Berlin Airlift 70th Anniversary Celebrations in Schleswig-Jagel

The blockade imposed by Stalin on the jointly administrated city of Berlin in the spring of 1948 dissipated any doubts on the post-WWII attitude of the Soviet Union towards their former allies in the west. The ensuing joint effort to support the trapped population of Berlin resulted in one of the major airlift operations in history – the Berlin Airlift, or Luftbrücke in German language. In June 2019, 70 years after the end of the blockade, Germany hosted a great celebration for the anniversary of this vital operation.

History – in Brief

The blockade started slowly, with trains crossing the Soviet occupied territory – soon to become administrated as a new state, the communist German Democratic Republic – between Berlin and western Germany forced to stop and go back, truck routes closed, increased controls at border checkpoints. In early summer, the city was completely isolated from the west.

The Soviets tried to motivate the move with treaty violations by the western forces, but this did not receive much credit by the administration of President Truman in the US, nor in Britain, France, or the occupied territories of western Germany. To mitigate the lack of coal, food, drugs and other goods of primary use for the local population, the joint forces of the United States, Britain, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand set up a massive airlift under the coordination of the US military.

Over roughly a year more than 275’000 flights were carried out, mainly between three airfields in the territory of western Germany – Jagel, Fassberg and Wiesbaden – occupied by the western Allies, to Berlin Tempelhof downtown airport (see this post), as well as other land and water bases in the cut-off urban area. These were operated with a variety of transport aircraft, including Douglas C-47 and C-54 twin and four-propeller cargo planes manufactured in the US, as well as several British models, including some Shorts seaplanes.

Stalin opted to avoid an escalation. The blockade was finally lifted by the Soviets on May 12, 1949. The situation was stabilized with the birth of the Federal Republic of Germany in the west, and of the opposing German Democratic Republic in the east, later the same year. The western sectors of Berlin were to remain an enclave of the free world deep in the communist bloc for slightly more than another 40 years, when the GDR – aka DDR in German language – finally ceased to exist, and the re-unification started.

A great museum tracing the history of the presence of the western Allies in Berlin, telling the history of the Airlift in great detail, is the Allied Museum (website here) in the former US sector of Berlin-Zehlendorf.

70th Anniversary Celebrations in Germany

In 2019 the 70th year since the end of the blockade, lifted as a result of the airlift effectively sustaining the population of Berlin for an entire year, was celebrated with the patronage of the German government with a series of unique aircraft-related events. The most prominent were a few formation flights of an incredible group of historical aircraft, between the airfields formerly used as supply bases for the airlift.

One of these, the still-active military airfield of Jagel, in Schleswig-Holstein some 60 miles north of Hamburg, hosted a ‘spotter day’ on June 13th, 2019, when a few hundreds photographers were admitted for the whole day on the premises of the airbase, to assist to the landing, departure and flypast of a fleet of nine Douglas C-47, a major workhorse in the days of the airlift.

This marked possibly the largest grouping of such historic aircraft in Europe since many years. But what made the event even more unique – besides the weather, incredibly mild for the region… – was the origin of the aircraft, which except for one are all based in the US. They crossed the Atlantic once more to parade in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day in Normandy, attended also by President Trump and Charles, Prince of Wales. A few days after, they toured Germany for the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

Besides the commemoration flight, normal flying activity was carried out during the spotter day around the airbase, so this was a good chance to assist to flight operations by Tornados and Typhoons of the German Air Force, as well as other military aircraft.

Historical Flight – Fly-in

A single C-47 arrived earlier than all others, anticipating the massive fly-in of the full wing of Douglas C-47 twin-prop liners. Later on, a flypast all Skytrains to take part in the event started from the east of the field. The aircraft then landed one by one, taxied ahead of the photographers and after a stop of a few hours, took off in a row for another location in Germany.

US Air Force C-47A/DC-3C ‘Miss Virginia’

The first aircraft to come was ex-USAAF 43-30655, built in 1943 as a military C-47A. The aircraft fell in private hands in the 1970s, after yeast stored in Arizona, when it was converted into an DC-3C, an energized version of the original 1930s design. It spent the 1980s in Colombia, then returned to the US as a utility aircraft. It was finally acquired for restoration and given the nice US Air Mobility Command colors it bears today. It flies with the civilian registration N47E.

