Tag Archives: Albert Speer

Sunday Documentary: Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin

Flakturm in Humboldthain Park: Screenshot from Nazi Megastructures - Fortress Berlin by National Geographic

Photo: Screenshot from Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin by National Geographic

The National Geographic documentary, Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin, tells how, determined to fight on to the bitter end, Adolf Hitler, with the help of his architect, Albert Speer, attempted to turn Berlin into a fortress with World War II approaching its conclusion.

Having turned the tide in the war, the Red Army was making significant progress into Germany.  At Seelower Höhen (Seelow Heights), near the Polish border, irrigation ditches were widened to act as tank traps, slowing down the Soviet army’s advance on Berlin.

The outer ring of Berlin’s defences was a natural obstacle, the Teltowkanal (Teltow Canal), and considerable armaments have been amassed at Flughafen Berlin Tempelhof (Tempelhof Airport).

The city was further protected by three enormous Flak Towers, concrete monoliths mounted with heavy artillery, of which only the Flakturm in Humboldthain park remains today.

At the centre of Hitler’s defences is the Führerbunker, from where he directs his forces in their last desperate attempts to hold Berlin.

A mixture of archive footage, computer reconstructions, and expert opinions with the likes of a tour guide from Berliner Unterwelten (who offer tours of the surviving Flakturm, as wells as other architectural treasures under Berlin) Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin is a fascinating portrait of Hitler’s ultimately futile defence plans.

Nazi Megastructures – Fortress Berlin

Sunday Documentary: Lost Worlds – Hitler’s Supercity

Lost Worlds - Hitler's Supercity (a screenshote of Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer)

In today’s Sunday Documentary, I return to a subject covered in two previous documentaries posted here – Hitler’s Henchmen – Speer – The Architect and Hitler’s Hidden City – Hitler’s unrealised plans for Welthauptstadt Germania as drawn up by Albert Speer.

From around the 15-minute mark there is a very interesting section about the man-made lake in Nuremberg that marks the site of the foundations for a stadium four times the size of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.  The stadium would be capable of holding 400,00 people and Hitler intended that it would host the Olympic Games every year.

This documentary also includes a visit to one of Berlin’s most unusual attractions, the Schwerbelastungskörper, a massive cylinder of concrete in the Tempelhof district used to test the ground for the placement of the planned Triumphal Arch of Welthauptstadt Germania.

Lost Worlds – Hitler’s Supercity

Sunday Documentary: Hitler’s Hidden City

Hitler's Hidden City (screenshot from the National Geographic documentary)

Probably the best Berlin Documentary I’ve watched, Hitler’s Hidden City by National Geographic follows the work of Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underworld Association) – a group of researchers and explorers dedicated to uncovering underground bunkers and tunnels in Berlin.

Amongst the most impressive discoveries are the train and car tunnels designed to carry traffic below Unter den Linden, though never used.  The tunnels were needed in order to create a vast open square in front of the Volkshalle or Grosse Halle as part of Hitler’s Welthauptstadt Germania, as envisioned by his architect, Albert Speer.

In the lead up to the Second World War, Hitler also instructed his architects to design a massive network of tunnels and bunkers to protect the citizens of Berlin from the aerial threat posed by the British and American bombers.

Watch out for Dr Elke Dittrich (at 29 minutes) who led the tour I took of Tempelhof Airport during Berlin Fashion Week.

I originally posted a link to this documentary on my Facebook page before I started my Sunday Documentary series of posts on the blog.

Hitler’s Hidden City

Sunday Documentary: Hitler’s Henchmen – Speer – The Architect

Albert Speer shakes hands with Adolf Hitler in a still from the documentary: Hitler's Henchmen - Speer - The Architect

Mixing archive footage and interviews with Speer’s children and contemporaries, Hitler’s Henchmen – Speer – The Architect, is the sixth and final part of a documentary series based on the book, Hitler’s Henchmen by Guido Knopp.

The documentary shows the faith that Hitler placed in Speer:

In January 1934 Troost died.  Speer, who had not yet designed a single building, became the First Architect of the Führer – a phenomenal rise to power.

I was aware of Speer’s role as Hitler’s architect for Welthauptstadt Germania, having visited the Schwerbelastungskörper (the testing stone for the foundations of Hitler’s triumphal arch) and seen the model of the Große Halle (Great Hall) at the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum).

It was learning of Speer’s role as Armaments Minister, a position he assumed in 1942 after the suspicious death of Fritz Todt in a plane crash, that surprised me.

Hitler’s Henchmen – Speer – The Architect

Hitler’s Folly – Schwerbelastungskörper

A giant slab of concrete may not seem like an obvious attraction but it is how and why it came to be here that makes this monolith worth exploring.

This was to be the site of a triumphal arch so big that it is said that the Arc de Triomphe would fit within its opening.

It was in Matt Frei’s documentary, Berlin, for the BBC, which helped fuel my passion for the city ignited on my first visit, that I first learned of the Schwerbelastungskörper (heavy load-bearing body) and Albert Speer.

Speer was the architect commissioned by Hitler and the Nazis to create an awe-inspiring and grand new city on a massive scale.  This was to be Hitler’s Welthauptstadt Germania and the monumental arch on the site of the Schwerbelastungskörper would be its southern gateway.

The city was to be crossed by two grand avenues.  The East-West axis of this cross was to be Strasse des 17 Juni.  The North-South axis would cross it on its way to the Grosse Halle (Great Hall), another extravagantly colossal building.  Though the plans for this boulevard were never realised the Siegessäule was moved from its original position near the Reichstag in preparation.

There were some concerns about the marshy soil of Berlin and whether it would be able to support the weight of the giant structures Hitler wanted to be built here.  The Schwerbelastungskörper was laid so that measurements could be taken to show how much it sank into the ground.

The structure has a diameter of 21m.  It rises 14m above ground and a further 18m is buried below the ground.  This next photo gives a sense of scale.

The ground was to be deemed suitable if the concrete body sank less than 6cm.  It sank 18cm but this wasn’t what put paid to Speer’s vision.  Hitler dismissed the findings but his attention was diverted from his plans at home by his desire for war.  So this concrete cylinder stands as a reminder of what might have been.

Standing atop the viewing platform alongside the stone looking back to the centre of Berlin gives a sense of the scale involved in Speer’s plans.

And a map on display here shows the locations of the key elements of the design.

Lying about inside and under the structure are a few bits of rusting old equipment that I spent as much time photographing as the slab itself.

If anybody knows what this is, please let me know in the comments.

The Schwerbelastungskörper is on the corner of Dudenstrasse and General-Pape-Strasse.  The nearest U-Bahnhof is Platz der Luftbrücke and you can take the Bus 104 from outside the station to the stop at Kolonnenbrücke, though it is only a short walk.

The site is only open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.  Check the website for further details.

The photos in this post were taken over the course of two visits.  The first in August 2010 and the second in May 2012.