Nazi Party Fuhrer (Leader) Adolf Hitler had decided quite early on to proclaim Munich the “city of the Movement” after he became Chancellor of the German Reich. He also decided that it would be the capital of German art as well, and so it became during the 12 years of the Third Reich.
The Party had been born in this Bavarian city in the south of Germany. An early Party headquarters had been located during 1920-22 in a modest building on the Sternackerbrau, and during 1922 until the breakup of the Party by Bavarian authorities on Nov. 11, 1923 the headquarters was located at Corneliusstrasse (Street) 12.
Following the official reorganization of the Party on Feb. 27, 1925 after Hitler was released from Landsberg Prison for his leadership of the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (Revolt), the new location was at Thierstrasse 15 in the building of the Eher Verlag publishing house that was to print Hitler’s first book, Mein Kampf (My Battle.) Six months later, Hitler moved it yet again, this time to Schellingstrasse 50.
Then, in 1928, the Party bought the old, spacious, patrician Barlow Palace at Briennerstrasse 45, purchased with funds donated by Rhineland industrialists Fritz Thyssen and Emil Kirdorf. The three-story, neo-classical building was renovated and renamed the Braunhaus (Brown House) after the brown color of the Nazi Party leadership cadre and SA Stormtrooper uniforms.
A swastika banner flew from the rooftop and Nazi eagles flanked the main doorway; there was a spacious garden in the rear, similar to the one (but smaller) of the Berlin Reich Chancellery in which Hitler’s charred body would be buried on Apr. 30, 1945.
Both Hitler and the head of his SS bodyguard, Josef “Sepp” Dietrich, lived there, and the Fuhrer also maintained an apartment on Prinzregentstrasse (Prince Regent St.) during 1929-45. It was there that his niece Geli Raubal died in 1931, and that he allegedly made love to her successor as mistress, Eva Braun Hitler.
Party propagandist Dr. Josef Goebbels—fretting over the construction costs---called it “The damned Party house---it will break our necks,” as he noted in his diary.
According to Peter Adam, “The flamboyance” of the plans “for a party not yet in power indeed bordered on the absurd. There was much earnest wood paneling on walls and ceiling…A large hall of honor displayed the ‘blood banners’ of the Nazi movement. A vast staircase led to Hitler’s office, with its portrait of Frederick the Great over a large desk. There were also pictures of Prussian battles…A Senate chamber was constructed, decorated with a generous sprinkling of swastikas, 60 chairs in red leather, with swastikas on their backs for 60 Senators around a vast conference table---a tangible exercise in empty rhetoric, since Hitler never intended to have a Senate.”
Later, he would have a Cabinet Room built in the New German Reich Chancellery in Berlin with similar furnishings and décor in 1939. The reason that neither were ever used was simple: the Fuhrer had no intention of bring voted out of office by his Party leaders as fellow Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was on July 25, 1943.
It was at the Brown House on June 30, 1934 that Hitler conducted the interrogations of arrested SA leaders as part of the Nazi “Blood Purge” of the rebellious Storm Troops.
The man who designed the renovations and then carried them out---as well as for the later Fuhrerbau (Leader Building) and the House of German Art---was Professor Paul Ludwig Troost ( 1878-1934), the Fuhrer’s first architect. According to Albert Speer---the successor to Troost and Hitler’s second architect---the worshipful Fuhrer referred to
Troost as “The Professor” and made daily visits to his walk-up studio to monitor his plans. Noted Speer in his 1970 book, Memoirs: Inside the Third Reich, “Troost, conscious of his standing, never came to meet Hitler on the stairs, nor even accompanied him when he left.” Hitler would copy this technique later as Chancellor when he received guests at The Berghof, his chalet in the Bavarian Alps. To be met and then escorted out by the Fuhrer was by then considered a great honor.
