The Nazis Strongly Supported the Arts - The Story of Munich's 'House of German Art'

"Prizes would be given for artistically exemplary representations of genetically healthy families with many children."

The Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art), a monumental colossus of sandstone and marble, was fashioned after Schinkel’s neo-classical Old Museum in Berlin. The contemporary art museum in Munich is located at Prinzregentenstraße 1 at the southern edge of the Englischer Garten (English Garden), Munich’s largest park.

The opening ceremony on July 18, 1937, was preceded by pageants and festivities celebrating Two Thousand Years of German Art, paying tribute to Germanic and Hellenist heritage and honouring Dürer and Cranach as the culmination in German art.

<figcaption>Arno Breker's Flora</figcaption>
Arno Breker's Flora

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Chancellor Adolf Hitler spoke at the opening address. “This temple will be part of the immortal achievement of the German artistic heritage”.

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The Haus der deutschen Kunst (Model)

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Paul Ludwig Troost with Hitler before a model of the Haus der Deutsche Kunst. Location: the atelier of Troost in Münich, beginning of August 1933. Notice the portrait of Frieda Thiers at the background. Left from Hitler: Paul Ludwig Troost. Right from Hitler: Gauleiter Adolf Wagner.

The original plan was to fill the Haus der Kunst with art which would pay tribute to Germany’s two thousand years of culture. The House of German Art attracted 2,009,899 visitors, more than three times the number that attended the German Exhibition, and was probably the most popular art event of all time. From this point on, art in a form preferred by the National Socialists held undisputed sway in the cultural life of Germany and, after 1939, was the much-approved fashion in the liberated countries of Europe as well.

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The eight exhibitions that were held in the House of German Art in Munich between 1937 and 1944 offered a valid cross-section of the best artistic efforts from all of Germany.

The spectacular ceremony surrounding these exhibitions clearly emphasised their representative nature. Local publicity at the opening of exhibitions was provided in a number of ways. Pageants designed around the theme of a Day of German Art took place. Participants wore historical costumes and fancy dress, and models of German artworks were displayed. The German Chancellor gave cultural speeches, at which events the National Socialist leadership and public were in attendance.

Periodicals carried pages of promotional overviews. Many were the magazine reports, pictures, postcards, radio, and newsreels that publicised the events. The attendance was as follows: In 1937 there were 600,000 visitors; 1938, 460,000; and 1939, 400,000. In the early war years, attendance rose even higher. In 1940 there were approximately 600,000 visitors; in 1941, 700,000; and in 1942 it was more than 840,000.

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The exhibition of 1937 was the first of these exhibitions and acted as a template for similar exhibitions. Broadly speaking, these exhibitions displayed both alien (to Germany) degenerate art and German renaissance art.

The pageant called Two Thousand Years of German Culture was intended as an embodiment of German history, as an aesthetic manifestation of what was permanent in that history, not as a historical illumination of an ever-changing present or of the present world.

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The Völkischer Beobachter, the leading newspaper at the time, July 19, 1937:

“What we are seeing here is another world, the images, figures, and symbols of history recaptured. The language they speak is powerful and awe-inspiring. And indeed thousands upon thousands stand spellbound by this splendour, by the incredible beauty of this spectacle, a spectacle that dissolves the present day and moment, a scene that is the distillation of centuries:

The Two Thousand Years of German Culture exhibition is an understanding of history that dissolves the present day and moment, that excludes experience of the present, and that manifests itself in the form of aesthetic images.

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Even these mere imitations of mighty symbols drawn from the mythical world of our ancestors have the power to overwhelm our modern sensibility. The sun, the symbol of day, the moon, and the goddess of the night convinces and impress upon us their brilliant colours. Figures from our forefathers’ sagas are suddenly among us, the stirring tones of trumpeters and drummers on horseback rouse us from our ecstatic meditation. The first great scene in this pageant has passed by.

The next great era of German history is the Romantic period (sic). Charlemagne, King of the Franks; his enemy Widukind; Henry II, founder of cities; Frederick Barbarossa; Henry the Lion, the great colonizer, all belong to this epoch.

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Representations of their deeds affect us more powerfully than the symbolised figures themselves. Bamberg and Naumburg, cities founded by Henry II, and Henry the Lion’s German colonisation, symbolically evoked before us, become tangible, become reality. Then come the Gothic period with its knights, ladies, and its works of art. Here, too, small details, carvings on capitals, choir stalls, and altar-pieces.

