fascism | innocence
The series of paintings “fascism | innocence” portrays seven buildings which were built in the Nazi Era. Two are in Germany, three in Italy, one is in Austria and one in France.
The “Deutsche Pavillion” in Venice is a teutonic building on Italian soil. It was opened in 1909 on the occasion of the VIII. “Bienale de Venezia”, The “Bienale” is the oldest biennial art exhibition. It has been in existence since 1895. The pavilion, which was originally called the Bavarian Pavilion, was altered by the German architect Ernst Haiger. At that time he had already, at Hitler´s behest, designed the casino in Munich’s “Führerbau” as well as the bar in the Munich exhibition building, “Haus der Deutschen Kunst” (today, “Haus der Kunst”). The principal front, which was ornamented with round ionic columns and a triangular pediment, was replaced by rectangular pillars and a so-called architave, a cross beam. These changed the building from an elegant temple into an austere geometric building aiming for the monumental and carrying the inscription “Germania”from that moment on. The pavilion was restored after the Second World War and, since then, there have been plans to demolish it, even though it is under Italian monumental protection. Many artists have tried to come to terms with the problematical political history and architecture of the building. Isa Genzken, for instance, presented it completely surrounded in scaffolding for the 2007 Bienale.
The “Führerbau” in Munich also aims for the monumental, though not to the degree of, for example, the buildings of the “Reichstagsgelände” in Nuremberg. When its construction was begun in 1933, there was no building permit for the land in the center of Munich at Königsplatz. The city of Munich futilely demanded that the construction be halted. Eventually it approved the project. The “Führerbau” was dedicated during a visit by Mussolini in September 1937. It is part of a greater, neoclassical ensemble in Munich that was built according to the plans of Paul Ludwig Troost during that time. He had also designed the aforementioned “Haus der Kunst.” Munich had the honorary title “capital of the movement” from 1935 to 1945, as it was the city where National Socialism ascended. Munich, along with Berlin, Hamburg and Linz, was to be enlarged into a “Führerstadt.” The National Socialists began their project in Munich in the 1930’s with the purchase of land around Königsplatz and the erection of buildings. Some of the construction was illegal at the time it was started. A National Socialist Party district was built that, along with the “Führerbau”, included an identically built “Verwaltungsbau der NSDAP” (administrative building of the Nazi Party) and two “Ehrentempel” which were demolished by explosion in 1947. The “Führerbau” was built for representative purposes but was hardly used in that way. Hitler’s “Reichskanzlei” in Berlin and his residence on Obersalzberg quickly took on this function. It was only in September 1938 that the “Führerbau” became the scene of a special political event, the cession of Czechoslovakia`s Sudetenland to Germany. The “Führerbau” was of greater importance as a storage area and logistics center for pillaged art. Hundreds of artworks, many paintings by the Old Masters of the 19th century were stored in the air raid shelter of the building. These works had been collected by Hitler from all over Europe for his planned “Führermuseum” in Linz. Its German guards fled from the advancing American troops in 1945. Then came the “Führerbau-Diebstahl” (the plundering of the building). The population, looking for anything that could be of use, plundered the building and stole many of the paintings. A project of the “Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte,” which has been in the former “Verwaltungsgebäude” since 1948, studied history and whereabouts of the paintings between the years 2015 and 2019. Of a total of 670 objects, 370 are still missing today. After the end of WWII the “Führerbau,” which came through the war unscathed, was in the possession of the U.S. military government. Appropriately, it was used as a “Central Collecting Point” for artworks that had been stolen by the Nazis throughout Europe. The building lodged the “Amerika Haus” from 1948 to 1957. Since then it has been the “Hochschule für Musik und Theater.” The Führerbau,” which is under a preservation order, is now in poor condition and badly needs restoration.
Both the “Führerbau” and the pavilion are examples of the neoclassical style, which originated before the Nazi Era and is falsely identified with National Socialist architecture. The beginning of neoclassicism in Germany can be dated back to approximately the beginning of the 20th century. One example of this is the “Kurhaus”in Wiesbaden, that was built between 1905 and 1907. Over the years the competing influences of the architectural movements “Neue Sachlichkeit“ (New Objectivity) and “Bauhaus” became more and more noticeable. This led to an increasing objectivity of buildings; something that is quite visible in the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden, which was built between 1928 and 1930.
Neoclassicism was also cultivated to a lesser extent in Italy during the time of the fascist dictatorship. Parallel to this, buildings in the so-called style of rationalism, which originated in the 1920’s, were being erected. Rationalism, “Razionalismo/Architettura Razionale”, is characterized by an abstraction of architectural fundamental types to simple geometric forms and the reference, not only to classicism, but also to the antique.
