The Tragedy Of Megalomanic Holiday Dreams

Poster of Henners TraumIn 2008 Klaus Stern launched the docu-film Henners Traum, about the making of the biggest tourism project in Europe. The movie tells the story of mayor Henner of the small town Nord-Hessen in central Germany, who has the dream to build Europe’s biggest mega resort. Schloss Beberbeck, as the resort is called, is going to be 800 hectares big and contains five luxury hotels, a golf-course, a hippodrome, a big castle and some new villages. Henner’s rather megalomanic mission is to create a complete holiday experience at a place between Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin. A fairytale landscape is growing on the dark and boring acres of central Germany, meant to provide the perfect holiday for the happy family. For personal matters of taste I would never spend a holiday here, but I admire the ambition of mayor Henner.

The whole project took my mind back to a holiday I had two years ago on the Insel Rügen. On this rather small island in the East Sea I stayed at a camping site next to one of the world’s most impressive ruins, the Colossus of Prora. The two kilometer long ruin is amazingly sad and inspiring at the same time and therefore the most important attraction on Rügen, that’s by far one of the most depressive holiday destinations one can think of.

The Colossus of Prora
The concrete ruins are the leftovers of the most prestigious building projects of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The mega construction built between 1936 and 1939 by Nazi Architect Clemens Klotz, was meant to be a holiday paradise for the German working force. The idea was simple and taken from the Britisch Holiday Camps by Butlins, “to provide affordable holidays at the beach for the average worker”. The Colossus of Prora was designed to house 20,000 guests at the same time. According to the plans, members of Hitler’s NSDAP had the privilege to use this luxurious accommodation. In that sense the project was an important part of Hitler’s propaganda campaign set up to connect with the German people.

“Hitler’s plans for Prora were very ambitious. He wanted a gigantic sea resort, the “most mighty and large one to ever have existed”, holding 20,000 beds. In the middle, a massive building was to be erected. At the same time, Hitler wanted it to be convertible into a military hospital in case of war. Hitler insisted that the plans of a massive indoor arena by architect Erich Putlitz be included. Putlitz’s Festival Hall was intended to be able to accommodate all 20,000 guests at the same time. His plans included two wave-swimming pools and a theatre. A large dock for passenger ships was also planned.”

The Colossus of Prora is built but has never been finished because the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The construction of five similar relaxation resorts that were initially planned, has never started at all. During and after the war, the colossal construction has been used for some incidental crisis situations, but regularly it remained vacant.

After the formation of the DDR, some parts of the building were used as an ‘army holiday centre’, by the name of the ‘Walter Ulbricht Home’. Nevertheless, a proper destination for the complete construction has never been found. At this moment the building, that suffered from heavy vandalism during the last twenty years, is still unused and unaccessible. Graffiti on the walls shows the relics of some underground squatting parties (great location though). And a small museum tells the story of the building and ideological ideas behind its construction. Plans to re-establish its original function were proposed in 2008, but it seems to be quite heavy to deal with a building of these immense proportions. The ridiculous dimensions show to work under totalitarian conditions only. And indeed in any free market situation I wouldn’t advise anyone to spend a holiday on Rügen. The Colossus of Prora is worth seeing though, but doesn’t redeem the promise of its history as a sunny, bright and luxurious destination.

Schloss Beberbeck