|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||15. Nr.||August 2004|
10.5. Forms of Life: Theatre
Forms as an Articulated Way of Life
Katharina Rostock (Rügen, Germany)
Between 1936 and 1939, the "KdF - Kraft durch Freude"-Organisation constructed - and mostly finished - the several-kilometre-long complex of buildings in Prora at the island of Rügen. The "Colossus of Rügen", the complex at Prora, was originally intended as a seaside resort of the Nazi organisation "Kraft-durch-Freude" ("Strength through Happiness"), it was the state organisation for leisure and recreation.
The island where the facilities are located, Rügen, is situated in the Baltic Sea and forms part of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the north-eastern part of Germany. The facilities are 4 kilometres long. The place attracts a lot of visitors - hundreds of thousands of people visit Prora each year
Prora is one of the few places where people today can get an idea of how gigantic National Socialist planning was; besides the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg, the KdF-seaside resort is the largest project of this time that was actually carried out. 20,000 people were to spend their holidays here. The Prora complex is a listed construction of the Nazi regime which is interesting from an architectural history perspective. In its monument stile and its combination with classical elements, the complex is typical for NS architecture. In wide parts it is an evidently functional building, which stands in the tradition of Classical Modernism.
Prora is one of the existing giant projects of National Socialism and illustrates key components of the social demagogy of NS ideology. The seaside resort was an element of the National Socialists' labour and social policy, with projects like this, German people where satisfied in there wishes and dreams, what made them loyal to the NS policies. The pacification of workers was one aim, they had been deprived of their rights and their organisations had been outlawed in 1933.
An important role in this played the "Kraft-durch-Freude"- organisation, which in the beginning was an efficient instrument to make the German people agree to or at least tolerate the regime. "Kraft-durch-Freude" organised the leisure time of the people - the organisation offered all kinds of activities: sports, theatre, but above all: holiday-trips in Germany (but also abroad, shipping-tours went to Norway or Madeira). The organisation "Kraft-durch-Freude" wanted to rise the number of holidaymakers by the Prora-project efficiently.
In the end projects like Prora served the NS aggressive military and racial policies. The resort, allegedly planned as a place where "German Workmen" may rest and relax, contributed to the preparation of war. This can be read in many documents of the time. Robert Ley - the leader of the KdF-organisation -repeatedly referred to the "Kraft-durch-Freude"- seaside resort Rügen when pointing out the necessity of mental and physical preparation for the war to come: Not even the best statesman can realise his policy with a people with rotten nerves. The last world war should have hammered this into us forever. Thanks to the larger number of their soldiers our enemies were able to give them more time for rest and recreation whereas we were forced to continually expose our soldiers to the nerve-racking gunfire. We lost the war because we lost our nerves. That's why the Führer wants, the National Socialist state to keep in mind this experience and to take care that the nerves of our people stay healthy and strong.
Even more than half a century after the end of the war the myth about the allegedly good sides of the "Third Reich" continues to exist. Prora shows interrelations which will dispel these myths.
The KdF-seaside resort never functioned as such. Prisoners on forced labour, who lived under inhumane conditions, adapted parts of the complex for the purposes of war, i.e. to serve as a hospital, to accommodate refugees and to impart training.
The complex extends alongside the coastline in a wide arc. It consisted of eight residential blocks, each of which is approx. 500 metres long. The complex was to be arranged around a central ceremonies ground - today a large open space. On the beach opposite the ceremonies ground there is a quay. 110-metre-long restaurant complexes were to extend from the residential blocks down to the waterside.
As far as the present situation of the buildings is concerned, there are five of the originally eight 500-metre long bedroom blocks left; three of them were blown up after the war as well as the buildings that formed the north line of the central square. The southern boundary which was formed by a theatre and a reception hall are existing until today. At the northern edge there are bizarre ruins.
The buildings destined for social events, so called Gemeinschaftshäuser - community houses -, were not constructed at all or abandoned shortly after construction work had started. Therefor, the complex lacks important structural elements. Unfortunately those which illustrate best that the whole complex is based on the principals of Classical Modernism. Only the buildings defining the south line of the central square were finished and still give proof of this.
The island of Rügen with Prora was part of East Germany. During times of the German Democratic Republic the buildings and surrounding area were used by the armed forces, and for a long time they were closed to the public.
The construction work carried out by the Army of the German Democratic Republic in the 1950ies was far from being in accordance with the original plans.
The complex remains unfinished, however the existing parts give an idea of how the structure was originally meant to be. That's why the complex as a whole was declared an architectural monument.
Prora is a symbol of the social demagogism of the nazi-regime, a symbol for the neat-outer appearance of the Third Reich. We need to understand this side of terrorism as well as the institutions and buildings of terror and mass murder in order to understand this catastrophe in German history.
