A Onetime Sprawling 'Nazi Resort” Now A Humongous Youth Hostel

Prora, a 4 km-long monster of a building on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen, was originally a Nazi project. Now the bizarre structure – which is arguably more moderne than National Socialist -- is part youth hostel, part tourist attraction.

A portion of the Prora building on the island of Rügen
A portion of the Prora building on the island of Rügen
Dankwart Guratzsch

As the bus turns the corner, passengers' eyes follow where the man with the microphone is pointing. Through the bus windows, though still still four kilometers away, they get just a glimpse of what they've come to see: large blocks of buildings partially hidden by trees. A man working in his garden nearby notes: "That's already the fourth bus this morning. They come past here, then drive along the whole complex at walking speed, turn around and drive back out in that direction."

Up close at the giant construct, cameras at the ready, people try to find some way to get the whole thing into one shot. Impossible. Many opt to take a series of shots, saying that when they get home they'll paste the images together to make one ensemble view.

The fact is that Germany's largest building – six stories high, four kilometers long -- can only be photographed in its entirety from the air. Whether you approach it from land or sea, it's impossible -- due to the way it's built into the land, surrounded by forests and dunes -- to take it all in at once.

This is Prora, on the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea. And if Rügen is Germany's largest island, Prora is the biggest vacation machine that's ever been built on the planet. The Deutsche Jugendherbergswerk, the association of German youth hostels, has opened its largest hostel with over 400 beds. The facility fills only about a third of Block 5.

The hostel offers some 100 modern rooms of two, four or six beds each, sleeping just over 400 guests in all. Sixteen rooms are wheel-chair-friendly, and there are seven meeting rooms. For three and a half years, the youth hostel association has also been running a Prora "youth camping" ground with room for approximately 1,000 guests

Besides its size, there is nothing else out of the ordinary about the new hostel. But debate has been engendered by the wording of the hostel's first brochure (removed from the present edition) which described the hostel as being on the site of the "world famous KdF resort." KdF stands for ‘"Kraft durch Freude" (Strength through Joy), which was a state-controlled organization in Nazi Germany that sponsored leisure activity. Many found it inappropriate to trumpet the complex's Nazi heritage as a plus point.

But there's another reason for quibbling about that wording: while world famous, even just because of sheer size, the complex never was actually a KdF spa.

Change of plans

Prora was under construction between 1936 and 1939, and was being promoted by Kraft durch Freude as a seaside resort for 20,000 people. However, the project was never completed. Construction stopped because of the war. Instead of holiday makers, the bare shells of the buildings were equipped to house people who had fled the bombings in Hamburg. What the complex would have looked like if it had been finished, nobody knows – the plans are missing. Later, the complex was completed to accommodate members of the East German army and police force, so it is more DDR-style than anything else.

Not even the megalomania of the basic concept can be attributed to Nazi ideology. While Cologne architect Clemens Klotz (1886-1969) did design party schools (Ordensburgen) for Hitler, at Prora he was actually referencing the most modern designs celebrated in international architecture publications: the Obus and Fort l'Empereur projects for Algiers developed by the Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965). These involved apparently endless rows of housing 100 meters high and up to 25 km long. The buildings were supposed to follow the Mediterranean shoreline like ramparts, house 180,000 people, and have highways built on the roofs – signature stuff for a new era in urban planning.

For Prora, Klotz reduced the height of the buildings to six stories, the length to 4 km, the number of people the complex could house to 20,000, and planned for underground traffic. Instead of highways on the roofs, there was supposed to be a subway that connected the building blocks.

The only really "Nazi" aspect of Prora was a central outdoor "Festplatz" measuring 400,000 square meters. There, Hamburg architect Erich zu Putlitz was supposed to build a temple-like hall with seating for 20,000 holiday makers, but construction never got underway.

What was built, at least in skeletal form, were the blocks to accommodate guests. KdF holiday makers were entitled to space measuring 2.5 x 5 meters with two beds, a sofa, table, chair, closet and sink. The repetition of the same elements having the same functions puts these blocks much more squarely in the camp of the modern rather than anything inherently Nazi.

After the reunification of Germany, the Prora complex, which is absolutely unique in the world, was given a heritage listing, which puts certain hurdles in the way of would-be entrepreneurs seeking to develop it. Most of the blocks are completely empty. However, with the opening of the youth hostel, and given Rügen's growing popularity as a place for vacation homes and B & Bs, attitudes towards the complex are changing.

Local politicians are supporting its development and Thomas Kohler, president of the national association of German youth hostels, sees potential for a center where exhibitions, tours and workshops feature the history of Prora. In this way, the odd construction would have value not only as a beach resort but a cultural destination as well, of interest to Germans and international visitors alike -- something the busloads of visitors already making pilgrimages to the site will undoubtedly welcome.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Rhodes

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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