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Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

Germany has a difficult history, and that’s a fact.

But it also has a difficult balance to strike in when and where to bring that history to the fore.

As a nation, it has some very telling self-flagellating visitor attractions, where no punches are pulled. I’m thinking particularly of the Holocaust Memorial right in the centre of Berlin, and the Documentation Centre in the former party rally grounds in Nuremberg, whose exhibits analyse the way in Hitler and the Nazi party manipulated the national psyche.

But now the German Youth Hostel Association has been criticised for its use of history in the promotion of a new youth hostel in the former national socialist holiday centre at Prora, up on the island of Rügen on the Baltic coast.

Prora is an extraordinary 4.5km-long construction, designed by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, and it was planned to offer holidays for up to 20,000 people at a time, in the era of National Socialism. In the end, it was never finished, and would probably have been knocked down if it hadn’t been so immense. Now, however, part of it has been refurbished and opened as a massive youth hostel, with 400 beds. It’s a great location, backing a massive sandy beach, and it’s not surprising that the hostel is almost completely sold out for the summer season.

So far, no real problem. Unfortunately, however, a group of neo-Nazis has apparently praised the initiative for continuing Hitler’s strategy of providing cheap holidays, and now voices are being raised elsewhere to the effect that this was never a suitable place for having holidays. And even more voices are suggesting that the Youth Hostel Association should never have mentioned that the hostel is ‘in the world-famous Prora KdF buildings’ (KdF stands for the Nazi organization ‘Kraft durch Freude’ meaning strength through joy).

So what were they meant to do with Prora? Leave the place to rot, and try to pretend it didn’t exist? Nobody died here. Brutal though its architecture may be, its reopening as a place of accessible recreation is well-intentioned, and I think it’s good to see it being used. Visitors, German or otherwise, can choose to come here – or choose to stay away, if they feel strongly about it. But to criticise the hostel organisation as if it had some hidden fascistic motive is just plain wrong.

Prora’s page:  http://www.jugendherbergen-mv.de/Jugendherbergen/Prora%20mit%20Zeltplatz720/Portraet

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