Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
79 years ago, on June 14 1938, Albert Speer, the court architect of the Nazi Führer, reported to his supervisor that the construction works on the site of Hitler´s future Volkshalle, a giant assembly hall which was to be the central point of the planned World Capital, Germania, had begun.
The ground-breaking for what came to be known as the Monsterbau (the Monster Building) took place that day at the Spreebogen, the curved section of the Spree between the Reichstag and today´s Federal Chancellery.
Hitler´s Volkshalle was planned as a domed edifice with a foot of 315m x 315m and a total of 320m in height. The dome itself was designed as a 290-metre-diameter affair. It would have been 17 times the size of St. Peter´s Basilica in Rome.
The Volkshalle, People´s Hall, had it been built, would have had the capacity to hold the audiences of 150,000 – 180,000. Interestingly, the Nazis seemed to downplay one very significant problem which was bound to occur should such masses of people attend an event under the dome: their breathing would have created a sort of a micro-climate inside the building and that could have affected the construction itself.
Not a problem which should have been brushed off lightly: in 1938 Hanna Reitsch, a brilliant, world-class but, sadly, Nazi-faithful pilot, spent several days hovering under the 25-metre high ceiling of the Deutschlandhalle, another famous Berlin assembly hall and event venue, piloting a brand-new Fa61 Focke-Achgelis, first helicopter in the history of aviation.
Although she managed to raise the machine and retain full control of it while flying the Fa61 in an empty hall, Reitsch found herself on the verge of a crash as soon as the room filled in with spectators. As it turned out, the breathing thousands of pairs of lungs changed the air quality inside the hall so badly that they practically prevented the machine from flying.
Last but not least, it should be mentioned that the construction of the Volkshalle required demolition of a whole neighbourhood, Alsenviertel: it began in 1935 and had to be interrupted with the beginning of the Second World War (which left it in complete ruins anyway). Altogether, the construction of Hitler´s Germania would have meant that at least 100,000 flats would have been wiped out by the Nazi wrecking balls. And that in a city suffering from a great shortage of affordable housing (some things never change).
So contrary to what many people believe today, the pre-war Berlin was doomed this way or another: had it not been for Allied air-raids, Nazis blowing up buildings and bridges to prevent them from being captured by the Red Army (who then finished off the job in many corners of the city) or the West-Berlin/East-Berlin urban concepts replacing the historical substance, this city would have been a different place anyway.
The excellent computer-generated video below gives a pretty good taste of the Germania, the World Capital which was to wipe out Berlin, was planned to be like. The author of this brilliant animation is, unfortunately, unknown.