Parody: Nazi leader loses the equity in his McMansion as the housing bubble bursts

One of the YouTube parodies of the 2004 German movie Downfall features Hitler lamenting the effect of the declining housing market on his new McMansion. Here is a small part of Hitler’s complaints:

Real estate only goes up! My broker told me it only goes up! I cannot believe I’m going to have to sell my house before I can flip it for a profit. That bimbo said I could always refinance before the rates went up! I’m going to have to sell assets to raise cash. I’ll love my vintage Camaro SS! I got that car with my home equity loan along with my flatscreen TV and a bunch of other toys!

Question from military official: But you didn’t put any money down, how can you complain?

Response: Everyone was doing it! I needed a nice car and a new television!

Question from the same official: What about all the people who lived within their means?

Response: Screw them. I invested in that house to live the life of luxury I am entitled to! There was equity in the house! I thought that renters and conservative homeowners were suckers for not jumping on the credit gravy-train. I was going to flip it and my investment would double!

And on it goes. Some interesting commentary on the housing bubble. Of course, the housing bubble didn’t just affect McMansion owners but they are often blamed for inflating the market with big houses and big mortgages that they couldn’t afford. Putting these words in the mouth of the most recognized evil person in recent human memory only serves to drive home the argument…

New findings show Holocaust much more vast than notorious concentration camps

New findings show the Holocaust was a widespread phenomenon including more than 42,000 sites in Europe:

The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington…

The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia. (The Holocaust museum has published the first two, with five more planned by 2025.)

The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. But the researchers, using data from some 400 contributors, have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was.

Two thoughts related to these new findings:

1. My Social Research class recently read a more detailed account of the Milgram Experiment of the early 1960s. (Milgram’s own book Obedience to Authority gives even more details.) College students are well aware of the Holocaust but often don’t know the lengths Milgram went to in order to verify his findings about how “normal” people might respond when given orders by authorities to hurt others. We also watched a 2009 replication from the BBC – watch here – that had similar results to Milgram. This tends to help make the 50+ year old experiment more real for students.

2. In my Culture, Media, and Society class, I use a chapter from Jeffrey Alexander’s The Meanings of Social Life that discusses how the Holocaust came to be a universal human trauma rather than one just limited to a trauma for Jews. Alexander argues that the United States approached the Holocaust as a moral superior since the act was committed by Germans and the U.S. helped liberate Europe and then emerged as the leader of the free world. But, a series of events, including the Milgram experiment, changed people’s minds about exclusivity of the Holocaust as even countries like the United States came to be seen as perpetrators of great violence. In other words, we are all capable of acting like Nazis under certain conditions.

Albert Speer’s imagined Nazi Berlin

An essay that discusses the legacy of German architect Albert Speer briefly highlights his plans for turning Berlin into the grand Nazi capital:

Speer quickly moved into the Führer’s inner circle, where Hitler shared his vision with the young architect. Hitler wanted to make Berlin into the most impressive city in the world, conveying the beauty and overwhelming strength of the triumphal Reich that would dominate the world — and Speer was to be the master planner. Speer conceived of the city’s buildings to have what he called “ruin value” — meaning that they were meant to be built to last for thousands of years, like the ancient ruins of Greece. Hitler embraced this concept, which accorded with his vision of a Thousand Year Reich.

The dream of Hitler’s new city, which was to be renamed World Capital Germania, was without parallel in the modern world. Speer planned as the centerpiece a gargantuan domed Great Hall that would hold 180,000 occupants as they listened to the Führer’s speeches. Had it ever been built, Speer’s dome would have dwarfed any structure nearby, and could have contained several domes the size of the U.S. Capitol. Along the sprawling grand avenue leading to the Great Hall would be a German version of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, intended to dwarf Napoleon’s. Elsewhere, at the Nuremberg rally grounds, construction began (but was never completed) on a German Stadium that would have held 400,000 spectators.

It is not certain that these plans could have been realized. Among other issues, Berlin was built on converted swampland, and there are serious doubts that the ground would have been able to support the huge weight of such structures; test structures built by the Nazis suggested that the buildings would sink well beyond tolerable limits. Regardless of the feasibility, this was art and architecture based on ostentation and megalomania. The plans, of course, spoke of the intoxication with power not just of the state, but of the men who ran it. Speer found himself elevated with breathtaking rapidity to the highest echelons of power, and developed a close personal relationship with the most powerful man in Germany, who was idolized and worshiped by millions of Germans and feared by millions more around the world. Speer looked up to Hitler and seemed to crave his approval. Hitler, for his part, spoke of having “the warmest human feelings” for Speer, and regarding him as a “kindred spirit.” Gitta Sereny writes that “in looks and language, the tall, handsome young Speer probably came close to being a German ideal for the Austrian Hitler.” Speer admitted at the Nuremberg trials that “if Hitler had had any friends, I would certainly have been one of his close friends.” Hitler formed a deep admiration for Speer’s architectural style and ambition. He had always considered himself an artist first, who only became a politician to realize his dream of a powerful Germany, and he saw in the young Speer his own unfulfilled self — someone who was technically capable of achieving his artistic dreams for a Germany that would rule the world.

