CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Imagine you are the mayor of a city with a tumultuous recent history. You have made it through the tough times and would like to learn from the mistakes of the past. You want to remember, but not glorify the evil that has happened. You want to remember so that it never happens again. Not here; not anywhere.
Sadly, there are dilemmas similar to this in places around the globe. What to do with a school in the States that was the site of a shooting? What should be done at Ground Zero in New York? Nuremberg had that kind of problem following WWII.
1933 Hitler had declared that Nuremberg should be the “City of the Nazi Party Rallies” and Albert Speer was commissioned the draft a plan for monumental party rally grounds. 11 square kilometers were designed as an enormous gathering places and a virtual temple to the party. A great road, 2 km long, paved with granite slabs connected the sites: huge arenas and parade grounds, grandstands and stadiums. In the middle stood a Coliseum-like structure, meant to hold 50,000 people and the congress of National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
After the war, most of the buildings stood relatively unharmed. Cosmetic “surgery” had been performed by the US Amy to remove swastikas and other offensive symbols. Some buildings hadn’t been finished, but otherwise Nuremburg had been left with buildings that were designed to be huge and imposing. What do you do with that kind of legacy?
The excavated foundations of the purposed stadium were turned into a lake. Some of the area could be turned into a park. The great road was first used as a temporary runway and then became a parking lot. Other areas were simply turned into a new housing suburb.
But that still left the Congress Hall. It’s a huge horseshoe-shaped building with two rectangular boxes at the top ends of the “U.” The people of Nuremberg, being as practical as the German stereotype, used first used the hall as a storage area. Since 1973 the building has been designated as a listed building, meaning it can’t be torn down. Along the way various plans have been purposed and pushed aside: a shopping mall, a sports stadium, or a recreational center.
In the mid-1990s a plan developed to turn the rectangular box on the north side into a museum (the south box is a concert hall). Previously a temporary exhibition titled “Fascination and Terror” had been housed in the Zeppelin Field Grandstands. This exhibition was expanded, improved and moved into this new Documentation Center.
Architect Günther Domenig designed a glass and steel spear that strikes diagonally through the hall. The rigid brick and mortar construction, which was built to represent the party, has been physically pierced so that visitors can see the inner construction and workings. It’s not hard to figure out the underlying meaning to this addition.
Within the gallery, the museum chronologically lays out the rise of the Nazi party, the myth of its leader Adolph Hitler, the propaganda and group euphoria used by the rallies, the wrath of war and the eventual prosecution of the parties leaders at the Nuremberg Trials. Audio guides translate the written information and the large variety of films as they are presented.
In my opinion, the displays were artistically presented, but without hype. It left you to draw your own conclusion. It wasn’t hard to picture yourself back in time and wonder, what would I have done?
Well done, Nuremberg! You have taken this dark time in your history and laid it out. You haven’t hidden it or glorified it. You have let us all take a look and hopefully learn a lesson from you.
Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds
90478 Nuremberg Germany
Monday – Friday 0900-1800
Saturday – Sunday 1000-1800
Last admission 1700
Includes audio guide
Small group 1(One adult and up to three children under 18): 5.50€
Small group 2 (Two adults and up to three children under 18): 10.50€
Nuremberg Day Ticket: For an extra 2.50€ you can visit all other municipal museums free of charge on the same day.The most closely related museum in topic is the Nuremberg Justice Palace and Nuremberg Trial Memorial.
There is plenty of parking on-site. We were charged 3€ to park for as long as we’d like. There was a special event going on nearby, which might have led to the parking fee.
There is a marked walking path marking the sites of the Party Rally Grounds. The suggested time to walk the whole trail is 2 hours. You can start walking at the Documentation Center. Steele markers explain the history and show pictures of the grounds in the early 1940s. The walking tour is self-guided and free.