Postcard from... Prora

By Paul Scraton:

At Prora it is the scale of the place that first impresses. Built in the late 1930s by the Nazi’s leisure organisation ‘Strength through Joy’ it was one of the largest building projects undertaken during the Third Reich, a holiday camp for 20,000 visitors at a time who would be housed in colossal residential blocks that stretched for over three miles between the pine forest and the sands of one of Rügen island’s most beautiful beaches. The German workers never made it to Prora for a holiday, as war interrupted before the building work was complete, although most of the residential blocks were standing by the time the Red Army arrived on the island in 1945.

During the German Democratic Republic the site was controlled by the NVA – the East German Army – and it would remain a military zone until after reunification when the Federal armed forces handed over the largest standing example of Nazi architecture to the state and the long process began to decide what to do with it. In the beginning there were many plans and many were rejected. During the first decade or so of limbo the site became home to a number of projects and small businesses – Rügen’s largest disco, the honey manufacturer, numerous artists and art projects, a youth hostel and museums and exhibitions dedicated to the history of the site.

At the Documentation Centre, which stands in a side wing of House 3 beside the disco and across the cracked paving stones of the car park from a tree climbing park in the pine forest, a film about the history of the site reflects on what happened next. In 2004, around the time I first visited Prora, the state began to sell off the blocks one by one – “thus washing their hands of the site.” Most of the small and quirky businesses and projects have since been moved out, as private investors have begun the process of turning the site into luxury hotels and holiday apartments.

Leaving the Documentation Centre, which is itself under threat from a potential sale of its own building, I walked down to House 2, most of which has already been renovated and is in the process of being sold on to investors and second-home owners. In the show-apartment the literature extolled the virtues of the location, the investment opportunity, and the chance to to invest in a landmark protected property without ever really explaining why that protection existed. Somehow the entire history of Prora was told without ever once mentioning the words ‘National’ or ‘Socialist’, without ever explaining who had built this colossus and why. The salesman talked through the particulars with an interested couple. They needed to hurry… 80% of the apartments had already been sold.

In the local newspaper I read an article about the last remaining buildings under state ownership, which houses the youth hostel and the Documentation Centre. There was doubt that there would be space for the exhibition in the site under the proposals on the table, that once the sales and renovations have been completed there may be nowhere in Prora that explains how this all came to be. The possibility is there that Prora’s past will be covered-up by new external balconies and a whitewashed paint job. In one of Germany’s largest buildings, it seems that the intention is to hide the past in plain sight.