It is little coincidence that powerful dictators aspire to design and build expansive cities: they want such places to provide a long reminder of their power. There is something about imposing buildings, long avenues, and public memorials and art that can reinforce the powers that be. Of course, as this essay suggests, architects and engineers can get swept up in such plans. Speer went from grandiose plans for Berlin to running the armaments ministry for Germany and increasing production through late 1944 even as Nazi Germany was losing the war on two (three, if you count Italy) fronts.

Wikipedia has more on Speer’s plans for World Capital Germania:

The first step in these plans was the Berlin Olympic Stadium for the 1936 Summer Olympics. This stadium would promote the rise of the Nazi government. A much larger stadium capable of holding 400,000 spectators was planned alongside the Nazi parade grounds in Nuremberg but only the foundations were dug before the project was abandoned due to the outbreak of war. Had this stadium been completed it would remain the largest in the world today by a considerable margin.

Speer also designed a new Chancellery, which included a vast hall designed to be twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. Hitler wanted him to build a third, even larger Chancellery, although it was never begun. The second Chancellery was destroyed by the Soviet army in 1945.

Almost none of the other buildings planned for Berlin were ever built. Berlin was to be reorganized along a central 5 km-long boulevard known as the Prachtallee (“Avenue or Boulevard of Splendour(s)”). This would run south from a crossroads with the East-West Axis close to the Brandenburg Gate, following the course of the old Siegesallee through the Tiergarten before continuing down to an area just west of Tempelhof Airport. This new North-South Axis would have served as a parade ground, and have been closed off to traffic. Vehicles would have instead been diverted into an underground highway running directly underneath the parade route; sections of this highway’s tunnel structure were built, and still exist today. No work was ever begun above ground although Speer did relocate the Siegesallee to another part of the Tiergarten in 1938 in preparation for the avenue’s construction.

The plan also called for the building of two new large railway stations as the planned North-South Axis would have severed the tracks leading to the old Anhalter and Potsdamer stations, forcing their closure. These new stations would be built on the city’s main S-Bahn ring with the Nordbahnhof in Wedding and the larger Südbahnhof in Tempelhof-Schöneberg at the southern end of the avenue. The Anhalter Bahnhof, no longer used as a railway station, would have been turned into a swimming pool.

At the northern end of the avenue on the site of the Königsplatz (now the Platz der Republik) there was to be a large open forum known as Großer Platz with an area of around 350,000 square metres. This square was to be surrounded by the grandest buildings of all, with the Führer’s palace on the west side on the site of the former Kroll Opera House, the 1894 Reichstag Building on the east side and the third Reich Chancellery and high command of the German Army on the south side (on either side of the square’s entrance from the Avenue of Splendours). On the north side of the plaza, straddling the River Spree, Speer planned to build the centrepiece of the new Berlin, an enormous domed building, the Volkshalle (people’s hall), designed by Hitler himself. It would still remain the largest enclosed space in the world had it been built. Although war came before work could begin, all the necessary land was acquired, and the engineering plans were worked out. The building would have been over 200 metres high and 250 metres in diameter, sixteen times larger than the dome of St. Peter’s.

Towards the southern end of the avenue would be a triumphal arch based on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but again, much larger; it would be almost a hundred metres high, and the Arc de Triomphe (at the time the largest triumphal arch in existence) would have been able to fit inside its opening, evidently with the intention of replacing the rather long history associated with this Arch and in particular the unique ceremonies, with reference to the history of France, connected with it, see the French government website on this history.As a result of the occupation of Berlin by Soviet troops in 1945, a memorial was constructed with two thousand of the Soviet dead buried there in line with this proposed ‘Triumphal Arch’. It had been intended that inside this generously proportioned structure the names of the 1,800,000 German dead of the First World War should be carved, that which presumably was known to amongst others the Soviet leaders.

A cautionary tale.

Translating the dystopian world of The Hunger Games…into 1930s scenery?

