Prora, Rügen: Kraft durch Freude is my most successful music video – very nearly my only music video – but the success is probably down to the music
All film and photographs used in Prora, Rügen: Kraft durch Freude, including photos of archive images, were made in or near Prora on the German Baltic island of Rügen between 29th February and 2nd March 2008. The sound of the sea at Prora was recorded at the same time.
Prora, on the Baltic island of Rügen, was not quite the world’s first holiday camp. (That was the Skegness Butlins in Britain opened in 1936.) But Prora was the first large-scale camp in concept. Designed by the Nazis to be an integral part of their Kraft durch Freude (KdF – Strength through Joy) workers’ indoctrination programme, Prora was to be capable of housing 20,000 people at any one time, all in rooms with a view of the sea. Each room would have piped radio, centrally controlled.
Ultimately there would be a string of these camps through which all the citizens of the Reich would pass on a regular basis. They would enjoy the benefits of a holiday in regimented form while being monitored and fed propaganda.
Strength through Joy
The Strength through Joy programme was a part of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF) – the German Workers Front. The centralised, Nazi controlled trade union – by Hitler’s decree – replaced all free German trade unions on 2nd May 1933. The symbol of DAF, a swastika in a cog wheel can be seen on one of the photos of archive material included in the film. DAF’s leader, Robert Ley, can also be seen in one of the archive photos. Also below here as he addresses an audience of German workers on board one of the KdF cruise ships. The Prora camp was designed to have docking facilities for the cruise ships.
When work on Prora began in 1936, it helped absorb the labour of the unemployed, a consequence of the Great Depression. That the project was more for show than anything else became apparent as labour was siphoned off for other engineering projects of more military and strategic importance. (Including the V weapons site at Peenemunde, also on Rügen.) The last workers on the site in 1939-40 were Polish prisoners of war. Prora was never completed.
The DDR days
During the days of the DDR, Prora was taken over by the Soviet Army and then the East German army. After the re-unification of the two Germanys, responsibility for Prora passed down from one authority level to another until it ended up where it remains now, in the hands of the city council of neighbouring Bintz. Today some parts of the sprawling building are used for a museum, other parts are occupied by a youth hostel or rented out to local entrepreneurs. At the time this film records, most of the structure that was still standing was empty. At the end of 2008, though, the BBC reported that private investors were planning to turn part, at least, into a modern holiday resort.
Times change, times repeat
I visited the camp with a group of history teacher colleagues in February/March of 2008, I’ve been looking ever since for some way to use the photos and film I made at the time. The place was very empty, the beach very beautiful and the buildings rather prosaic and almost melancholy in their uncompleted dilapidation. At the same time the story of Prora, the reason for its existence, was intimidating. It conjured up associations in my mind with army camps and concentration camps, the Gulag Archipelago and 1984.
This music by Endlos seemed to fit the mood of the images I had – a mixture of electronic and rock with a driving rhythm and a minimalist quality. To me it suggests progress through time. Things change, it’s true, but only slightly, and combinations of notes come back just as events repeat themselves. Children play, waves break, seagulls and people walk the strand. What are politics and human social engineering in the face of this?
For more information on Prora visit the virtual museum of the Prora camp: dokumentations zentrum Prora. Go to this page: http://www.proradok.de/index.html. Follow the links from here to the German or English language sites.
Holiday camp with a Nazi past A BBC article on Prora from December 2008 here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7777866.stm
Revisited and revised for spelling and SEO fine-tuning. Flash based YouTube video replaced. 12 Dec 2016.