Loading...

Background

Old and new rub shoulders: is Prora leaving its history behind? © NOW Collective / Nico Weber

It is hard to imagine a more forceful symbol of the turbulent history of Germany over the past near-century. Here are the powerful ideas and ideologies that gripped Germany and the whole of Europe in the past hundred years: the racist delusions of fascism, the rise of socialism, world revolution and class struggle; capitalism, individualism and the power of money. The battle between social and economic systems of the 20th century is ingrained in the very stones of Prora.

The film INSIDE PRORA approaches this focal point of our history in a new and unusual way. Instead of following the common principle of linear historical documentaries, it resembles a journey into the unknown. INSIDE PRORA is a cinematic essay that revolves around this unusual architectural structure. It changes our perspective of this unique place. The film does not speak of Prora; instead, the building itself speaks to us, draws us into its spell, captures us, leaves us with a web of very diverse narrative strands, with individual truths and confusions.

The longest building in the world: five of the original eight blocks are still standing. © NOW Collective / Nico Weber

Prora’s size matters just because of the enormity of the scale. We're talking about a structure that is still one of the largest in the world. I think the propaganda of the building, in a certain way, is inescapable. And what I mean by that is architecture is inherently political. And the politics are embedded in the walls.

Justinian Jampol Historian, founder of the "Wende-Museum" in Los Angeles

Prora’s size matters just because of the enormity of the scale. We're talking about a structure that is still one of the largest in the world. I think the propaganda of the building, in a certain way, is inescapable. And what I mean by that is architecture is inherently political. And the politics are embedded in the walls.

Justinian Jampol Historian, founder of the "Wende-Museum" in Los Angeles

For the first time, film director Nico Weber has made the longest building in the world the protagonist of a feature-length film. INSIDE PRORA is cinema at its best, forswearing a narrative voice. The film offers no certainties, but presents multilayered insights into the building. It leaves us fascinated and full of questions: about history, about the future, about heaven and hell, and about ourselves.

INSIDE PRORA feels its way through the gigantic labyrinth, seeming to lose itself in space and time and between different people. And yet the film always returns to Prora at its centre, like a magnet, leaving a wake of people and their lifelines that connect with the building and its history. INSIDE PRORA excavates and exposes stories on multiple levels: historical, aesthetic and psychological.

The work captivates us, with a constantly shifting narrative perspective and a camera view that moves in closely before zooming out again. INSIDE PRORA consciously seeks to communicate its own visual experience by connecting and correlating images and events that seem disparate at first, yet are linked by identifiable connections at second glance. A kaleidoscope falls into place as the whole picture. The film goes in search of references and connections through the historical layers, between people and places. It casts an international net in investigating similarities and parallels to Prora and the transformations undergone by the place.

The “colossus” is not all that is being renovated. Prora is being rebuilt as a resort. © NOW Collective / Nico Weber

Prora is the largest architectural denazification project of all times. Prora has ultimately become my life’s work.

Ulrich Busch First project developer in Prora

Prora is the largest architectural denazification project of all times. Prora has ultimately become my life’s work.

Ulrich Busch First project developer in Prora

For the first time, INSIDE PRORA sheds light on major historical lines of development such as transnational mass tourism, which was anticipated in Prora on a more monumental scale than in any other place, although Prora itself was destined for a different fate. Affordable holidays for the working class were a social issue at the time. The plans for Prora received the Grand Prix at the Paris World’s Fair of 1937, a design that chimed with the spirit of the age. So much holiday accommodation in one place, and so affordable; it impressed architects, politicians and travel companies alike.

At that time, the world did not grasp the symbolism present at the World’s Fair. The two biggest pavilions – the communist Soviet Union on the one hand, National Socialist Germany on the other – faced each other in looming, martial confrontation. Both dictatorships, by then the most powerful countries in Europe, sought to demonstrate which was the number one. Paris in 1937 was also a propaganda battle between the perspectives of two systems. A “war of the palaces” which anticipated the Second World War.

INSIDE PRORA also reveals that Prora was not a German invention. Mussolini’s seaside holiday camps on the Mediterranean coast, each housing a few thousand children, were an important inspiration for the German Nazi leisure organization Kraft durch Freude (KdF; “Strength Through Joy”). Is it possible that a deep-rooted yearning of the Germans for Italy was manifested in the stones of Prora? Was Prora a promise of paradise on earth, of sun, sea and sand? After the war this strange place in the east of Germany slipped into oblivion as a holiday destination as the population of booming West Germany set out to cross the Alps to the promised land of their vacations – Italy.

Colonia Marina Varese, Cervia (south of Ravenna) was a model for Prora: the National Socialists drew inspiration from Mussolini’s children’s holiday homes. © NOW Collective / Nico Weber
Colonia Rosa Maltoni near Pisa © NOW Collective / Nico Weber

You are in the army of the workers, and then you are in the army of the tourists – and you are subject to the same principles of organization. Thus, you are a tourist soldier.

Marco D’Eramo Writer and social philosopher, Rome

You are in the army of the workers, and then you are in the army of the tourists – and you are subject to the same principles of organization. Thus, you are a tourist soldier.

