Third Reich, of the five complexes planned for the bene­fit of the German working classes under the auspices of the Streng­th Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude or KdF) leisure movement, only one was ever started. Stretching for 4.8 ks along the north coast of Rügen, an East Ger­man is­land along the Baltic Sea, Prora was built between 1936-9 as part of Adolf Hitler’s KdF. Robert Ley, the lead­­er of the German Labour Front, was responsible for this huge resort project, creating Hit­ler’s dream for a seaside dest­in­ation for working families. Some historians have reported that the building work was done by military con­scripts, prisoners of war, forced labourers and refugees.

The com­p­arison with Butlins was apt; the resort was designed to be af­fordable for the average worker, with each of the rooms present­ing a sea view. Prora’s eight identical, stark buildings had identical rooms. Each had attractive waterfront views, two beds, wardrobe and a sink, with com­munal bathrooms on each floor. These basic, funct­ional rooms were in­tend­ed to offer all German workers some holiday time on the beach, whatever their income.

Back side of Prora, built on the coast of Rügen Island 1936-39
Each room overlooked the beach on the front side


Advertising poster, 1939

The concrete blocks repeated one after another in a row parallel to the coast, connected to night­clubs & restaurants, decades before Mediterranean coastal towns got going. The leisure centres & cafes were decorated with classical columns and the unbuilt fest­ival hall would have been fine. Fun, fresh air, beach activities, amusement and relaxation were to be offered. And some writers even sug­g­ested on-site education courses would develop loy­al­­ty to the Nazis and strong racial identity among the Aryan working class.

Every decent society wanted to provide cheap and pleasant holiday options for their working families. So it is nonsense to say that “Prora was dangled before the eyes of German workers in the hope that they would find fit­t­ing reward for their political acquies­cence to Nazism in the late 1930s”. And it is nonsense to say that this holiday resort “was the place where mass murderers were trained”.

Prora never ful­filled its original plan to accommodate 20,000 Deutschen volke that were to be its clients. The outbreak of WW2 suddenly ended its development, and the empty buil­dings were left standing in silence. By mid 1939, all building stopped & the workers left. The 10,000 rooms were finished but the cinema, grand theatres and swimming pools were still being built and the festival hall was not even started.

Block 1 (YMCA youth hostel) renovated, 2016
Each glass veranda faces the pools and beach

Post-WW2 Prora remained largely unloved. Of the eight buildings of the original Prora complex, one was transformed into a major YMCA youth hostel and two others were bought by a company outside Germany. A fourth building was occ­upied by East German troops dur­ing the post-war years and was later pulled down by the Soviet army.

Size and historical significance could not protect the buildings from obscurity during the years of the German Democratic Republic. Only now, decades after unification in 1990, is attent­ion shifting back to this heritage from the Third Reich.

The remaining four buildings have undergone the site’s biggest transformation yet. With a $130 million renovation, they now offer luxury accommodation — how very different from the somewhat austere functionality of their planned purpose back in the late 1930s. The renoted Prora complex opened over the northern summer to serv­ice middle class holiday-makers.

The units in Block 1 (YMCA youth hostel) have been on sale now since 2016, and they cost from £300,000 (ground floor) - £600,000 (penthouse). Almost every one has now been sold. As the prop­erty was called a "his­toric heritage monument", German buyers are very happy to be given tax breaks.

 The original 1930s accommodation might have been basic, but the modern renovation is elegant

Prora Block 1 is ready for modern tourists. Note that the rather dull concrete was painted and beautiful glass added to every balcony looking over the white beach and huge swimming pools. These units are explicitly marketed as second homes for middle age, wealthy people from Hamburg and Berlin. At least in summer! The rest of the renovated complex is expect­ed to be completed by 2022.

Un­doubtedly investors are attract­ed by the tax deductions ass­oc­iated with a heritage monument, but we still have to ask: which history is being commemorated? If there is an interest in main­taining the complex as a memorial, who is showing the most int­er­est? Yes I understand that the Strength Through Joy camp at Prora is being redevel­oped and will serve its original purpose – giving holiday makers a great time on the beach. But Owen Hatherley has two important questions 1] Having stood for decades as a relic of Nazi hubris, will the new space ensure Prora’s stands for the fut­ure and not the past? And 2] Compared with the ​delicate way Germany normally ​deals with​ its Fascist heritage, how will Prora function as a memorial?

Hatherley adds one last bit of critical and alarming information. Recently election posters all over Rügen urged a vote for the Alternative für Deutsc­hland/AfD, a nasty right-wing party which bases its app­eal on hostility to foreigners, family values and an end to inter­rogations of Germ­any’s past. The AfD argues there should be an end to monuments of shame such as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. The party’s vote rose sharply in this rural island. Now people can live in the old Strength Through Joy camp and enjoy it as a normal holiday resort; thus the norm­ality the AfD wants from the remnants of Germany’s past is being realised, through the simple wonders of the real estate market.





20 comments:

Andrew said...

Quite fascinating and another moral quandary for many. It seems like the motives for original plans and building were honourable. Perhaps more honourable than rich people buying them now as investments.

Deb said...

Why was the original resort designed for the Baltic Sea? Even in summer it may not have been warm enough to swim.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, No thanks! I can't imagine a resort more horrible and depressing. Even if part of it was built, I am sure that the renovation cost more than simply rebuilding it. No matter what, it will always have its old associations--kind of like what they say about building a new house on an old foundation--you save the cost of digging, but all of the old problems and limitations remain.
--Jim

Hels said...