Golden Age Tours C-41A

This incredible aircraft, now in civilian hands since long, is a unique example of an executive version of the original 1935 DC-3. Built in 1938, it entered military service soon after as a private flight for Maj. General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold – an instrumental figure in the reorganization of the US military forces upon the early 1940s. It went on keeping its original executive configuration, and today it is lent out for special flights and for filming purposes from its base near San Francisco, CA. It bears the civilian registration N341A.

USAAF C-47A 43-30647 ‘Virginia Ann’

This aircraft was in service with the USAAF since 1943. It took part to the D-Day operations with the name ‘Virginia Ann’, but was put on storage soon after WWII. It later went to private owners and was based in many domestic locations, including being part of the famous Planes of Fame collection in Chino, CA (see this post). Today it is still based on the West Coast, with the registration N62CC.

Chalair C-47B

This C-47B was built among the latest in May 1945. It was surplus for the USAAF soon after WWII, so it joined the Royal Air Force inventory, and from there it left for Canada, where it enjoyed many years of service as a VIP transport in the Royal Canadian Air Force until the 1970s. It reportedly served as a Royal Flight for the Queen of England during a visit to Canada. After withdrawal from active service and changing hands several times in Canada, it was finally acquired in France and totally restored in the late 2000s. It flies with the registration F-AZOX.

Johnson Flying Service, Inc. C-47 ‘Miss Montana’

This incredible aircraft was built soon after the WWII, and as many other surplus C-47, it moved to the civilian market. This aircraft was used in firefighting operations over the Northern Rockies, and was even involved in a tragic accident, crashing in the water causing fatalities. It was drawn back to a second life through the effort of the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula, Montana, where it is based now, with the registration N24320.

Legend Airways C-47D/DC-3C ‘Liberty’

A true combat veteran of WWII, this aircraft was pressed into service with the USAAF in mid-1943, and took part in operations in Algeria and the Mediterranean, as well as the D-Day in Normandy, where it sustained direct hits from German anti-aircraft guns. Soon after the turbulent war years, after returning to the US it fell into private hands in the south as a corporate transport. It kept the role, undergoing several upgrades, until it was finally acquired for a lavish restoration and cabin refurbishment, which gave it its current appearance. It is based in Colorado, where it is being operated for pleasure flights and filming, with the registration N25641.

Pan American Airways System C-47B/DC-3

This aircraft had an adventurous history between its entry into service in 1944 and the early 1950s. It was originally allocated to the Chinese National Aviation Corporation, which in the war years carried out covert flights over a route known as the ‘hump’. These allowed resupply of Chinese forces from the British Empire in India, through resupply flights over the high peaks of western Tibet. This aircraft flew on that very dangerous route, until the breakdown of the Japanese forces and the end of WWII. As the Chinese National Aviation Corporation reverted back to normal operations, this aircraft was turned into a commuter between Hong-Kong and Canton. In the meanwhile, Mao Tse-Tung communist revolution subjugated China overturning the government. The new dictatorship tried to grab as many aircraft as possible, which in the meanwhile tried to escape from the country, assisted by western powers. This very aircraft, after some years on ground in China, was finally allowed to leave for the US, where it arrived in 1953. Since then it was refurbished as a corporate aircraft, and enjoyed a long career, being finally restored with a VIP internal layout and carefully reconstructed 1953 on-board systems. It is registered as N877MG.

USAAF C-47DL 43-15087

The aircraft you see flying is indeed a WWII veteran, but not with the colors you see today. The number 43-15087 on the tail refers to a C-47 which actually took part to the operations over Normandy on June 6th, 1944. But the airframe you actually see entered service with the USAAF as a personnel transport in North Africa and the Middle East in 1943. It then went to the Armee de l’Air in France, then to civilian operators in France and back in the US after the 1960s. There it was later restored and changed livery several times for special occasions, like the 75th anniversary of the D-Day – the ‘9X-P’ designation you see now. It is based in Texas, with the US registration N150D.