Marco D’Eramo Writer and social philosopher, Rome

The gigantic scale of the planned KdF seaside resort on Rügen also reveals something of the history of modern architecture. This place is hardly conceivable without the “linear city” concept of 19th-century Russian architects, delivering inspiration for the innovations of the Bauhaus and the great utopias of Le Corbusier. In architectural and conceptual terms, the “Colossus of Rügen” falls within the logic of New York’s skyscrapers: Prora, the horizontal skyscraper.

In the Cold War that followed the searing heat of the Second World War, Prora had no chance as a civilian location. The second dictatorship experienced by Germany after Hitler’s regime, this time in the east of the country, identified the gigantic und durchskalierten building as potentially useful for military purposes. The GDR National People’s Army was quartered here and repurposed “the Führer’s block” for its own ends. And further, the SED dictatorship developed the barracks into a strategically important element in the conflict between the socialist and capitalist systems. It was where East German military officers trained armed forces from neighbouring allies for the battle against “global imperialism”.
But Prora would not be Prora if it did not have a further paradox up its sleeve. At the same time, the GDR was using the buildings as accommodation for “construction soldiers” and conscientious objectors – the very “subversive” enemies of the state that would help to bring about the end of the GDR in 1989.

INSIDE PRORA reveals surprising connections with the building between people and societies; on its travels, the camera captures people that have unique and special links with the place.

 

Star-Architekt Peter Eisenman (New York) im Gespräch. © NOW Collective.
© NOW Collective / Nico Weber

Like top architect Peter Eisenman, an American with Jewish roots who designed the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. One of the most important cultural critics of today’s architecture, he calls for a return to the architectural modernity of the 1920s and 1930s. For him, this also included Italian architects who built new, pioneering seaside resorts and spa centres on Mussolini’s order. Eisenman, too, cannot escape the fascination of these aesthetically beautiful and rationalistically simple buildings.

DDR-Bürgerrechtler und letzter Verteidigungsminister Rainer Eppelmann im ehemaligen Staatsratsgebäude in Berlin. © NOW Collective.
© NOW Collective / Nico Weber

Like Rainer Eppelmann. The pastor and last Defence Minister of the German Democratic Republic, serving in the country’s first and only freely elected government, wound up the GDR National People’s Army in Prora. As a young man Eppelmann refused to serve in the military or to swear allegiance to the GDR because of his father’s SS membership and the Hitler regime; as a result, he spent time in prison and subjected to state harassment by the GDR.

Marco d'Eramo (Rom) im Interview. © NOW Collective.
© NOW Collective / Nico Weber

Like Marco d´Eramo. The Italian social philosopher and author is the son of Luce d’Eramo, an Italian writer and adherent of Fascism; his father, a scholar, was also a follower of Mussolini. For left-wing D´Eramo, examination of the genesis of Fascism is also an exploration of his own family history. He maps surprising lines of connection from Mussolini’s Italian holiday colonies to Prora and beyond to the skyscrapers of the Western world, perceiving them as a demonstration of power that degrade people to nameless ants.

Immobilie-Projektentwickler Ulrich Busch im Interview. © NOW Collective.
© NOW Collective / Nico Weber

And like Prora project developer Ulrich Busch. The son of Ernst Busch, communist singer of workers’ songs and GDR actor, he views Prora as his life’s work. Ernst Busch was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who was captured by the Nazis and narrowly escaped execution. After the Second World War, he decided to build a new and better anti-Fascist Germany in the GDR. Today his son is unleashing the forces of capitalism in Prora.

Justinian Jampol, Historiker und Direktor der Wende-Museums in Los Angeles im Interview. © NOW Collective.
© NOW Collective / Nico Weber

The confusions and contradictions are seemingly endless. US historian Justinian Jampol, founder of the “Wende Museum” in Los Angeles, cuts through the complexity with the bald perspective that history is complex because people are complex. Perhaps the fact that he is several thousand kilometres away from Germany helps him to approach the mass of contradictions that is Prora with an unbiased eye. He has studied the post-war and reunification period in Germany and Eastern Europe in depth; he collected socialist art and the objects of daily life that people in East Germany and Eastern Europe were eager to cast off after 1990, and presents them today in his museum. And he talks about our history and the history of Prora, subjects that many Germans still prefer to suppress.

© NOW Collective / Nico Weber

Further prestigious international experts add their ideas to this examination of the Colossus of Rügen, including US tourism expert and historian Eric Zuelow and Italian architecture critic and expert on modern city planning, Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani.

Despite this wealth of specialist expertise, INSIDE PRORA primarily seeks to create scope for personal associations and emotions. The film allows itself and the audience to play with completely new thoughts: Is Prora the happy ending to a story that has been overcome? Is Prora the irony of history – or its triumph? What does this place tell us about ourselves, about violence, hate, oppression, hope?

INSIDE PRORA is timeless. Like the buildings of Prora, it will outlast us and provide future generations with insight into our deeper selves. INSIDE PRORA is the creation of an artwork of equal status to the architecture of Prora itself.