One example of this style is the “Palazzo della Civilità Italiana” (Palace of Italian Civilisation) or, in colloquial speech, “Colosso quadrato” in Rome. The architects, Ernesto Bruno La Padulla, Giovanni Gueriuni and Mario Romano, planned the 68 meter high palace made of travertine marble that was built on a hillock along the Tiber. The building, with its Roman arches was modeled on the Roman Colosseum. Roman arches are also a trademark of the “Palazzo della Civilità Italiana”. It has more that 216 distributed over 6 stories. Vertically, the number of arches corresponds to the number of letters in Mussolinis first name, Benito (six). Horizontally, they correspond to the number of letters in his last name (nine). There is a statue at each of the four corners of the building as well as 28 statues in the lower arcade. They symbolize themes such as music or history. On all four sides of the building is the inscription “A Nation of Poets, Artists, Heroes, Saints, Thinkers and Scientists”. That quote is from a speech given by Mussolini upon the declaration of war with Ethiopia in 1935. The “Palazzo della Civilità Italiana” was built from 1938 to 1942, during the reign of Benito Mussolini. It was part of the erection of a new city district in which the World’s Fair of 1942 was to be held. The World’s Fair did not take place in Italy because of its entry into WWII. The district, EUR (abbreviation of “Esposizione Universale di Roma”), is still in existence today and, through the decades, has continually been further developed and improved. Many well-known companies have settled in the area. The fashion label, Fendi, has been in the “Palazzo” since 2015. While Fendi is situated on the upper floors of the building, a public exhibit about the history of the structure and the district, as well as its reception in art, film and photography, is on the ground floor. It has been there since an extensive renovation which took place from 2003 to 2008. The particular architecture of the EUR has, for instance, been seen in many films such as Rossellini’s „Rome, Open City“, Fellini’s „Boccaccio 70“ and Bertolucci’s “Il Conformaista”. The “Palazzo” is also in a few films of the 90’s such as “Hudson Hawk” and “Titus”.
Another example of Italian rationalism is the former “Casa del Fascio”, today the “Casa del Popolo” in Como in northern Italy. It was planned and built by the architect Giuseppe Terragni during the years 1932 to 1936. Terragni is considered to be the co-founder of Italian rationalism and pioneer of the architectonic Modern in Italy. One also sees here the typical style orientation toward the ideals of classic modern and a harking back to national building traditions. So it is that the “Casa del Popolo,” the proportions of which are that of a halved cube, is completely covered in white marble. At that time the building was the fascist party building. Today it holds the local tax office.
The Scorff-bunker in Lorient on the Atlantic coast of France is a submarine bunker that was built in 1941 by the German armed forces under the leadership of the so-called “Organisation Todt”. This organization, named for its leader, Fritz Todt, was a paramilitary building troop, which was especially responsible for building projects in areas under German occupation. As well as building the submarine bunker along the French Atlantic coast, it also constructed the bunkers and cannon installations of the Atlantic Wall and the West Wall. The Scorff-bunker, lying on the Scorff river, is part of a larger bunker complex that was built in Lorient. This complex became the largest German submarine base of the Second World War and the largest fortifications to be built in the 20th century. There was space for four submarines in the Scorff-bunker and it had two wet docks, which allowed the submarines to go directly into the bunker. This was not possible with all bunkers built in the Lorient. It was about 128 meters long, 56 meters wide and 14 meters high. The measurements vary according to the source. The cement ceiling was relatively thin, measuring 3.5 meters, as the bunker could not support a stronger ceiling because of the silty subsoil. The silty subsoil also made it difficult for the submarines to enter the bunker, so that it soon became only a berth and a workshop. It was the precursor to the more stable Keroman-Bunker, which was erected in varying forms on the grounds. Lorient was heavily bombed by the allies: almost 95 % of its buildings were destroyed. After WWII, the French stationed their own submarines in the bunkers of Lorient. Today, a company which builds boats is using the area and the extensive “Karoman-Installations” are a tourist attraction which can be visited. There is even a museum. The Scorff-Bunker, which is set apart from the rest, is not open to the public. How, or whether, it is presently used is unknown.
