The Congress Hall stands on the shore of Dutzendteich (Dozen Ponds) lake and formed the entrance to the rally grounds.
The lake in the middle of the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds was shrunk during the Third Reich and split into two parts by a large, granite-topped marching field, creating the large and small Dutzendteich.
The lake served as a reservoir for a nearby airfield, which remained unbombed during WWII. Lake water was used to flood and conceal the runway when it was not being actively used. It had what looked like 2-foot high curbs, masking the runway from above.
Tunnels under the lake reportedly stored aircraft and equipment for airfield use. By the time I arrived, access to lower levels had been blocked with concrete. The tunnels had been mined and were deemed too dangerous after soldiers died during explorations.
The Dutzendteich with its idyllic ponds and extensive green spaces was created by damming a small stream. It has been a popular recreation site since the 15th Century. Much of the area was returned to park use shortly after the war.
The Great Road
The rally grounds were fashioned around the “Great Road,” almost a mile and a quarter long and 130 feet wide. It was to be a parade road for the Wehrmacht (armed forces).
In the northwest, the road points toward Nuremberg Castle to link Nuremberg during the first Reich (Holy Roman Empire) and Nuremberg during the Third Reich.
The road reached from the Congress Hall to the Märzfeld parade ground. The stretch was made of retangular granite pavers in black and gray with edges 3.9 feet long. An entrance portal and two pylons were planned at the northwestern end of the Great Road.
Near the entrance area of the German Stadion, a grandstand with a hall of pillars was planned for the government leaders and generals. They were to accept a salute from Wehrmacht formations.
Construction started in 1935 and was finished in 1939. But the road, really a square of black and gray, was never used for parades once the war started. The last party rally here was in 1938.
After the war, the road was used as a temporary airfield for the U.S. Army. Today, it is used by the nearby Nürnberg fair and exhibition company as an occasional parking area for highly attended events.
Merrell Barracks looked a lot like this in 1970 (the photo is from 1955). It was formerly the SS Kaserne, a base for members of the Schutzstaffel (SS), an elite Hitler guard unit. It is just down the street from the former Nazi Party complex, and the tenants provided support for the rallies.
After WWII, the U.S. Army used the barracks for nearly half a century for soldiers of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which patrolled the East German and Czechoslovakian borders.
As a reporter, I looked for stories regularly at Merrell, but it’s difficult to get into the former base now. Merrell Barracks was returned to the Germans in 1992, and the renovated base now is the local headquarters of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
To protect the privacy of people inside, I was not allowed to take close-ups of the front of the building. It is wholly different today. For decades, Germans left the bullet and shrapnel holes in the front wall as a reminder of the war, but the main entrance today doesn’t show signs of the damage.
European Capital of Culture 2025
The Nazi past may have come back to haunt Nuremberg. It would be difficult to overstate how seriously Nuremberg took the years-long chase after the designation “European Capital of Culture 2025.” The papers were full of it. Plans were made. Funding was dependent on it.
But in late 2020, the jurors preferred Chemnitz, on the border with the Czech Republic. The application from Chemnitz, a stronghold of the right-wing AfD political party, emphasized ways that culture could harness the general population in improving coexistence there.
Nuremberg’s entry was more abstract, and much attention became focused on what the city proposed to do with its stone legacy of Nazism in the southeast.
The paper stated that almost half of Nuremberg residents have migrant roots but that in popular perception, Nuremberg was still that city of annual Nazi rallies, Riefenstahl’s film “Triumph of the Will,” the nefarious antisemitic Nuremberg Laws, and the birthplace of international law in the post-WWII Nuremberg Trials.
It was believed the culture award would bring the city $50 million. Now the city is looking at its list of 600 planned projects and considering which to keep and how to fund those.
Next: The Trials