The Party-Day Fields at Nuremberg

28. 10. 2013 | 19:35
Přečteno 4258 krát
A notice on the tribune at the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg informs us that the city was ‘liberated’ by the US Army in 1945. At first sight the audacity of this idea is shocking, but on reflection it echoes a dilemma which must have vexed most of us at one time or another: how was it that a nation universally admired for its civilisation and culture could have turned so quickly into a homicidal mob which aroused the world’s disgust and despair in equal measure?

The off-the-cuff answer is usually that Adolf Hitler possessed such preternatural powers of rhetoric that he was able to hypnotise his audiences, whether one person or five hundred thousand. He was the ‘strong leader’ for whom the Germans yearned. Yet his performances do not stand up to analysis: all sound and fury, delivered in a funny accent with the gesticulations of a marionette. He was uneducated and boring; his table-talk was piffle, hour after soul-destroying hour. He was the man you dread sitting next to on a bus.

I suspect that the person who was really responsible for the death of Germany’s conscience was a man who had none of his own yet was diabolically clever: a true Faust. A narcissus whose diary recorded the petty triumphs and even pettier disasters of his daily life in excruciating detail; a man who coolly supervised the murder of his own six children when he couldn’t bring himself to face the consequences of his actions. Josef Goebbels, a psychopathic dwarf with a club-foot and a bottomless reservoir of hatred and contempt for humankind.

It was Goebbels, like all sociopaths a cynic, who figured out how to create a new religion which would sweep aside the Germans’ self-control by exciting and enthralling them, inspiring them with overwhelming feelings of glory, destiny and superiority, inflating their bruised feelings of self-worth and offering them a new future, a utopian vision of freedom where they would be physically and spiritually united with countless millions just like them, to dominate the world for all time. They deserved it! They were – of course! – the master-race.

Goebbels’ cold heart knew what salesmen know: people make life-changing decisions because of what they feel, not because of what they think, still less because of what they know. His cold eye appraised systems which used emotional manipulation to achieve extraordinary behaviour: the exaltation of the churches and their martyrs; the atmosphere inside a cathedral; the discipline of the public schools and their inmates’ indifference to comfort; royal weddings and jubilees; the laughter and tears of cinema audiences; the wolf-pack instincts of football crowds. Cleverly, he stole visual and aural prompts from the worlds of sport, theatre and the military: bright light and deep shadow; crimson and black, the visceral colours; the sheen of gold; the flapping of flags, the beat of drums, the rhythm of marching boots, the sound of thousands of voices singing, shouting and cheering in unison…. the use of vast crowds to extinguish individualism and evoke the predator within, free of morals, free of responsibility, free of constraint.

The showcase for this mind-bending extravaganza was the Party-Day Fields just outside Nuremberg. Eleven square kilometres of limestone, granite and beaten earth for the ritual enactment, every year from 1933 to 1938, of the Nazis’ adulation of themselves. Parts remain. The city seems ambivalent about its brief sojourn in the Fuehrer’s sun: ashamed but also proud. Few of the buildings were ever finished and the remnants are interspersed with warehouses, race-tracks and sports fields; traffic grinds through on its way somewhere else, families stroll with picnic baskets, dogs trip over their paws as they race to meet other dogs. No-one seems to look up at the towering walls of the Congress Hall or down at the granite slabs of the Grand Street. The iron-and-stone personification of the Thousand-Year Reich is, now, just a place to wander on a sunny day.

Albert Speer, Hitler’s obsequious architect, was reputed to be a good organiser. But you will look in vain for evidence of architectural talent in the sprawling Party-Day Fields. There is no refinement, balance or aesthetic sensibility in the proportions or the detail. All is massive, square, clunky, crude. Speer’s ‘talent’ was to over-awe. He said that he aimed for grandeur; he achieved the grandiose. The Congress Hall, designed by local architects within Speer’s master-plan, is the largest surviving edifice. It is big – like a U-boat pen – but bare and utilitarian; a pastiche of the Colosseum on which it was modelled. Today it houses a museum where the introductory film intercuts clips of present-day skateboarders with scenes from ‘Triumph of the Will’. Round the corner are photographs of Wehrmacht soldiers shooting Serbian civilians in the back of the head; further on, pictures of the stone quarries at Mauthausen where 30,000 were deliberately worked to death.

The wall-surfaces of these huge buildings were clad in stone but the interiors were rubble and clinker. The soft-focus images in ‘Triumph of the Will’ give an impression of monumental structures, destined to last a thousand years, but most of them are stage-sets designed to last two weeks. We can detect here the values of Josef Goebbels: reality was irrelevant; illusion was all. Goebbels could hoodwink fifty million people, make them believe black was white, make them feel they were doing a good thing by shooting children in the back, make them throw their lives away in the slaughter of 1945. He revelled in his ability to deceive. He was a moral abyss with exceptional technical skills. He stands as an example of what an able human being can become once all humanity is stripped away.

