Where officers from the Nazi's armed forces used to gather during World War II, Hamburg, Germany's upper class can now buy a luxury apartment in a complex that includes a gym and yoga studio, four saunas and a lounge co-designed by the renowned Karl Lagerfeld.
From the front, the building erected in 1936 – with its metre-high columns framing the entrance and two large eagles on the roof – looks out of place among the neighbouring designer houses and big mansions.
The building is one of several across Germany with Nazi ties that have been turned into luxury properties where critics say not enough is being done by the developers to acknowledge the sites' history.
While the front facade of the Sophienpalais, as the Hamburg building is now known, and a memorial plaque in front of the entrance bear witness to its history, in light of the Wehrmacht's war crimes in World War II, "one would have wished for more historical sensibility and responsibility," says architectural critic Ralph Lange.
"A monumental Nazi building in the front, swanky apartments in the back. This doesn't do justice to the building at all," he adds.
After World War II, the building for decades housed the military commissariat where young men had to undergo physical and medical examinations that would decide whether or not they had to serve.
In 2006, the federal government sold the building to a private company Frankonia Eurobau, which demolished and rebuilt parts of the structure after getting the green light from the monument conservation office.
According to the head of Frankonia Eurobau, Uwe Schmitz, these parts were not worth keeping, among them the entire back part of the building. They were thus replaced with contemporary architecture.
Buyers don't seem to mind the building's past. According to Schmitz, there are 105 luxury apartments, with eight now looking for a buyer. He's not too worried: "Sophienpalais has no problem with vacancies."
Some 200km northeast of the Sophienpalais is the district of Prora, on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen. Here, the Nazis built the so-called Colossus of Ruegen, a 2.5km-long series of five concrete blocks.
But the complex is also home to two documentation centres. Christian Dinse works in one of them. According to him, the cruel history of the place is not present enough.
"People, especially from Eastern Europe, were used as forced labour here during the war," he says. "Police battalions that were later involved in the deportation of Jews to death camps or that committed war crimes in the Soviet Union or Greece were trained here."
In Munich, a former Nazi bunker that's now home to apartments and offices stands at a busy crossing in the fancy Schwabing district.
But here, history is omnipresent, investor Stefan Hoeglmaier says.
Hoeglmaier bought the building a few years ago and renovated it, cutting big windows into the 2m-thick walls. Besides flats and offices, it also has exhibition spaces. The bunker's history always plays a role in these rooms, he says. They are an open platform meant to provoke discussion on architecture's role in society.
Such a critical space that is open to the public does not exist in Hamburg's Sophienpalais – to the regret of the city's former head of the Office for the Preservation of Monuments, Frank Pieter Hesse.
The building comes up short in confronting its history, Hesse says, advocating for a documentation centre within its structure.
Schmitz doesn't believe that this could work in a residential building, and the Office for the Preservation of Monuments adds that they cannot prescribe a specific use to the owner of the building.
"This would be a massive interference in property rights," it says.
Hesse recalls there being doubts when the decision to transform the building into private housing units was made. However, it was thought that, this way, at least the facade, the main room just above the entrance and the main flight of stairs could be preserved.
According to Schmitz, turning the structure into an administrative building would have disrupted the residential area's feel. The plaque next to the entrance is sufficient reminder of its history, he says.
Lange says that the right way of dealing with these Nazi buildings depends on how they came into being as well as how they were used.
"Thus, there is a wide variety of options, from reusing them rather uncritically to transforming them into a memorial or a documentation centre," according to the architectural critic. – dpa
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