USAAF C-47 42-26044 ‘Placid Lassie’

Pressed into service in the summer of 1943, this aircraft is a true combat veteran, having flown on June 6th, 1944 over Normandy, and in September 1944 for several times over Flanders during the ill-fated operation ‘Market Garden’. It then went on as a civilian transport in the continental US. After years spent in disrepair, it was drawn back to life in the 2000s, and is now flown by a foundation dedicated to the crew of ‘1D-N’ during WWII.

German Air Force Aircraft

As the historical flight performed basically a fly-in and fly-out, in the few hours between them the aircraft of the German Air Force – the Luftwaffe – and of the Navy – the Marine – based at Jagel flew for the public. There were also German aircraft taken there in preparation for the day of the Armed Forces – Tag des Bundeswehr – to be celebrated the following week-end with an open day of the base.

Jagel is the home base for the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 ‘Immelmann’, which currently operates the Panavia Tornado. These massive swing-wing aircraft flew in several time slots during the spotter day.

Small formations demonstrated refueling abilities.

Some passages were performed at high speed, with maximum sweep.

One of the aircraft has been painted in a flamboyant celebration livery, with the portrait of Max Immelman, a German WWI ace, on the vertical tail.

Another impressive performance was given by a Eurofighter Typhoon, a massive delta-winged twin-jet with a tail-less, all-moving canard configuration. This compares well in size with the Super Hornet – a pretty massive attack aircraft.

This very aircraft is from the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 31 ‘Boelcke’, based in Nörvenich.

At some point in the day, there was a flypast of a single Lockheed P-3 Orion, on strength to the German Navy – Marine. On its double passage it was possible to see the large racks for sonobuoys under the belly of this four-propeller aircraft.

There were also exhibitions by some rotorcrafts, including a huge Sikorsky CH-53G, an Airbus H145 and a larger NH-90, the most modern of the three. The very dark camo livery made them pretty difficult to photograph, despite a rather wide zoom lens I was using for the task.

Finally, a pretty rare aircraft, albeit possibly not so eye-catching, a single Dornier Do-28 military light transport landed in the evening.

Visiting Aircraft from Other Countries

Other aircraft landed and departed from the base, some possibly in preparation for the Tag des Bundeswehr to be held a couple of days later. These aircraft were not from Germany.

First, two more Tornadoes of the Italian Air Force landed at some point, and posed for photographers. They belong to the 6° Stormo ‘Diavoli Rossi’, based at Ghedi. A small devil’s face is painted on the vertical tail of these aircraft.

A SAAB JAS-39 Gripen of the Hungarian Air Force, in a twin-seat configuration, landed soon after.

A single Aero L-159 Alca of the Czech Air Force appeared at some point.

An Antonov An-26 of the Hungarian Air Force landed and later departed. An iconic Soviet-made transport, this sturdy workhorse is still flying in many Countries, both for the Armed Forces and for civilian operators as well.

A single Pilatus PC-9 of the private company Qinetiq made an appearance.

Finally, two pretty rare Douglas A4 belonging to the Canadian private training company Jet Aces landed and taxied for the photographers, one of them in a rather eye-catching NATO anniversary commemoration livery.

Final Note

The Marine base of Schleswig-Jagel where this event took place was originally a Luftwaffe airfield, operated by the British military during the Berlin Airlift and until the early Sixties, and later handed over to the Federal Republic of Germany. It is still today an active airbase. There is no public access except on special occasions.

A Few Remains of Nazi Grandeur in Germany

Architecture is possibly one of the disciplines where the ringleaders of the Nazi dictatorship invested most, for it provided a direct mean to display and impose their ‘new aesthetics’ to the German people and to foreign visitors from abroad.

The victory of the Allies in WWII wiped out the Nazi apparatus, but nowhere as in Germany did the new post-war leadership take the  deletion of all traces of the Third Reich so seriously. Even in museums of military history – there is an excellent example in Ingolstadt,  Bavaria, perhaps one of the most beautiful museums on the topic in Europe – there are just a handful of Nazi insignia. Swastikas, Nazi uniforms, weapons and memorabilia can be found to an incredibly greater extent elsewhere in Europe, especially in Britain, or in museums in the US. They are really also abundant in the countless exhibitions about the Great Patriotic War – WWII for Russians – in the former USSR, and generally beyond the Iron Curtain.