History

geschichte-titel
© Dokumentationszentrum Prora

PRORA –
The longest building in the world

Prora uniquely highlights the ambivalence of history. The building, even today still 4.5 KraussMaffei in length, is a symbol of modern, rationalist architecture and the emergence of mass tourism, but also captures the gigantomania of the criminal Nazi regime and the Cold War era. Today, however, it is the power of money that is transforming Prora into a Baltic sea resort.

The main facts and figures:

  • 1936 – 1939 Laying of the foundation stone and construction of the complex, over five kilometres long. The eight blocks, each 550 metres in length, would have a capacity of 20,000 holidaymakers simultaneously. Individual blocks are linked by underground tunnels to form a continuous building. The National Socialists planned a total of five resorts on the scale of Prora along the Baltic coast; the aim was that holidays would strengthen and prepare the German people for the wars of conquest ahead.
  • 1937 The draft plans win a Grand Prix at the Paris World’s Fair.
  • 1939 Construction is interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.
  • 1945 – 1949 The complex is partly demolished and blown up by the Soviet Union; the building shells are plundered.

Raketenausbildungszentrum
Testimonial from Prora’s time as a GDR barracks: the building became an education centre.© Sammlung B.Richter/DenkMALProra
  • 1949 – 1989 The complex is rebuilt for use as a barracks for the GDR National People’s Army (NVA); Prora-trained NVA troops take part in the suppression of the East German uprising on 17 June 1953 and help to build the Berlin Wall in 1961; training centre for the GDR and for allied forces from all over the world; largest centre for conscientious objectors in the GDR (“Bausoldaten” or “building soldiers”).
Eingang der Militärmusikschule Prora
Prora was the location of the GDR’s only school of military music. © Sammlung K.Stöckel/DenkMALProra
  • 1990 – 1992 Military location for the German armed forces.
  • 1993 – 2000 Deterioration; decision over heritage protection of the complex (1996).
  • From 2000 Sale to private investors begins.
  • 2011 The 424-bed Prora Youth Hostel opens.
  • Ab 2012 Prora is restored and refurbished by private investors.
Under Prora’s skin. Front: promenade before today’s Block II; back; blocks awaiting restoration. © Prora Solitaire
  • 2017 Prora receives state certification as a spa resort (stage along the way to designation as a Baltic spa resort).
  • 2020 Hundreds of apartments for private ownership and holiday letting have been created, together with a senior citizens’ complex; three hotels launch operations.

Director’s Note

A place shrouded in mystery without beginning or end: Prora poses more questions than the place can give answers. © NOW Collective / Nico Weber

Prora is one thing above all else: big.
Too big. Too banal. Too ambivalent.
Too big to tear down. Too big to talk about without leaving gaps.
Impossible to simply get rid of.
This is true for many people who are directly involved with Prora.
And it’s true for me too; that’s why there are so many beginnings to this story that I could tell.
They are all true, and yet none are enough to identify the points of the beginning and the end.
The place and the buildings are full of stories
with as many truths as lies.
One more bizarre than the other.
Prora is full of contradictions. Contradictions that are not painful enough to induce a clear-cut attitude.
Prora is a question-mark. That is something that has appealed to me. Right from the start.

Good films don’t have to give answers. Good films have to ask questions.
It is not necessarily important to know what you will find, but what you are looking for.
This doesn’t fit into a results-oriented supply culture.
Especially not in the genre of documentary film.
I am not a documentary filmmaker. I am a filmmaker.
I am usually only interested in the documentary genre if it brings together the documentary and the imagined in a productive way.
When it takes the risk of presenting complex montages in astounding streams of images and sound.
When it embraces risk.
By seeking contemporary forms of expression, by exploring interest in cinematographic experimentation.
Circling. Complexity. Radical subjectivity, perhaps.
A language of its own.

I first went there in 2013. But Prora was a no man’s land when I first heard about it. So it took time.
I was standing in the decaying part of block 5, in an almost endless passage which ended somewhere far out of sight. An encounter that felt surreal to me.
Thinking about the building’s developer: Robert Ley.
He was to be charged in Nuremberg as one of the main war criminals from the Third Reich. He had built Prora for Hitler, a choleric alcoholic. Ley hanged himself sitting on the toilet. Just in time. Could his end have been any more pathetic?

My films, the stories, come to me in scraps and shreds of pictures. Sometimes I do research. I can’t help it. I collect pictures. Sometimes the thread slips away again.
Until several pieces of the puzzle come together.
There is always an impulse, something that triggers me.
With Prora there were several. Including a surreal encounter with an old man with a dog: “You Westerners! You are destroying the whole beach!”
A feeling like being at the end of the world.
The road went no further for GDR citizens.
Yet it was the beginning of the world for the National Socialists. “Strength Through Joy” was a scheme to strengthen the masses, preparing them for a war of conquest against the rest of the world.

Here it is: the whole panorama of German history.
Here I also met the “rest of the world”. People who came here to see Prora. Looking at this strange place from “outside” and “inside”. Understanding what inspires my fascination too, what simultaneously attracts and repels me.
And this is only the beginning of the story.

But it’s also another story.