Architekturzentrum Wien  

»Vienna. The Pearl of the Reich« Planning for Hitler

LOCATION: Architekturzentrum Wien - Old Hall
EXHIBITION: 19.03.2015 - 17.08.2015
PRESS CONFERENCE: Wed, 18.03.2015, 11am
OPENING: Wed, 18.03.2015, 7pm

“... in my eyes this city is a pearl! I will give this pearl a setting worthy of it and entrust it to the care of the entire German Reich, the whole German nation. This city, too, will experience a new flowering.”
Adolf Hitler, on being welcomed by the Mayor of Vienna, Hermann Neubacher, on 9 April 1938.

For the first time ever the broad spectrum of building projects in Vienna during the Nazi era is being shown in a comprehensive exhibition at the Architekturzentrum Wien. The Viennese examples of the building and planning activity of the Third Reich illustrate the wide-ranging contexts and interdependencies of Nazi objectives — architecture was instrumentalised to serve the aggressive expansion policies of the Nazi regime, and urban and spatial planning became powerful tools in the implementation of Nazi population policy. In the exhibition the paradoxical myth that Vienna only played a minor role in the planning activity of the Third Reich is examined. With the creation of Greater Vienna the metropolis on the Danube became the second largest city in the Reich; the infrastructure, industrial and development concepts for Vienna bear witness to the city’s key function as a hub and a transit area from and to Southeast Europe.

Whereas in the fields of history and the social sciences comparatively much has been researched and published about the Nazis in Austria over the past 70 years, this has not been the case so far in the field of the History of Architecture. The transfer to the Az W in 2011 of the Klaus Steiner archives, which contain a wealth of original material (plans, photos, written documents, files etc.), laid the foundation for research into the area, enabling an intense engagement with this theme possible. Following the thorough examination of the material carried out in the course of the preparations for this exhibition, much that had previously been obscured could be used to contribute to the further processing of this piece of history. The activity of many architects and the continuity of their work starting in the interwar period, extending through the time of Third Reich and the post-war era, up to the present day is particularly informative and revealing. Architecture, urban and spatial planning were appropriated as instruments of power for new designs and the regime’s monumental public image, and the protagonists became the “allies” of a totalitarian system. During the Nazi era the profession of architect experienced an unexpected heyday, which continued to have an impact in the areas of planning and building long after the end of the war. Many architects as well as civil servants in the urban planning department survived the de-Nazification process “in good standing” and continued in their jobs after the end of the war.

Vienna was to have played a special role in the Third Reich and the city was to become the capital of a Gau (Nazi province). Hitler, who had an ambivalent relationship to Vienna throughout his life, wanted to give the city a leading position in the area of the arts — Vienna as an art, theatre and music capital and the mediator of “German” culture between east and west. However, Vienna was not to be just an art metropolis but also a hub for and pivotal to the southeast. Hitler’s admiration for the Ringstrasse and its imperial buildings is legible in the plans for the redesign of Heldenplatz and Rathausplatz, which were to be remodelled as defined, paved parade grounds to serve as a stage for self-presentation. But most of these monumental plans, including the grand axis running at right angles to the Danube and the redesign of the 2nd and 20th districts that it would have involved, were never carried out. After the end of the war much material disappeared into the drawers of those who had produced it and was, to some extent, forgotten.

The aim of the two curators, Ingrid Holzschuh and Monika Platzer, is to clearly show the changing, reshaping, presentation and modernisation of the city in nine chapters. In the first two sections of the exhibition the role of Vienna's New Place in Europe is examined. On 9 April 1938, during an address given at the Rathaus (City Hall), Hitler used the phrase Vienna. The Pearl of the Reich. In Viennese urban planning Hitler’s words sparked off a veritable planning euphoria, marking the start of one of the most extensive building programmes of the 20th century. The section Rasse (race) and Raum (territory) presents the disciplines of land-use planning and spatial research which form the scientific basis for expanding the area of Greater Vienna. The chapters Power and the Politics of Symbolism and Monumentalization deal with the appropriation of architecture for propaganda purposes. The city was to be monumentalised and bestowed with representative buildings for the Party. The entire building programme served a single purpose: the transformation of Vienna into a Gau capital in-line with the Nazi ethos. These monumental designs are directly related to the development of the Reichsbahn (railway), the construction of the new Reichsautobahn (motorway) and the expansion of the port facilities, as is clearly shown in Reactionary Modernism, the chapter about infrastructure plans. The reduction of the density of the core city and the creation of new living space for the “German peoples” is examined in the section The New City. A considerable number of architects were involved in planning the Nazi housing construction programme. In the post-war development programmes they were able to make use of designs they had produced during the Nazi era. In the chapter Total War the focus is on mobilisation for the war of conquest in the east and also on the start of aerial warfare. The focus of planning lay on ensuring civilian safety from air raids and the development of the city as a stronghold of aerial defence. In Generalplan Ost (Master Plan East), the exhibition’s final section, the focus is on plans for Bratislava, Prague and Cracow, cities that offered Viennese architects extensive opportunities to work, whereby here, too, the question of the role of the profession in the reorganisation of the eastern regions is raised. Greater Vienna was a central stage on which the goals of a political order that was structured along racist and anti-Semitic lines were to be achieved using the powerful instruments of architecture, spatial research and spatial planning. This exhibition is the visualisation of the history of the perpetrators, in the context of which the issue of the function and responsibility of architecture and its protagonists is raised.

A look back at the architectural and urban history of Vienna shows how the Nazi era was omitted, a sign of its suppression and the way in which complicity has been externalised. The inclusion of National Socialism in the overall picture and the presentation of the historic events associated with it are, however, indispensable for an understanding of the present. Today the contexts, the outline conditions and the consequences are different, but the Nazi plans nevertheless there are continuities in and parallels to the present day.
Almost all the objects in the exhibition are from the Az W Collection, Klaus Steiner Archives. They have been augmented in places with documents from other collections of architects’ papers that are kept by the Az W. The exhibition also includes material from amateur and propaganda films.

Catalogue of the exhibition: »Wien. Die Perle des Reiches« Planen für Hitler (»Vienna. The Pearl of the Reich« Planning for Hitler), German edition
Published by Architekturzentrum Wien
Ingrid Holzschuh, Monika Platzer
Park Books, Zürich
ISBN 978-3-906027-78-4

Curators of the exhibition:
Ingrid Holzschuh, architecture historian
Monika Platzer, curator of the Az W Collection
Exhibition design: GABU Heindl Architektur
Graphics: Toledo i Dertschei

© Archiv Künstlerhaus / „Stadtplan von Wien im Jahre 3000“, Gschnasfest Künstlerhaus, 1933 

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