Concerning architecture, especially in Berlin many buildings of all ages were totally demolished as a result of US/British air raids, and during the last battle for the city opposite the Red Army. Similarly, the town centers of many larger towns were severely damaged. In the reconstruction process, little care was taken in keeping trace of this dark page of the German history, and the reborn downtown districts assumed in many cases a new face, where 1950-styled buildings shared the stage with medieval cathedrals and public schools from Bismarck’s time – pretty much nothing from the 1930s.

Yet of course some creations of Hitler’s architects have come to these days. Despite the evil ideology behind them, some are remarkable works of art, displaying a clear relationship with functionalism, typically found through various interpretations also in many realizations of great architects of the Thirties, in the US as well as all around western Europe. Examples are those buildings connected with infrastructures, like airport terminals or railway stations – much needed in the post-WWII period, and preferably restored instead of being demolished. More items of this kind survive than possibly of any other from Hitler’s era in todays German cities. A majestic example is the terminal of the now closed Berlin-Tempelhof airport.

Most of the surviving buildings hold a public function – like departments of the government or sport arenas. In a very few cases, buildings strongly connected with the devious ideology of the Third Reich have been preserved – albeit not greatly publicized – as museums. A first notable example is the complex around the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg, with the unfinished huge congress hall for the conventions of the Nazi Party. A second one is the disturbing ‘spiritual center’ of the infamous SS in Wewelsburg.

This chapter collects a few photographs from these three places. Of course, it is far from a complete review of the architectural heritage of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. It just provides an insight on a relatively unknown group of relics from Hitler’s era in Germany.

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Sights

Berlin-Tempelhof Airport Terminal

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Possibly the most complete and grandest example of Nazi architecture, the airport terminal of Berlin-Tempelhof is interesting both from an architecture standpoint and for its historical significance. The terminal was designed and built in the late 1930s and completed in 1941, greatly enlarging a preexistent construction.

At that time, nothing comparable existed in the world. The terminal is more than a mile long. It was built with a direct access from the land-side buildings directly to the long side of a narrow hangar on the air-side, which basically ran all along the terminal. Considering the small size of the aircraft of the day, this ‘hangar-terminal’ configuration could be exploited to simultaneously load and unload a high number of flights, with operations taking place directly in, or just outside, of a covered hangar. During WWII, parts of the hangar were used to manufacture military aircraft, exploiting forced laborers from a concentration camp prepared nearby for the purpose.

But the features of the terminal turned also extremely handy during the Berlin blockade of 1948-49, when Stalin tried to force his former western Allies to withdraw from Berlin by cutting off the western sector of the city. The western Allies set up the famous airlift, supplying the western sector with basically everything that was needed for a population in the order of a million, for 15 months! Tempelhof was the major airport in Berlin – the other being the British airbase in Gatow, near Potsdam – and laid in the American zone of the city. Thanks to its peculiar structure, it could manage the immense flow of goods flown in by more than 1’000 flights per day.

In the Cold War years, the airport was operated as a logistic base by the US forces. In the meanwhile, the construction of a larger airport – with a smaller terminal, but longer runways – was started at Tegel, and this was promoted to the main airport of West Berlin for civil air traffic. State flights still were operated in and out of Tempelhof, President Reagan’s Air Force One 27000 notably operating from Tempelhof on a famous state visit in 1982. After the German reunification the airport went on working as a civil airport, but the relatively short runways and noise issues led to its closure in 2008.

Sadly, today this glorious airport has been turned into another city park. It is rather difficult to use it for the scope though, as all the cement and asphalt of the apron, runways and taxiways are still there, there are no trees, and the terminal is an imposing presence on one side. Moreover, it is really a surplus for a city like Berlin, scattered with plenty of beautiful and immense green areas. The terminal building has not yet found a new occupation, and is basically a well-guarded ghost. Plans for reopening it as a convention center are apparently consolidated in 2022, but renovation works are going on still at very low pace.

Most recently, a small but well-designed, mainly pictorial exhibition has been located in the old terminal building, retracing with beautiful historical pictures, technical schemes and essential explanations the history of Tempelhof Airport.

Pictures from the year 2015 – but luckily not much had changed in 2022, the date of my latest visit – show the main building giving access to the terminal on the northwestern corner of the airfield still in a rather good shape. The empty parking ahead of the passenger entrance with nobody around gives a lunar aura to the place.

