Nuremberg Nazi rally grounds documentation centre

  - darkometer rating:  8 -

Nuremberg Congress Hall with documentation centreA modern documentation centre about the Nuremberg Nazi party rallies and the associated buildings, logistics and propaganda. It is housed in the most massive example of Nazi megalomaniacal architecture that there is: the two-thirds finished Congress Hall, a kind of Nazi-style Colosseum. This juxtaposition of a monstrous Nazi relic with a state-of-the-art modern exhibition works admirably well.
In my view, the this is one of the most crucial dark sites related to Germany's dark Nazi past.   

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: The Congress Hall, part of the Nazi party rallying grounds complex in Nuremberg, is a huge relic and the most important example of Nazi architecture anywhere. It was supposed to be a kind of indoor-stadium for 50,000 spectators under a single self-supporting roof.
Building started in 1935, and the horseshoe-shaped main outer structures were nearly finished (except for the top level), including the granite outer cladding and colonnades – giving the appearance of a Germanized Colosseum. Construction was halted at the outbreak of WWII, so what was supposed to become the auditorium remains an open space hemmed in by massive brick walls. But from the outside it's still an almost shockingly grandiose edifice.
In post-war Germany the future of the building remained somewhat uncertain for decades – but demolition wasn't really an option, given its sheer size. Parts of the interior were and still are used simply as storage space. Exhibitions were held here too. Plans to convert the whole structure into some kind of shopping or entertainment centre were rejected, and in 1973 it was given the status of a listed heritage building.

In the 1990s plans were developed for adding an adequate documentation centre, which eventually were fruitful and the current centre was opened in 2001. It incorporates in an expanded and modernized form an exhibition (previously housed in the main hall of the Zeppelin Field Nazi party rallying grounds grandstand) entitled "Fascination and Terror".

It's a rare example of a Nazi-related exhibition which manages the difficult balancing act of chronicling the logistics and the then popular attraction of the mass events that were the party rallies in an objective manner without either glamorizing or simply demonizing the whole affair downright. Instead it makes an effort to help visitors of today understand how the system of allurement and delusion worked and why. The modernity and scope of the documentation centre is truly impressive. Nowhere else is the psychology of the Nazi system of populism better covered than here.

This, make no mistake, also means that it is a very difficult place to get to grips with. Memorial museums commemorating the victims of the Nazi reign of terror actually have it "easier" in that respect, where the roles of evil-doer and innocent sufferer are clear-cut. This, however, is a site built by the perpetrators and it is about the perpetrators … and their (deluded) supporters.

Not only do you get the familiar Hitler poses and goose-stepping and all that despicable pomp, there's also footage of genuinely proud and happy ordinary people enjoying the sheer entertainment side of the rallies. After all, it wasn't all just para-military camaraderie but also a booze-fuelled funfair atmosphere. The Nazis understood the importance of games (and bread) just as well as the Romans did … It's at times hard to stomach what you have to take in at this documentation centre, but it's so very important.
What there is to see: The Congress Hall is something that cannot be overlooked even if you tried. Its size is truly massive, larger than Rome's colosseum, in fact. You can walk around it, even along the colonnades. These days you can also amble into the massive courtyard (which was to be the auditorium, had the roof ever been put on). A couple of information panels shed light on the background and on the planned finished appearance of the building. Most of the indoor parts of the complex, however, remains inaccessible to the public (as it is mostly used for storage by various companies).
The great exception, of course, is the Documentation Centre. This sits in one corner of the complex and is dramatically marked by a hyper-modern glass-and-steel front at the entrance. The Centre's main feature is the permanent indoor exhibition entitled "Fascination and Terror" ... or 'Faszination und Gewalt' in German (where "Gewalt" more literally also includes 'violence', 'brutality').

The exhibition is ordered more or less chronologically, starting with the beginning of Nazism in the 1920s, and ending with the Nuremberg Trials and the use of the Nazi party rallying grounds after WWII.

The use of forced labour, and building materials thus provided by concentration camps' quarries, is covered as well as the role Nuremberg played in the path to WWII and the atrocities committed during it. Inner-German resistance (cf. Munich) gets a mention too.

But the most disturbing parts of the exhibition are actually those that are pretty unique to it: the detailed descriptions of the inner workings and the psychology of the rallies, esp. when told from the perspective not of the propaganda's key players but that of the "ordinary" foot folk who made up the "masses" needed for the backdrop of the rallies.

Part of the exhibition is also a film, which includes exceptional interviews with then participants at the rallies – in addition to the expected snippets of Leni Riefenstahl's (in)famous films that covered the 1934 party rally in a style that was as ideologically glamorizing as it was innovative in terms of cinematography …(cf. Olympic Stadium, Berlin).

