Friday, 16 October 2015

Docuzentrum In Nuremberg - Ruminations

               It was a trip to Nuremberg two years back and so a visit to one of its infamous relics was inevitable.  The Nazi Party Rally Ground. Entering the Docuzentrum, a part of this massive area, we sought to expand our perception of what we had studied in short paragraphs in the history classes.

        The  Holocaust and The Diary Of Anne Frank were (as it is to this date), synonymous for school students grappling with the ideas of persecution and genocide, from within the confines of a class room far removed in space and time. Reading into the pages of The Diary of Anne Frank, the heart lurched and empathized with the young girl trying to weave a normalcy while keeping hopes afloat, in her confined world  during the holocaust. Later turning the pages of Leon Uris, the triumphant escape of the persecuted in boats, buses and retaliations, a time different from our secured lives, a people so like everyone else, left many thoughts hanging in the air like the rings of nicotine laden smoke. Carried away with the gripping celluloid war dramas, we took vicarious pleasure in the daring escapades of the the persecuted while cheering lustily for the allied forces victorious strategies.

         Most of it was a glossy poster. The lucky ones were just a pitiable number where the actual figure of the holocaust piled up at eleven million. Eleven million Jews, Roman gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally and physically disabled.

          Shining in the epithet of the imperial city in its past, Nuremberg had lent its name to a few infamous actions during the Nazi days, that went down as the black days of modern history. In the maniacal pursuit for the great German empire with a pure race, in whose veins the Aryan blood flowed, the 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws legitimized the Nazi theory of the pure Aryan race. The second largest city in the Bavarian region of Germany, Nuremberg was the chosen spot to inspire the Germans with their lost past and revive and spearhead a Pan German idea of a nation. It was this city that had the privilege of being a free imperial city with a flourishing trade and economy, famous artists and artisans by the thirteenth century.

      Nothing could be more ironical. Nuremberg was the birthplace of the great Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer, to whom the quote " If a man devotes himself to art, much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle" is attributed. Nuremberg  was the chosen city to build the Nazi Party Rally ground. And by a man whose early days were spent in the quest to be an artist desperately seeking acceptance into the Vienna Academy of the Arts. Albrecht Durer, born centuries earlier, was not to know the ruins that his city was reduced to post WWII, following the genocide perpetrated by the once- upon -a- time struggling artist, Hitler.

        Nuremberg in the Bayern region of Germany, has transformed its infamous past into a factual representation  of events, turning a section of the erstwhile Nazi Rally Ground into a documentation center. The northern part of the Kongressehall, to be precise. The high ceiling halls containing the solemn space within - the corridors , small and large rooms - bears testimony to changed times. Where it was once built to display and awe with the Nazi show of power, post war it remained a shell of its intended glory languishing in an uncertain future. For it was difficult for the inheritors  to acknowledge and accept their past that weighed heavy on their shoulders. Many other such relics were either hastily converted for day to day utility, broken down leaving no signs or left to the mercies of time. But the Rally Ground was a different matter. It was a colossal plan spanning an area of eleven square kilometers. That was a size impossible to ignore and wish away.


     Nuremberg's  Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelaendeion ,  Docuzentrum, beside  Dutzendteich lake, now stoically chronicles the ascent and the subsequent downfall of  the Nationalist Socialist Party in a manner bereft of bias and sentiment. It places the euphoria stoked by the idea of the Third Reich within its historical context - the whys and the hows of mobilizing  support for a Nazi Germany. In a show of might and built to overwhelm the people, both within the country and also abroad, the incomplete Nazi Rally ground's sheer dimension is mind boggling. A congress hall  with a capacity of 50000 people, a Zeppelin field, a war memorial, marching ground that could host 4,00,000 spectators, the Great Road almost fifty meters wide...Imagine the ecstasy of pride spilling out from those stands when they witnessed the humongous body of soldiers neatly arranged in rows and columns with tanks, artillery and others during the military exercises staged for all to see!  Built under the supervision   of Albert Speer, the rally ground had been  host to six annual  Nazi rallies between 1933  to 1945. History lessons have told us how Hitler utilized this idea of grandness to impress and overwhelm people with show of might. The Cathedral of Light played an important role during the rallies. More than a hundred anti aircraft search lights throwing up high beams up to almost ten kilometers into the sky were stationed around the spectators. The vertical beams set up a grand enclosure for the participating throngs. Later these were shifted and utilized to detect allies aircraft that would then be brought down by the dreaded flaks. Every structure was built to dwarf the individual presence but collectively it was to fill them with pride in their past and being part of a hallowed experience.
    Walking up the narrow metallic flight of stairs into the Docuzentrum,we later realized, the pointed metallic structure protruding from the entrance was part of the piercing arrow concept running through the northern wing of the Kongressehall. It has taken Germany quite some time to emerge from its denial mode, to that of  acknowledgement and acceptance of  the dark legacy and be able to present it factually under  the shadows of what it was intended to be in the hey days of the Third Reich. Left with the colossal structure post WWII, it was finally decided in 1994 by the city council of Nuremberg, to turn it into Docuzentrum. A competition was held in 1998 to attract the best design. Gunther Domenig, an architect and son of a judge in the Nazi regime, came up with the winning idea of running a glass and steel arrow corridor piercing through the North wing of the Kongresshalle.  A pun on the Nazi architect Albert Speer. The nineteen exhibit points explained with the aid of audio guides, use the conventional  method with documents, a few memorabilia,  the many photographs with old film clips thrown in between.


   Within the stark interiors of brick walls, glass and steel, a short film begins the tour showing a present day scenario of a young boy skate  boarding with a grand building in the backdrop. The camera focuses on this backdrop and melts into its past taking the visitor to history.  Some of the pictures are life sized covering the wall from the top to the floor. In one such, Hitler seems to be walking up the steps, on a wall with dramatic lighting creating an eerie effect. Few broken pieces of Nazi memorabilia are displayed in glass topped pits in the floor. A bronze bust of Hitler peers out sternly. It is but one of the mass produced ones, encouraging people to place them at homes, in the propaganda swept frenzy for the Fuhrer and the promise of a German empire. A 1940 edition of  Mein Kampf  rests in a case. Each of the structures in the rally ground are explained with respect to their utility and construction.

    It took almost three hours for us to walk through the " Fascination and Terror" exhibition that ended with clippings of the Nuremberg Trials. A short railway track behind a glass, on our way out, was a poignant reminder of the millions massacred. The train was the favoured mode to transport out the victims. The track is strewn with pieces of paper. Each of these papers have a name written on them - of the victims executed in the Nazi reign. To accommodate all those names, the track would have to be at least four kilometers long, it said.





  1. That was a very descriptive post,thank you Ilakshee.

  2. Chilling! Beautifully written and very informative

  3. Thank you for dropping by, Indu :)

  4. Visit could get depressing at times I suppose...

  5. Even though I have read so much about the holocaust and Nuremberg, accounts historical and fictional, I was riveted to the very end. It is truly a reminder of a monstrosity of unimaginable proportions, poignant, blood curdling and apoplectic all at once. I am sure I am going to reread this post sometime hence. Fabulous work!

  6. Deepak, it took some time to adjust to the sunshine outside after we finished the tour.

  7. Those words coming from you, Uma, I am honoured. Admire the Germans for the way they deal with it.

  8. Every Indian should read this and reflect on the need to curb the signs of growing intolerance and bigotry today in a land historically known for its tolerance


Your words keep me going :)