Standing on the grounds of Congress Hall in Nuremberg is a memorable experience. Your first thought is how small and insignificant you are in relation to the granite walls that tower 128 feet above you. Your second thought is what kind of people would build this mammoth building and why. The unfinished Congress Hall was built on the parade grounds used by the Nazis for the massive rallies in the 1930s. Triumph of the Will was shot on those very same parade grounds.
My visit to Nuremberg took place this summer as part of a trip that took my wife and me to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Regensburg and Nuremberg. Congress Hall is a German landmark, one of the largest buildings preserved from the Nazi era. Construction on the building started in 1935 but stopped in 1939 when World War Two broke out. Hitler believed architecture was the appropriate art form for expressing national greatness. Spielvogel tells us Hitler believed that “great buildings could awaken national consciousness and bring Germans together.” He emphasized that “Nazi architecture must be heroic, which meant building on a monumental scale.” Congress Hall, patterned after the Roman Coliseum, certainly meets Hitler’s expectations. If it had been finished, it would have been more than 400 feet in length with 88 pillars to hold a roof made of glass to let daylight into the hall.
I’m reluctant to call Congress Hall awe-inspiring because that would imply admiration for a place that would have been used to further advance the Nazi agenda. Instead, it might be more appropriate to say a little prayer of thanks that it was never finished.
Photo: Congress Hall taken by Matt White www.flickr.com/photos/mattwpbs/
Photo: Nuremburg Aerial taken by Tim Schleicher www.flickr.com/photos/timdan2/
Jackson Spielvogel and David Reedles. Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History. 7th Ed. Boston: Pearson 2014. P.157