Fascination and Terror in Nürnberg

There are several worthwhile museums in Nürnberg, but the outstanding one in my opinion is the Documentation Centre (Doku-Zentrum) on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

This is an area on the outskirts of Nürnberg where the Nazi (National Socialist) party held huge propaganda rallies in 1927 and 1929, before they seized power, and also in the years 1933-38 when they were the sole ruling party of the country. Another rally with the cynical title “Party Rally of Peace” was scheduled for September 1939, but was cancelled at very short notice, presumably because the Nazis themselves started the Second World War by invading Poland on September 1st.

The Documentation Centre is located in the North Wing of a huge never-finished Nazi building called the Congress Hall, which was intended to hold 50,000 people.

Inside this unfinished building, the Austrian architect Günther Domenig (1934-2012) has negated the old Nazi architecture by creating an impressive exhibition area made of steel and glass. According to the Visitors Guide, the original building “is pierced diagonally by a 130-meter glass walkway, a shaft thrust through its heart, permanently disabling this demonstration of power on the part of the National Socialists.”

Fascination and Terror

From 2001 to 2020, the main exhibition at the Documentation Centre was called “Fascination and Terror”. It showed how the Nazi propaganda machine managed to fascinate at least some of the German people some of the time, and also shows the terror that was at the heart of the Nazi system right from the beginning. As of 2022, an interim exhibition is in place and a new permanent exhibition is being prepared.

The first thing you came upon when you entered the previous exhibition was a brilliant seven-minute introductory film with no words whatsoever, just scenes of a young 21st century couple on skateboards skating around this huge and now peaceful area. At various places, like when they skated around a corner or opened up an unmarked door, bits of old black-and-white film footage were faded in to show what the Nazis were doing here at their rallies in the 1920s and 30s.

In another room the most famous Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl, was shown on a screen in a dark alcove. This film was made at the Nazi Party Rally in 1934. To put it in context, a smaller video screen was clearly visible about a meter closer to the viewers, showing scenes of wartime violence and destruction, so no one would forget what the 1934 pageantry was leading up to.

The Congress Hall

The unfinished Congress Hall and the other huge structures on the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds were made of large blocks of stone that were hewn by prisoners doing forced labor at concentration camps like Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, Groß-Rosen, and Natzweiler-Struthof, which were located near stone quarries for this purpose.

My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2022.

See more posts on Nürnberg, Germany.

9 thoughts on “Fascination and Terror in Nürnberg”

  1. We visited Nuremberg for the first time last year, just for one day to finally see the this place. I think there is still some fascination (a completely different one as in the 30s and 40s) in the architecture and of course in the propaganda machinery created by some disturbed but nevertheless very creative minds like Goebbels and Riefenstahl. For a long time I was sure something like that could never happen again, but my confidence in humankind has decreased in the last few years. I made some good shots there, if you are interested: https://hikeminded.blog/2021/09/29/nuremberg-building-the-fuhrer-myth/

  2. Stellar write-up, Don. Very impressive. I wonder if history is repeating itself, except the lie this time around is that a Jew is a Nazi.

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