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How the Third Reich Copied Theatrical Culture of the Ancient Greeks: Secrets of Nazi Amphitheaters
How the Third Reich Copied Theatrical Culture of the Ancient Greeks: Secrets of Nazi Amphitheaters

On the lands of Baden-Württemberg in Germany, among the beautiful wooded hills, stands a theater right in the open air. It is called Thingstätte. From here you can enjoy a splendid view of the nearby city of Heidelberg. The amphitheater was built by the Nazis during their reign with propaganda purposes for performances and popular gatherings. Hitler thus tried to imitate ancient Greek theatrical culture. The powerful civilization of the past admired the ruling elite of the Third Reich. What secrets are kept by the now forgotten stage of the Hitler regime?

High-level manipulation

Amphitheater in Heidelberg

In the early 1930s, amphitheaters became part of the Thingspiel movement. According to Henry Eichberg, this was an important aspect of manipulation at the highest level by the totalitarian state. It was planned to build 400 structures, but only about four dozen were built.

The Thingspiel movement was born in response to the global economic crisis. It immediately followed the 1929 stock market crash. As a result, many actors and cultural figures were left without work and livelihoods. Wilhelm Karl Gerst, co-founder and head of the Union of Catholic Theaters, began looking for a new media format. In it, he planned to combine the efforts of professionals and laymen. Form the conditions in which they could together create public performances. With this, Gerst hoped not only to provide work for the theater artists who had suddenly become unemployed, but also to influence public opinion with suitable works.

Summer Olympic Games in Berlin Waldbühne, 1936 Berlin Waldbühne in 2008

Thus, the Thingspiel movement became something between a political rally and a theater festival. The model for this movement and its predecessor were the mass events organized by the communists for the working class. Similar mass festivals have been held for workers' unions since the early 1920s. The name was borrowed from the ancient tradition of the Germanic people to organize public gatherings and tribunals, gathering in the open air.

The Kalkberg Stadium is located in an abandoned quarry in the center of Bad Segeberg. The Karl May Games have been held here every year since 1952. Photo: Hecki / Wikimedia Commons

Goebbels himself led the movement

After the Nazis came to power in Germany, they began to look at propaganda more broadly. The then famous actor Otto Laubinger has always been a staunch National Socialist. Regarding the development of the Thingspiel movement, he told the press the following: “The Reich Minister for Public Education and Propaganda has recognized the young association. The movement is under the protection of RMVP. It will be headed by Joseph Goebbels personally”.

In the 30s, it was planned to build almost four hundred open-air theaters. Their construction took six years. About three dozen of these Thingstätte were built in two years. Hundreds of actors, sometimes even thousands, often took part in the plays that were staged there. There were always a lot of people gathered there. For example, the amphitheater in Heidelberg seats about eight thousand people, but when Joseph Goebbels spoke there from the podium, more than twenty thousand spectators managed to attend.

Amphitheater in Heidelberg Open-air scene in Lorelei. It is still in use today

The collapse of the idea

Thingspiel, as an organized movement, ended its existence pretty soon. Adolf Hitler himself was not such a supporter of the revival of ancient Germanic traditions and customs.In addition, the development of open-air theaters was hampered by the usual cold and damp weather in Germany. The idea lost all attractiveness in such conditions.

The amphitheater at Brandberge in Halle was the first. Now completely abandoned

It turned out to be absolutely impossible to build so many new theaters, moreover, in such a tight timeframe. The enthusiasm of the audience also subsided rather quickly. Thingspiele performances were rare. The playwrights did not manage to write enough propaganda plays. On top of that, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels believed it was easier to influence the masses through films and radio. Theatrical performances seemed to him too demonstratively ideologically overloaded and pretentious.

Open-air theater in Kuchtal on St. Annaberg in Upper Silesia Amphitheater in Vindeck. There is a National Socialist memorial in memory of those killed in the First World War

After the war, only a few of the completed Thingstätten buildings continued to be used as concert venues. All the rest simply ceased to be needed and were abandoned. Another Nazi idea in the dustbin of history.

The ideology of Germany is often compared to the ideology of the Soviet Union. But do they really have that much in common? Read our article about why there were no days off in the Soviet Union for 11 years.

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