The neat lines of this part of the building deceive its actual size. From a former visit still in the days of operation – year 2006 – you can notice the roomy check-in hall, right beyond the main entrance.

Close by one of the glass entry doors you can spot a memorial to General Lucius Clay, the American mind behind the Berlin Airlift.

The grand perspective leading to the entrance is really an architectural masterpiece. Also noteworthy is a series of covered passages leading to lateral courtyards to the sides. These service passages are not visible when approaching the terminal from the distance, preserving the general sense of order without renouncing to the functionality of the construction.

There are two surviving marble eagles from Hitler’s time, on the front walls of the buildings to the sides of the main perspective.

The eagle head ahead of the parking is from the eagle sculpture originally standing on top of the main façade in Hitler’s times. That eagle was taken away after the capture of the city and the end of the war. The head went to the Army Academy in West Point, NY as a spoil of war, and was returned after the German reunification.

Moving along the wings of the building you can appreciate the size of the construction, really uncommon for Europe in the Thirties. The quality of all materials is also really striking. Their cost must have been really high.

To the extreme northeastern tip of the building you can spot some former radio installations, likely connected with air traffic control or military operations. From there you can get access to the former air side of the airport. At the time when the pictures were taken it was possible to walk around freely, but unfortunately not close to the hangar. Most recently, a branch of the Allied Museum in Berlin has taken responsibility for a preservation effort, and is keeping the place off-limits, opening it to the public on rare guided visits in German only – but I could not join in any of them.

There is also a historical propliner ahead of the iconic ‘Berlin Tempelhof’ sign on top of the hangar. Anyway, walking on the apron and runways produces a ‘history was made here’ feeling, and it is worth trying! Again, a few shots from the days of operation show the hangar from inside the terminal building. Historical pictures from local panels show the use of the hangar for the production of aircraft and technical parts.

As said, a recent exhibition of special interest for getting an accurate historical perspective, retraces the timeline of the airfield, since its pre-Third Reich era, through the colossal redesign in the shape we see today carried out in Hitler’s time, and down to the Cold War era, when Tempelhof had a crucial role in the Berlin Airlift, and was operated for long as a regular city airport.

Remarkably, in April 1945 the airfield fell in Soviet hands – since the Soviet Army conquered Berlin – and was later ceded to the US, following the Potsdam agreements in July 1945, which split the capital of the Third Reich in four sectors. It is likely Stalin regretted his own ‘fair-play’ concerning Tempelhof at the time of the Airlift, just a few years later…

A picture portraying general Keitel, in custody, arriving at Tempelhof to sign the instrument of surrender in the Soviet headquarters (see here) together with other top-ranking Nazi officers, shows a Lisunov Li-2 in the background. This was the licensed Soviet copy of the Douglas C-47. Also interesting the demolished German fighters found on sight by the conquerors.

The US, having taken control of the field, organized open-days for the general public once per year – reportedly, mostly appreciated by the local population.

Actually, the years corresponding to the sealing of the Inner Border (see here), from the Berlin crisis of 1961 (which saw the construction of the Berlin Wall) until specific accords partially reopening the land borders especially to Westerners in the early 1970s, were those of the most intense activity for Tempelhof – reaching West Berlin was more convenient by flight. But soon after, the better infrastructure of Tegel, with longer runways and less surrounded by high-rise buildings, took over most of the airline connections to Berlin. Tempelhof went on hosting state flights, general aviation flights, and commercial flights to a lower scale. There was also a permanent presence of US Army forces.

Evoking pictures include one with Willy Brandt greeting general Clay, and much later, President Reagan and the First Lady on a state visit in 1987. In another, you see one of the former Third Reich top-ranking staff Albert Speer – who also contributed to the design of Tempelhof – leaving for Western Germany by flight, following release after serving a long sentence in the prison of Spandau. He had been sentenced in Nürnberg.

The closure on grounds of noise issues, as noted, left the infrastructure unused for some years. Plans for re-opening as a convention/exhibition centers have been prepared as of 2022, and partial updating works are being carried out.