Andrew

Agreed. The original thinking in the late 1930s was very honourable. The idea that ordinary working families could also have two weeks a year of sunshine, sea air and brisk walking, was very fair. It certainly didn't matter that the toilet and bathroom would be shared with other families.

Hels said...

Deb

Fortunately the average summer temps (23-25c) were very pleasant on Rugen Island. However the other nine months of the year would have to be filled with non-beach activities. No wonder they had planned to complete games rooms, dances, exercise classes, lectures, reading areas and coffee shops.

Hels said...

Parnassus

Because the newly renovated flats are expensive and gorgeous, the developers are targeting a very a different market. But what would happen if the new owners turn out to be wealthy Nazi supporters? Might families fly Nazi flags on their front balcony, to quietly honour the man who had inspired this enormous complex?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - thanks for showing us this: explaining the background, and updating us too ... interesting to know about - cheers Hilary

Hels said...

Hilary

nobody except the very oldest citizens knew about Prora until a few years ago, and even then I couldn't find any photos of the inside of the resort project when it was first being completed in 1939. We should follow the redevelopment with interest.

Perhaps I will come back to the renewed Prora in a year or two and give a progress report.

mem said...

well personally I dont see a problem with this . other than the price of the apartments . There are many buildings in Germany that were built before the war and there presence needs to be noted and then we move on . I think to keep beating Germans over the head with this history is a mistake, it causes the emergence of horrible right wingers who feed off the desire of all humans to forget the worst in themselves and preferably blame someone else. All the Germans I know are horrified by what happened and will forever regret the turn their country took . under the Nazi party . They are also very keen to avoid it ever happening again . There has been an enormous amount of soul searching and angst which has happened and is still happening . Much more than has happened in Japan and also in other countries which might have won wars but committed crimes against humanity . I wonder if Australasians of the future will look back on our treatment of refugees with as much contrition as many Germans look back on their history .It might also be useful to look at the world heritage which was destroyed by Bomber Harris and Bomber Command in the last weeks of the war .Many people more learned than I think that that wasnt necessary but again the anger and wish for vengeance is understandable. All I can say is that Germany has some bad apples , mostly from the former GDR where there was no relief from totalitarianism in that they went straight from Nazism to Communism . They had no chance to reflect it was just straight into the next ideology .
Nazi architecture is very interesting is very large and ugly in its thrusting masculinity . The most amazing example I have seen is The Templehof airport buildings in Berlin which ironically are now being used to accommodate Syrian refugees and the runways are used as community gardens . :)

Hels said...

mem

German architecture was very interesting because it put functionality before decorative qualities. The Templehof airport buildings in Berlin were impressive, as were the Prora resort and Olympia-Stadion in Berlin. Of course the archetypal monolithic architectural style was too concrete and too scary for many of us, but there have been some hideous architecture in non-German countries as well. Hopefully Prora will celebrate good architecture for working families, not celebrate the rise of 1930s Hitler's patronage of his supporters.

And I agree that Australia's treatment of refugees has been absolute breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An obscene response to desperate people :(

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Hels said...

Amelia

Architectural history is an under-represented subject in art history, at least when I was an undergraduate. Writing this post was a real pleasure.

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Absolutely fascinating! And I do appreciate the pun. Now, did Butlins inspire this, or was it the other way round?

bazza said...

Hi Hels. This is all news to me and utterly fascinating largely because of the moral dilemma it presents. It's the place where far right thinking meets that of the left.
On one hand my initial feeling is "it should all be blown up" and on the other we have the kind of point Mem is making+; is now the time to look forward?
Populist right-wing politicians are becoming successful all over the world which makes me uneasy. One thing is clear: all of the modern Germans I have met are appalled at their past. The immediate post-war generation grew up in ignorance of the facts of their own history.
I am intrigued and repulsed at the same time.....
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s friable Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Hels said...

Mike

the dates of Butlins first opening in 1936 and Prora being started 1936 were identical! But I think Butlins was inspired by previous adult/family holiday camps in the UK, especially in the 1920s and 30s. No doubt the Streng­th Through Joy people saw Butlins, but they wanted Prora for a slightly more ideological reason.

I wish I could say the pun was mine. I read it in The Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/mar/21/architecture.secondworldwar

Hels said...

bazza

Populist right-wing politicians ARE becoming successful all over the world, yes indeed. But they are being supported by millions of ordinary citizens who apparently don't see anything wrong with dusting off old Fascist values and giving them a modern twist (eg anti immigrant actions). But is it a coincidence that the Alternative für Deutsc­hland/AfD political party is seeing such a high profile in Rügen Island?

Weekend-Windup said...

Nice reading your blog. Happy to know about the hotel from the bottom to top...

Hels said...

Weekend-windup

Welcome aboard. I think if the Prora had been completed in 1939 and then used continuously since then, we wouldn't be so surprised about millions being poured into the project now. But because it stood as an unused relic from the Fascist era, the story has taken on almost mysterious proportions.

Joseph said...

Helen you might want to write a post on the Streng­th Through Joy movement. The KdF was very successful.

Hels said...

Joseph


Absolutely I can. The KdF was widespread, well supported and very well documented. But as mem noted, there is no consensus between the two lots of historians.