Mercenaries, accompanied by pipers and drummers, head the parade of the German Renaissance. In the shadow of their sword, Durer, Holbein, and Cranach created their works of art for the German people. Are they not brothers, the artists, and soldiers? Tableaux from the High Baroque, the classic, and the romantic periods are followed by the modern age, our age.

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The historical part of the pageant included 3,212 costumed participants. The modern section included 3,191 taking part in the parade, 456 animals, horses, dogs, falcons, and 26 trucks.

“Is it really necessary to portray the modern age to us who are the builders, workers, and toilers of this last era of German history? Yes! We are too close to our own time. We lack the perspective on it. Today, on this day, we were granted that perspective. Today we sat as spectators in the theatre of our own time and saw greatness.

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The exhibitions were organised by the NS-Kidturgemeinde (NS Cultural Committee) in 1935 and 1936. There were also historical exhibitions. In some cases, the combination of sponsors interested in a given theme is worth noting.

The exhibit Seafaring and Art was jointly sponsored by the National Socialist Cultural Committee and the Reich Association for German Dominance of the Seas. The National Socialist Cultural Committee and the Reich Association for Large Families held a competition for the exhibition Pictures of the Family. In their announcement, they stated that prizes would be given for artistically exemplary representations of genetically healthy families with many children.

Arno Breker's Flora

At the end of this pageant celebrating 2,000 years of German culture, soldiers appeared again, soldiers in grey, soldiers in brown, soldiers in black.

The Wehrmacht and the SA (Sturmabteilung (Storm Troop) marched down lanes of cheering spectators. NSKK (Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps, National Socialist Motorised Units), Arbeitsdienst (Work Corps) and SS (Schutzstaffel Elite Guard) reaped the final waves of applause.

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Group marching in the “Pageant in Honor of the Day of German Art” with a model of the House of German Art, Munich, October 15, 1933.

Chancellor Adolf Hitler laid the cornerstone of the great building on October 15, 1933. Remarkably, only 8-months had passed since the National Socialist German Workers Party had in the General Election of 1933 been elected to govern Capitalist-Communist free Germany.

The ceremony was accompanied by a lavish celebration in honour of this Day of German Art. A model of the new building was exhibited in the parade held at that time. The Munich museum, designed by Paul Ludwig Troost with Hitler’s active collaboration, was built of massive cut stone and had a marble interior. The materials chosen had a special significance.

Professor Troost insisted from the Art in the Third Reich beginning that the House of German Art be not merely a showplace for paintings but a representative structure, a temple of German art.

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The cellar houses a combined heating and humidity control system powered by gas. At a lower underground level, there was situated a modern air-raid shelter. It would be fair to say that the most advanced technology available has been utilised, but the building does not in its appearance bear the mark of technology.

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In the case of the Munich museum, the building was to express “in its proportions and in the quality of its materials the dignity and greatness” of German art. That is to say, the building itself was to support and complement the artistic self-expression it housed.

Eyewitnesses report that Chancellor Adolf Hitler himself stepped in at a preview and accepted a number of works by painters who had not been previously selected. Among them was Ferdinand Staeger, who later expressed his gratitude and devotion in propaganda painting.

The building symbolised the sovereign right of the people to enjoy and, in an ideal sense, to own their own art, which was no longer to be reserved for royalty alone.

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The original plan in Munich, too, had been to extend the theme of the pageant to an exhibition also entitled A Thousand Years of German Art, which would pay tribute to the history of German culture and its popular character. In effect, the popular German Chancellor was giving German art back to the German people who were in truth its parent.

Adolf Ziegler, the painter of nudes and president of the Kulturkammer (Chamber of Culture), signed the announcement for the entry competition. “All German artists in the Reich and abroad” were invited to participate. The only requirement for entering the competition was German nationality or race. According to the catalogue, papers for 25,000 works were submitted and of these, about 900 were exhibited.

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The Haus der Kunst is a museum built on the instruction of Adolf Hitler. The works of contemporary artists Promoting the National Socialist idea and racial purity were exhibited from 1937 to 1944. The ambition here was to contribute to the rebirth of the purity of the European soul.

VIDEO: Day of German Art 1933; Hitler salutes crowds


MICHAEL WALSH is a British born Irish journalist, author, and broadcaster. His 52 books include best-selling REICH AND WRONGWITNESS TO HISTORYTHE RED BRIGANDSRANSACKING THE REICH , THE ALL LIES INVASION and SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH: ARNO BREKER AND REICH SCULPTORS  SCULPTURES OF THE THIRD RIECH:  JOSEF THORAK AND REICH SCULPTORS

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