In my review of The Hunger Games movie, I noted that I was not terribly impressed by the futuristic designs in the movie. At The Atlantic, three design critics make similar arguments and note that much of the scenery and design is not from the future but rather from the 1930s. Here are a few of their thoughts:

The props, sets, and costumes are a giant mash-up of visual cues taken from eras when the socioeconomic disparity between classes was so extreme as to be dangerous. The look is sort of cherry picked from influences ranging from the French Revolution to the Third Reich to Alexander McQueen. A more unified or coherent vision, one that took the influences and used them to create something unique, might have served the story better…

The opening scenes in District 12 are atmospheric and period precise. The bleached-out blue palette, the wooden shacks, the muddy roads—you know you are in the 1930s of the Farm Services Administration photographers. There were a couple of moments, like the line of cabins going down into the hollow, or the two scrawny kids looking out of a hole in the wall, that I could almost swear were direct imitations of a photograph. I found out after I saw the movie that those scenes were filmed in Henry River, North Carolina, an abandoned mill town from the 1920s. In District 12, it is coal. In North Carolina, it was yarn…

The overall look of the Capitol was 1930s neoclassicism, an architectural style used by the Nazis and based on Roman precedents. Fascist architecture seems too easy and obvious an equivalence for Panem’s totalitarian regime. I thought Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins was trying to make a trenchant point about what we all like to watch now. Making the Capitol a contemporary skyscraper city, like a forest of Far East towers, would have made a much more pointed contrast with the Appalachian opening. What about the top of Moshe Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, with its mile-high infinity pool, as the setting for Katniss and Peeta’s pre-Games talk? How could you get more decadent than that?…

Maybe oppressive architecture in movies has to be Fascist, in the same way that aliens need to be either robotic, humanoid, or insect-like—otherwise we don’t immediately recognize and fear what we’re seeing. The tributes’ apartment was like an outdated hotel room that was trying too hard to be hip but not quite succeeding; the green chairs were ridiculous in the same way as Effie’s shoes, hats, and makeup…

On the whole, these critics argue that the movie seems to lean on the past a lot rather than casting a new vision for the future. I understand the difficulties of doing this; futuristic settings can be too jarring or cheesy (see the city scenes in Star Wars Episodes I-III). Maybe moviegoers are more invested in the movie if there are scenes they can recognize. For example, the Nazi narrative is clear to many so invoking these ideas in the Capitol is an easy way to make a link between Nazism and the totalitarianism that made the Hunger Games possible in the first place. The movie taps into familiar cultural narratives such as the Depression or Nazism, pointing to the future while also drawing on the past.

Perhaps this comes down to an argument about whether movie makers should always try to hit a home run with design and setting or play it safe. I think The Hunger Games played it safe on this end. Rather than risk ridicule or have to develop a whole new world, they borrowed heavily from known images. Perhaps this could even drive home the possibly commentary even further that we aren’t as far away from this sort of world as we might think. In other words, the future (or the present) might look a lot similar to the pas.t But I think this was a missed opportunity: considering the budget and popularity of the books, the movie could have presented a grand vision of the future that truly captured the attention of viewers and also pushed design and popular imagery of the future further.

Report on how US helped Nazis after World War II

A recently released report suggests the United States helped a number of Nazis after the end of World War II:

The 600-page report, which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years, provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi cases of the last three decades.

It describes the government’s posthumous pursuit of Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death at Auschwitz, part of whose scalp was kept in a Justice Department official’s drawer; the vigilante killing of a former Waffen SS soldier in New Jersey; and the government’s mistaken identification of the Treblinka concentration camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible…

Perhaps the report’s most damning disclosures come in assessing the Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement with Nazi émigrés. Scholars and previous government reports had acknowledged the C.I.A.’s use of Nazis for postwar intelligence purposes. But this report goes further in documenting the level of American complicity and deception in such operations.

The Justice Department report, describing what it calls “the government’s collaboration with persecutors,” says that O.S.I investigators learned that some of the Nazis “were indeed knowingly granted entry” to the United States, even though government officials were aware of their pasts. “America, which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted, became — in some small measure — a safe haven for persecutors as well,” it said.

Even today, everyone can agree on one group of people who were evil: the Nazis. Yet it appears the relationship between the United States, the supposed moral victors in Europe in 1945, had a much more complicated relationship with Nazis than is typically thought.

This reminds me of a chapter by sociologist Jeffrey Alexander. In this chapter, Alexander detailed how the United States was able to claim the moral high ground after World War II – after all, the US had rid the world of both the evil Nazis and Japanese. But by the mid 1960s, the United States could no longer claim this high ground with questions about whether the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan had been necessary and Milgram’s experiment suggested lots of ordinary people were capable of evil.

How much more interesting information like this is buried somewhere?