Tag Archives: nazism

Icelandic Architecture: Thinking Small

Werner Daitz

Werner Daitz,the architect of Hitler’s concept of claiming Lebensraum (existential space) from Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonian, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks, Jews, Serbs and Ukrainians, updated his arguments in 1943, after the debacle of Stalingrad. On the principle that the fate of no one people was at stake but of Europe as a whole, he wrote in The Europe Charter:

A healthy life is only possible when every individual being, just like every naturally-occurring community, follows the Rule of Self-Sufficiency: as a foundational principle, to live in its own space and from its own strength — which is to say to live a non-imperial life. Imperial life is an unhealthy life for an individual, just as it is for a community. And, as it is today [1943], when the Individual human being has the “freedom” to lead an unhealthy life but only at the price of its own decline or to join a partnership under the pressure of an emergent crisis, so does a family, or a family of peoples, also have the undeniable freedom to temporarily lead an unhealthy — an imperial — life. But then it must either return from the compromises demanded by emergent crisis to an autonomous life or disappear.

Ralph Giordano

The article is a chapter in Dietz’s 1943 book The Rebirth of Europe through European Socialism. Daitz inspired Gunnar Gunnarsson’s friend, the architect Fritz Höger, after he spoke to the Nordic Society, a pan-Baltic, cross-cultural association of folk-based writers, which included Gunnar. Remember, though, that “European Socialism” in this context means “Nazism” and “Rebirth” means “the normalization of life after war.” As to what that normalization means, we can thank Ralph Giordano, from Höger’s Hamburg, who hid in a basement for the duration of Daitz’s war, as his father was Jewish and “freedom” meant the freedom to die in Auschwitz. In 1989, Giordano published a book titled What if the Nazis Had Won the War. He noted that Best, who had experience administering the Danes, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians through the German terror, developed a four-level administrative model:

 

 

Every people must look after itself, after looking after the continental administrators [Germans].

Every people must manage its own affairs, as representatives of the German government.

The central government of every people must work within the oversight of representatives of the Race of Leaders.

Under no circumstances will a replaced people participate in the government at any level.

Brutal stuff.  In the light of Best’s practical experience, it’s highly likely that Dietz meant that a return to normalcy meant a return to the world of folktale, with all other peoples replaced in order to forestall the creation of a liberal state or melting pot in which individual cultures would disappear. Höger and Gunnar, who met Daitz in 1932, took different lessons from Daitz’s existential war — different from Daitz’s above and from each others’. Höger tried to become the national architect of the Third Reich, to build buildings representing German folk traditions, and failed. Hitler wanted the imperial roman wedding cake architecture of Albert Speer. Gunnar left the continent to live the life as a modern German farmer in Iceland, in a house that Höger built.

Skriðuklaustur

The idea was likely to merge German-inspired administrative skill with Icelandic farm life, to enable more people to succeed on the land. No doubt, the plan was also to avoid Hitler’s war. Note that the building’s turf roof is an echo of old Icelandic turf houses, while the stonework is solid and North-German. Well, not really. Those rocks were supposed to have been square cut, but Gunnar’s Icelandic workmen could find no cuttable stone, so on their own, independent Icelandic initiative, drove down to the Hengifossá River (to the right) and brought home some river rocks and worked with that. The result is comic. Höger was incensed. It’s kind of a fairytale house as a result, but I’m proud of those Icelanders. They broke all of Best’s rules, all at once, even before he started planning the invasion of Denmark in April, 1940. Here they are again:

Every people must look after itself, after looking after the continental administrators [Germans].

Every people must manage its own affairs, as representatives of the German government.

The central government of every people must work within the oversight of representatives of the Race of Leaders.

Under no circumstances will a replaced people participate in the government at any level.

 

All broken! Even more lovely: for all his ambiguity and his bad choice in friends, Gunnar got it right too and also broke most of those laws, going so far as to tell Hitler the following in March, 1940, in his speech Our Land:

But one must always have the effect on the landscape at front of one’s mind and guard against mistreatment. For the way the landscape is treated is the way the people are treated. If tastelessness becomes the norm in the Icelandic landscape, gets a roothold and spreads widely, it will soon become visible in the spiritual life of the people as well. Perhaps there are already signs of this today.

