What are “Thingplatz,” I asked writing to friends in Germany. One wrote back saying, “I did a little research. They were part of the Third Reich, and no one will discuss them.”
Thingplatz are outdoor arenas that were to be used for Nazi propaganda causes. Many are still intact because they were a part of the Volkish movement. Most have been assimilated into their communities and adapted for rock concerts or musical gatherings. The current generation of Germans may never know the beginnings of these stone and concrete amphitheaters because of the political climate surrounding them. Many Thingplatz are vanishing back into the earth, and their passing is not only a cultural loss for the world’s historians but a unique architectural history loss. Unlike the treasured art and architecture of the American WPA, the horrors given us by Third Reich have increased rejection of the era’s architectural history until all interest is rejected.
The Thingplatz program was part of Joseph Goebbels Pre-World War II Nazi propaganda plan to bind the German population together. In 1933, Goebbels, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on 18th century romantic drama, had become the head of the Reich Minister of Propaganda. He had a thorough grounding in the volkisch-populist movement that had developed during the late 19th century. The German interpretation of the populist movement, had a romantic focus on folklore and the "organic." He used this back to the land, Germanic mystical movement revival of invented “native pagan traditions and customs…to reinforce a marked preoccupation with racial purity…that motivated the country politically,” Wikipedia tells us. “The völkisch ideas of "national community, (Volksgemeinschaft), came more and more to exclude Jews,” wrote Petteri Pietikäinen in The Volk and Its Unconscious: Jung, Hauer and the German Revolution.
"It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success,” Joachim C. Fest says echoing the sentiments of the era in The Face of the Third Reich. Many of Goebbels journey’s into propaganda were a great success, but not his experiments in the Thingplatz movement.
Geoff Walden, of the excellent site The Third Reich in Ruins writes, “In 1933 the Nazi Propaganda Ministry … began a movement based on the "Blut und Boden" (Blood and Soil) ideology - the so-called "Thing" movement. A Thing was an ancient Nordic/Germanic gathering of the people in an outdoor setting. The Nazi Thing gatherings were to be held in specially-constructed outdoor amphitheaters, called (in the singular) Thingplatz or Thingstätte.”
Goebbels first task as Propaganda Minister, “was to centralize Nazi control of all aspects of German cultural and intellectual life, particularly the press, radio and the visual and performing arts,” writes Walden. He arranged propaganda divisions, he hired heads of these divisions, and he insisted their first task was to “supervise the purge of Jews, socialists and liberals, as well as practitioners of "degenerate" art forms such as abstract art and atonal music,” says Hans Fritzsche in his essay Dr. Goebbels and his Ministry.
Next, Goebbels began implementing his romantic world view of “Blut und Boden” into the everyday life of the German people. In writing of a gathering of farmers in Der 4. Reichsbauerntag in Goslar vom 22. - 29. November 1936, Erma Günter saw this is not as a…“German gathering in a narrow sense, but rather its form and spiritual aims were an event of international significance.” In rural speeches, Blood and Soil became a core part of propaganda stressing ties to the millions dead in WWI. The purity of German life was tied to its soil, the health of the nation was tied to the blood and soil, as was women’s purity sensing…“that they would find in this ideal of the state, built as it was on the most ancient possession of a people, on blood and soil, their natural role as mother.” Each blood and soil program Goebbels built enlarged his fictionalized romantic view of an ancient Germanic mythic spiritual core that never existed.
At Ordensburg Vogelsang built in 1936, this was a private Thingplatz for the school’s cadets. A hillside seating area overlooked a semi-circular stage, above the sports field. Top today. Below in the 1930’s, the image shows barracks, the seating in the very center, and the round stage just above the sports field. Photos: Top: M. Heckler. Right: C. H. Schmeck.
The Propaganda Division began building outdoor amphitheaters which were to be at the core of the Thing program. The Thingplatz’s designers always attempted to use natural landscape slopes at the heart of their structures. Often incorporating rocks, trees, and other parts of the neighboring land around them, these Thingplatz, or Thingstatte, were to be gathering places for all sorts of propaganda meetings. There were plays urging workers to produce more, lectures on how having more children would benefit the Reich, or subjects like “The Victory of Faith” focused on the Nazi spiritual world view.
“The first was completed near Halle in 1934,” writes Walden. Over 1,200 of these Thing sites were planned, but Geoff Walden tells us that only about 45 were completed. They each differ in design but all keep the blueprint of the arena simple and focus on a clean and uncomplicated stage area.
Many have shallow seating areas dictated by the landscape. For example, the Annaberg Thingplatz has a two tiered gentle sloped seating area above a flat stage area below. This Thingplatz’s drama is intensified by a steep cliff background that was topped with the World War I Freikorps Memorial high on the hill above it.
In 1937 the second Thingplatz was built near Lübeck called Bad Segeberg - Segeberger Höhle, it was also build with a dramatic rock background. It is now the site of the annual Karl May Fest. Each Thing site had a similar, unique focus. The Bergen Thingplatz offered an ocean view from the island of Rugen. In Giebelstadt, the area in front of the ruins of the Florian Geyer castle was used as a Thingplatz. Each of the 45 sites offered something special to the area to catch the eye and imagination of the audience and pull them into the event of the moment.
What defeated Goebbels was the weather. The cool and wet, cold and cloudy German seasons do not encourage outdoor lectures or theater. Because of this, the Volkish Thingplatz sites were not popular with the German people, and by 1936, Walden tells us, most of the Thingplatz were used for festival sites instead of propaganda gatherings. Hitler did not discourage this fading away of the Thingplatz movement as he wasn’t much for the "Blut und Boden” philosophies.
The Thingplatz, as part of the Volkish architectural movement and not the classical, Roman inspired style, were truly works of Nazi architecture. Because of this, the history of most Thingplatz sites is ignored or reviled. Architect Leon Krier, writing about Hitler’s classical architecture style, says, “Classical architecture has become both the unknown ghost and the tragic victim.” These words apply to all of the architecture of the period even though the invented Volk styles have been assimilated easily into most communities. Jeffry Diefendorf writes In the Wake of War that Krier, “dares” his readers to “find a beauty in an architecture that has clearly and intentionally served to legitimize a political system we clearly despise” and now reject.
Third Reich in Ruins: http://www.thirdreichruins.com/thingplatz.htm
Wikipedia Thingplatz/Thingstätte: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thingspiele
Wikipedia - Volkish Movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%B6lkisch
Wikipedia: Nazi Propaganda Ministry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Public_Enlightenment_and_Propagand
Joseph Goebels wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Goebbels
Calvin Education - German http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa
Atlas Obscura: http://atlasobscura.com/place/heidelberg-thingstatte
About.com, German Weather: http://weather.about.com/od/currentweatherconditions/a/germany.htm
Opacity: Walking the ruins of the Heidelberg Thingplatz: http://www.opacity.us/gallery179_walking_the_ruins.htm