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More background info:
The Zeppelinfeld ('Zeppelin Field') was the second largest area in Nuremberg
that the Nazis
drew on for their increasingly spectacular and monumental mass shows. The previously used venue of the Luitpold Arena closer to the city was deemed too small, so this larger area was developed. Eventually, these events were supposed to move on to the even larger "Märzfeld" (March Field), which however remained unfinished and was never used.
These events weren't really actually party rallies, by the way. There were never any elections, nor discussions, it was all just show. They were rather gigantic staged festivals designed to impress followers and intimidate opponents/enemies.
At the Zeppelin Field, these events were held regularly from 1933, after Hitler
had seized power. The first such rally was accordingly named the "Rally of Victory". The rallies continued up to 1938.
The field derived its name from the fact that it was used by Count Zeppelin for landing one of his eponymous "airships" here in 1909.
The massive grandstand, or central tribune, was built from 1935. Designed by Hitler's favourite architect Albert Speer himself, it formed the most iconic backdrop of the rallies. Its central hall was topped with a massive gilded swastika and fronted by Hitler
's "Führer's" rostrum, where the dictator would assume his authoritarian poses, while the top brass of his party were standing (or sitting) behind or beneath him.
The stands to either side were topped with rows of columns, apparently modelled on ancient Greek temples (the Pergamon temple in particular). Hundreds of Nazi flags would be hung between those columns during the rallies.
In front of the main grandstand would have been the field which could hold 100,000 participants, marching, standing in rank and file, performing gymnastics, playing with their war toys, saluting their Führer in unison, the whole works. The area was surrounded on the other three sides by more stands, for a total of ca. 70,000 spectators ... who even had to pay to see the spectacle!
The most spectacular gimmick the Nazis pulled off here must have been the famous "cathedral of light", created by 130 high-power anti-aircraft searchlights ringing the field at intervals of 40 feet (12m) which would aim vertically into the air – casting beams of light miles into the sky and forming a curtain of light of the most gigantic proportions ever seen, it was allegedly visible from as far away as Prague
. It even required its own separate power supply.
From 1939, however, when WWII
broke out ... well, when it was kicked off by the Nazis
by way of invading Poland
... the party rallies at Nuremberg
The grandstand survived the war mostly unscathed ... quite unlike the Old Town of Nuremberg, 90% of which was destroyed by Allied air raids. It thus fell into the hands of the invading US
army, who used it, their turn now, to stage their victory parade, even before the war was over, on 22 April 1945. At the end the giant swastika on top of the central grandstand was blown up – as a heavily symbolic act signifying the end of the "1000 year Reich
The colonnades flanking the central hall on each side along the top of the grandstand were demolished in 1967 – allegedly because they had fallen into disrepair and there was a danger they would collapse. The towers at the end of each wing of the grandstand were also lowered. One of the Olympic-style flame cauldrons that used to stand at the top is now used as a children's paddling pool at a municipal swimming pool complex!
Today the fields in front of the grandstand are partly used as sports grounds and as car parks. But the open area also regularly serves as a venue for open-air events. Some momentous concerts have taken place here (Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, etc.). Motorcycle races have been held here too from early on after the war.
On normal days skaters use(d) the grandstand to polish their stunt techniques and until recently the back walls were used by tennis players for practice … (this has now been restricted and new fences have been put up).
What there is to see: Primarily the over 400 yards long main grandstand – or what is left of it, which is still quite a bit. Of all of Hitler's "house architect" Albert Speer's works, this is the most significant in existence today. The characteristic colonnades have gone, as has the gilded swastika – blown up by the US army. So the whole thing may look a bit bare today, but its sheer size is still impressive. More so, of course, if you remember what it was used for in its day …
You can climb the stands right to the top and even look over what used to be Hitler
's rostrum. With a little imagination, it's quite chilling. Today, a series of text panels help bring the historical context into the picture too. Old photos help in visualizing what role the architecture of this place played back then.
Looking over the Zeppelin Field, you can see its perimeter made out by the former "normal" stands, now largely overgrown and disused, interspersed with short tower-like structures, which housed the toilets at the rallies. The field is partly used as a sports ground or for various events, such as rock festivals. (And in the background you can see the local football team's modern stadium.)
At the back of the grandstand, two sculptures made from weapons' junk flank the way to the entrance of the great 'Golden Hall' under the central tribune, which provided access to Hitler's rostrum. Inside the hall the exhibition "Fascination and Terror" used to be housed from 1985 until 2001, when it was relocated to the new Nuremberg Nazi party rallying grounds documentation centre at the Congress Hall
. Today the Golden Hall remains out of bounds.
Between my first visit in 2005 and my most recent return visit in late August 2012, the most noticeable change to register is that fences have been put up around the whole complex to protect pedestrians from falling masonry from the unstable parts of the walls. So you can no longer walk right up and touch them. You can still go up and climb the front of the grandstand, though. A welcome addition is the enhanced commodification for tourists in the form of information panels dotted around the grandstand - these form part of a longer circuit around the area comprising 23 stations in total.
to the south-east of the Congress Hall
on the opposite bank of the Dutzendteich lake, a good two miles (3 km) south east of the Old Town of Nuremberg