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Germany

What Happens When A Nazi Monument Is Transformed Into Luxury Housing

In Hamburg, a major Nazi monument is being repurposed into deluxe apartments. A lesson on the luxury boom, and the way Germany faces its uncomfortable history.

Architectural rendering of the Sophienpalais, part of the future luxury residences
Architectural rendering of the Sophienpalais, part of the future luxury residences
Gerhard Matzig

HAMBURG – The Nazi eagles have haven't exactly flown away, but have been removed from the roof of the former Nazi command headquarters in Hamburg, an unmistakeable example of national-socialist architecture built in the Harvestehude quarter in 1937.

“They’ve been put into storage,” says Uwe Schmitz, CEO of Frankonia Eurobau, by telephone. There is a pause, then he continues cautiously, almost uncertainly. “The eagles, of course, we can put them back up ... or not.”

It is this “or not” that riles Alexander Krauss from the office for the protection of historic buildings in Hamburg. First he laughs in disbelief, then exclaims, “Oh God! Not that again.” Krauss recently wrote an article about the conversion of the former Nazi headquarters, a project that has sparked fierce disputes among city authorities but has gone largely unnoticed by most of the population. Normally there is far more fuss when a listed building is converted, but in this case the silence speaks volumes.

In his article, Krauss writes, “They are not shying away from confrontation with the office for the protection of historical buildings. If threats and intimidation do not work straight away, they can always resort to lawyers ... and apply political pressure in order to ensure that their ideas go through.” Although Krauss doesn’t mention him by name, the criticism is directed at Uwe Schmitz, the successful project developer who is converting the former Nazi headquarters into luxury residences.

Confronting history

The site is in one of the most expensive areas in Germany, where not so very long ago the Nazis drove Jewish residents out of their homes. Soon the park area and the headquarters itself will be transformed into a luxury housing complex of villas, townhouses and apartments. The most expensive apartment in the park area costs 6 million euros, while in the main building buyers are paying up to 20,000 euros per square meter. A one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor is to be sold for just under half a million euros.

“The grand listed building of the former Hamburg command headquarters is being restored carefully and sympathetically,” the developer’s website says. Krauss, on the other hand, argues that the building has been all but destroyed. The diggers have been doing their work, and now all that remains of the former headquarters is the long, thin facade, the one with the eagles. It seems that Krauss is fighting a losing battle. “What are you supposed to do when even the city authorities are prepared to accept the destruction of a historically significant building?”

Frankonia’s marketing department has posted a video about the project in which the camera pans across the impressive facade, down a pillar-flanked hall and up a luxurious staircase. The red carpet leads to a club lounge, which is to be furnished by Karl Lagerfeld. It is the former Nazi ballroom. In the video, the two massive eagles still stand on their perches, casting their shadows over the building.

Johannes Kister from the KSG architecture firm in Köln is in charge of the project and knows nothing about the divergent interests of a city seeking investment and a heritage office that wants to protect the “only significant public building from the Third Reich in Hamburg,” as art historian Hermann Hipp has put it. The firm’s motto is “Preserve the soul of the old, without dogma, with expertise,” but Krauss believes not enough of the old has been preserved. He thinks the building has been “gutted.” “We’ve lost this battle,” he says.

But who is responsible? The investor? The architect? The city authorities? Or the residents moving into the luxury apartments? It was suggested that the building could be turned into offices instead, which would have allowed it to retain more original features, but residents were against the idea. The investor has permission from the authorities. From a legal perspective, all is well. The question, however, is whether it is right. Is this how German society wants to deal with its uncomfortable heritage?

At the moment the Nazi-era facade is green. Schmitz wants it to be “gleaming white,” the white of villas in Harvestehude and pretty boats in Hamburg harbor. Why not? Plans to build a supermarket on the site of the former concentration camp in Ravensbrück have sparked outrage, but at the former Nazi headquarters in Hamburg silence reigns.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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