Built for 20,000 Guests The Third Reich’s Seaside Resort is Now on AirBnB
Prora is the name of a resort built by the Third Reich on the German island of Rügen. While never completed, the complex was intended to provide the German workforce with an affordable holiday destination as a means of maintaining morale and keeping them productive. Initially projected to finish in 1941, Prora was abandoned sometime during the the Second World War.
Known colloquially as the ‘Colossus of Rügen’ thanks to its enormous size, the Prora seaside resort was purpose-built to accommodate up to 20,000 guests at a time, and its construction was overseen by the KdF, a leisure organisation operating as a subsidiary of the German Workers’ Union (Deutsche Arbeitsfront).
Building the ‘Colossus of Rügen’
Use of Prora During the Second World War
The KdF was also responsible for building cruise ships for the German working class, which travelled as far as the fjords of Scandinavia and the coast of Spain.
Prora is a historically significant site for a number of reasons; not only is it the largest Third Reich structure in existence, but it is also one of the first examples of modern architecture applied within the context of Nazi design and aesthetics.
The Island of Rügen
Rügen is Germany’s largest island and is located just off its north coast. Prora is found on the eastern part of the island at Proper Wiek bay, and is otherwise a short distance from Binz, a resort town famed for its architecture and pleasant, sandy beaches.
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A popular tourist destination today thanks to its diversity of natural landscapes, resort towns, and beaches, the mainland of Rügen is known locally as Muttland, from which several large peninsulas branch off.
Understanding the KdF and DAF
To understand the historical and political significance of Prora within the context of the Third Reich, it is important to first discuss the organisations known as the KdF and the DAF. The DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront) was the German Workers’ Union under the Third Reich, and the KdF (Kraft durch Freude, which translates to ‘Strength Through Joy’) was a subsidiary organisation responsible for the ‘leisure’ activities that the German working class were permitted to undertake at the time.
The Formation of the DAF
In 1933, as part of his takeover and centralisation of power in Germany, Hitler co-opted May Day celebrations as a means of mobilising the German workforce with the assistance of Joseph Goebbels. In response to accusations that had been lobbied against the Nazi Party regarding their intentions to undermine workers’ rights, Hitler asserted that the revolution was on the side of, rather than against, the German working class in a speech delivered to 100,000 German workers.
Shortly after this though, Hitler ordered the Sturmabteilung, which was the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing, to eradicate what was left of the trade union movement in Germany at the time. Trade union headquarters were occupied, their funds seized, their leaders arrested, and their members were sent in droves to concentration camps.
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Hitler then assigned Robert Ley, a politician and high-ranking member of the Nazi Party, the task of establishing a new, centralised organisation responsible for the labour conditions of the German workforce, known as the DAF.
Just three weeks after the DAF was founded, Hitler passed new legislation that made collective bargaining illegal. His legislation also posited that, rather than allowing the German workforce direct representation, he would appoint ‘labour trustees’ who would be responsible for ‘[regulating] labour contracts,’ as well as wages and working conditions for German workers. The decisions of labour trustees were to be legally binding.
By this stage, the DAF was the only labour organisation allowed under the Third Reich, with a membership of over 20 million.
The Formation of the KdF
The KdF was subsequently established on the 27th of November, 1933. Its primary function was to organise the leisure time of the German workforce, which served the government of the Third Reich in several ways.
Perhaps the primary founding principle of the KdF was, as Hitler put it, that it was ‘…necessary to control not only the working hours but also the leisure hours of the individual.’ Doing so allowed the Nazi regime to exert a greater control over the populace, further depriving them of any agency, rights, or independence… but, under the guise of concern for the German people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Another foundational belief of the KdF was that, by ensuring that the German workers had time for recreation and leisure, they would, in turn, be more productive and efficient in their working lives. Naturally, this would enable them to better serve the state.
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In addition to building Prora, the KdF constructed cruise ships that the German people could holiday on. The KdF also built sports and recreational facilities, arranged evening classes and courses, art exhibitions, and cultural events, providing people affordable access to concerts, the opera, and the theatre in the form of generously subsidised tickets.
