Buildings are ambivalent players in a long human drama. Their design, of course, can be traced to a time, place, and ideology, but they cannot dictate what transpires in their halls. Similarly, a building’s occupants necessarily change over time, and yet, it doesn’t favor one group or another. Built architecture, for the most part, just sits there as the world passes it by.
Case in point, the last living remnants of Nazi Germany. The architecture of the Third Reich still haunts parts of the country, the most visible examples being the current headquarters for the German Ministry of Finance in Berlin and the Nuremberg rally grounds. The latter has fallen into disrepair and will be saved by a €70 million ($100 million) city-sponsored renovation that has sparked intense debate.
The issue revolves around whether the six-square-mile complex, designed by Nazi state architect Albert Speer and highlighted in the ur-propaganda film Triumph of the Will, should be purposefully restored or just left to fall in on itself. In fact, portions of the stone buildings have been previously defaced and demolished, both by Allied troops and a housing developer making room for single-family homes nearby. The swastikas are long gone and the grounds reduced, but the grand bandstand, from which Hitler once addressed monstrous crowds, still stands.
But Nuremberg officials are opting for the former, justifying their decision on safety grounds. They claim that that if the architecture is left to further ruin, the subsequent structural failures would require mediation that would isolate the site from its 200,000 annual visitors.
At the same time, however, the project will not seek a faithful restoration. “This is not about beautification. We will not be looking for original-style sandstone,” Nuremberg mayor Ulrich Maly told the Sued Deutsche Zeitung, in a translation provided by IBTimes. Rather, the grounds will simply be secured and reconstructed where necessary. Postwar graffiti would even be left intact.
The paper terms this synthesized strategy “rehabilitation.” It’s a third way that’s been implemented before, when similar cases have arisen. At Nuremberg, though, the plan seems especially paradoxical. On the one hand, the city’s claims do hold some validity–the buildings, though having been protected by the German law since the conclusion of the war, haven’t seen any renovation work in that time. On the other, officials, perhaps mulling over the exorbitant price tag, eventually reasoned that if they were to let the buildings languish, their collapse would provoke a scandal in the international community.
To that end, Nuremberg acknowledges the weight of its own history, which it must continue to shoulder, if not to enshrine or gimmify. As Maly says, “This is a job of national importance, we cannot take it on alone.” The city doesn’t necessarily want to rebuild the site so much as it has to.
[Images: Flickr user Bill Barber]