In other words, none of Speer’s architecture and its imperial pretensions in Iceland, not for Gunnar. The Icelanders would look after their land themselves. None of this kitsch:

Just this:

And a day’s drive to the East, this:

And, everywhere, this kind of thing:

There’s more than one way to knock the stuffing out of imperialism.

Gunnar Gunnarsson and the Minotaur: Gunnar’s Faith, Part 2

Today, I’d like to welcome Friederich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), Swiss playwright and crime novelist, especially the former. He and Gunnar should have been friends. They were both energetic writers, both pioneers of criminal novels, and actively wrestled over a long period with ideas of ethics, morality, judgement and faith.
durrenmattToday Dürrenmatt’s old villa above Lac Neuchatel has been turned (on his bequest and with his financing) into a museum of … not his great twentieth century plays or his semi-autobiographical detective novels but his paintings, drawings, etchings and, well, look …

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Could be cheerier, right? Well, his youth was spent in Switzerland during the Second World War, and just over the border things looked much like that, actually. Worse yet, when he was quite young, he was a member of the Frontier Club, a parallel movement to Nazism within Switzerland. He soon gave it up, but he carried the guilt forward for his whole life, and, as he put it, without a confessor but himself he had no way to expunge it. One of his most profound attempts was through the play The Minotaur. We know the story from Ancient Greece: a creature half-man and half-beast…

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is imprisoned in a maze …

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… the hero comes to slaughter him …

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… which makes him into a beast …

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… and the beast into … well, Switzerland portrayed as a Roman Amphitheatre in which lions are eating Christians and the whole works. Either that or sunning on the riviera at Montreaux.

 

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I made these images in 2010. When I was there in 2008, this amphitheatre was an image of the bankers of Zurich, being caught at a transaction they wanted to keep secret. The maze and amphitheatre was the frame of the image. In two short years, the curators came up with the improved version above. Here it is below (notice the maze of images that surround it. The whole building is the Minotaur’s lair.)P1230894

 

The thing about Dürrenmatt’s play is that he fills the stage with mirrors so that even the audience cannot tell which image before them is the minotaur and which is a reflection of it; one might want to slaughter it, but where does one strike? Perhaps the image slaughters the self. Dürrenmatt was concerned with issues like this. He took protestantism more seriously than protestantism. P1230755

 

His radio play “The Accident” is perhaps most indicative of his method. In it, a travelling salesman suffers a car breakdown in a remote mountain village, on his first day on the job. He is directed to a villa, where a retired judge from Zürich (a foil for Dürrenmatt) and his friends are having dinner. The judge agrees to put the salesman up for the night, in return for his participation in a gentlemanly game. The salesman naively agrees. The game is an interrogation, in which the judges (retired) get to ply their trade by interviewing their guest (the salesman), on the principle that everyone is guilty of something; one only needs to find out what it is, and then absolve the person through sentencing. Well, I won’t give away the plot, but suffice it to say that the salesman’s secret is found, judgement is passed and then trifled with, and ultimately the audience leaves the stage under judgement itself, to argue the nuances away within society, in the bars and night cafés of Zurich. Every one of Dürrenmatt’s plays is a trial. It is the audience that is put on trial. There is no absolution. It is all quite shocking and, for a non Christian, exquisitely Christian, but you see, Neuchatel, where Dürrenmatt lived, actually is home to the minotaur. Sure, the guy is Dürrenmatt, but he is also this (well, androgynous)  guy:

standing

 

We are looking to what is perhaps an 8,000 year old Stele, carved several thousand years later by the Celts (who are the Swiss). This story of a beast becoming a man, which is the human story, takes place in Neuchatel without a break. For Dürrenmatt, a quintessential Swiss, civilization is a process of taming, which sometimes is a process of caging, and when you do it to yourself… what then? Why, you deflect it upon your audience, and send them home to wrestle with the mystery that cannot be resolved. That, I offer, is Gunnar’s story. All that’s different is that he has come to the story before the Second World War, and Dürrenmatt came to it during it, and Gunnar came to it from Nordic prehistory, while Dürrenmatt came to it from Swiss prehistory. For both of them, protestantism was larger than the church. It was  kind of defiance in and of itself — and not necessarily of a negative kind.

Next: Gunnar’s Bind