The “Waldsiedlung Krumme Lanke”, formerly “SS-Kameradschaftssiedlung Krumme Lanke” in Berlin-Zehlendorf was built by the building Society, Gagfah, from 1938 to 1939 according to the design of its technical director, Hans Gerlach. The families of the main SS ministry employees of Berlin were to live there. The type and size of the homes were correlated with the military rank of the party workers. The ideological background was the realization of the political agrarian ideal of “Blut und Boden” (blood and soil) through the settlement of valuable SS families. This was oriented on the original socialist concept of the garden city movement, which evolved in England at the end of the 19th century and called for small, village-like settlements with small homes for workers clustered around larger cities. Today, the “Waldsiedlung” is reminiscent of a rural idyll and has, for the most part, remained unchanged. Its living units have become some rather expensive real estate. The Gagfah had already developed plans for another project which called for modest model homes with gabled roofs, single family houses, duplexes and ribbon buildings that were then taken over for the “Waldsiedlung”. A total of 600 housing units in approximately 300 buildings were erected on the pine-covered land. At the same time, urban mass lodgings were erected which incorporated the ideas of the modern dwelling construction of the 1920’s. This urbanized movement of Nazi housing construction, ironically inspired by the forbidden Bauhaus style, became more and more predominant over the rural romantic movement during Nazi rule. After the Second World War the allies determined that preferably those who were persecuted by the Nazis – resistance fighters, refugees – would be given accommodation in the “Waldsiedlung Krumme Lanke”. Many of the new residents were eventually driven out by rising rents. The housing estate was put under a preservation order in 1992. A stela was put up in 2009, whose text and erection caused controversy. On the one hand, because the settlement’s Nazi past was once again being discussed; on the other, because it was not discussed enough. For instance, the building society, Gagfah, which owns the housing estate, is accused of not publicizing whether and/or which war criminals lived there and how far its own employees were connected with the Nazi regime.
The concentration camp Mauthausen was the largest Nazi concentration camp in present day Austria. It was founded in August 1938, shortly after the “Anschluss” (annexation of Austria with Germany). It existed, along with its 52 subsidiary camps, until its liberation by U.S. troops in May 1945. It was originally a camp only for men who, on the one hand, would work in the granite quarry and on the other would be arrested and killed. In 1943 more and more prisoners were detached to do forced labor in the munitions industry. The prisoners were from 40 different nations. Along with Jews were many Roma and Sinti, Poles, Spaniards, Russians, Czechs, English and Americans. German men were also transported to Mauthausen. These men had a criminal background and had served time in prison. They partly took over management functions in the concentration camp. As of the second half of the war, a small number of women (about 2.5 %) were prisoners. Many of them worked in the 10 bordellos belonging to the camp. Children and youths were also incarcerated and killed. The conditions in the camp were particularly cruel. It was officially listed as the only camp dedicated purely to extermination, with the “KZ-Klassification IV – Vernichtung durch Arbeit” (annihilation through work). The camp was called “Mordhausen” (Murderhausen) among the Germans. There was a “Todesstiege” (death stairs) between the camp and the quarry, along which the prisoners would have to carry heavy blocks daily. The work was made more difficult by the different heights of the steps, some of which measured a half meter high. The SS Guards often kicked the prisoners in the back as they worked their way down, with the result that they fell and, as they fell, took other prisoners with them. On the cynically named “parachute jumper wall”, between the “Todesstiege” and the quarry, prisoners, sometimes in the hundreds, were regularly shoved off to their death 50 meters below. Sick prisoners or those no longer able to work were killed or left to die of cold and hunger. In the beginning, large numbers of prisoners were killed by shooting at a place of execution but, as of 1941, an installation designed to shoot prisoners in the back of the neck was used to simplify the work. Poison gas was used as of 1941. A total of 190.000 people were incarcerated in Mauthausen and its subsidiary camps, approximately half of them died. After the war, a Concentration Camp Memorial was erected on the premises of the camp. Apart from the significant entry gate, there are hardly any buildings left from that time. The U.S. army burned down most of the barracks because of the danger of contagious diseases. The rest of the buildings disappeared in the following years. Today there is a memorial park on the grounds of the camp. It has memorials from many nations and groups of victims, the Jehovas Witnesses, for example. A museum was set up containing different exhibits and a cemetery was created in which 14.000 victims are buried. There is an archived collection containing documents from the time of the concentration camps as well as interviews with prisoners made after its liberation. A special library and a research department that compiles information about the history of the concentration camp complex are also there. This information is, to some extent, published and made available to those who wish it.
How one comes to terms with the buildings remaining from the fascist dictatorships has been, and still is, difficult. It is now perhaps even more difficult in the face of strengthening rightist political power worldwide. It is also more difficult because each building poses different questions when it comes to our relation to it. It is important to differentiate here.
