Prora was built to be a beach resort on the island of Rügen, Germany, known especially for its colossal Nazi-planned tourist structures. The enormous building complex was built between 1936 and 1939 as a Strength Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude or KdF) project. The eight buildings were identical, and although they were planned as a holiday resort, they were never used for this purpose. The complex has a formal heritage listing as a particularly striking example of Third Reich architecture. For the past 70 years, none of the hotel's 10,000 rooms have been in use.
Prora lies on an extensive bay between the Sassnitz and Binz regions, known as the Prorer Wiek, on the narrow heath (the Prora) which separates the lagoon of the Kleiner Jasmunder Bodden from the Baltic Sea. The buildings extend over a length of 4.5 kilometres and are roughly 150 metres from the beach. The coast offers a long flat sand beach, which stretches from Binz to the ferry port. This beach was thus an ideal location for the establishment of a seaside resort.
Dr. Robert Ley envisioned Prora as a parallel to Butlins – British "holiday camps" designed to provide affordable holidays for the average worker. Prora was designed to house 20,000 holidaymakers, under the ideal that every worker deserved a holiday at the beach. Designed by Clemens Klotz, who won a design competition overseen by Adolf Hitler's chief architect Albert Speer, all rooms were planned to overlook the sea, while corridors and sanitation are located on the land side. Each room of 5 by 2.5 metres was to have two beds, a wardrobe and a sink. There were communal toilets, showers and bathrooms on each floor.
Hitler's plans for Prora were much more 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 huge 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 giant 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, a cinema and a theatre. A large dock for passenger ships was also planned.
The designs won a Grand Prix award at the 1937 Paris World Exposition.
In late 2008, plans were approved to have Prora fill its original purpose and to turn it into a modern tourist resort. The council set out plans to build enough living space to house 3,000 people, as well as a youth hostel, and amenities for tourists. Kerstin Kassner, a local councillor, compared Prora's shore with a "Caribbean beach." However, the decision met with some scepticism from Binz locals, who felt that there were already too many tourists in the region, and Heike Tagsold, a Prora historian, who said that the town's past made it an inappropriate location for tourists. Nevertheless, in 2011 the largest youth hostel of Germany was opened in one of the blocks and has been popular. A possible expansion of the facility aimed toward budget-minded tourists has been proposed.
Construction began in 1936 and during the few years that Prora was under construction, all major construction companies of the Reich and nearly 9,000 workers were involved in this project. With the onset of World War II in 1939, building on Prora stopped and the construction workers transferred to the V-Weapons plant at Peenemünde. The eight housing blocks, the theatre and cinema stayed as empty shells, and the swimming pools and festival hall never materialised. During the Allied bombing campaign, many people from Hamburg took refuge in one of the housing blocks, and later refugees from the east of Germany were housed there. By the end of the war, these buildings housed female auxiliary personnel for the Luftwaffe.
In 1945 the Soviet Army took control of the region and established a military base at Prora. The Soviet Army's 2nd Artillery Brigade occupied block 5 of Prora from 1945 to 1955. The Soviet military then stripped all usable materials from the building. 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.
In the late 1950s the East German military rebuilt several of the buildings. Since the buildings had been stripped to the bare brick in the late 1940s, most of the exterior and interior finish that can now be seen was done under East German control. After the formation of the German Democratic Republic's (GDR's) National Peoples Army in 1956, the buildings became a restricted military area housing several East German Army units. The most prominent were the elite 40. Fallschirmjägerbataillon Willi Sänger (40th Parachute Battalion "Willi Sänger") which was housed in block 5 from 1960 to 1982. Block 4 on the north side was used for urban combat training by the Parachute Battalion and others. Large sections remain as ruins to this day.[when?] Also housed in the building from 1982 to 1990 was the East German Army Construction Battalion "Mukran", where conscientious objectors served as noncombatant Construction Soldiers (Bausoldaten) to meet their military service obligation. A part of the building also served as the East German Army's "Walter Ulbricht" convalescent home.
