“Testing Germania, 1941-1944 (Berlin)”, Alexandre Mitchell, 2022
(Canson, 180g, 42 x 59cm, Indian ink)


I have visited Berlin several times and even lived there for a short while some twenty years ago. There is so much to see and experience in that enormous city of culture and contrasted history. Sure, there’s The Wall, the Reichstag, Wannsee lake, etc, but there is also Teufelberg, that weird hill made of debris from bombarded buildings or goddess Helle’s lake on Alboin square and her aurochs…

In my mind, there’s nothing stranger than noticing the absence of a thing. Hitler and his architect Albert Speer were planning to turn Berlin into a symbol of the Reich and their vision of the new city (later called Germania) was truly megalomaniac.

The dome of the Volkshalle, or people’s hall, an unrealised dome of enormous proportions would have been 290m high and held almost 200.000 people.

Megalomaniac and unfeasible plans. Yet, being German, they were thorough and decided to test the load-bearing capacity of the ground, to find out if it could withstand the weight of the Triumphal arch or the Volkshalle.

A heavy load-bearing body or Schwerbelastungskörper was built by French prisoners of war. It is a huge 12,650 ton concrete cylinder. The test consisted in measuring how many centimetres of the cylinder sunk in the ground over time. If it sunk less than 6 cm, the ground would be deemed sound enough for further
construction.

The German defeat put an end to Hitler and Speer’s vision of an axis mundi, a vast city to symbolise an eternal Third Reich. All that remains is a very ugly and heavy concrete cylinder.

It could not be destroyed because of its proximity to railroads and residential buildings. Some tried to turn it into a wall-climbing club and a café (on top of the cylinder) but they were not viable options.

It literally serves no purpose but as a reminder of what might have happened and what did happen.