30 July 2010

Holidays for 20.000

Prora is a beach resort built on the island of Rügen, Germany, known especially for its colossal Nazi-planned touristic structure. The massive building complex, built between 1936 and 1939 consists of eight identical building was planned as a holiday locale, but was never used for this purpose. Extending over a length of 4.5 kilometres in a 150 metres distance to the beach the megastructure was designed to house 20.000 holidaymakers, under the ideal that every worker deserved a holiday at the beach.

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Designed by Clemens Klotz (1886-1969), the building concept was brilliantly simple, functionally thought through and also perfectly adapted to the given local circumstances: An almost five kilometer long arc. The "residential wings" stretch behind a wide promenade parallel to the beach, a gently and evenly curved bay; geometrically this makes one sixteenth of an imaginary giant circle. The center of this complex comprises a square of 400 by 600 meters. Towards the sea there is a massive quayside (with bridges for KdF cruisers) and on the opposite side the festival hall. Adjoined to the two remaining sides of this square are the six-storey "residence wings". Each of these buildings extend over more than two kilometers, containing over 7000 identical "living and sleeping cell units". All of the "cell units" allow for a view of the sea. They "measure 2.20 by 4.75 m and are all identically furnished with two beds, a washstand with running water and waterproof curtain, wardrobe (...) table, chairs and a couch".

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Each pair is connected via a communicating door, so that a six-member family could be accommodated. Furnishings, kitchenware, bedding, even the complete set of beach utensils, right down to the bathing suit, are designed according to rational principles. Towards the woods, stump-like wings are attached to the residential buildings at regular, close intervals; they contain mainly the stairwells and the bathrooms. Thus, approaching from the backside one faces an endless row of identical backyards and staircases. On the ocean side, there where ten massive, though slender "dining buildings", each seating 2000 "guests". These wings extend all the way to the water and thus divide the beach into eight, just over half a kilometer long segments - the vacationers' "home area". Here, calculations said, each guest is provided with five, or according to other calculations ten, squaremeters of the beach. Numerous secondary facilities were planned inland. Among them a train station, 5000 underground parking lots, residential areas for 2000 employees, a power station, theaters and cinemas, two indoor swimming pools with artificial waves - and a slaughterhouse.

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During the few years that Prora was under construction, all major construction companies of the Reich and nearly 9,000 workers were involved in this project. With the onset of World War II construction in Prora stopped. Since future use of the still existing structure is undefined, the historic monument declines.
The Nazi-organisation Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy,KdF) should rise the general life standard of Germans through enabling holidays for everybody for two weeks per year considerably influenced through Nazi-propaganda. Aside from cruise trips of Kdf-built cruise ships, the construction of altogether five beach resorts - each for 20.000 people - was planned. The only partly realised of these projects was Prora.

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In his highly interesting presentation at the XII Economic History Congress 2002 in Buenos Aires Hasso Spode speaks about it as the holiday machine which had nothing to do with 'blood and soil'. Instead it required cold-blooded, modern solutions. (Hasso Spode: The „seaside resort of the 20.000“: Fordism,Mass Tourism and the Third Reich). Spode gives background information on how the KdF became the word's biggest tour operator.
KdF provided indisputable evidence of how effectively the grammar of rationalization can be applied to the production of the consumer good 'holiday trips'; just as Henry Ford had demonstrated with his Tin Lizzie how one could turn an unattainable object of desire into a mass-produced article.
The Nazi version of Fordism was called 'Sozialismus der Tat' (Socialism of Deed). This term suggests that National Socialism - in contrast to the labor movement - really improves the situation of the workers, and thus makes the working class and their "Marxist ideology" obsolete.KdF established a new level of tourist behaviour: between the proletarian excursion and the distinguished bourgeois travel.
The propaganda was right in saying the KdF vacationer is a new type of vacationer and the KdF holiday, though orientated according to the bourgeois model, is a new type of holiday: less formal, less costly, less individual.

A short documentary on Prora can be found here and here (in German, but also only the footage is worth watching). This video shows how the beach resort looks today.

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