Broader than broad; Hitler’s great dream: three metre gauge rails across Europe by Robin Barnes

Hitler wasn’t a great fan of trains; he much preferred either motoring (the freedom of the road, with the great Autobahns planned and executed by the Organisation Todt), or aviation (see the opening shots of Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumph of the Will’, with Hitler descending from the skies in his Junkers trimotor like some Wagnerian god). But above all, Hitler wanted to be seen as the Man of the Future, and recognising the essential part that Germany’s railways played in the economy, he was quite happy for trains to have a place in the Greater German Reich.

Hitler’s architectural fantasies are well known; less so are his plans for massive, three-metre gauge railways to connect the distant parts of the future Reich together. These railways, planned in quite meticulous detail, were to employ the latest technology and awe the subjects of the Reich into wonder at the achievements of National Socialism.

Of course, it all came to nothing. But the plans are intriguing; the trains, in particular, were designed to impress. The railway industry of the Reich put a lot of time into proposing designs for this scheme, though a lot of that must be put down to enlightened self-interest.

And by reading between the lines, the nature of the Greater German Reich can be teased out (if it were at all necessary). Pure Aryans would travel in palatial vehicles, with observation cars, bars, restaurants and cinemas; “Ostarbeiter” (“workers from the East”) would be moved in coaches capable of carrying 480 people at once, convertible from day to night use and with basic facilities only. There can be no doubt that the new Germany would have based its class distinctions on race.

Robin Barnes has done a good job of research in a subject previously little known of. He has also illustrated some of the designs with paintings from his own hand. And lest anyone think that he has allowed himself to be a little carried away by all this, he does make this useful observation: “Do not confuse fascination with admiration.”

(A second, expanded edition has, I understand, recently been published.)

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