Hamburg: the ‘Catastrophe’ of July 1943

  • Niels Gutschow


After a long period of neglect, Fascist town planning in Germany has become a favourite topic of research scholars since the early 1980s. No doubt, this ‘new discourse’ adds to the manifold books and articles about every facet of Fascism. Saul Friedländer analysed this new discourse in his Reflets du nazisme2 and pointed out a tendency to neutralise the terrible aspects of Fascism through a reinterpretation of symbols. Friedländer described how the fascination with death played a very important role in German Fascism. Death rituals were indeed the main focus of the Nazi party congresses, and the later redevelopment plans (Neugestaltungspläne) made the death memorials the very heart of the new centres. In summer 1944, Friedrich Tamms wanted to replace the high‐rise party tower planned for Hamburg with a death memorial, and Hans Bernhard Reichow wanted to grow a grove there in memory of Germanic gods. Thus German Fascism formed its urban centres as stages for a religion of death. What might this have meant for the planning of the bombed urban centres? And how might our reflection on these plans change our perception of the reconstructed towns?


Green Space Town Planning Fascist Planning Planning Office Resettlement Programme 
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  1. 1.
    A scholarly account of this period must remain subjective for me because it deals with my own past and that of my father, Konstanty Gutschow, who from March 1939 until December 1945 was the Architekt des Elbufers and then Architekt der Neugestaltung der Hansestadt Hamburg. For nearly two years in 1942 and 1943 he headed Hamburg’s planning office, and from November 1943 he was chief planner of the reconstruction planning staff under Albert Speer. He was thus in power during the years discussed in this essay. Quotations from ’Papers of K. Gutschow’ are from the private archive of K. Gutschow which in toto was handed over to the Staatsarchiv Hamburg in January 1987. When quoted, file numbers are contemporary, 1943–4. The whole corpus of documents at present is in the process of inventarisation.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Saul Friedländer, Reflets du nazisme (Paris, 1982; New York, 1983; Munich, 1984).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    ‘In the shortest possible time through its new construction programme (Neugestaltung) Berlin must be made to represent its position, made possible by the size of its conquests, as the capital of a strong new empire. In the realisation of these many important building projects I see a major contribution to the ultimate securing of our triumph’ (source: Brief des Reichsstatthalters an Baurat Gutschow vom 17.7.1940 mit Abschrift des Erlasses ’Adolf Hitler, Hauptquartier, den 25.6.1940’, papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Siedlungsgestaltung aus Volk, Raum und Landschaft, vol. 1: Totale Planung und Gestaltung — eine politische Forderung (Berlin, 1940). See also Karl Neupert, Totale Planung und Gestaltung’, in Bauen, Siedeln, Wohnen, vol. 5 (Berlin, 1940).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Paul Schmitthenner, c. September 1943: ’The deficient inteffigence in the shaping of human life can be seen most clearly in the development of the metropolis, which is the most palpable manifestation of the way technology shapes life. ... The problem of the masses arose in the metropolis, and with it today’s social problem generally, the problem of our period and the world. ... A city is a firmly formed manifestation of the community of humans. The city serves to house people; everything else derives from the needs of the people and the rights of the inhabitants. In the form of the community, however, one finds also the greatness of civilisation and culture. ... An old idea for reducing the density of the metropolis is that of satellite cities, which means simultaneously decentralisation in spatial terms but centralisation of the administration. A new and more sensible way appears to be the building of entirely new, independent cities with rational living conditions in all respects for the inhabitants, the human beings. The necessity for this is general. It is to be expected that the world war will bring with it huge political and economic dislocations, which will lead to the creation of such new cities!’ The destruction of Cologne was described as follows: ’over three‐fourths of the old city is entirely destroyed and the rest so badly damaged that it must be demolished and cleared away. Even those few buildings that are still usable probably must be torn down, so that a clear new urban design can be formed. A completely new plan is needed, so that a Cologne that is able to respond to new needs will be a living representation of our age(source: papers of Paul Schmitthenner, in possession of Elisabeth Schmitthenner, Munich).