National socialism on vacation

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The remains of KdF resort on the Rügen Island, Germany

The way many Germans spent their holidays changed dramatically under the Nazi regime. The trade unions, which had often organized holidays for workers, were dissolved and all issues related to workers' leisure were brought under the auspices of the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront). In 1934, the national program known as "Strength through Joy" ("Kraft durch Freude," or KdF) was launched to take advantage of the economy of scale that such a central organization could command.

Special trains rolled through the country, with flags, flowers, and cheering masses organized at the stations, carrying thousands of “worker-vacationers” to the resorts. KdF became the largest European tourist office, with the number of sold holiday packages reaching eight million before the war broke. The prices of the packages, even those for cruises to Madeira and other destinations, were extremely low. While KdF attracted worldwide attention, companies in Germany that catered to better-heeled tourists pointedly advertised destinations far from the beaten KdF track.

The culminating point of KdF activity was Europe's largest holiday resort on the island of Rügen. The construction work started in 1937. The gigantic structure has extended to a length of five kilometers along the beach in Prora Bay and was intended to accommodate twenty thousand holidaymakers at a time. After the highway system, it was the second largest civilian investment in the Third Reich. Architect Clemens Klotz took up the basic pattern of a typical "bourgeois" seaside resort – a promenade with hotels along the beach – but he had transformed it on an unprecedented scale.

Each of the ten thousand identical rooms had a view of the sea, which had previously been the preserve of the elite in the resorts of old Europe. Though it was never completed, Prora suited other forms of mass accommodation: it was used as an army barracks after the war. It now lies abandoned.

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Slawomir Lotysz, 'National socialism on vacation', Inventing Europe,



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Making the European 'mass tourist'

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the expansion of leisure time for lower middle-class and working-class Europeans, as well as a number of organized efforts to bring people out of crowded, polluted cities and into the countryside. Like many other social movements, this so-called "mass tourism" was a major logistic and technological effort, sometimes by private clubs or unions, sometimes by entrepreneurs, and sometimes by centralized governments.

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Kraft durch Freude, German leisure during the second World War

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