Nazi Party Rally Grounds
Nuremberg's Nazi Party rally grounds could get a $90 million makeover, despite the fact that many in the area want it destroyed. wikicommons

Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 propaganda film “Triumph of the Will” has been called one of the greatest cinematic achievements in history, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries and commercials to this day -- despite the fact that it celebrates the rise of the Nazi Party. Now, the Nuremberg rally grounds featured in that haunting documentary are set for a multimillion-dollar restoration.

Like the film -- which is simultaneously reviled for turning Adolf Hitler into a virtual demigod and admired for its artistic merit -- the revitalization of the Nazi Party rally grounds, too, is marred in controversy. It is, after all, the place where Hitler once addressed thousands of Nazi faithful and galvanized the nation behind his regime.

The 11-square-kilometer (4.25-square-mile) site, located in the outskirts of the Bavarian city, includes the Zeppelin Tribune, a 360 meter-wide (1,180-foot) construction from which Hitler once looked out over his uniformed ranks. Underneath its main hall lies the mosaic-covered Golden Hall, where the Führer held many private meetings.

Nazi minister Albert Speer designed the now-decaying complex with the grandeur of classical Roman architecture in mind. Yet Hitler’s favorite architect was unable to finish several facets of the grounds following the outbreak of World War II, including his plans for the world’s biggest stadium. Moreover, Allied soldiers defaced much of the architecture at the war’s end.

Developers further destroyed a large swath of the complex in the 1960s to make way for housing, though the site’s protected status will prevent any more demolition. Inaction is not an alternative either. Officials say some of the crumbling structures that remain are in danger of completely collapsing if restoration work does not begin soon. Meanwhile, further deterioration could force the government to seal off the area for safely reasons, dealing a blow to the 200,000-odd tourists (mostly foreign) who visit each year.

Officials said this week that they plan to survey the site in the coming months to establish the final cost of restoration by early next year. Initial estimates put the project at about 70 million euro ($92 million).

The Nazi Party rally ground’s future has raised questions about the ethics of preserving sites associated with the Hitler regime -- about whether they’re a necessary reminder needed to prevent such atrocities from happening again, or whether they’re relics of a part of history best left to textbooks.

Nuremberg Mayor Ulrich Maly told the Süddeutsche Zeitung Sunday that the state of the rally grounds had left the city council with few options. Leaving the site as is would require fencing it off, while demolishing the buildings “would provoke international outrage -- so we are going to renovate the complex.”

He was careful to point out that the city would leave the postwar graffiti, and had no intention of bringing the structure back to its former glory. “This is not about beautification,” Maly noted. “We will not be looking for original-style sandstone.” Instead, the site will likely resemble other Nazi constructions, like the Dachau concentration camp, which have now been memorialized as a place of historical learning and remembrance.

This will no doubt please foreigners who frequently visit World War II sites on trips to Germany. However, Maly said many residents in the area -- ashamed of their city’s ties to German history’s darkest chapter -- would simply prefer to let the rally grounds crumble into dust to “symbolize the passing of an era.”