Rügen's Prora

New Plan for Nazi Vacation Community Brings Mixed Feelings

December 18, 2008 08:54 AM
by Christopher Coats
Efforts to refurbish a sprawling development on the Baltic island of Rügen, originally meant to provide a vacation escape for Nazi workers, have brought memories and sharp feelings to the surface.

“The Colossus”

Built in the late 1930s, the expansive resort of Prora was part of the Nazi Party’s Strength Through Joy program, intended to offer leisure activities to members, specifically the working class.

Consisting of eight structures spread across 4.3km, the resort, also known as "the Colossus," was completed under the guidance of labor leader Robert Ley, and intended to mirror a similar British project called Butlins.

Meant to serve as an accessible and multi-purpose holiday spot for working-class families, as well as a chance to “spread Nazi propaganda,” Prora offered room for 20,000 just steps from the beach.

Ultimately, however, the development at Prora was never occupied in any significant way.
Shortly before the three-year project came to an end, Germany invaded Poland and according to the Guardian, the only people who ever stayed in Prora were families left homeless after British air raids.

Since then the site has been used by many others, notably as a top-secret military base and training center by Russian forces occupying the region following the end of the war.

Abandoned for years, Prora became a frequent target for vandals and virtually disappeared behind a wall of natural growth.

Reaction: History, not holidays

Recently, developers and the local government intent on making the most of the beachside resort have broken ground on a sweeping revitalization program, including hotels and a youth hostel, but have raised the ire of critics across the country.

“Prora stands for a perfidious social policy with which the Nazis intended to bring the entire population into line. Organising entertainment there is what the ‘Strength Through Joy’ program envisaged,” Juergen Rostock, chairman of the foundation New Culture, told the Telegraph.

The plan to transform four of the eight buildings into vacation destinations includes an investment of “80 million Euros to turn two of the other blocks into hotels, complete with pool area and 150 private apartments” and the remaining structures into a youth hostel, sports facility and hotel complex.

Reportedly intended to act as an indoctrination center as well as a vacation spot, some feel the buildings should not be enjoyed but kept as a reminder of the past.

“This is where the Nazis wanted to feed and entertain people, as well as indoctrinate them. It’s not really a holiday destination. I can’t imagine coming here on holiday, and I don’t think people should enjoy themselves at this place,” Heike Tagsold, a historian at the Documentation Centre in Prora, told the BBC.

The resort’s original intent and connection to the Nazi party are not the only causes for concern. Although the resort is located on Germany’s largest island in the Baltic Sea, providing 570km of coastline, locals worry that the influx of visitors to the sprawling development could disrupt Rügen’s tranquil setting.

“We’ve got enough tourists here already and we don’t need any more visitors,” a man from the nearby coastal town of Binz told the BBC.

Related Topic: Germany’s relationship with history

Germany’s relationship with architectural relics of their Nazi history has troubled many since the end of World War II, when allied forces made a point of destroying many structures in order to erase symbols of the past and to avoid the buildings becoming shrines to history.

However, with few exceptions, including the razing of the Spandau Prison in the late 1980s, the country has attempted to face its past by creating educational tourism opportunities.

In 2001, with funding from the European Union and the German Youth Hostel Association, buildings at the former concentration camp Ravensbruck, 50 miles north of Berlin, were turned into youth hostels.

Opinion & Analysis: Self-reflection a duty

This fascination with the past and routine analysis of the actions of German citizens in the 1930s and ’40s is a necessary responsibility for any citizen, wrote Michael Sontheimer in Der Speigel in 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the German defeat. Citing the rise of far-right and anti-semitic groups in some corners of Germany, as well as questionable comments from mainstream professionals, Sontheimer insisted that it was his and other Germans’ duties to remember and revisit their past to assure that history never repeat itself.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines