Animated film provides look into Hitler's Chancellery and raises questions

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Half a century ago, Hitler's monumental chancellery in Berlin disappeared completely. Now, though, it has been digitally recreated. A new animated film provides a unique look inside the center of Nazi power.

The camera pans leisurely along the façade before zooming in on secret trap doors set into the road running in front of the monumental structure. Not far away, a truck suddenly disappears below the street riding on a hidden lift. In a different scene, the camera rotates a full 180 degrees around a sumptuous courtyard. If you look closely, you'll see the Adolf Hitler looking out of his office window.

When they were in power, the Nazis were careful not to allow such intimate images of the Reich Chancellery, then located in the heart of Berlin, to reach the public. But now -- some 50 years after the last remnants of the building, designed by Hitler's private architect Albert Speer, were demolished -- a new, animated video has emerged full of sharply focused and detailed images of the ambitious project -- a digital tour through Hitler's grandest building. Christoph Neubauer, 34, spent much of the last three years assembling his virtual visit.

The video, called "Albert Speer's Neue Reichskanzlei," hit the shelves of German stores earlier this month and almost immediately triggered a scandal. During one presentation, the video's creator was berated by the audience and accused of having created a video sure to be an instant hit among the neo-Nazis -- a film for the right wing to revere.

"I really have absolutely nothing to do with the neo-Nazis," Neubauer protested, saying he was "totally surprised" by the accusations. Neubauer, the head of a small graphics company, has been living in the South African capital of Pretoria for the past four years. He is dating a black woman -- and he says he was shocked by the xenophobia they encountered recently on a vacation he and his partner took to Neubauer's home in Germany.

Neubauer has received support against his critics by Laurenz Demps, a historian at Humboldt University in Berlin. Neubauer's film, Demps says, is "much too sober and far too complicated" for it to be fetishized in the right-wing scene. Demps himself finds the animation fascinating. Photos, he says, could never "communicate the atmosphere created by such buildings."

That's exactly the effect Neubauer was trying to produce and to do so he recreated even the minutest of historical details when rebuilding the chancellery on his PC. The resulting animation also shows how fixated Speer was on the needs of his Führer to the exclusion of all else; he clearly didn't care how comfortable the rest of the offices in the building were.

The central section of the building, for example, where Hitler's office was located, is roomy and elegant. In the offices reserved for the bureaucrats, on the other hand, the atmosphere is bleak. A number of rooms received hardly any natural light at all and the tar-paper roof ensured that the top floors of the building were unbearably hot in the summer and icy cold in the winter. Because the central part of the building was reserved for Hitler's office and pompous excess, there were also no hallways connecting the upper floors of the building's two wings. Those who wanted to go from one side to the other had to walk all the way down to the cellar.

The film also shows, more clearly than any photo possibly could, just how arduous the journey from the building's entrance to Hitler's office was for foreign guests. "The long journey from the foyer to the reception hall will surely demonstrate something of the greatness and the power of the German Reich," Speer noted in his memoirs in discussing the almost sadistic pleasure Hitler derived from the design. As if the walk itself wasn't enough, Speer also used numerous tricks of light and optics to intensify the building's cool and daunting atmosphere.

Neubauer destroys one myth about the construction of the Reichskanzlei right at the beginning of the video. Speer, so goes the myth, erected the building in the impossibly short time of just one year. Not so intones the narrator. Rather, the myth is a "Nazi propaganda lie that even today is repeated by historians and journalists."

The confusion comes from Speer himself. In his memoirs, published in 1970 under the title "Inside the Third Reich," he says that Hitler sprung the project on him at the end of January 1938 and said he wanted it finished on Jan. 10, 1939. "That was the most careless promise of my life," Speer writes about accepting the challenge. But in 1981, historian Angela Schönberger, in her book "The New Reichs Chancellery of Albert Speer," presented a rather different version of the story. According to her, Speer had already submitted a cost estimate for the first chunk of the building in March 1937. In total, in other words, he had two years to complete the chancellery.

The work of Schönberg, now director of the applied arts museum in Berlin, provided the foundation for Neubauer's film. And he needed the help. Even six months after beginning his project, he had still never even visited the site on Vossstrasse in central Berlin where the Reichskanzlei once stood.

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