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Hitler’s forbidding hotel that the world never saw

Prora (Germany), May 6 (Reuters): Stretching along three miles of one of Germany’s best beaches lies the biggest hotel the world never saw — a forbidding hulk of 10,000 rooms built by Adolf Hitler as a holiday camp to ready the masses for war.

World War Two started before he could finish the resort at Prora on the Baltic island of Ruegen. But the scale of what was completed illustrates Hitler’s megalomania more forcefully than other famous surviving Nazi structures such as Berlin’s Olympic stadium or the derelict site of the Nuremberg rallies.

Locals call it the “Colossus of Prora”, now a crumbling concrete complex that stands deserted bar a few museums, a ramshackle cafe and a disco — a huge blight on a coast otherwise lined with upmarket, old-fashioned resorts.

“It was one of the biggest National Socialist building projects to be realised,” said Uwe Schwartz, who works in a local museum about Prora. “Hitler planned to build five of them.”

Prora was designed to provide cheap holidays for 20,000 people in one go and was part of the Nazis’ “Kraft durch Freude” (“Strength Through Joy”) programme — an early form of mass tourism.

Hitler was convinced Germany lost World War One not because it was defeated on the battlefield but because its population lost its nerve. His idea was to create affordable package holidays to help shape happy, strong, well-rested new generations who could see the next war through to victory.

The flat-roofed, six-storey concrete structure, originally divided into eight blocks 500 metres long, runs in a crescent hugging the coastline. Five blocks remain intact and usable.

The place has the appearance of a giant government ministry and is so austere it seems impossible that holiday makers would have had much fun there.

Yet the design won an award at the 1937 Paris world exhibition for the idea of a mass tourist resort and its modern architecture of steel-reinforced concrete, which has withstood sea winds and decades of neglect.

Each of the 10,000 rooms faced the sea and was to have been furnished with two beds, a sofa, wardrobe and a sink with running water. Only a few model rooms were ever finished. “The idea was to make living conditions equal for everybody,” said Schwartz.

Showers and toilets were in the corridors, but the rooms were to be centrally heated, an unusual luxury for the time. The whole Prora holiday package including food and accommodation was to cost between three and four Reichsmarks per person per day at most — affordable for an annual 10-day holiday given that the average wage in the mid-1930s was 150 Reichsmarks a month.

People would be told to bring a minimum of luggage — pyjamas, comb, toothbrush — because everything else would be provided, including soap, swimsuits, dressing gowns and towels, according to accounts of the plans.

“Organising people’s leisure played a big role in Hitler’s thinking. If he could control the way they spent their free time as well as controlling them in the workplace, he’d have an easier time making them go to war,” said Schwartz.

Jews were not allowed.

Building started in 1936 and was halted when Germany started World War Two in 1939.

The planned festival hall for 20,000 people, two giant piers, swimming pools with wave generators, shops, a school, power station, hospital, and even solarium halls with infrared lamps were never built.

Instead of accommodating holiday makers, Prora became a temporary school for Nazi police and home to civilians who lost theirs in Allied bombing raids on Hamburg and other northern cities.

In 1944 and 1945 it housed refugees fleeing Germany’s eastern territory as the Soviet Red Army advanced on Berlin. It was taken over by the Soviet and then East German military and was out of bounds to the public until German unification in 1990.

Today, Prora gets 250,000 visitors a year.

Most of its 6,500 usable rooms stand empty and the structure has become a huge headache for its owner, the German government, which has been trying for a decade to sell it.

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