Rallies

I had six Nuremberg Rostbratwurst with coleslaw, mustard and horseradish for lunch.

Congress Hall, Nuremberg.

Biographies usually end with a whimper. Hilary Spurling deserves credit for giving Anthony Powell dignity in his old age. I cannot read a biography backwards but I can see Nuremberg backwards.

On Thursday it was rallies all round: Robert won his first two tennis matches and I looked at Nuremberg’s Nazi past. The Nationalist Socialist Workers’ Party (aka the Nazis) adopted Nuremberg as their meeting place – just like the Holy Roman Empire. Initially they were not welcome but by the 1930s they had an iron grip. In just one year, 1933, Germany changed from an unstable democracy to a vicious dictatorship. It is surprising that so many politicians in Britain thought, as late as 1938, that Germany could be contained. Within Germany itself throughout the 1930s and during the war there was resistance but it met with little success.

The rallies were also held in the city but the iconic film footage is usually of the huge rally grounds. There were five locations for these gatherings of which none were ever fully realised. The most ambitious is the Congress Hall, above. The exterior looks like the Coliseum. The huge scale of these venues also reminds me of St Peter’s Square in Rome Although I am making no comparison between the Nazis and the Roman Catholic Church both the Papacy and Hitler wanted a venue to appear personally in front of massed ranks of their followers.

The Congress Hall was intended to be covered but it was never completed and the central interior today looks like this.

Interior of Congress Hall, February 2018.

And here is how it was intended to be, with a roof.

One wing, from where I took the two pictures above, has been restored and has a comprehensive and exhaustive exhibition about the rise and fall of the National Socialist Party.  To depict the rallies there is footage from Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl. She had 170 in her film crew and complete freedom of access to Hitler and his inner circle. You may be disgusted by the content of her film but as a cineaste I admired her technique. By using innovative camera angles and music by Richard Wagner, she managed to make a numbingly boring 114 minute propaganda film just a bit boring. One of her innovations was to put a camera on a flag pole for aerial shots. It is more Hollywood than Holocaust.

The rallies by 1937 stretched to eight days (even Ascot doesn’t go on so long) opening with Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in the opera house. There was a day for the Hitler Youth to parade in front of the Führer. Come to think of it Hitler was the focal point every day. There were parades through the city, athletics, military displays, remembrance of the dead in the botched 1923 putsch and so on. It must have been ghastly.

Of course there was no accommodation for this huge influx so, after the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Olympic Village was dismantled and put up near the rally grounds. Accommodation was spartan, food was from field kitchens but there was beer. Hitler was pragmatic.

It took me two hours to see the exhibition and I could have spent longer. It does not flinch from the atrocities committed and there was a lot of disturbing content that I will not share but which I will not forget. I left in a sombre frame of mind.

To round off the day I went to the court house where the Nuremberg Trials were held. Again a very comprehensive exhibition explaining the legal technicalities, setting then in the context of previous and subsequent wars and much more. The trials were held in Court 600. It was closed to tourists on Thursday afternoon because a trial was in progress.

2 thoughts on “Rallies”

  1. Perhaps if I read the authors blog history backwards I could answer my own question, but would the author kindly indulge me as to who ‘Robert’ is? This name is splashed into various posts on occasion, but I for one remain ambivalent. Today we learn he plays tennis (and wins) but this is of little consequence without a more complete character reference. Such vagueness undermines this, otherwise distinguished, publication.

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