Professor Troost was born Aug. 17, 1878 at Wuppertal-Eberfeld in Westphalia, and made his reputation by designing the fittings of the German passenger liner Europa (Europe.) The Fuhrer, who was in reality a student of Troost’s work, was delighted with what had been done on the Brown House, particularly as he had worked along with Herr Professor in designing the architectural drawings and other plans. Moreover, Troost had joined the Party while Hitler was a jailed convict and, like his pupil, was also a foe of modernism in art.
His next assignment for Hitler was the two Temples of Honor in Munich for the Party martyrs of the aborted Beer Hall Putsch, and here their steel coffins, emblazoned with eagles and swastikas, were displayed outdoors above ground under an open roof through which the sky could be seen. They were the focal points of the annual commemoration each November that was one of the highlights of the Nazi calendar year of Party celebrations. They were inside the Feldherrnhalle (Hall of the Generals.)
After that came the new Fuhrerbau, an expanded version of the smaller Brown House. From one of its balconies Fuhrer and Duce (Leader) would salute the crowds when Mussolini came to town. It was here that the famous Four Power Munich Pact was signed on Sept. 30, 1938 by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Republican France and Great Britain that dismembered Czechoslovakia in Hitler’s favor, and gave the Third Reich the former Czech Sudetenland. Today the building is part of Munich University---minus the swastika and giant eagle once mounted on the frontage. The meeting rooms can still be seen, much as they were in Nazi times.
Professor Troost’s final commission from Hitler was the House of German Art that boasted a high Greek-style portico 185 meters long. Critics scorned it as “The Athens Train Station” and “The Munich Art Terminal.” The “Herr Professor,” however, was destined not to live to see his last work finished.
On Oct. 15, 1933, Hitler dedicated the cornerstone of the new building with a fine silver hammer designed specifically for the occasion by Troost himself. The hammer broke. Later Hitler told Speer, “When that hammer shattered, I knew at once it was an evil omen. Something is going to happen, I thought…The architect was destined to die.”
Dr. Goebbels made a joke of it: “When the Fuhrer strikes, he strikes mightily,” but it was no laughing matter. Within a very few days, Professor Troost was hospitalized with angina pectoris, and he died of pneumonia at age 66 on Jan. 21, 1934.
From his jail cell at Spandau Prison in Berlin on March 26, 1966, Speer noted in his secret diary, “I would never have become Hitler’s architect but for the death of Troost, whose designs he so admired…” Dr. Goebbels’ State Secretary, Walther Funk, told him “Congratulations! Now you’re the first!” Speer was but 28 years old and launched upon a meteoric career that would see him become one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany, serving two decades in prison as a convicted war criminal and then becoming the best-selling author of a trio of books on his experiences.
The influence of the late Professor was carried on by his wife, Frau Gerdy Troost, an interior designer who also worked on the Fuhrerbau. She told American author John Toland that Speer never met her husband as he claimed, but only came to his studio after his death. She carried on her husband’s work. She and Hitler thereafter had a remarkably open, candid relationship, and the Fuhrer accepted certain criticisms from her that he wouldn’t take from the male members of his entourage.
She was present for the July 18, 1937 grand opening of the House of German Art, for which color film was shot that is now available on video cassette under the title of “Good Morning, Mr. Hitler” from International Historic Films. She had completed the designs for the building in her husband’s stead, and on the morning of its debut, the Fuhrer and his aides reviewed an honor guard of German Regular Police drawn up out front. Dressed all in white, the female Dr. Troost accompanied Hitler as they toured the new Nazi artistic showpiece.
An ambitious exhibition of German art had been scheduled for the opening. Frau Troost had been one of the judges in selecting which pieces were to be shown. The judges made their selection according to artistic standards and thus many modern paintings were thus chosen, much to Hitler’s declared chagrin when he saw them.
