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Adolf Hitler loved architecture. He spent lavishly on towering structures and facades reminiscent of Imperial Rome. His legacy is something German officials have tried hard to erase by tearing down or repurposing the many buildings he inspired. Still, recently, the German government approved a plan to revive, in a sense, the biggest Nazi-era relic on the Baltic coast. As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reports, it's raising eyebrows.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Hitler's resort for working-class Germans was grandiose, even by Nazi standards, with concrete dormitories looming side by side for 3 miles over sandy, white beach. The cornerstone for the Kraft Durch Freude, or Strength Through Joy project here on the island of Ruegen, was laid 80 years ago by Nazi politicians Robert Ley. That moment was featured in a retrospective by German public broadcaster WDR.
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ROBERT LEY: (Speaking German).
NELSON: Ley called the project a monument to the German people and predicted it would last a thousand years. But the seaside resort that was to house and indoctrinate 20,000 vacationers at a time never opened. It ended up an abandoned ruin, mired in a modern German debate about what to do with Nazi relics. Ulrich Busch is one of the developers who helped settle the argument a while back.
ULRICH BUSCH: Everybody was thinking, what's going on with this big complex? It was a huge, ugly and fallen-down angel on the seaside. And a lot of people were saying, hey, we have to tear it down, yeah? But a lot of people were also saying it is a historical site, and we have to protect it.
NELSON: Busch said he and other developers decided to do a little bit of both. They persuaded federal and local officials to let them build upscale condominiums and a luxury hotel within the existing foundations, but with controversial changes to the exteriors, like adding balconies and rooftop terraces. Busch says, even in its unfinished state, the hotel boasted an 89-percent occupancy rate this past summer. Busch says Germans' curiosity about the site's Nazi past and a terrorism-inspired desire to vacation at home helped the new resort's appeal.
BUSCH: I think this is the best answer for the old and ugly and the horrible thinking and spirit of the Nazi time.
NELSON: Yvett Sadewasser agrees. She and her family were among the first to buy a condominium here.
YVETT SADEWASSER: (Speaking German).
NELSON: She says their modern, two-story home inside this historic pariah appealed not only to them, but to their 8-year-old twins, who love living near the beach.
ALEXANDER: (Speaking German).
NELSON: I ask her son, Alexander, do you know who built this? And he says yes and that he's very interested in the building's history. I urge him to tell me the name of the person who built it, and he hesitates. His dad asks him again.
ALEXANDER: Adolf Hitler.
NELSON: Alexander whispers, Adolf Hitler, and quickly puts his hand in front of his mouth, as if he's said a dirty word.
ALEXANDER: (Speaking German).
NELSON: He explains he was a bad man. The boy's twin, Josefina, adds, that's why we don't like to say his name. It's an awareness of Germany's grim past some historians NPR interviewed say will be lost in the conversion to an upscale resort, especially since the museum about the site's Nazi history is to be moved to a smaller location at the far end of the complex.
JAN SEIDLER: (Speaking German).
NELSON: Museum guide Jan Seidler says most locals can't afford the new condominium resort, where units can cost as much as $700 per square foot. Seidler adds he would have preferred if the German government had built a university here at the former Nazi site. He says, unlike tourism, it would provide jobs all year round. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Prora.
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