Through moldering archways and crumbling columns wind grim and mossy paths, streaking their way past ancient Corinthian capitals and decayed statues and all the detritus of the ancient world. This is the ruin archetypical, the classic picture of the remnants of the classical world, assembled for future generations to stare at and journey through, overawed at the grandeur of the empires that once were. Aesthetic comment aside, however, the architects and engineers of both past and present do not design their buildings with this ideal directly in mind: indeed, ruins for them stand as much a symbol of impermanence, of the fleeting nature of even the greatest human constructions, as of the endurance of empires past. For one uniquely modern regime, however, the idea of the ruin held great promise not only for its ruler, but for its chief architect as well. Before tearing through Europe in a spree of conquering, Nazi Germany in general and Adolf Hitler in particular were obsessed with the preservation of their thousand-year Reich in brick and stone. And in the architecture they left behind lies the same lessons inherent in all ruins: a reflection of culture, of occasional triumph, but inevitably also of downfall.
Certainly Hitler had at least some more background than most in the arduous task of designing a comprehensive architectural style for the Third Reich — the classic portrait of Hitler as art-school-failure-turned-dictator already does enough to support such an idea. Indeed, even his failure to enter art school was in some ways fueled by his own interest in architecture: the pastoral unpopulated watercolors of buildings and cottages he submitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna were ultimately rejected for being an architectural rather than artistic portfolio. These early paintings do reflect Hitler’s future predilections for both the pastoral and the grand, with rural landscapes jostling with grand and florid renditions of the aging landmarks of Vienna, the last trappings of the once-great Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hitler renders both with a meticulous eye, carefully delineating rustic bricks and fading facades, with the few people present merely dabbed in, splotches of rogue paint inhabiting the landscapes and buildings of Hitler’s Vienna.[…]