Nazi Amphitheaters

Apr 28, 2021 0 comments

Near the summit of a large wooded hill overlooking the town of Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, stands an open-air theater called a Thingstätte. Built during the Nazi rule for performances, public meetings and propaganda presentation, the Heidelberg Thingstätte was Hitler’s attempt to emulate the theatrical culture of the ancient Greeks, a civilization that the Nazis looked up to, by building amphitheaters across the Third Reich. About 400 were planned, but only about 40 were built.

Thingstätte in Heidelberg

The Thingstätte in Heidelberg. Photo: lincolnblues/Flickr

Thingstätten were built in the early 1930s as part of the Thingspiel movement, which was—according to Henry Eichberg—”a facet of high-level manipulation on the part of the totalitarian state.”

The Thingspiel movement began in response to the global economic crisis that followed the stock market crash in 1929, that put out of work many actors and other theater people. Wilhelm Carl Gerst, co-founder and head of the Catholic Theatre Union, began looking for a new media format where professionals and laypeople could create dramatic events publicly together. With this he hoped not only to open up a new way of existence for the unemployed stage artists, but also to influence public opinion with suitable works.

A Thingspiel was thus a festival and a rally in one. Models and precursors to this movement were the communist workers' mass festivals, such as those that had been organized for union celebrations since the early 1920s. The name “Thing” was adopted from the ancient practice among Germanic people to gather in an outdoor setting for judicial and social purposes.

1936 Summer Olympics at the Berlin Waldbühne

1936 Summer Olympics at the Berlin Waldbühne. Photo: Vass Károly/Wikimedia Commons

The Berlin Waldbühne in 2008

The Berlin Waldbühne in 2008. Photo: Markwaters |

After the Nazi party seized power, the actor Otto Laubinger, a staunch National Socialist, conveyed that the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda recognized the young association, placing the movement under the protection of the RMVP and headed by Joseph Goebbels himself.

Between 1933 and 1939, nearly four hundred Thingstätte were planned, and some three dozen of these open-air theaters were completed by 1935. Hundreds of actors, sometimes even thousands, often took part in Thing plays. The Thingstätte in Heidelberg, to take one example, has a capacity of approximately 8,000 seats but more than 20,000 people attended when Joseph Goebbels spoke from the podium.

The Thingspiel movement was short-lived. Hitler himself was not a big believer in the revival of ancient Germanic practices, and outdoor theatre could not sustain its appeal in the commonly cold and damp German weather. It proved impossible to build so many new theatres quickly, and audience enthusiasm waned for the action-poor Thingspiele, and playwrights also failed to write enough of them. In addition, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels saw much better possibilities of influencing the masses via film and radio than in the ideologically ostentatiously overloaded thing games.

After the war, some of the completed Thingstätten found use as venue for concerts. Others fell into disuse.

The Kalkberg Stadium

The Kalkberg Stadium located in a disused quarry in the center of Bad Segeberg. The Karl May Games have been held here every year since 1952. Photo: Hecki/Wikimedia Commons

The open-air stage in Loreley

The open-air stage in Loreley was originally a Thingstätte. It is still in use today. Photo: Helfmann/Wikimedia Commons

Heidelberg Thingstätte

Heidelberg Thingstätte. Photo: lincolnblues/Flickr

Heidelberg Thingstätte

Heidelberg Thingstätte. Photo: Dudlajzov |

Thingstätte in the Brandberge

The Thingstätte in the Brandberge in Halle was the first Thingstätte to be built. It is in a poor state of preservation. Photo: Milenavaleska/Wikimedia Commons

open-air theater in the Kuhtal on St. Annaberg in Upper Silesia

The open-air theater in the Kuhtal on St. Annaberg in Upper Silesia. Photo: Thmy/Wikimedia Commons

Thingstätte in Windeck

The Thingstätte in Windeck. It contains a National Socialist memorial in memory of those who fell in the First World War. In the rotunda, which has been preserved to this day, you can still read the inscription "Born as a German - Lived as a fighter - Fallen as a hero - Risen as a people". Photo: Bernd Olbertz/Wikimedia Commons

# Henning Eichberg and Robert A. Jones, The Nazi Thingspiel: Theater for the Masses in Fascism and Proletarian Culture, New German Critique
# Wikipedia


More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}