The Reich Air Ministry (German: Reichsluftfahrtministerium) was a government department during the period of Nazi Germany (1933-45). It is also the original name of a building in Wilhelmstraße in central Berlin, the capital of Germany, which now houses the German Finance Ministry.
The Air Ministry was in charge of development and production of aircraft, primarily for the German Air Force (the Luftwaffe). As was characteristic of government departments in the Nazi era, the Ministry was personality driven and formal procedure was often ignored in favour of the whims of the Minister, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (1893-1946). As a result, development progressed only slowly and erratically during the war.
The Ministry was formed in April 1933 from the Reich Commissariat for Aviation (Reichskommissariat für die Luftfahrt), which had been established two months earlier with Göring at its head. In this early phase the Ministry was little more than Göring’s personal staff. One of its first actions was to requisition control of all patents and companies of Hugo Junkers, the German aeronautical engineer. These included all rights to the Junkers Ju 52 aircraft.
Defence Minister General Werner von Blomberg decided that the importance of aviation was such that it should no longer be subordinate to the Army. In May 1933 he transferred the Luftschutzamt, the army’s Department of Military Aviation, to the Air Ministry. This is often considered the birth of the Luftwaffe. The Ministry was now much larger, consisting of two large departments: the military Luftschutzamt (LA) and the civilian Allgemeines Luftamt (LB). Erhard Milch (1892-1972), the former head of Lufthansa, was placed in direct control of the LA, in his function as State Secretary for Aviation.
In September 1933 a reorganization was undertaken to reduce duplication of effort between departments. The primary changes were to move the staffing and technical development organizations out of the LB, and make them full departments on their own. The result was a collection of six: Luftkommandoamt (LA), Allgemeines Luftamt (LB), Technisches Amt (LC, but more often referred to as the T-amt) in charge of all research and development, Luftwaffenverwaltungsamt (LD) for construction, Luftwaffenpersonalamt (LP) for training and staffing, and the Zentralabteilung (ZA), central command. In 1934 an additional department was added, the Luftzeugmeister (LZM) in charge of logistics.
With the rapid growth of the Luftwaffe following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Ministry grew so large that Göring was no longer able to maintain control. This period was marked by an increasing inability to deliver the new aircraft designs that were desperately needed, as well as continued shortages of aircraft and engines. In 1943 Albert Speer took over from Milch, and things immediately improved. He was able to cut through the rigid hierarchy and make needed changes almost overnight. Aircraft production shot up, and projects that had been hampered for political reasons, like the Heinkel He 219 Uhu were finally able to proceed.
The Reich Air Ministry building, the largest office building in Europe at the time of its construction, was erected on the orders of Göring between February 1935 and August 1936, and designed by Ernst Sagebiel (1892-1970), who shortly afterwards rebuilt Tempelhof Airport on a similarly gigantic scale.
One writer has described it as “in the typical style of National Socialist intimidation architecture.” It ran for more than 250 m along Wilhelmstraße, partly on the site of the former Prussian War Ministry that had dated from 1819, and covered the full length of the block between Prinz-Albrecht-Straße and Leipziger Straße, even running along Leipziger Straße itself to join on to the Prussian Herrenhaus, the former Upper House of the Prussian Parliament. It comprised a reinforced concrete skeleton with an exterior facing of limestone and travertine (a form of marble). With its seven storeys and total floor area of 112,000 sq m, 2,800 rooms, 7 km of corridors, over 4,000 windows, 17 stairways, and with the stone coming from no fewer than 50 quarries, the vast building served the growing bureaucracy of the Luftwaffe, plus Germany’s civil aviation authority which was also located there. Yet it took only 18 months to build, the army of labourers working double shifts and Sundays. The first 1,000 rooms were handed over in October 1935 after just eight months’ construction. When finally completed, 4,000 bureaucrats and their secretaries were employed within its walls.
The Reich Air Ministry building was one of the few major public buildings in central Berlin to escape serious damage during the Allied bombing offensive in 1944-45. Afterwards the huge structure was quickly repaired, only the Ehrensaal (Hall of Honour) being much altered, remodelled into the Stalinist neo-classicist Festsaal (Festival Hall), and the enormous Prussian Eagle and Swastika that adorned its end wall being removed. Elsewhere however, the stated desire to eliminate all traces of Nazi symbolism may not have been carried through as thoroughly as promised. Swastikas had originally been carved into several stone and marble panels set into the exterior, especially two rows of ground floor pillars along Wilhelmstraße; rumours persist to this day that these panels were simply turned round and reaffixed with their blank rear surfaces now showing.
At any rate, once the work was complete, the building was then taken over by the Soviet military administration, and then from 1947-49 the German Economic Commission (Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission). In a ceremony in the Festsaal on 7 October 1949, the German Democratic Republic was founded, with Wilhelm Pieck as President and Otto Grotewohl as Prime Minister (Ministerpräsident). Later the building served the GDR Council of Ministers and other affiliated organizations of the GDR, hence its new name Haus der Ministerien (House of the Ministries).
From 1991-96, after German re-unification, it housed the Treuhand (Trust Establishment), which sold off ex-GDR state-owned companies, putting many thousands out of work and making its first chairman, Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, a very unpopular man. He was murdered on 1 April 1991, after which the building was renamed Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus on 16 January 1992 in his honour. From 1990 the Berlin branch office of the German Finance Ministry was also located here, and since 1999, following a vast refurbishment, the building has served as the Ministry’s headquarters. This refurbishment generated its own controversy by apparently failing to investigate the old rumours about the reversing of the swastika panels. If any were taken off again in the course of the work, or just out of curiosity to see what was behind them, the findings have never been made public, but certainly none were replaced with new stone, and so the rumours continue undiminished. It is claimed that there was a definite statement being made here, simply to encourage people to move on and let sleeping dogs lie. While still a source of contention for some, this appears to have been largely accepted by the majority.
At the north (Leipziger Straße) end of the building, a plaque commemorates the protest meeting of 16 June 1953, from which stemmed the following day’s Uprising of 1953 in East Germany. Also at the north end along Leipziger Straße, set back behind pillars, is an extraordinary 18 meter long mural, made out of Meissen porcelain tiles, created in 1950-52 by the German painter and commercial artist Max Lingner (1888-1959) together with 14 artisans, depicting the Socialist ideal of contented East Germans facing a bright future as one big happy family. In fact the mural’s creation had been a somewhat messy affair. Commissioned by Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl, Lingner had had to revise it no fewer than five times, so that it ultimately bore little resemblance to the first draft. Originally based on family scenes, the final version had a more sinister look about it, a series of jovial set-pieces with an almost military undertone, people in marching poise and with fixed, uniform smiles on their faces. Lingner hated it (and Grotewohl’s interference) and refused to look at it when going past, but it remained, and remains. Since 1993 though, it has been joined by another scene set into the ground nearby: a huge blown-up photograph of 1953 protesters shortly before their gathering was suppressed.
Source: www. german-architecture.info
By Eva Spirova