Prora : the Colossus of Rügen designed by Hitler
Prora is a beach resort on the east coast of the Baltic Sea island of Rügen, Germany, known especially for its colossal Nazi-planned tourist structures.
Locals call Prora the Colossus, and when you first catch sight of it, through the thick forest that now surrounds it, you can see why. Six storeys high, it stretches along this windswept coastline for nearly 4 km, in one enormous, unending arc. It takes an hour to walk from one end to the other. It can only be photographed in its entirety from the air. This immense monolith is so large it scarcely seems manmade at all.
The massive building complex was built between 1936 and 1939 as a Strength Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude or KdF) project. It was envisaged as a parallel to Butlins – British “holiday camps” designed to provide affordable holidays for the average worker. Prora was designed to house 20,000 holidaymakers, under the ideal that every worker deserved a holiday at the beach.
The eight buildings are identical, and although they were planned as a holiday resort, they were never used for this purpose. The complex has a formal heritage listing as a particularly striking example of Third Reich architecture.
Designed by Clemens Klotz (1886–1969), all rooms were planned to overlook the sea, while corridors and sanitation are located on the land side. Each room of 5 by 2.5 metres was to have two beds, an armoire (wardrobe) and a sink. There were communal toilets and showers and ballrooms on each floor.
Hitler’s plans for Prora were much more ambitious. He wanted a gigantic sea resort, the “most mighty and large one to ever have existed”, holding 20,000 beds. In the middle, a massive building was to be erected. At the same time, Hitler wanted it to be convertible into a military hospital in case of war.
During the few years that Prora was under construction, all major construction companies of the Reich and nearly 9,000 workers were involved in this project. With the onset of World War II in 1939, building on Prora stopped. The eight housing blocks, the theatre and cinema stayed as empty shells, and the swimming pools and festival hall never materialised.
Need for construction materials for the war effort halted construction on the Prora resort, and it never actually functioned as such, although refugees from the bombing of Hamburg and other cities lived in the most-finished buildings in 1944-45.
During the war the complex was also used as a training site for police and female signals auxiliaries, and as a military hospital. After the war the buildings were occupied by the Soviet military for a time, and then stripped of useable materials.
In the late 1940s two of the housing blocks – one on the North and one on the South – were demolished and the remains mostly removed. The East German Army used the complex from about 1950 to 1991. During this period the Number 4 block on the north side was apparently used for urban combat training, and large sections were blown up (these remain as ruins today). However, in the 1950s the East German military rebuilt several of the buildings to house soldiers, and later as a resort for officers. Since the buildings had been stripped to the bare brick in the latter 1940s, most of the exterior and interior finish that can be seen today was done under East German control.
After German reunification, the National People’s Army of the GDR was absorbed into the West Germany Bundeswehr, that took over the building. Parts of the building were used from 1990 to 1992 by the Military Technical School of the Bundeswehr. From 1992 to 1994 a part of the building was used to house asylum seekers from the Balkans.
Beginning in early 1993, the facility was empty and the buildings were subject to decay and vandalism. An exception to this was Block 3, Prora Center, which from 1995 to 2005 housed a variety of museums, special exhibitions, and a gallery. Between 1993 and 1999 the site served as one of the largest youth hostels in Europe.
Since 2000, the Documentation Center Prora has been located at the southern edge of the fairground buildings. This center documents the construction and use history of the building. Discussed here are both the background of the project and its appropriation for Nazi propaganda.
Since 2004, the blocks of the building have been sold off individually for several different uses.
In November 2006, the Federal agency for real estate purchased Block 5. With financial support from federal government and the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania it planned to establish a youth hostel in the building. Located in the northernmost part of the complex, it was divided into five contiguous parts. In July 2011, the long-planned large youth hostel with 402 beds in 96 rooms opened.
In September 2010, plans were announced by a German-Austrian investor group to renovate blocks 1 and 2 as housing for the elderly and a hotel with 300 beds that includes tennis courts and swimming pool and a small shopping centre.
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