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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Twenty-three: Berlin to the Baltic

Michael Palin - New Europe'Organising one's free time privately has no value to the German people,' claimed Robert Ley, the alcoholic with a severe personality disorder whom Hitler put in charge of the programme.

All Nazi buildings had to be monuments to the thousand-year Reich, and a holiday camp was no exception. Work began in Prora in May 1936, and by the summer of 1939 over 3 miles of five-storey accommodation stretched along the coast, enough rooms to take 20,000 people at a time. But no holidaymakers ever came here. The outbreak of war brought other priorities, and the People's Resort became a hospital for evacuees from the bombing of Hamburg, and a hostel for forced labour squads from all over Nazi-conquered Europe.

Now under federal ownership, there is a museum here, and one or two well-intentioned educational projects, and some talk of a hotel, but its scale is so daunting that, sixty-eight years after it was built, it's still here, a long, dusty-white concrete skeleton between the pine forest and the sand. I walk through it and onto the beach. A few boys are playing football. A crisp, cooling breeze comes off the Baltic.

I look behind me at the wreckage of a dream. A dream of a Europe united by force.

I've seen a new Europe these past five months, a Europe which could be united, for the first time in history, by co-operation rather than conflict.

If it happens, and the signs are hopeful, it will be a mighty achievement.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Twenty-three: Berlin to the Baltic
  • Country/sea: Germany
  • Place: Prora
  • Book page no: 285

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