While it was never completed, Prora was the KdF’s most ambitious undertaking and is the largest structure the Third Reich has ever built.
Building the ‘Colossus of Rügen’
The first of its kind, Prora was actually intended to be the earliest of five sprawling seaside resorts built by the KdF for the workforce of Germany. The site’s placement on Prorer Wiek was ideal; a long, flat bay, Prorer Wiek provided not only ample space for Prora itself, but also for a jetty, where KdF cruise ships could moor.
Prora’s construction began prior to the Second World War. The resort was intended to be completed by 1941, but the project was eventually jettisoned during the War due to resource supply issues.
The resort was designed to contain both a North and South complex. Together, these two structures would be able to accommodate up all guests, with each and every room complete with a view of the sea.
Additionally, Prora was designed to include recreational facilities, including an assembly hall, cinemas, restaurants, sports halls, and a rail station. Key infrastructure would also be constructed on site, such as a post office and water works.
While incomplete, what’s left of Prora stands at almost 5km long today, and much of the complex is still intact.
Prora, Socialism, and Soviet ‘Palaces of Culture’
It’s worth highlighting that Prora’s design clearly served to underpin and reflect the communal, social element of socialism, which leaders and thinkers within the political system tend to highlight. While the extent to which the Nazi Party represented genuine socialism is highly debatable, socialist ideals were, at least initially, a core feature of the organisation’s rhetoric.
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By enabling tens of thousands of German workers to congregate, recreate, and relax together, Prora was obviously intended to reinforce a constructed sense of community among the German workers, which was key in keeping them receptive to the Nazi regime.
Equivalent to this are the ‘Palaces of Culture’ that were widely constructed throughout the Soviet Union during its existence; found primarily in Eastern Bloc countries, Palaces of Culture were even found in cities in China.
These Palaces were institutions were people could partake in various activities and hobbies, including dance, sport, arts, film, and so on. Admission was generally free of charge. Examples of Palaces of Culture include Energetik, the abandoned Palace of Culture in Pripyat, Ukraine, near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the Kulturpalast in Dresden, Germany, and the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland.
Use of Prora During the Second World War
Although Prora’s construction was effectively abandoned during the Second World War, the complex has served a myriad of purposes throughout its lifespan. Initially, Prora was used to house refugees from the Hamburg bombings of 1944-1945.
It also functioned as a training site for the police forces of Germany (the Ordnungspolizei, Sicherheitspolizei, and Sicherheitsdienst) during this time. And, at some stage, Prora was used as a military hospital for wounded German soldiers.
After the Second World War, the Soviet Army occupied Prora briefly, as well as stripping it of valuable resources and construction materials.
By the 1950s, the East German Army had acquired ownership of Prora and rebuilt part of the complex during this time. It was also used by the Army as a resort for officers and as a site for combat training (though presumably not simultaneously!). Some sections of Prora were blown up in training exercises conducted by the EGA.
East German ownership of Prora ended in 1991 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The structure was subsequently listed historically and has since served a range of functions. Parts of Prora have operated as restaurants, a youth hostel, and a museum.
Since 1992, the foundation NEUE KULTURE has worked to preserve Prora as a historical monument; an initiative that has gained the support of the European Union and leading German academics. However, this goodwill has been far from unanimous, with some calling for Prora to be demolished, being a remnant of the Third Reich and Nazi regime.
In 2019, some sections of Prora had been developed into luxury apartments. As of 2020 you could holiday there .Thus it has taken over 80 years for it to serve its original function.
This section now houses the Prora Solitaire, a hotel with apartments and a spa. Instead of the original 12.5 square meters (135 ft²) of the twin rooms with shared showers intended for the “Strength through Joy” tourists, guests now reside in luxurious holiday apartments, 28 to 120 square meters (ca. 300–1390 ft²) in size, with ensuite bathrooms and fully-equipped kitchens, notes Maike Grunwald who booked into one of the apartments for a week.