Cathedral of Light

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The Cathedral of Light above the Zeppelintribune (1936)
A German 150 cm searchlight displayed at the Militärhistorisches Museum Flugplatz Berlin-Gatow, 2003

The Cathedral of Light or Lichtdom was a main aesthetic feature of the Nazi Party rallies in Nuremberg from 1934 to 1938. Designed by architect Albert Speer, it consisted of 152 anti-aircraft searchlights, at intervals of 12 metres, aimed skyward to create a series of vertical bars surrounding the audience. The Cathedral of Light was documented in the Nazi propaganda film Festliches Nürnberg, released in 1937.

Background[edit]

Speer had been commissioned by Adolf Hitler to build a stadium for the annual party rallies, but the stadium could not be completed in time for the 1933 rally. As a stopgap, he used 152 antiaircraft searchlights pointed upwards around the assembly area.[1][2]

The searchlights were borrowed from the Luftwaffe, which caused problems with its commander Hermann Göring, because they represented most of Germany's strategic reserve. Hitler overruled him, suggesting that it was a useful piece of disinformation. "If we use them in such large numbers for a thing like this, other countries will think we're swimming in searchlights."[3]

Continued use[edit]

Though they had originally been planned as a temporary measure until the stadium was completed, they continued to be used afterwards for the party rallies.[2] A similar effect was created for the closing ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin by Eberhard von der Trappen with Speer's collaboration.[4][5] Variants of the effect had the searchlights converge to a point above the spectators.

Equipment and impact[edit]

The Flak Searchlights used were developed in the late 1930s and used 150-centimeter-diameter parabolic glass reflectors with an output of 990 million candelas. The system was powered by a 24-kilowatt generator, based around a 51-horsepower (38 kW) 8-cylinder engine, giving a current of 200 amperes at 110 volts. The searchlight was attached to the generator by a cable 200 meters long. The system had a detection range of about 8 kilometers for targets at an altitude of between 4000 and 5000 meters.[6]

Speer described the effect: "The feeling was of a vast room, with the beams serving as mighty pillars of infinitely light outer walls".[7][3] The British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Nevile Henderson, described it as "both solemn and beautiful... like being in a cathedral of ice".[1][3]

It is still considered amongst Speer's most important works.

...the single most dramatic moment of the Nazi Party rallies... was not a military parade or a political speech but the Lichtdom, or Cathedral of Light...

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b quoted in Martin Kitchen, Speer: Hitler's Architect, p. 35
  2. ^ a b Martin Filler, "Hanging Out with Hitler", review of Martin Kitchen, Speer: Hitler's Architect, New York Review of Books 62:20:36-40 (December 17, 2015)
  3. ^ a b c Speer, pp. 58-59 at the Internet Archive
  4. ^ Dietrich Neumann, Kermit Swiler Champa, eds., Architecture of the Night: The Illuminated Building, 2002, ISBN 3791325876, p. 47
  5. ^ Allen Guttman, The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games, p. 66
  6. ^ "The Cathedral of Light of the Nazi rallies, 1937". rarehistoricalphotos.com. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  7. ^ a b Kathleen James-Chakraborty, "The Drama of Illumination: Visions of Community from Wilhelmine to Nazi Germany", in Richard A. Etlin, ed., Art, Culture, and Media under the Third Reich, 2002, ISBN 0226220877, p. 181

External links[edit]