History is not always pleasant, and historical monuments are not always aesthetically pleasing, or convenient. Still it’s important to keep them so we can remember – and this includes remembering darker aspects of our past.
One monument connected to the darker aspects of the German past is the Prora, a seaside resort that was planned and built during the Nazi regime. Prora is located on the east of Rügen, the biggest German island in the Baltic sea, on one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. It’s not just a small seaside resort, though – the thing was intended to be huge enough to accommodate 20 000 people at once. Yes, twenty thousand vacationers. In an enormous building.
Obviously, a huge building like that, especially one linked to this uncomfortable time of our past, is going to cause a headache. And these days, not so much is left of the Colossus of Prora.
First, it was partially destroyed by the Red Army. After 1949, five blocks of the building were transformed into one of the largest military bases in the GDR. Between 1949 and 1989, this special place was kept a secret, sealed off from visitors and unlisted on any maps. When the gates finally opened in 1990, artists and creatives were attracted to this affordable, natural paradise and a thriving community was born. More recently, the area has become a popular meeting place for young people and is now the home of several festivals, such as “Her mit dem schönen Leben”, “Tag am Meer” and “Her Damit”- Festival.
A few years after the opening of the area, property developers began to convert this precious space to luxury homes and hotels. In the process, many artists were kicked out, traces of history were destroyed and permanent damage was done to the environment as trees were chopped down and fields dug up to make way for concrete parking lots. Today, only Block V remains in public hands and remains an authentic (if damaged) part of the original resort. Scholars have only just begun to study the history of this special area.
Of all the building sections, Block V holds the most significance for German history. It was here that the secret rearmament took place during the Cold War. It was from here that soldiers in 1953 marched off to quell the uprising, and in 1961 begin the construction of the Berlin Wall. During the 1980s, it was from Block V the “hotbed of oppositional ideas” developed – e.g. it held the largest concentration of weapons objectors. The electoral fraud of a local election in 1984 was first revealed here by construction soldiers of the GDR who were, at the time, regarded as “hostile-negative” forces and harassed on a daily basis. These historical events paved the way for the peaceful revolution. In 2010, after years of persuasion by Denk-MAL-Prora (an initiative of former construction soldiers and sympathisers), the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern agreed to consider a centre to oversee the preservation of the history recorded in the building here. The walls of the hallways, rooms and other areas are decorated with many murals which are significant to the study of the GDR.
But now, even this final remaining block of the Colossus of Prora, with its vast historical significance, cultural heritage and local significance is under threat by private resort speculators. The decision on whether to privatise the remaining block and convert it into luxury properties is scheduled for May 2 (which, ironically, is the anniversary of the foundation stone for the planned Nazi-Resort). There is reason to fear that the decision will ignore the significant history and cultural implications. The loss of Prora also means a continuation of the powers which seek to whitewash our history and ignore many political errors of the last century. More than just a “Nazi building”, Prora has a rich and important history. It was an active centre of two dictatorships. It held a significant role in the peaceful reunification of Germany and is a testament to the role played by hundreds of thousands of members of the GDR.
There is a petition against this privatisation of the last remaining block currently running. The petition asks for the building to stay a public property, the implementation of a study centre, and the preservation of the architecture and other elements of the complex that have historical significance.
Prora might be an uncomfortable monument, but it is a very important one. Our history and its monuments should be kept for study, not changed into luxury seabathing apartments.
Please help keep Block V of Prora as it stands today by signing the petition here. And, as usual – please spread the word about this!