Getting there and moving around

The former airport is not far from downtown Berlin, around 3 miles south from the Brandenburg Gate in the former western sector of the city. Access to the terminal is from Tempelhofer Damm. Parking is possible along this major alley, or on the many roads around the airport – parking is rarely a problem in Berlin. Be ready to walk though, as usual when touring an airport.

Access possible also with public means of transportation. The front terminal can be easily reached from the U6 stops ‘Platz der Luftbrucke’ or ‘Bhf Paradestrasse’. Access from the east is easier from the U8 stops ‘Boddinstrasse’ or ‘Leinenstrasse’. There is finally an S-bahn station on the southwestern corner of the airfield – ‘Bahnhof Tempelhof’ – where U6 meets with several S-bahn lines.

My last visit to the place dates back to 2022, and as the area was undergoing renovation with a consolidated plan for changing its role and shape – and some works having started in the southernmost part of the terminal building.

Anyway, at the time of this visit the terminal was closed to the public, with limited chances to visit inside on guided tours. The only chance to access the terminal is for the small – yet totally recommended – photo exhibition. The latter can be reached to the left of the main facade of the terminal building. Website with contacts and timetables here.

Touring the exterior is possible on your own, and there are also a few descriptive panels along the perimeter. There are multiple entrances to the former air side, which is a public park with many people around.

Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Nuremberg

Nuremberg is an ancient imperial city in the heart of Germany, taken over as the symbolic capital of the ‘new kingdom’ by the theorists of the Nazi doctrine, due to its historical significance in German history. This town became the focal point of Hitler-led Nazi Party (NSDAP is the acronym of the party name in German language) well before the fateful general elections of 1933, when Hitler was elected chancellor of the German Republic. Among the activities of the NSDAP since the Twenties was a yearly rally, where for a few days all sections of the party met in Nuremberg for a series of group activities, including political speeches, commemoration of the fallen soldiers of the German wars, sport, camping, dining, etc.

In the years preceding Hitler’s raise to power, these rallies took place in the Luitpoldhain Park, to the southeast of the town center. The park had at its center the Hall of Honor, a memorial to the soldiers of German Wars, erected at the end of the Twenties. Today, leaving behind some construction works carried out by the NSDAP in the 1930s – including a massive Luitpold Hall and a tribune, today completely demolished – the place has regained its commemorative function, and is still used as a nice and sober city park. Yet historical photographs of Hitler celebrating the fallen German comrades ahead of the very monument you can see today produce a strange feeling.

In the years of the dictatorship, the rallies turned into a megalomaniac ostentation of power, with hundreds of thousands participating in the reunions. Correspondingly, the area involved in these parades was greatly enlarged, and a plan was made to realize a group of dedicated buildings.

The most famous of them, thanks to the historical movies of the parades recorded at the time, is the Zeppelin Field. This was a parade ground designed from scratch by Nazi architects. The white tribune with the huge swastika on top, in the background of an immense, perfectly ordered and disciplined public, crowding the arena and listening to the voice of the Führer, is one of the permanent symbols of the Third Reich monstrous machine. Actually, the same tribune is the subject of another very famous movie, where the swastika is blown up with dynamite after the capture of the city of Nuremberg by US troops, marking the end of the Nazi rule in Germany.

The tribune and the constructions along the perimeter of the Zeppelin Field underwent major post-war deconstruction works, as the area came to host a car racing circuit and later a rather minimal sporting ground. What remains of the building is still rather massive, yet the top colonnade is gone, and as of 2016 the place looked little guarded and partly abandoned – eventually making it even grimmer! You can be on the exact podium where Hitler stood in his golden days admiring his evil creation.

The final and most prominent part of the plan is the congress hall of the NSDAP. Like most of the gigantic construction project for the area, this building was never completed, yet it reached a rather advanced state of completion. It is a U-shaped, three floors building, clearly inspired to the ancient Roman architecture. It should have been the building for the congresses of the NSDAP.

Today, this is the only preserved building of the complex, and hosts an extremely interesting museum and documentation center on the history of the Nazi Party and of the rallies. Really an interesting insight in the aesthetics of Hitler’s era and in the strange history of this strange political movement, which has been instrumental in shaping the face of todays Europe – and possibly of the world. Surely worth visiting.

A somewhat off-topic note, yet fitting in this chapter, concerns the hall of the Nuremberg Trials. These post-