Tourists are terrorists.’
‘Kraft durch Freude.’
Silently I read the graffiti plastered across the crumbling concrete blocks that sweep across the bay, then disappear from sight. I feel an icy blast of history in this place filled with ghosts. I sense their presence behind the dark pane-less windows: ghosts that laugh through abandoned corridors, slam half-broken doors and whistle through the cracks in the concrete.
These are the ghosts of the colossus of Prora: the Nazi dreamers, the architects, the planners and construction workers; the victims of war – the maimed and wounded, the refugees, the displaced and the homeless; and the prisoners of war. They are the soldiers of the Soviet Red Army and the East German National People’s Army. They are the conscientious objectors of the old East Germany, the so called ‘construction soldiers,’ and the Neo Nazis that come here to pay homage.
Fitting then that the black heavens above me are clothed in the colour of mourning; fitting that the rain-saturated mustard sand beneath my feet is the colour of poison.
Welcome to the Nazi Holiday Resort of Prora on the island of Rϋgen, situated off the Baltic Sea. Here at Prora a long sandy beach stretches out endlessly in front of scented pine trees. It should be heaven – but it feels like hell.
The National Socialist Party were never afraid to dream on a big scale – buildings, infrastructures, countries, the world, even murder… their dreams took on monstrous proportions.
Prora was no different. In the years preceding the Second World War the Nazis planned a holiday resort on an unprecedented scale for its citizens: the FdK (Kraft durch Freude, strength through joy) initiative would provide the ordinary working-class German people with affordable holidays in beautiful surroundings, allowing them to return to their everyday lives and the workplace refreshed and with renewed vigour. More cynically, Prora was part of the Nazi propaganda programme, offering its people a sweetener for its less palatable policies. Ultimately, it would give its people the ‘strength’ to deal with the impending war.
Eight concrete blocks strengthened with reinforced steel were planned and built, each block 550 meters long and six floors high. The combined buildings had 10,000 rooms with beds to accommodate 20,000 people at any one time; each fully furbished room with sea view. There would be restaurants, a festival hall, swimming pool with wave machines, a nursery and a post office – even a large quay to accommodate cruise ships.
The main buildings were completed just as war broke out – but not one holiday-maker ever entered the resort of Prora. Hitler’s priorities now lay elsewhere.
Prora seems to me to symbolise Germany’s relationship to its recent history; a tainted dream in ruins that people would prefer to forget, yet tenacious. Some here would like to see Prora razed to the ground but this cannot happen as the buildings are listed.
It is literally impossible to take in the scale of this complex. The five surviving blocks are over 3 miles long and it takes one hour to walk end to end.
As I trudge along in the rain, crumbling brown gives way to pristine white. I have reached the brand new youth hostel, opened this summer with 100 rooms and 400 beds, yet only a small section of the original Prora complex. Even so, a sign outside reads ‘Welcome to the longest Youth Hostel in the world’.
Indoors, the hostel gleams white. Filled with light and splashed with primary colour, it’s freshly painted, welcoming and contemporary. As I cradle a warming cup of coffee, I read the hostel’s brochure promoting ‘tolerance, respect and multiculturalism’. Outside the rain ceases and the black clouds part just for a minute to reveal a small splash of blue.
Helen Moat has won a number of travel writing competitions. Read her travel pieces on her blog.
Copyright © 2012 Helen Moat