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Hitler’s megalomaniacal project to raze much of Berlin and transform it into his global Nazi capital killed thousands. Today, its few remnants are chilling, mundane, even graceful – and inseparable from a barbaric chapter in history
Resembling a huge, ripe, cracked brie, one of the few remnants of the Nazis’ attempts to make Berlin a world capital of the Thousand Year Reich they claimed would be “comparable only to ancient Egypt, Babylon or Rome” now sits surrounded by shabby, peach-coloured residential blocks in the south of the city.
The monstrous concrete cylinder, with a 21-metre radius and weighing the equivalent of 22 Airbus A380s, juts out of the ground more than four storeys high and descends a further 18 metres under the surface. It is a chilling symbol of what might have been, had the Nazis managed to realise their plans.
The so-called Schwerbelastungskörper, or “heavy load test structure”, was built to simulate the weight of one of the four pillars of the 120-metre high Triumphal Arch, planned for the north-south axis of Germania, and marks the spot where the north-east pillar would have stood.
“Berlin’s swampy ground was seen as a potential hindrance for such a massive structure, so the engineers of the German Society for Soil Mechanics were commissioned to check the extent to which it would have to be reinforced,” says Micha Richter, a Berlin architect and leading member of Berlin Underworlds, an association that holds tours of historic sites across – and mainly underneath – the city. “Its 12,650 tonnes of concrete were poured over seven months in 1941,” he says. French PoWs were among those deployed in its construction. […]