Geoff Walden


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KdF Resort Complex at Seebad Prora

     Among the most ambitious of the Third Reich construction projects were five planned seaside resort complexes for the Kraft durch Freude (KdF - Strength Through Joy) workers association, part of the Deutsche Arbeits Front (DAF) under the leadership of Dr. Robert Ley. In conjunction with KdF cruise ships, these seaside resorts were meant to provide affordable vacations for the average German worker. Although five such resorts were planned, only one was ever started, on the east coast of the Baltic Sea island of Rügen, along the beach at Prora. Construction began in May 1936, and the Prora resort had reached various stages of construction when World War II started in 1939. Completion had originally been planned for 1941, but the complex was never finished. In spite of this, the Prora resort complex was the largest construction project of the Third Reich that reached this level of completion, and the site remains the largest Third Reich building in existence.

   The Prora resort was planned to consist of two complexes - North and South - each consisting of four blocks of ten housing units each, providing rooms for 20,000 vacationers. Every room had a view of the sea. Between the two complexes would have been administration buildings and a large open festival square with an assembly hall at one end. The housing sections were joined by community buildings and swimming halls. The complex included plans for several restaurants, cinemas, sport halls, and other entertainment sites, as well as housing for workers, a rail station, and other necessary infrastructure (water works, electrical substation, post office, etc.). When completed, the complex would have stretched along the beach for almost five kilometers. A large quay was built at the seaside in the center of the complex, with moorings for the KdF cruise ships "Robert Ley" and "Wilhelm Gustloff."

   Need for construction materials for the war effort halted construction on the Prora resort, and it never actually functioned as such, although refugees from the bombing of Hamburg and other cities lived in the most-finished buildings in 1944-45. During the war the complex was also used as a training site for police and female signals auxiliaries, and as a military hospital. After the war the buildings were occupied by the Soviet military for a time, and then stripped of useable materials. In the late 1940s two of the housing blocks - one on the North and one on the South - were demolished and the remains mostly removed. The East German Army used the complex from about 1950 to 1991. During this period the Number 4 block on the north side was apparently used for urban combat training, and large sections were blown up (these remain as ruins today). However, in the 1950s the East German military rebuilt several of the buildings to house soldiers, and later as a resort for officers. Since the buildings had been stripped to the bare brick in the latter 1940s, most of the exterior and interior finish that can be seen today was done under East German control.

   In common with many other Third Reich buildings returned to the German government in the 1990s after years of military use, the Prora complex has had a rocky recent history. Some have wanted to tear it down completely, while others wish to preserve it. Several symposia have convened in the local area to decide the fate of the "Colossus of Rügen," and various parts of the complex have been used as a youth hostel, dance club, restaurant, and museums. In 2005 part of the museum complex was sold to a private concern, and their eventual plans for this part remain largely unknown. Since 2000 the site has been curated by a local preservation group, who maintain a Documentation Center and give guided tours (www.proradok.de).  (MapQuest Map Link)

Click here to see another Third Reich site on Rügen, at Saßnitz.

 

The artist's conception on the left shows one planned configuration; the architectural model on the right shows the final planned state, as designed by architect Clemens Klotz. These views highlight the ten Community Buildings (Gemeinschaftshäuser)  that separated the housing blocks and jutted out onto the beach.  (left - artist's concept from 1938, right - architectural model from "Bauten der Bewegung," Vol. 1, 1938)

 

The 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)

 

One of the Community Houses as it appeared during construction in 1939, and the same building today. This is the landside part of the building in the South complex - this would have housed a cafe and cabaret. At the distance in the left of the period photo can be seen the columns of the incomplete reception building.  (Archiv Prora Dokumentationszentrum)

 

The incomplete Pfeiler Halle (Colonnade) of the South complex reception center as it appears today.

 

The Pfeilerhalle columns were all square in cross-section, except for the two
in the center which were round, and had Egyptian-style lotus bud capitals.

 

One of the main housing blocks under construction in 1939, and as it appears today. All of the guest rooms faced the sea, with hallways and stairwells on the land side.  (Archiv Prora Dokumentationszentrum)

 


The complex under construction, about 1937.  (Bundesarchiv)

 

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.

 

The extensions on the land side of the housing blocks contained stairwells and elevators.

 

Only four of the ten planned seaside Community Buildings were started, and none progressed beyond the foundation stage. The buildings were to be protected from the sea by stone-clad concrete walls surrounding them back to an earthen sea wall. On the left is a view of the concrete foundation of a Community Building, with a view of its stone-clad outer wall on the right.

 

On the left is a period view of one of the Community House foundations under construction (looking from the sea side back toward the main buildings). On the right is a similar modern aspect, but taken closer in (standing on the outer sea wall).  (Archiv Prora Dokumentationszentrum)

 

On the left, the low building running between the housing blocks and stretching across the path would have been a sport and swimming hall. A Community Building would have jutted out onto the beach (toward the right) from here. On the right is a view of some of the buildings of the North complex that were never refinished by the East Germans. This would have been the general state of the entire complex in 1945.

 

This drawing shows the large quay at the seaside in the center 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. Below are two modern views of the ruins of the quay.  (Herbert Hoffmann, "Deutschland baut," Stuttgart, 1938); courtesy Mats Damberg (lower right)

 

The ruin seen on the left is all that remains of the Number 3 housing block of the North complex. The ruined section on the right is part of the Number 4 block on the North.

 

The Number 4 housing block of the North complex is in various states of ruin, having apparently been used as a military training site. These views show the construction details of the stairwells.

 

Further views of the damaged and collapsed stairwells of the North complex Block 4.

 


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Two other relics remain of the KdF Seebad Prora - this sculpture of a man riding a bull 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 never reached this stage of completion - only the head was finished. 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. The woman's head remains outside the Kraemer and Hofmann stoneworks in Ochsenfurt.  (Google Maps link)

 

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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