Visiting the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in spring 2004 was interesting for Tom, because he happened upon it back in 2000 and didn't realize what it was. To him, it just looked like a bunch of dull concrete buildings in one end of the city. Indeed, they appeared to be dull and crumbling, but they were once just a small part of a massive complex built as a symbol of German strength and nationalistic pride. It was there that the Nazi Party drew angry or disaffected Germans together by the millions to hear Hitler's vision of the 1000-year Third Reich. Its capture by American forces in 1945 signaled the end of the rally grounds' use. The Allies' De-Nazification process in the late 40s and 50s saw much of it disassembled, and the remaining structures have now been put to other uses. But the city of Nuremberg did not want to forget the site completely. Large signs were posted throughout the grounds to educate visitors about the site and the history of the Nazi party's rise and fall.
The grounds covered a couple square miles of Nuremberg's southeast. We got there by taking a streetcar from the main train station to the Frankenstadion, where Nuremberg's professional soccer team played. It so happened that we visited when the fans were cramming the trains heading to a Sunday afternoon game. The Frankenstadion was a modern facility that sat close to the middle of the grounds, near a parade field known as the Zeppelinfeld.
The Zeppelinfeld looked like a prison from the outside, as the first photograph suggested. It was the size of over a dozen soccer fields, and is in fact used as a soccer training ground now. The main tower had a platform on the opposite side where Hitler or other Nazi officials gave their speeches to the massed military formations below. The rest of the structure was a reviewing stand large enough for ten thousand to watch the parades. Since then, a wide strip of ground directly in front of a stand has been paved, and several hundred 18-wheeled trucks use it as a parking lot.
The second photograph shows concrete pillboxes built around the Zeppelinfeld. We never did figure out the purposes of these pillboxes, but they looked like observation posts for officers to watch over the crowds.
A paved footpath took us across the Zeppelinfeld and up to the Dutzendteich, the two large, beautiful ponds from which this chapter was named. The Dutzendteich once made up the center of the grounds, separated by a wide boulevard known simply as the Grosse Strasse. Where once it was wide open, it since became surrounded by tall trees, separating the ponds from the nearby urbania. The path carried us past a sailing club, a shop where one could rent paddle-boats, and a small permanent amusement park. The third photograph was one of several shots we took of sailors and paddlers enjoying the warm, bright Sunday afternoon.
Few of the original structures remained, but one that did was the Congressbau, shown in the fourth photograph from across the Dutzendteich. Looking almost like a stadium, this building was a convention center for the Nazi party. The original structure was largely destroyed, and the modern edition did not match its original form. The 'U' facing toward us was originally covered with a concrete facade not unlike the Zeppelinfeld's tower. It was patched up with red brick to its current form. The edge of the pond was just off the right of this photo, allowing us to follow the path up to and around the building. One wing was home to a museum -- the Dokumentation Center. We did not have time to visit it, but we went inside to pick up the brochures and take a break from the long walk. Dokumentation Centers have been established at several notorious Nazi party sites, such as the Dachau concentration camp near Munich and the Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden. Tom visited Dachau way back in 1990 and highly recommended it.
There were signs posted along the path with diagrams of the original layout, and it was clear how much the city has encroached. The far side of the Congressbau was once the site of the Luitpoldarena, yet another huge stadium. Now, a major secondary road passed through with streetcars and major bus stops, and the rest was converted into the city's festival grounds.
The fifth photograph shows the Grosse Strasse from the edge of the Festival grounds. Where the flagpoles currently stood was originally the site of two massive towers overlooking the two ponds of the Dutzendteich. The Grosse Strasse was clearly wide enough for massive military formations to march down toward the Märzfeld, an unbelievably massive parade field at the end, roughly two miles away. (The Märzfeld became a huge dirt parking lot for the soccer stadium.) The first time Tom visited the site, he walked the entire length of the Grosse Strasse to get from the parking lot to the city's autumn festival, held concurrently with the famous Oktoberfest in Munich. During our 2004 visit, a smaller festival was underway. With so much open territory available, might as well use it!
We returned to the small amusement park and food stands on our way to the Dutzendteich train station. The park was filled with families, with the kids having a good time at the games or in-between time spent on the ponds. The food stands were mostly ethnic, especially Asian. This modern happy scene seemed to contrast so much with the dark history of the Dutzendteich. It was as if the 1930s never happened.
That's not a bad thing. The buildings themselves, especially what few are left, didn't really tell the story on their own. Regardless of their former use, however, the grounds were an incredible architectural achievement -- a testament to nationalistic furor that reigned supreme during a difficult time. They were impressive monuments built in record speed. Thankfully, their original purposes had long gone away.
Trips taken 26 August 2000 and 16 May 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006