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Holiday camp with a Nazi past

By Tristana Moore
BBC News, Prora

Historic aerial photo of Prora (photo: Bernd Kuehl)
Old aerial photos show the immense scale of Prora (photo: Bernd Kuehl)

It has a long, white sandy beach and several miles of beautiful, unspoiled coastline, but Prora, on Germany's Baltic Sea island of Ruegen, does not feature in tourist brochures.

Perhaps it's something to do with its history - as a Nazi holiday camp.

But the local authorities in Ruegen think it is time to turn a new page, and have approved plans to turn Prora into a modern tourist resort.

Strolling along the beach, you catch a glimpse of the imposing, concrete buildings which are partly obscured by a pine forest.

When you walk over the sand dunes, you are struck by the sheer scale of Prora, an eerie relic of Germany's Nazi past.

The sprawling 5km-long resort now consists of five identical, six-storey buildings (originally there were eight buildings, but three now lie in ruins).

Mass tourism

The Nazis planned mass murder and they also planned mass tourism, as part of their attempt to indoctrinate the entire German population.

With its fine, white sand, Prora is like a Caribbean beach
Kerstin Kassner
Reugen councillor

The vast complex, designed to accommodate 20,000 visitors, was part of the Nazis' "Strength through Joy" ("Kraft durch Freude," KdF) programme.

The aim was to provide leisure activities for German workers and spread Nazi propaganda.

The plans included a cinema, a festival hall, swimming pools and a jetty where Strength Through Joy cruise ships would dock.

Prora accomodation block
After years of neglect there are renewed hopes for Prora

The Nazis started building Prora in 1936.

But, at the same time, Hitler was making preparations for war. That took priority, and the massive building project was never finished.

During the Allied bombing campaign, many refugees took shelter here.

After the war, Prora was used as a military outpost for the East German army. But since German reunification in 1990, the buildings have stood empty.

Ambitious plans

Today, the whole place is still pretty deserted, except for a small museum and disco.

Locals call Prora the Colossus, and you can see why - it is a gigantic monumental structure.

There are hundreds of empty rooms, with many windows smashed by vandals.

After years of debate, the plan now is to turn Prora into a modern holiday resort.

Four of the five blocks have been sold to private investors and the district council of Ruegen.

This is where the Nazis wanted to feed and entertain people, as well as indoctrinate them. It's not really a holiday destination
Heike Tagsold
Prora historian

The council wants to build a 500-bed youth hostel in one block, which will cost around 15m euros (13m).

"Prora has one of the most beautiful beaches on the island of Ruegen. With its fine, white sand, Prora is like a Caribbean beach," says Kerstin Kassner, a local councillor.

"It isn't nice to have such a large, empty property on the beach, so we have to bring life back to this area," she adds.

Developers have a new vision. They want to build hundreds of holiday apartments, with cafes, discos, hotels, sports halls and swimming pools in order to attract thousands of visitors.

"We want to revamp Prora as quickly as possible," says Horst Schaumann, the mayor of Binz.

"We'll be able to house 3,000 people here in the future. We want lots of young people and tourists to come here and enjoy their holiday in this peaceful resort," he adds.

Mixed feelings

Construction of the new resort is due to start next year.

But the idea of turning Prora into a tourist attraction is proving controversial.

In the nearby seaside town of Binz, locals have mixed feelings about the new project.

"We've got enough tourists here already and we don't need any more visitors," one man says.

Prora museum
The Prora museum charts the rise and fall of the Nazi complex

"Prora should be left as a reminder of the past and it shouldn't become a package holiday resort. We must not forget our history," Kathrin, a shopkeeper says.

"I don't think that it is right to build a new resort here, because of what Prora stands for," says Heike Tagsold, a historian at the Documentation Centre in Prora.

"This is where the Nazis wanted to feed and entertain people, as well as indoctrinate them. It's not really a holiday destination. I can't imagine coming here on holiday, and I don't think people should enjoy themselves at this place," she says.

It is not clear whether the museum will remain in Prora once the building work gets under way - but Ms Tagsgold insists it should.

"Far-right groups are powerful in Germany. We have to make sure that people understand what happened in Prora, so we need to keep this museum," she says.

The plans for the new resort are still up in the air and the local authorities and developers have still not decided the museum's fate.

"We won't ignore the history of Prora. It's a listed property so the building's facades will be preserved," said Guedrun Reimer, from Binz council.

But whether Prora can be transformed into a popular holiday destination remains to be seen.

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