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05 May 2013

The World's Largest Hotel, Which Has Never Had One Guest: KdF Prora, The Mein Kampf Summer Resort (Photo Essay)

Secret Nazi files have been found that reveal how Hitler wanted his party to become the world’s largest tour operator with holiday camps modelled on the British ‘Butlins’ chain.

The long-lost plans for a chain of 'super-resorts' accommodating 20,000 holidaying Nazis at a time were found in the state archive of Greifswald in north-east Germany.

One of the papers revealed how the Nazis envisioned 'British holiday camps designed to provide affordable holidays for the average worker'.

The bundle of 62-pages outlined plans from Dr Robert Ley, the Nazi head of the German Labour Front, for the sprawling Prora resort.

The concrete complex on the Baltic island of Ruegen was the only holiday camp actually built under the project and stands to this day.But the 2.5 miles of empty sea-facing flats never had a single holidaymaker stay in them as the war came along just weeks before the first tourists were due to arrive. 

 Hitler: The leader wanted to create holiday resorts for 'the common man'

Seaside Resorts for the Common Man’ was the name of the scheme which was organised by the Nazi leisure organisation ‘Strength Through Joy' (Kraft durch Freude or KdF)

As the Nazis controlled all other aspects of society - work, hobbies, music, the arts, science, medicine, agricultural and food - so holidays became another human activity worthy of party governance. 

The Greifswald documents show detailed plans for formations of labour battalions in their tens of thousands to build the hotels along Germany’s Baltic and North Sea coastlines. 

The plans were far advanced and building permits were found in the archives which granted permission for their construction just months before the Second World War broke out in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. 


They detail how Hitler ordered the holiday communities to be virtually self-sufficient, with electricity generating stations and water treatment plants on site.

Juergen Rostock, leader of the Prora documentation centre, said: 'The plans are an invaluable addition to understanding the Nazi history of the bathing resorts that the Nazis planned on such a colossal scale.'


Artist's concept above shows the festival square and the assembly hall, which was never started. Visitors arrived by ship at the quay and proceeded to one of two reception halls (colonnade in the center distance) to be assigned to rooms. The complex was so large that a miniature railway would have carried vacationers to the more distant housing blocks. The drawing below shows a closer view of one of the columned reception halls (center) with a Community House on the left.  (Herbert Hoffmann, "Deutschland baut," Stuttgart, 1938)

A total of five were planned for the Nazis to take loyal factory workers on holidays where the entertainment was pure propaganda and daylight hours were to be taken up with Nazi-approved exercises, courses and talks. 

But the pages of documents show that the Nazis suffered from cost overruns just the same as today’s big-project planners.


Robert Ley, the leader organiser tasked with providing the labour battallions to construct the resorts, ordered that Prora, when it was begun in 1936, should cost no more than  the equivalent today of 25 million pounds soon soared to 750 million pounds.

In a memo a frantic Ley said: 'One must avoid the impression at all costs that an enormous amount of money is being wasted here that might be better used for armaments.'

But so determined was Hitler to become 'bigger than Thomas Cook,' in the words of one German historian, that funds were found to construct Prora and the other resorts.

The Nazis also approved the building of two cruise liners called the Wilhelm Gustloff and the Robert Ley to transport loyal party members on cruises that would end up docking at one of the five planned resorts.

The total concept was for 110,000 Nazi workers and party bigwigs to be on vacation at the resorts at any one time.

Rostock added; 'The documents show us that Ley’s ultimate goal was to have 14 million German workers a year holidaying at these vast coastal sites every year for a week at a time.'

Only Prora was built and the other resorts planned for near Hamburg, Wilhelmshaven, Bremen and Usedom were never completed.


 Under construction

Prora became the biggest white elephant of all time. Before a single Nazi worker claimed the beach lounger for his own war had broken out.

It was taken over as a Soviet military barracks at the end of WW2 and now the 2.5 miles of sea-facing flats form Germany’s biggest listed building site.

While parts of it house a museum and a youth hostel, plans are in the pipeline to realise Hitler’s dream 66 years after his death with the refurbishment of several blocks into luxury apartments.

But unlike the planned subsidised holidays envisaged for the 'small man' years ago, these will cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

This drawing shows the large quay at the seaside in the centre of the complex. A seawall promenade divided the beach from the housing blocks, with access to the beach either from steps along the quay or via the Community Houses.

Alongside a wide, sandy beach in Pomerania stands the world’s biggest hotel – which stretches over a staggering three miles and has 10,000 bedrooms all facing the sea.

But even though it was built more than 70 years ago, no holidaymaker has ever stayed there. Which begs two questions: where on earth is Pomerania and why was this mega-resort such a mammoth failure?

The geography answer first: Pomerania, once a duchy but now a region of eastern Europe, straddles the border between Germany and Poland from north of Berlin to the Baltic Sea.

 Two views of the Prora complex from the "Deutsche Wochenschau" weekly newsreel, from about 1941. The North complex is on the left - note the three foundations for Community Houses jutting out onto the beach.

It was on a leisurely eight-day cruise by river boat through Pomerania that I came across The Colossus, which Adolf Hitler intended to be his version of Billy Butlin’s holiday camps, catering for 20,000 guests every ten days.

