Today I am starting a new phase of research, as my novel moves from the Isle of Man and back to Germany. My knowledge is having to move on as well from where I left it, in 1939. Now, it is 1944. There has been a lot of water under a lot of damaged bridges while I’ve been beavering away, writing about kippers and barbed wire.
My character is currently on a repatriation ship, the SS Drottningholm, which worked throughout the war trying very hard to get people where they wanted to be or where they would have been, were it not for war. When female internees left the Isle of Man in 1944, they sailed to Gothenberg and then to the Isle of Rugen, northernmost point of Germany. The island is a very popular beach destination with Germans and has been throughout its history; it is also where Nazis of the future were meant to have their “paid vacations”. The two-and-a-half-mile long resort now rots in Prora. It was unfinished, due to the war, and even the Russians couldn’t make a dent in all the concrete. Nazi architecture, unlike their politics, were designed to last. You can see some wonderfully evocative photos on Martin van den Bogaerdt’s Panoramio site:
I am interested in architecture and how buildings are destroyed by war, but also in how the uses of buildings change as a consequence of war or party politics. I have written before about Nazi pageantry, but I was interested today to find references to Thingplatze, newly-built outdoor amphitheatres designed to simulate/recreate ancient Nordic pagan gatherings called Things. This project was the brainchild of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, but Hitler wasn’t a huge fan of it. That is probably why only 40 were built out of the 1200 planned. There is one such Thingplatz on the Isle of Rugen, at the capital, Bergen, according to the marvelous Third Reich Ruins site. (The photo comes from their site, too.) It was used primarily by Hitler Youth groups and still exists. There is also one in Berlin, where my character is ultimately headed. I have seen it before, of course, as it was used as an amphitheatre during the 1936 Olympics. The Dietrich-Eckart-Buhne is now called the Waldbuhne and is used primarily for rock concerts, which might be yet another attempt to simulate and recreate an ancient pagan gathering. Unless they’re showing David Hassellhof.
One mustn’t be a slave to research, and really, you can’t cram in everything you stumble across unless you’re aiming at a travel guide. And I never know what I am looking for until it shouts at me, makes me see it. Somewhere in these ruins, these creations, these pageants is the palpable, beating soul of a people who both intrigue and horrify me. I am trying to look right at them, to see what I can see.