We visited the Party Day Fields in an effort to understand the magic which the Nazis used to pervert an entire nation. It was possible to glimpse the role of size and scale in robbing the troopers and the citizens of their better selves; it was possible to dimly understand how the Nazis created feelings of excitement and exaltation here, using sets and props, lights, music and sounds, colours and gimmicks, drama and numbers, noise and movement, fear and awe.
Hitler, a mental midget, probably believed what he said. Goebbels believed nothing but had the technical ability and the moral nihilism to create a gross illusion, a crashing falsehood which ensnared millions of otherwise normal citizens who rapidly became blood-stained activists or silent supporters.

But it was a show, a performance staged by experts who were laughing behind their hands at the gullibility of the people. In the end, the scenery collapsed and the arc-lights sputtered out in a deluge of blood. The Party-Day Fields are as good a place as any to contemplate the gimcrack illusion on which the Twelve-Year Reich was built.


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Libor Stejskal, editor blogů (

Jan Mareš napsal(a):

Come on, attacking Speer for being talentless architect isn't very.... refined? Even the biggest leftie professor of architecture will include his work as an important and (for instance in Franco's Spain) inspiring 20th century landmark. And the Zeppelin Tribune isn't in the same condition today as when it was built ;-)
28. 10. 2013 | 21:39

šašek z Jihlavy napsal(a):

Interesting, but I think Lída Bárová may not have agreed regarding that horse-leged dwarf.
28. 10. 2013 | 21:47

babočka napsal(a):

Hitler měl štěstí, že už nemohl narazit na Československé legie.
28. 10. 2013 | 22:23

Realista napsal(a):

29. 10. 2013 | 16:13

Luftfahrtministerium napsal(a):

Try to find somewhere Aldous Huxleys famous Berkeley lectures. It is the second of the series (I think) in which he says, that he never saw such overwhelming talent at manipulating so different types of people.

Huxley is by no means the only only admirer of Adolf's gifts.
Table talk is simply table talk.
Do most of your house guests talk about strings theory while munching cookies?

The Zeppelifeld is a sad sight these days, especially after the amateurish redesign by some american army engineers after the war.
But try to find some original photos, I think even some film footage could be found of the night events, with hundreds of thousands watt in lightning piercing the sky and the torches in hands of the crowd.
They invented special high performance lenses at Zeiss, which allowed (along with hypersensitation through mercury vapors of the film) to take moving pictures of these night events.

Our architectural culture today still can be described by the verses of Malvina Reynolds.
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky, all the same.
Sometimes the boxes are bigger, but that makes hardly any difference.

milá babočko
snad vás ve vašem rozrušení uklidní ujištění, že místo legií narazil v mládí při pádu ze seníku na oj od žebřiňáku.
což nebylo o moc příjemnější.
29. 10. 2013 | 16:27

Realista napsal(a):

Adrian, glad to read your blog again our British blogger friend interested in military history-}
Have you read the book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" from Shirer ? If you didn't than I recommend it. Basically it an eyewitness account by an American correspondent in the Nazi Germany. He captures and depict the way the Nazis succeed in enchanting the entire nation quite well.
If you are interested in the topic of "psychohistory" or the mass psychology I have recently read a remarkable book about the origins that lead to The Great War - "Rites of Spring - The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age" from the author Modris Eksteins. Essentially it deals with the mass psychology of The German nation prior to the outbreak of The Great War. In the author's theory there was a widespread sense of the popular revolt of the German public against the "whiny" and "soft" French and British liberal bourgeoisie and a desire for a return to the original pagan/barbarian vitality of the Germany national character. The Great War provided an opportunity to the German will ego to transform the Western world.
The atavistic, ritual-loving, egoistic creed of the Nazi Germany and Hitler simply completed the process began earlier.
29. 10. 2013 | 16:31

Adrian wheeler napsal(a):

Dear Realista,

Thank you very much indeed. I will read it as soon as I can get it. I have not heard about the idea that Germany wanted to 'use' the First War to purify its national spirit. There are (as you will know) a stream of studies hitting the bookshops as the centenary approaches. Max Hastings is certain that WW1 was deliberately provoked by Wilhelm's Germany, Christopher Clark isn't so sure.

Best wishes,

Adrian Wheeler
30. 10. 2013 | 22:54

adrianwheeler napsal(a):

Dear Realista,

Since posting this item I have read a marvellous book by Philip Ball: 'Serving The Reich', which tries to explain how insidiously the Nazi maniacs subverted conscientious people like Max Planck and Peter Debye. Looking at the regime through the lens of its effect on scientists was, at least for me, an eye-opener.

Best wishes,

Adrian Wheeler
04. 11. 2013 | 16:50

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