The Schwerbelastungskörper. Would the Nazi Triumphal Arch sink in its self-created hole?

The Schwerbelastungskörper (Berlin-Kreuzberg, September 2013). No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

Considered the above cylinder as a unique piece of history, albeit Nazi, one can understand its monumental status. The first thing you have to know about this unit though, is that it’s never been build for its own sake. It only served as a testing ground for another construction and therefore should only be used for a few years, if not months. What should have been tested here? And why is it still not deconstructed? You’ll read it in the wicked history of the Schwerbelastungskörper!

In his future plans to show-off his power as soon as he dominated the world, Hitler designed a Triumphal Arch in ±1926 already. When things got closer, a ‘Nord-South Axe’ was planned from S-Bahnhof Papestraße (nowadays S-Bahnhof Südkreuz) towards the Lehrter Bahnhof (nowadays: Hauptbahnhof) and further north to Nordbahnhof. A 120 meters wide boulevard with the biggest monuments, important cultural organisations and offices of the biggest companies had the function to convince unknowing, rural civilians from the beauty of national-socialism. To remember and honour the German victims of the First World War, Hitler’s Arch would be the first attraction to bump into. There was work to be done: the project of this axe had to be finished in 1950 by its latest.

Model for the 'North-South Axe', dating from 1939. ©Bundesarchiv, Bild 146III-373 / CC-BY-SA

Officially, Albert Speer was given artistic freedom to construct this arch. Speer remembered though, that Hitler gave him a drawing of some arch in 1936. The lickspittle understood that his career would be guaranteed if he realised Hitler’s design. His Arch had a height of 117 meter, and the names of more than 2 million names of WWI casualties would be immortalised in here. It would be an impressing kick off for the next seven kilometers of Nazi architecture. Speer though, realised that the megalomanic construction could be quite demanding for Mother Earth. In March 1938, before any construction work took place, he demanded a test to proof the local soil. A solid cylinder of reinforced concrete, weighing 12,65 million kilogram, was armed with the newest measuring equipment. The 21 meter high monster, with an additional 10 meters underneath the surface, was given the name Schwerbelastungskörper, or in short: Bauwerk T. Still, it wasn’t before April 1941 that the Schwerbelastungskörper was constructed with the forced help of French Prisoners of War (POW’s). Half a year later, the construction of the Schwerbelastungskörper was finished. In the meanwhile, Hitler had been impatient with the construction of his Arch: a serious amount of natural resources was bought already in March 1940.

Hitlers sketch from the Triumphal Arch. ©Unknown

It wasn’t before June 1944 though, that test results from the Bauwerk came out. While a bulge of 2 to 6 centimeters was allowed, the cylinder sank about 19 centimeters within its first 2.5 years already. To be honest with you, it remains unclear to me if they were analysed in 1944 already, or not before 1948. One rumor says that Hitler heard about these facts, but ignored them and demanded the immediate construction of the Arch. The post-war conclusion from 1948 postulated that the Triumphal Arch would be too heavy for the surface, unless the soil would be solidified. This technique was already known in the 1940s till a certain extent. In the meanwhile, there was no more need for a Triumphal Arch whatsoever!

Inside the Schwerbelastungskörper (Berlin-Kreuzberg, September 2013). No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

Since it is located amidst a neighbourhood, it was not allowed to blow up the Schwerbelstungskörper with explosives. From 1951 up to 1983, the Bauwerk was again used for soil testing. After twelve years of  emptiness and slow deprivation, the Bauwerk is listed and protected as a monument. Taken this in account, the Schwerbelastungskörper is actually a piece of remains for another project, though still too difficult to get rid of. Besides, there is a serious chance that the Bauwerk T was redundant – since the negative advice for Hitlers prestige-project wouldn’t stroke with his impatience. Since September 2009, the Schwerbelastungskörper is renovated and accessible. Inside the concrete cylinder, its ground floor is visible. Next to the Schwerbelastungskörper, a bunch of stairs lead you to the platform which reveals a view on the top of the Bauwerk T. At the street level, a permanent stand informs you about Hitler’s unrealistic urban planning, characterised by the heaviest-set constructions which should be build in the shortest time-space. To me, it is clear that Berlin’s soil would not have been strong enough – but it remains unclear it could have been made like that. Only if it would not, the project couldn’t have been more symbolic; Hitler’s Triumphal Arch – sinking down in a self-created hole.

The Schwerbelastungskörper and a city-view (Berlin-Kreuzberg, September 2013). No © needed, photo by Joep de Visser

For details to visit the Schwerbelastungskörper, click here.

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