The two had had a violent argument over this just before the opening day, with Dr. Troost standing her ground on the selections she and other judges had made. Noted Speer, “Pointing to a pile of rejected paintings, she said, ‘These are gray. They have already been refused by our grandmothers.’ The colors had all faded into a dull brown. Hitler pointed to a huge painting of a man on a hill playing a violin. Why was that refused ? ‘It’s impossible,’ she retorted. ‘Too sweet for our exhibition.’”
The argument grew more heated, with the Fuhrer’s entourage hanging back, but Hitler never raised his voice; he just grew more stilted and formal in his replies to her. Finally, Frau Troost exploded, “And since you can’t approve our selection, I resign this moment as a member of the jury!” Few had or would ever talk to Adolf Hitler like that!
He bade her a cool farewell, and then appointed his longtime court photographer Heinrich Hoffmann in her place. Hoffmann then made the “appropriate” selections of Nazi-approved artworks to be displayed.
The Museum opened with a massive parade through the streets of Munich, all of it captured for posterity on “Good Morning, Mr. Hitler.” The Fuhrer didn’t hold a grudge against the widow of the man he had admired so much, for he had also come to like and respect the female Dr. Troost as well. He again shortly visited her studio as if nothing had happened, proving once more that Hitler was willing to be argued with when he respected the person doing it. This continued, moreover, right to the last days of the war, as Speer recalled in Memoirs.
Over the years, the Fuhrer would continue to confide in her, even going so far as to deny any foreknowledge of the Goebbels-orchestrated Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) pogrom against the Jews in November 1938, asserting to her, “It is terrible! They have destroyed everything for me like elephants in a china shop…and much worse. I had the great hope that I was about to come to an understanding with France, and now that!” Was he only play-acting ? Perhaps we’ll never know for sure.
Even though she had taken over her late husband’s personal commissions, Dr. Troost did not get his special task of overseeing the responsibility for the new Munich. Neither did this pass to Speer, but instead to his great rival, Hermann Giesler. Initially, a trio of German cities were selected by Hitler for gigantic Nazi buildings that were never finished: Munich, Nuremberg and Berlin, and eventually there were added 27 others. The outbreak of the war and the subsequent destruction wreaked by Allied wartime bomber raids ended these architectural dreams for good.
The late Professor Troost had begun the plans for the new Party Congress buildings at Nuremberg later made famous in the films of the recently-deceased director Leni
Riefenstahl, but it was to be Speer and his associates who carried them out on the
“Nation’s pilgrimage site,” although they were never completed in full.
It was Hitler’s early mentors the Bruckmanns who had introduced him to the Troosts, and he was at first heavily influenced by their work before he had fully developed his own style, even though he had been drawing buildings for his new Germany from the Twenties. According to Speer, these drawings of Hitler’s reflected the neo-baroque style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse, a city he left in anger before the First World War as a dejected artist and to which he returned as a triumphant conqueror in March 1938.
“I first learned what architecture is from Troost,” Hitler declared to Speer. “When I had some money, I bought one piece of furniture after another from him…I always gave thanks to fate for appearing to me in the guise of Frau Bruckmann and leading the master to me.”
He called those who disapproved of the building of the Brown House “philistines” who thought it was all a waste of money, but from there he hatched his plans for the political takeover of Weimar Republican Germany. At Troost’s Fuhrerbau, Hitler would achieve one of his greatest “bloodless” triumphs of the so-called “Flower Wars,” designated thus because the people of the countries threw floral bouquets in place of bullets fired in anger.
In the autumn of 1933, the Reich Chancellor wanted the male Dr. Troost to redesign his private apartment in the Berlin Chancellery, but fate and death intervened; again, Speer got the commission instead. Before Troost’s sudden death, Speer was viewed as just an associate: “He was a famous man. I was nothing.” Unexpectedly, during an inspection trip, Hitler invited him to lunch to evaluate him more, and then came the fateful shattering of the silver hammer. It sounded both Troost’s death knell and heralded Speer’s rise.
The most recent coverage of Nazi architecture is author Frederic Spotts’ magnificent new work Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (2003.)
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