What to Do with Dilapidated Nuremberg Nazi Rally Grounds?

Bundesarchiv / By Adam Jones, Ph.D. - CC BY-SA 3.0


Neglected and crumbling buildings dating from the Nazi era are coming under scrutiny in Germany, as people debate their cultural significance and what should become of them.

Nuremberg is a large city in the southern German state of Bavaria, second in size to the Bavarian state capital, Munich. Nuremberg is best known outside Germany for the enormous, highly emotive patriotic rallies and parades staged there from the late 1920s during the rise to power of the Nazi Party, and also from 1933 to 1938 when the Nazis had gained power and were at the pinnacle of their glory.

Nuremberg had been selected as the venue for those huge rallies because it held a special importance for the Nazis. In the Middle Ages, it had been an important site for the Holy Roman Empire; in the 16th century it was the centre of the German Renaissance. Geographically, Nuremberg was conveniently situated right in the middle of Germany and was therefore easy to get to for most citizens.

NSDAP Party day 1936

NSDAP Party day 1936 (Bundesarchiv)

The main grounds where the Nuremberg rally infrastructure was to be built had been laid during the period of the German Weimar Republic, which existed from the end of the First World War until the Nazis came to power in 1933. The Nazis had used the grounds at Nuremberg to stage rallies even before coming to power. Once in power, though, Hitler commissioned designers and architects to set about creating and enhancing various edifices and specially demarcated areas which would serve different functions and accommodate the great crowds of faithful Nazi supporters who attended the rallies.


The grandstand, now without the swastika

Among those who were tasked with realising Hitler’s vision was Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect and close confidant, who would later become his Minister of Armaments and War Production for the last three years of the Second World War. As a high-ranking Nazi official, Speer would be one of those indicted in the Nuremberg trials after the war.

The land used for the Nuremberg rallies nowadays lies derelict, and many of the remaining structures and paved walkways, which had been purpose-built, are becoming increasingly dilapidated with the passage of time. There is no question about the grand scale of the Nuremberg project. The land designated for the rallies was vast, covering some four square miles. A grand road connected the old city of Nuremberg with the Nazi rallying grounds. Everything, in fact, was built on a grand, imposing scale in order to emphasise the significance of the Fuehrer, the Nazi leadership and the “manifest destiny” of the superpower of the day.

In Nuremberg, some structures had already been destroyed by the end of the war and a few others have been crumbling into dust in the intervening years. Many of the important buildings, however, remain intact and have proved more resilient to the vagaries of time.  This is partly because of the strong materials and fine craftsmanship of the builders.  Then there is the fact that Nuremberg was not severely damaged by Allied fighting or aerial bombardment during the war.

Since the end of the Second World War the German government, the Bavarian state, and the Nuremberg city authorities have all grappled with the challenge of what to do about these remaining infrastructures from the Nazi past. For instance, the curator of Bavarian historical sites, Mathias Pfeil, says that all these Nazi structures are not simply memorials. They are, he points out, symbols of a past that modern Germans would like never to have occurred. How much public funding should be allocated to preserve the old buildings, if any?

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