Built in a sweeping concrete row, six storeys high, at Prora on the lovely island of Rugen, the hotel is still intact and strolling from one end to the other takes an hour. The sheer size of it is mind-boggling.

A workforce of 5,000 took three years to build it, starting in 1936, and the Nazis had long-term plans for four identical resorts, all with huge jetties where cruise ships could dock, as part of their Strength Through Joy project.

Hitler ordered fast railway connections so visitors could get there from Berlin and Hamburg, and among the attractions waiting would be Europe’s first wave swimming pool. But the Second World War intervened. Afterwards, when eastern Germany came under Soviet control, it was turned into an army barracks. 

Not the kind of guests Hitler had in mind. Since Germany’s reunification in 1990 it has stood mostly empty and bears the scars of neglect. Wandering round this strangely sinister and brutally functional building, I was struck by the fact that, along with the square in Nuremberg where Hitler held his rallies, this must be the largest surviving evidence of the megalomania that engulfed the Third Reich.

 Other relics remain of the KdF Seebad Prora - above is sculpture of a man riding a bull and was designed as decoration for the Prora complex, but was never installed. The work was designed by sculptor Willy Meller (who also had works at the Berlin Olympia Stadion, Ordensburg Vogelsang, and Erwitte) and executed by Wilhelm Ax, at the stoneworks in Ochsenfurt, Bavaria. A companion work of a woman riding a horse, below, never reached this stage of completion. These two figures were designed to be installed in the central pool of the festival square, as if they were rising up out of the water, hence the lack of finished back legs. When World War II brought a halt to construction at Prora, the bull rider sculpture was left in Ochsenfurt. In the 1950s it was assembled in a park at the north end of the new bridge over the Main River.

Now, a huge chunk of the largest holiday camp ever constructed by the Nazis has been sold for £2.2million.  Block One of the Colossus of Prora - built by Hitler in the 1930s along the lines of Butlins in the UK - will be converted into a 400-bed luxury hotel and 400 apartments.  The building, the single-biggest sold in post-war Germany, had a reserve price of £700,000, but telephone bidding at a Berlin auction on Saturday sent the price soaring.


Prora was constructed on the Baltic island of Ruegen by the stormtroopers of the Nazi 'Strength Through Joy' leisure organisation over a six-year period and occupies nearly three miles of beachfront.

It was meant to provide holiday entertainment for 20,000 of Hitler's hordes at any one time. But not a single Nazi ever got to stay there.

The last rooms of the 'Butlins-of-the-dark-side' were finished just as World War Two began in 1939 and Prora was left empty, the greatest white elephant of all time.  It was occupied after 1945 by the Red Army and became a top-secret Soviet base.

White elephant: The Colossus of Prora was built in the same vein as Butlins (above) in the UK, but it didn't even get off the ground as the outbreak of World War Two and subsequent defeat of Hitler left it empty

White elephant: The Colossus of Prora was built in the same vein as Butlins (above) in the UK, but it didn't even get off the ground as the outbreak of World War Two and subsequent defeat of Hitler left it empty

After German reunification, all the buildings were given listed status and a very few have been transformed into holiday flats.

After the auction on Saturday, it is hoped that investment in the remaining miles of accommodation will rise until all are given a makeover.

Initial fears that neo-Nazis would buy into the blocks have proved unfounded.

So far, there are a few luxury flats and a youth hostel in the buildings at the site 120 miles from Berlin.

Block One is nearly 1,200ft long and auctioneer Mark Karhausen juggled bids from least ten developers.

Nearly £5million has to date been raised for the government in sales of parts of the Prora complex.

After the war, the Soviets considered blowing it up, but discovered they didn't have enough dynamite for the job.

Sign of Soviet occupation

Instead they turned it into a massive tank-and-artillery base for the Peoples' Army of East Germany and it vanished from all maps.

A museum at the site chronicles the history of Prora which, aside from the building of the Atlantic Wall of coastal fortifications stretching from Norway to the border of Spain - intended to thwart any Allied landings in occupied Europe - was Hitler's biggest building project.

Vast: A section of the Colossus of Prora, which spans nearly three miles along the coast of the Baltic island of Ruegen, has sold for £2.2million at an auction in Berlin

Vast: A section of the Colossus of Prora, which spans nearly three miles along the coast of the Baltic island of Ruegen, has sold for £2.2million at an auction in Berlin

Derelict: The camp was intended to provide entertainment for 20,000 Nazi holidaymakers at any one time, but no-one ever stayed there and it fell into serious disrepair

Derelict: The camp was intended to provide entertainment for 20,000 Nazi holidaymakers at any one time, but no-one ever stayed there and it fell into serious disrepair

The Nazis viewed leisure as just one more aspect of human activity to be governed by the party.

Prora was destined to be the forerunner of a string of such giant camps whose plans were mothballed due to the war he unleashed on the world.



Knighthawk said...

Fascinating little piece of history thanks for sharing, even in derelict condition seems the bidders are getting a bargain.

AppraisHer said...

Obama administration to put in bid for Block 2. Perfect usage for Conservative Re-education Camps. Part of their re-education will include Conservatives remodeling their own unit.
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