It is disturbing to think that Adolf Hitler still has something important to say. It is even more disturbing that we should pay attention. And yet, Despina Stratigakos shows us why we should in her book Hitler at Home.
It is clear that architectural historians have long favored the schemes of Albert Speer over those of Gerdy Troost—Hitler's preferred interior designer. Speer's work was public, Troost's private. His work was grandiose, hers mundane. And perhaps most important, his work was male and hers, well, female. Given the subject matter of her previous book, A Women's Berlin, we should not be surprised that Stratigakos reminds us how important females have been to the history of visual and built culture.1 As she says, if Speer had been more involved in Hitler's domestic sphere, maybe the Führer's domestic spaces would be more familiar. She also points out that the primary Troost archive in Munich will not open officially until 2019—something that tells us a lot about how the availability (or lack thereof) of documents has shaped the field, in terms of both the topics covered and the questions asked.
Stratigakos notes that architectural historians have privileged the public, grand, and male. In so doing, they have fallen victim to the ultimate fascist ploy—that of celebrating the mass spectacle of public architecture. Indeed, the history of twentieth-century architecture is a history of monuments and white men.
Hitler at Home reclaims the story of Hitler's three primary domestic spaces: the Old Chancellery in Berlin, which was remodeled and refurnished in a modern, decluttered, and technologically savvy fashion when he became chancellor in 1933; his apartment on the dignified Prince Regent Square in Munich, which was refashioned to create the image of a more cultured inhabitant; and the Berghof, his Alpine retreat in Obersalzberg, where he often entertained foreign dignitaries and pretended to be a man of the mountain. Troost renovated each of these spaces during the Third Reich to reflect an understated refinement.
There is no doubt that the book pushes the boundaries of architectural history by drawing upon the domesticity of Hitler. We are forced to recognize that interior domestic space was not just important to the Reich but central to it, as Hitler sought to position his domestic self vis-à-vis his public persona. We see that the domestic is far from simply benign and private. In the case of this evil leader, it was public and dangerous. As Stratigakos argues, visualizing Nazi architecture began from the inside out. This is Extreme Home Makeover—Hitler Edition.
Throughout, Stratigakos shows us the importance of media coverage (including photographs by Heinrich Hoffmann and Eva Braun) as an element in architectural history. It was the news media that presented images and narrated texts about these three residences for the public—convincing them (including the British and Americans) that Hitler was a man of the people. As a result, even for those who never visited the houses, which most readers of the media coverage did not, the spaces were familiar and fetishized. In the process, politics, tourism, and architecture converged—especially at the Berghof, where as many as five thousand visitors demanded to see their Führer daily (some taking away fence posts as mementos). It is clear that the image of Hitler's domesticity was not only public and political but also carefully constructed so as to exclude the 150 SS officers, barbed-wire fencing, and watchtowers that defended the mountain retreat.
Stratigakos shows how the Munich apartment and the Berghof were also occupied by very different inhabitants as World War II came to a close—Allied soldiers rifled through Hitler's medicine cabinet, soaked in his bathtub, slept in his bed, and drank wine on his terrace. The residences represented for them the ultimate renewal of body and spirit—something Hitler himself had sought.
The book is well written and thoroughly researched. Stratigakos draws upon abundant print media, including magazine and newspaper articles, photographs, and architectural plans, and makes good use of her unprecedented access to the sealed and uncatalogued personal papers of Gerdy Troost. That said, the reader is left wanting to see more material culture—one table setting designed by Troost (featured in fig. 53) is not enough, particularly when the author convincingly shows how media coverage was used to create and cultivate an image of Hitler's purported softer side—animal loving, child-friendly, and nature inspired—a far cry from the image of the man behind the gas chambers.
This is relevant given that Stratigakos held a fellowship at the Wolfsonian–Florida International University in Miami, the bastion of material culture from this period. So where are the ashtrays, rugs, and tourist trinkets? In other words, where is all the stuff that defined these spaces?
Another qualm lies with the book's design—and this is no fault of the author, but rather the responsibility of Yale University Press. The publisher has bundled the book's color images as a series of plates in the center of the volume, where they are divorced from the author's text that discusses them and separated from the black-and-white images with which they are in dialogue. This is an outdated design strategy that goes back to the introduction of color printing; today it is inexcusable and cheap. This book merits better. And in an age of an uncertain future for print books, publishers should not only be cognizant of good design but also serve as role models in providing it in their products. Otherwise readers might ask, why buy the book? In other words, a good argument (as demonstrated by Stratigakos) merits good design. And this lies squarely within the purview of the publisher.