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Gerhard Graubner, ’Der Wehrgedanke als Grundlage der Stadt-gestaltung und Stadtplanung’ [no date (c. December 1943], from the papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Jeffry M. Diefendorf, ‘Konstanty Gutschow and the reconstruction of Hamburg’, Central European History, 17 (1985).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Rudolf Hillebrecht cites Liliencron’s poem, ‘Lewwer duad üs Slaav!’ and says, ‘If we are clear about things and don’t lose our will, then we need not be too anxious, since our reserves are enormously large’ (from Nachrichten unserer Kameraden im Felde, no. 16 (April 1943) p. 7).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Rudolf Hillebrecht: ’There can be no doubt that one cannot keep up with the growing destruction of housing and that this competition between the Tommies and us builders will end to our disadvantage if one just puts one’s hands in one’s lap and does not take the needed organisational countermeasures at the right time and with sufficient intensity’ (ibid., p. 4).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    For example, Martin Middlebrook, The Battle of Hamburg: Allied Bomber Forces Against a German City in 1943 (London, 1980); Hans Erich Nossack, Der Untergang (Hamburg, 1943, reissued with photos by Erich Andres and an introduction by Erich Lüth, Hamburg, 1981); F. Werner, Das Gesicht der Hansestadt Hamburg im Wandel der Jahre 1939–1945: Bilder aus Nachkriegs— und Kriegszeit (Hamburg, 1951); Rolf Stephan, Hamburg — ehemals, gestern, heute (Stuttgart, 1981). Of special importance is the account of Alexander Friedrich, ‘Versuch über die Zerstörung Hamburgs’ (12.8.1943). An artist and copperplate engraver, Friedrich did the ’official’ engravings of Hitler’s Reichskanzlei. His report was published privately in Hamburg in 1963 by Schacht & Westrich; it was partly published in Nachrichten fürunsere Kameraden im Felde, no. 23 (April 1944) pp. 4–5.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hans Pieper, ’Hamburg - Bericht über die Angriffe vom 25./26. Juli 1943’, Lübeck 16 August 1943. From the private archive of Klaus Pieper, Braunschweig.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Max Karl Scharz, ’Gedanken zur Neuplanung der Hansestadt Hamburg unter besonderer Berücksichtigüng der Umwandlung zerstörter Wohngebiete in Auforstungen. 31.8.1943’. He wrote: ‘In the beginning of rebuilding there was the need first to make a natural landscape out of the destroyed area. This evolved initially in the direction of afforestation, from which the raw material “forest” would come. It is a generally recognized fact that the forest conceals within it the element of strongest revitalisation. Only after these destroyed areas have been revived by the forest will it be possible to make a genuine urban landscape (Stadtlandschaft) there, that is, houses with gardens’ (source: papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Rudolf Heuson, ‘Vorschläge zur Unterbringung von Bauschuttmassen der Stadt Hamburg’, 11 March 1944: ‘In the interest of public health and in order to conceal the ugly vistas until the ultimate completing of urban plans for these areas, the total destruction of entire quarters of cities requires among other things an intermediate solution through the planting of the masses of rubble’ (source: papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg, file E6).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Letter of Max Karl Schwarz, Worpswede, to K. Gutschow, 31 July 1944: ’The desire for a house with a garden, even within the urban area, is only secondarily desirable for reasons of health and productivity; it is primarily desirable because the garden is the source of life. ... It is the German fashion to derive spiritual abilities and physical strength from the connections with nature. However this source of vitality for the Germans has more and more been cut off by a pervasive alienation from nature. ... It is clear to me that multistorey buildings are an expression of the Jewish spirit, and with such buildings we have recently been spreading the speculative and paralysing idea that everything can be built only on the basis of mass, number, and weight. ... The planned reconstruction is a genuine resettlement, a new rootedness, rooted in the land. That is no romantic idea, but rather it is truly the only basis for the future life struggles that the now aged Europe has to carry out against the people of the east’ (source: papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg, file: Akte Hamburger Wiederaufbauplanung 1944/45, Bd. 4: Auftragsbearbeitungen 1–13).