Authentic places are important. Whether concentration camps, the buildings in Nürnberg, the chain of bunkers along the coast of the Atlantic or the "Kraft-durch-Freude"- seaside resort of Rügen: all these are irreplaceable documents for people to become and stay aware of the darkest period in German history.
On the other hand "Kraft-durch-Freude" marks the beginning of mass-tourism which by now has turned into an European problem. Here in Prora the "Kraft-durch-Freude"- organisation left behind this important building, large parts of it remain and can be visited.
When looking at a building of this size, the question rises, in which way it can be handled.
Prora is a kilometerlong building whose dimensions go far beyond those of the landscape. It is monstrous and enormous, planned for 20.000 people. Similar to the bunkers alongside the Dutch and French coast it is classified as a historical monument.
After a period in which the complex was used and filled with various projects, like the biggest youth hostel in Europe with over 1000 beds, today most blocks are empty and not used. The building is getting more and more destroyed. Historians in Germany fight for Prora to be preserved. Once a historical building is lost, it's lost forever.
In the last 10 years there were various activities to plan a future for the complex. Until now, there was no success to realise a planning. The German Federal Republic is the owner of the facilities and wants to privatize the complex .
There are various problems: Prora is not just an ordinary piece of ground for building. Building in Prora means to proceed with caution. In this place, the art of architecture is to make use of the existing and to maintain the given structure. This needs creative ideas.
The overall situation of the island has to be taken into account: for instants the communication with the mainland, natural resources, the protection of nature, landscape and environment. Too many European coasts have already been badly affected by mass-tourism.
Rügen is the largest German island. At its eastcoast the island has wide sandy beaches, wonderful pine woods, chalk cliffs made widely known by the painting of Caspar David Friedrich. Glacial epochs and storm-tides have left behind a variously shaped landscape. The Prorer Wiek is the most beautiful bay of the island of Rügen. Prora is situated at this bay which in a large curve extends from the wooded hills in the south, passing through the seaside resort of Binz with its typical architecture and Prora up to the white town Saßnitz in the north. The pleasant sandy beaches, the water, the sky, as well as its unique architecture make it a place to feel well. The island of Rügen is still one of the most popular holiday resorts of Germany. Of course, these conditions wake wishes to exploit the complex of Prora as much as possible.
But: when making plans for Prora the local conditions have to be taken into account. Changing the complex into a centre for mass tourism would heavily interact with the infrastructure of the island. Many people think, that the Nazi-intentions of opening the island to mass tourism mustn't be continued. Efforts had better be directed at improving the quality of the region, in particular its cultural infrastructure and also at arranging for people to come together and reflect.
The foundation Stiftung NEUE KULTUR and the project Exhibition on the Theme of Labour and Social History of National Socialism in Prora
The Stiftung NEUE KULTUR has accompanied the development of this monument with various events since 1994. It organised the First and Second Prora Symposia in 1994, the Prora Culture Conference and the First Prora Historians' Conference in 1997. Furthermore, 1998 and 2000, the Stiftung NEUE KULTUR organised International Historians' Conferences in Prora. There was widespread agreement that Prora was the right site for an exhibition on the Theme of the Labour and Social History of National Socialism.
The Stiftung NEUE KULTUR was called upon by representatives of the district and the land to prepare the establishment of such an exhibition at the authentic location of Prora and won European partners for this.
Our project was part of programmes of the European Union. Within these programmes we were able to open the Prora Documentation Centre in July 2000 with a little preliminary exhibition. The Documentation Centre outlines the construction and utilisation of the Prora KdF-complex in the past as well as some aspects of the social history of the Nazi state. The texts and images are complemented by a regular film show.
In summer, various cultural events take place: Lectures, discussions and, above all, special exhibitions on history, architecture, nature, the arts and politics bring cultural life to the complex. Several temporary exhibitions per year took place, like the exhibition The National Socialist genocide of Sinti and Roma of the Documentation Centre of the German Sinti and Roma or the exhibition Germans and Czechs together against Hitler, which was conceived by Czech historians.
From the beginning, the little preliminary exhibition and the special exhibitions met with public interest and approval; every year, approx. 20,000 visitors come to see the Documentation Centre.
The preliminary exhibition will be enlarged step by step to
an enlarged and permanent exhibition and a communication centre,
what for we are doing research work.
© Katharina Rostock (Rügen, Germany)
10.5. Forms of Life Theatre Forms as an Articulated Way of Life
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For quotation purposes:
Katharina Rostock (Rügen, Germany): KdF - The Proposed Seabath of the 20000 at Prora on the island of Rügen. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW: http://www.inst.at/trans/15Nr/10_5/rostock15.htm