The first and best known category of fascist architecture are the monumental buildings, which are represented in the series by the “Deutsche Pavillion” in Venice, the “Führerbau” in Munich and both Italian buildings. Monumental architecture is, of course, not a fascist invention, as has often been suggested. It has existed for thousands of years and still exists. Usually, its purpose is the representation and perpetuation of religious and/or political domination. On the one side it wants to overpower the observer, on the other it wishes to share the greatness of that power.
When one judges these buildings in Germany, it is important to consider that their neoclassical style, which today could be seen as ornate, was popular before the Nazis came to power. The situation is similar in Italy. The modern, minimalist style of rationalism, the style of the “Casa del Fasio” and the “Palazzo della Civilità Italiana,” was already in existence in the 1920’s.
The moral question of whether one may find these buildings beautiful or not while ignoring their political past is more one for the Italian structures than the German ones. Here the opinions are greatly divided. Some believe this would be equivalent to the diminishing of fascist atrocities. Others grant the buildings inherent innocence. It is a fact that both Italian buildings are already icons of modern architecture. Monumental buildings of the Nazis in Germany, too, have a great, purely aesthetic attraction for many. One would be very much mistaken not to acknowledge that the many buildings of Nazi Germany possess an aesthetic charm and are, in a broader sense, fascinating. They are both guilty and innocent at the same time, depending on which level one sees them from. And “Fascinating Fascism” is the title of a 1974 essay by Susan Sontag. This fascination has not only to do with the architecture and places of that regime, but also many other areas of that culture—as Peter Reichel extensively set forth in his 1991 book “Der Schöne Schein des Dritten Reichs”.
Monumental buildings are also the bunkers of the Second World War. Efforts to blow them up were fruitless. The Scroff-Bunker in France, part of the Atlantic Wall, which is presented in this series, is representative of innumerable bunkers and bunker installations which are still strewn all over Europe. The architect and philosopher, Peter Virilio, studied these structures in the 1950’s and put together his perceptions in the book “Bunker Archeology”. He saw a similarity to antique sacred buildings and himself built a church in the bunker style of brutalism; a cement block hardly distinguishable from those objects he had studied. Typical of brutalism, a significant post-war movement, and of this kind of military structure, is the sculptural, minimalistic form of the buildings and the use of concrete as building material. Both are controversial and, seen aesthetically, have gone through a similar development. While they were earlier seen as ugly, their aesthetic qualities have now been discovered by many. Especially the bunkers are a favorite motif for photographs and draw large numbers of visitors. But they are, and were, memorials of war and are offensive. They are structures in which the ambivalence of the sublime can be seen as they were, in a way, though unintentionally, built for eternity.
Our relation to the “Waldsiedlung”, formerly “SS-Kameradschaftssiedlung Krumme Lanke”, poses completely different questions. They are different questions because the buildings are of another sort and have another function. Those structures spoken of previously are either public or abandoned. Here we have to do with a settlement which was lived in and is still lived in now. There is a market for these houses; you can buy or rent one for a pretty penny today. They are located in an attractive residential area in Berlin. As opposed to the monumental buildings, one cannot see that they are relics of the Nazi era. One could forget their Nazi origins completely. Many who live there may know nothing about them. Because of that, the conflict between aesthetic quality and political past has a different weight. There seem to be private interests involved here that wish to suppress the connection to National Socialism. One should try, therefore, all the harder to keep the memory of the Nazi dictatorship alive; for it is the Nazi regime which was responsible for the erection of these buildings.
The last building in the series “fascism | innocence” poses the most difficult questions. It is the entrance building to the concentration camp Mauthausen. This structure is to be seen in reference to the subject of our relation to concentration camps in general. The aspects of its architectural history were long kept in the background. But even camp architecture belongs to the complete picture of the buildings of the Nazi era. Ethical concerns often do not allow taking stock here. While the monumental buildings served to represent Nazi power and ideology, the Scroff-Bunker served as a shelter for submarines, and the settlement “Krumme Lanke” served as living quarters, the concentration camp was the place where the regime committed its most horrible crimes. It is particularly difficult to concern ourselves with the camp buildings because their function was abominable.
Many former Nazi concentration camps are now memorials and have a post-war history of their own. None is in its original state. They have become places of remembrance with museums, memorial structures and tablets and many other media to commemorate the victims. This state-subsidized “memorial culture” has found its place in society, but, on the other hand, the tourism which it has fostered can certainly be seen with a critical eye. It is not only the commercial aspect that is questionable. The explicit presentation of atrocities is as well. The latter should shake one up, but can also be seen as irreverent or serving sensationalism. Until now, the pilgrimage of radical rightists to concentration camp memorials has been a marginal manifestation. The danger is that rising antisemitism will increase attacks.