In addition to photos, text panels and the film, further audio-visual multi-media installations along the concourse are also employed. Information is provided in English too – including subtitles in the film and language choices on the audio-guides. Apart from English and German, the latter are also available in French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Polish.

Then there's the very building itself. The exhibition is housed in the bare brick vaults of the interior of the Congress Hall. But a particular architectural feature of the centre is its stylistic modernity that deliberately contrasts, even "breaks" the stern, pompous grandeur of the sort-of neo-classical Nazi architectural style. The tilted glass-and-concrete annexe on the roof (which houses the study centre) is one aspect.

Even more striking, though, is the spike that pokes out of the front of the facade and is internally continued as a walkway, diagonally piercing through the entire wing of the building. The inner-most part of it eventually forms a kind of balcony that hovers over the inner courtyard of the Congress Hall – i.e. right inside of what would have been the auditorium had the hall been finished. Unfinished as it is, you can only view the semi-circular bulk of the raw red-brick inner walls and the bare grounds of the "floor" (well, bare except for some bits and pieces scattered abut that belong to the storage facilities that much of the interior is rented out as). But the dimensions of it all are still impressive. The fact that this glass walkway pierces right through the older structure is of course of highly charged symbolic value …

Overall it's not an easy place to take in as a visitor, even as a die-hard dark tourist, but it's one of the most important exhibitions about the Nazi era anywhere. No wonder it was award-winningly recognized by UNESCO …
Location: about 2 miles (3 km) south-east of the Old Town centre of Nuremberg. Address: Bayernstraße 110, 90478 Nuremberg, Germany.
Google maps locator: [49.4341,11.1127]
Access and costs: fairly easy; not expensive.
Details: to get to the Congress Hall you can take a tram (line 9) or bus (lines 36, 55 or 65), to the dedicated stop "Doku-Zentrum". The nearest regional metro train (S-Bahn, Line 2) is "Dutzendteich Bahnhof", from where it is a short walk. If you're coming by car, there's plenty of parking spaces right by the Congress Hall. The documentation centre is housed in the north wing of the flat end of the horseshoe shape – you can't miss it: look out for the modern extension on the roof and the spiky "spear" poking out at the front over the stairs.
The outside of the Congress Hall and its colonnades are freely accessible at all times, and so is the inner courtyard, these days: To get to the latter you have to walk round the northern side of the building and take the access road branching off in front of a part of the building that is now used as an auditorium for Nuremberg's symphony orchestra. Inside the vast semi-circular area of the courtyard you can now also see the viewing platform of the documentation centre from below.
Admission to the documentation centre's exhibition is 5 EUR (concessions apply e.g. to students, or holders of the city of Nuremberg's visitor card schemes). The price includes the (obligatory) audio-guide.
Opening times: Mondays to Fridays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., at weekends from 10 a.m. (last admission an hour before closing time).
Time required: The officially recommended visiting time is two hours, which seems about right. Theoretically you could spend even longer here, if you really want to study everything in great detail – but by the same token, if you're already familiar with parts of the relevant history, you can be more selective and just concentrate on the parts that set this exhibition apart from others.  
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see Nuremberg – the remains of the Zeppelin Field Nazi party rallying grounds are just south of the Congress Hall on the other side of the lake. If you walk around the west side of the lake you'd use the Great Road. In any case, it is recommended that you go and see the documentation centre first before exploring the other parts of the complex – it just gives the visitor the right context to get more out of those otherwise rather silent relics.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Nuremberg.
  • 01 - entrance area of the documentation centre01 - entrance area of the documentation centre
  • 02 - in the north wing02 - in the north wing
  • 03 - aerial view and explanation03 - aerial view and explanation
  • 04 - walkway through the building04 - walkway through the building
  • 05 - poking out at the rear05 - poking out at the rear
  • 06 - photo of the inside on a panel06 - photo of the inside on a panel
  • 07 - driveway to the courtyard07 - driveway to the courtyard
  • 08 - inside the inner courtyard08 - inside the inner courtyard
  • 09 - artist impression of what the auditorium was to look like09 - artist impression of what the auditorium was to look like
  • 10 - today most parts are used for storage10 - today most parts are used for storage
  • 11 - outer facade11 - outer facade
  • 12 - colonnade12 - colonnade
  • 13 - Congress Hall with fun fair in front13 - Congress Hall with fun fair in front
  • 14 - Nuremberg Congress Hall from afar14 - Nuremberg Congress Hall from afar

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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