Hitler planned his revenge on Berlin as obsessively as he plotted his revenge on everything else in his long list of hatreds.
Hitler wanted to effectively destroy Berlin, or at least a very large part of it, and rebuild it as "Germania," the capital of his global empire after his war of conquest was complete.
Hitler wanted to change the historic east-west axis of Berlin into a north-south axis of broad avenues, massive public buildings, huge triumphal arches, and public housing. His rebuilding would have destroyed half the historic city center and displaced over a quarter million people.
The Volkshalle was to be the centerpiece of the new global capital. Volkshalle translates very badly into English as "People's Hall." However, the word volk in German carries associations of race and tribe that are untranslatable into English. This was to be a lasting monument to the Herrenvolk, the "lordly people," the master race.
The Volkshalle model showing the old Reichstag to the right front of the dome, and the Brandenburg Gate near the bottom.
The dimensions of this monument would have been huge. It would have been one of the largest buildings ever built, towering over the city and the surrounding countryside. It's dimensions would have made the grandest monuments of ancient Rome look insignificant. Kaiser Wilhem II's most grandiose monuments in his project to rebuild Berlin as the capital of a new German Empire look modest in comparison to this.
Albert Speer wrote about this monument that it would have been so huge that human breath would have condensed into clouds and rain around the top of the dome. He also wrote that the sheer scale of the place would have been self-defeating. Hitler, the very man for whom this was to be built, would have been lost in all the grandeur. Speer made a more revealing comment writing about the experience of the spectator in another proposed monument:
It was not my aim that [the spectator] should feel anything. I only wanted to impose the grandeur of the building on the people in it. I read in Goethe's Travels in Italy that, when he saw the Roman amphitheater in Verona, he said to himself,: if people with different minds were all pressed together in such a place, they will be unified in one mind. That was the aim of the Stadium; it has nothing to do with what the small man might think.
In other words, coercion through architecture. Indeed, the Romans thought of architecture as an instrument of state policy directing vast masses of people. But, the Romans left their subjects to their own private thoughts and feelings. For Hitler, that was not enough. He was out to conquer souls as well as bodies.
Detail of Speer's model showing Arno Brecker's proposed sculptures, including one of 2 colossi of Atlas holding up the Cosmos and Tellus holding up the Earth.
As far as I'm concerned, this building says a lot about Hitler's intentions. As I understand, there is an unresolved argument among historians over Hitler's ultimate ambitions, whether or not he really intended global conquest. The cosmocratic symbolism in this building, personally selected by Hitler, makes it clear, at least to me, that he did indeed have global conquest in mind. The dome was to be topped, not by the swastika, but by the globe of the world held firmly in the talons of a Roman eagle. Arno Brecker worked on models for sculptural colossi of Atlas and Tellus with sculptural groups of the chariots of the sun and moon ordered by Hitler. It is no accident that this building calls to mind temple architecture. Hitler had every intention of this dome serving as an enduring shrine to his cult.
Albert Speer and Hitler with the model for the German pavilion for the World's Fair in Paris in 1936.
Speer is often credited, or blamed, for the Volkshalle, but the design is really Hitler's. Speer was more an expert consultant. This was a project near and dear to Hitler's heart. He began making sketches for the project as early as 1922. He made a private visit to the Roman Pantheon for inspiration while on a state visit to Italy. He visited the Dome des Invalides and the Pantheon in newly conquered Paris in 1940 certainly with the Volkshalle in mind.
Mercifully, this dome was never built. The word that best describes its design is "monstrous" in the fullest sense. It is a grotesque parody of classical architecture. All of those fundamental principles of classical design from symmetria (number and proportion that satisfies us) to decorum (appropriateness, rightness) are ruthlessly discarded in the interest of an overwhelming effect intended to press us into a unanimity of thought. The massive pillars on the portico of the Volkshalle look like match-sticks in the midst of the inflated bulk of the building. Brecker's colossi are themselves dwarfed into insignificance. Overwhelming size and bulk, together with infinite repetition coerce us into accepting as inevitable this end of history.
Hitler and Stalin together killed off classical art. They did so by making it an accomplice to crime on a metaphysical scale. They used art and design as major parts of their efforts to criminalize entire nations. But for them, city halls and courthouses would still be using columns while modern form would remain confined to commercial and domestic architecture where it began. Both tyrants effectively poisoned the classical well, making it unavailable to us, at least in anything beyond the private uses of individual artists.
The recently completed Holocaust Memorial in the center of Berlin viewed from the air.
Another view of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.
Of course, Hitler murdered whole populations as well as classical architecture. The new memorial to all those murdered people in the center of Berlin -- right next to the site of Hitler's Reichs Chancellery and within sight of the proposed location of the Volkshalle -- is a major example of the success of Minimalism in public monuments. I've discussed this before in another post on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. The ability to transform abstract ideas into narratives and dramas was once a major strength of classical form. In this age of no consensus on anything, that former strength is now a great liability, imposing narratives and meanings where there is no longer any agreement. The surprising strength of Minimalism for public monuments is that it provides for catharsis without imposing any kind of interpretation on events remembered. This memorial is a perfect example; a centerless, and seemingly endless, field of stone blocks whose rectangular shapes can suggest anything from sarcophagi to rows of anonymous corpses. As the size of the Volkshalle was intended to impress upon us the inevitability of the end of history as Hitler saw it, so the vast size of this monument suggests the magnitude of Nazi crime.