Cathedral of Light

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The Cathedral of Light above the Zeppelintribune
A German 150cm 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 effect was a brilliant one, both from within the design and on the outside. The Cathedral of Light was documented in the Nazi propaganda film Festliches Nürnberg, released in 1937.

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]

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.

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] The British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Nevile Henderson, described it as "both solemn and beautiful... like being in a cathedral of ice".[1]

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...

— Kathleen James-Chakraborty[7]

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. ^ Speer, p. 59
  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. ^ "Rare Historical Photos - And the story behind them..." rarehistoricalphotos.com. Retrieved 2017-03-01. 
  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

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