The presentation of the buildings in the series “fascism | innocence” directs the observer’s’ attention from the external, historic-political level towards its inner aesthetic-philosophical. The buildings are isolated, taken out of their historic context. The objective is to study the motifs of the so-called internal level and their effects on the external. One concept which is of help here is “atmosphere”. This is an idea that has largely established itself in architectural philosophy through Gernot Böhme. Hermann Schmitz, the founder of the “new phenomenology” also studied this thematic intensively and he suggested: It is advisable to look at “atmosphere” as a phenomenon which allows the scientifically objective examination and appreciation of the object being studied. – One does not yet know what to think of it, but one must admit that it exists. –This procedure especially makes sense in the philosophical study of atmospheres, as one is on shaky ground here. Atmospheres are vague and undefinable, they cannot be clearly specified. Their perception is more through feeling than sight or sound. They are moods and feelings, sometimes temporary, sometimes reproducible, but often unequivocally existent. The reduced presentation of the buildings in the series “fascism | innocence”, only as facades without perspective, gives the atmosphere space. Too many elements in the picture would obscure this. The monochrome coloring, with the stark contrast between light and dark, strengthens the development of atmosphere. As Walter Benjamin states, an immutable aura is formed. Aura and atmosphere are directly related to one another. They are actually energy fields which arise between the indications of understanding. They are symptoms of blurring.
The quality of blurring in this connection is to go beyond the boundaries of bodies, be they human beings, buildings or memorials, to be able to unite with other bodies. It has the ability to transcend. This makes atmospheres into a collective-building power. They are, when coming from the internal, expressions and carriers of collective emotion. Contrarily, when coming from the external, they can create a collective emotion. As a carrier of feelings they are, at the same time, carriers of images and ideas. They are the stuff of which myths are made.
Buildings are places where myths are born and can be projected upon them. This is, of course, valid for the buildings of the Nazi dictatorship; for some buildings it is more valid than for others. The buildings portrayed in this series are examples of certain types of architecture of this time period. These types are primarily defined by their function. Myths fasten on to them depending on that aspect. One must formally distinguish three kinds here: myths that served the Nazis, the myths that they tried to create and the myths that have emerged without their influence.
After the Second World War, the “demystification” of the Nazi dictatorship was begun in many areas. It must be said that this has been only partly successful. In order to continue on this path, it is important to study which needs the respective myths served and still continue to serve and to take these needs seriously. Myths in politics have long been a theme of scholarly investigation, though only as an aside, as they touch on the religious sphere and this is seen as problematic by many. This, however, has nothing to do with specific religions or laicization, or whether God exists or not, but only with – to once again confirm the term and method of analysis – the phenomenon of the religious.
The myth as a religious phenomenon in Western culture became ever more popular throughout the Enlightenment and secularization. At the same time it has become uncoupled from the religious. In today’s discourses it is often replaced by the scholarly word „narrative.“ The myth has also lost its greatness and positon as an absolute truth. Roland Barthes’ 1957 book „Mythologies“ reflects this loss of meaning. This development is understandable as a counter-movement to myth-laden National Socialism and a demarcation from it. The rejection of this aspect of National Socialism, on the other hand, is dangerous and could result in its demonization and consequently its being mythically charged.
Myths primarily serve community-building. Various needs can be satisfied at the same time: the need for identity (Who am I?), for locality (Where do I belong?), for meaning (What is my purpose?), for significance (What am I worth?). This is based on the human urge to be part of “something greater”, something that can certainly be interpreted as a “religious phenomenon”. In 1967 Arthur Koestler presented his theory of “Holon”. It is a successor to the Leibnizian theory of “Monade”, and is essentially a theory of self. The author explains that the human being, as a Holon, has the need for belonging, for going beyond – transcending – the narrow boundaries of the “ego” in order to unite with an encompassing whole, be it a community of humans, a religious belief, a political cause, be it nature or Art (compare “Janus. A. Summing Up/Der Mensch – Irrläufer der Evolution”, Goldmann Verlag, 1978, S.75). On the other hand, the urge to develop one’s own individuality also persists. At best, both forces exist in equilibrium.
There is a reciprocity between human being and myth that exists on many levels. For one, in linguistic form, as the exemplary tale, for another in pictured non-historical form, that is, in the timeless form of images and symbols of the collective unconscious and, last but not least as atmosphere. The question may be asked whether mankind is not also Homo religiosus. One whose spiritual needs – for instance for transcendence, worship, sanctification – have stood the test of time and and have simply undergone other definitions through the years. Not a new question, but one that possibly deserves to receive more attention.