After German reunification, the National People's Army of the GDR was absorbed into the West Germany Bundeswehr, that took over the building. Initially consideration was given to demolishing the buildings, but it was later given landmark protection and a tax break offered to developers to renovate it. Parts of the building were used from 1990 to 1992 by the Military Technical School of the Bundeswehr. From 1992 to 1994 a part of the building was used to house asylum seekers from the Balkans.
Beginning in early 1993, the facility was empty and the buildings were subject to decay and vandalism. An exception to this was Block 3, Prora Center, which from 1995 to 2005 housed a variety of museums, special exhibitions, and a gallery. Between 1993 and 1999 the site served as one of the largest youth hostels in Europe.
Since 2000, the Documentation Centre Prora has been located at the southern edge of the fairground buildings. This center documents the construction and use history of the building. Discussed here are both the background of the project and its appropriation for Nazi propaganda.
Sale and redevelopment
In 2004, following more than a decade of unsuccessfully attempting to sell the site as a whole, the blocks of the building began being sold off individually for various uses. On 23 September 2004, Block 6 sold for 625,000 euros to an unknown bidder. On 23 February 2005, Block 3, the former Museum Mile, was sold to Inselbogen GmbH, which announced that the building would be used as a hotel. In October 2006, Block 1 and 2 were sold to Prora Projektentwicklungs GmbH which has announced plans of converting the buildings into shops and apartments. However Block 1 was re-offered for sale at an auction on 31 March 2012 and was purchased by a Berlin investor for 2.75 million euros.
In November 2006, the Federal agency for real estate purchased Block 5. With financial support from federal government and the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern it planned to establish a youth hostel in the building. Located in the northernmost part of the complex, it was divided into five contiguous parts. In July 2011, the long-planned large youth hostel with 402 beds in 96 rooms opened.
In September 2010, plans were announced by a German-Austrian investor group to renovate blocks 1 and 2 as housing for the elderly and a hotel with 300 beds that includes tennis courts and swimming pool and a small shopping centre. The investment costs are estimated at 100 million euros.
In spring 2013, developers began marketing refurbished apartments in the Colossus for as much as 700,000 euros ($900,000) apiece. Currently, four of the buildings are in the process of redevelopment, a fifth is used as a youth hostel while the remaining three are in ruins.
- Kaule, Martin: Prora. Geschichte und Gegenwart des »KdF-Seebads Rügen«. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-86153-767-0.
- Rostock, Jürgen, Zadniček, Franz: Paradiesruinen – Das KdF-Seebad der Zwanzigtausend auf Rügen. Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-86153-414-3.
- Spode, Hasso: Fordism, Mass Tourism and the Third Reich: the Strength through Joy Seaside Resort as an Index Fossil. In: Journal of Social History. 38(2004), S. 127–155.
- Wernicke, Joachim, Schwartz, Uwe: Der Koloss von Prora auf Rügen – gestern – heute – morgen. 3., erweiterte u. aktualisierte Auflage. Langewiesche, Prora/Königstein im Taunus. 2015, ISBN 978-3-7845-4903-3.
- Wolter, Stefan: Prora – Inmitten der Geschichte. Bd. I: Der südliche Koloss und die Erinnerungskultur, Norderstedt 2015, ISBN 978-3738632378.
- Wolter, Stefan: Prora – Inmitten der Geschichte. Bd. II: Der nördliche Koloss mit Jugendherberge, Norderstedt 2015, ISBN 978-3738629811.
- "Nazi Colossus Has New Owner". DW.DE. 2004-09-24. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
- "Mein camp: holiday retreat for Nazis gives Germany a hangover". www.smh.com.au. 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
- "For Sale: Vacation Condos With a Nazi Past". Businessweek. 2013-05-16. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
- Tristana Moore (2008-12-13). "Holiday camp with a Nazi past". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Prora.|
- Official Visitor site
- Björn Sahlberg's photos from Prora taken in March 2008
- BBC News article: "Holiday camp with a Nazi past"
- Inside pictures of Prora – July 2009
- PRORA – photos by Volker Jansen – Oct 2009 / Jun 2010
- "Germany Debates New Life for a Behemoth of the Nazi Era," New York Times, 20 June 2011