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Landesplanungsgemeinschaft Hamburg (Konstanty Gutschow), Hamburg, 5 September 1943, Unterbringung der hamburgischen Bevölkerung: ’These conditions will have to be improved constantly and will thereby lead to a new form of existence for the metropolis of the future, a decongested metropolis that reaches far into the country, such as was already sketched out as an idea in the general plan of 1940–1’ (source: papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    This section is based on the papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg (Ile: Schnellbau‐Wohnungen Hamburg).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    ’This year one million temporary housing units must be built. In a few years we must have a surplus of temporary housing units. Everyone who is bombed out must be able to have a new place to live on the following day. Some speak of “Leyist” dog houses. These units must [if need be] be built of mud and manure, even if the architects refuse to see that. What happens after the war doesn’t concern us now; I must forbid [thinking about] that’ (source: Niederschrift uber die Tagung der Gauwohnungskommissare in Hamburg am 27. und 28. Januar 1944; from papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg, file ‘Schnellbauwohnungen des Gauwohnungskommissar, 1944’).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    ’The programme to build temporary housing is a weapon in this war, used in order to combat the housing blockade which our opponents have forced on us’ (source: Ansprache des Reichs-wohnungskommissars Reichsleiter Dr Ley auf der Gauleitertagung am 23. und 24. Februar 1944 in Munchen; from papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg, file ’Schnellbauwohnungen des Gauwohnungskommissar, 1944’).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    ‘Vorschlag der Vereinigung Niederdeutsches Hamburg über die Einrichtung einer Denkmalszone in der Umgebung der Katharinenkirche’ (no date or place), from papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Letter of Friedrich Dryssen to Landeskulturwalter Hans Rodde (no date). Appendix to a letter to K. Gutschow, 14 February 1944: ’The artistic will of our generation will have to be shaped by knowledge won in building air defenses. New forms of housing, new street widths and new street layouts will allow something new to be created’ (source: papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hermann Valett: ’We must proceed radically from the thought that only certain praiseworthy features which are not destroyed will remain: natural features — the Elbe, the Alster valley, the depressions of the marshes, the sandy uplands — all curiosities, oddities, and things of beauty, many geological and economic preconditions and relationships’ (source: papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Werner Kallmorgen: ’The outer Alster must be restored to the character of a Holstein lake with meadows and parks on the east and with a beech forest from the steep western slope to the middle. In the narrow areas it will be widened to the edge of the marsh at the Harvesterhuderweg. This way a concentration of greenery can be obtained that now is randomly divided according to urban coincidences. The greenery of the Alster is to be valued as a representative green area in contrast to the hygienic green of the city parks’ (comment on his design, dated 14 March 1944; from papers of K. Gutschow, Staatsarchiv Hamburg).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Niedersächsisches Amt für Landesplanung und Statistik (Hrsg.), ‘Gutachten über die Grundlagen für den Neuaufbau der Stadt Wilhelmshaven’, Reihe G. Heft 1 (Hannover, 1950), with articles by Wilhelm Wortmann and Max Karl Schwarz. In the papers of Max Karl Schwarz there are numerous manuscripts dealing with landscaping blighted areas: ’Die Bedeutung der Trümmerbegrünung beim Wiederaufbau zerstörter Städte’, 8 August 1949, and ’Praktische Vorschläge für die Begrünung und Bepflanzung insbesondere der Trümmerflächen zerstörter Städte als erste und vordringliche Wiederanfhaumascnahme’ (no date)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    ’Kiels Friedensarbeit beginnt!’, Rede des Oberbürgermeisters Gayk zur Haushaltssitzung der Stadt Kiel, 24, 25 and 26 (März, 1947) Schriftenreihe der Stadt Kiel.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jeffry M. Diefendorf 1990

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  • Niels Gutschow

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