There are obvious comparisons to be made between Adolf Hitler’s unrealized vision of building Germania, the architectural prize the Fuehrer wished to bestow upon himself and the nation once victory in the Second World War had been secured, and the megalomania displayed by Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow that has seen the fruits of his skewed priorities represented in the form of countless but unnecessary white marbled buildings in Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital.
Nobody can ever set Hitler’s genocidal methodologies side by side with the bumbling but power-mad former dentist, although the very need to display the power one has through the medium of construction does in that sense place both dictators on the same page. Hitler and his Nazi architect Albert Speer planned to flatten what is modern day Berlin and replace it with what they assumed would be the crowning glory of the Third Reich’s triumph over the allies. Edifices on a scale that are barely imaginable even by today’s excesses were not only envisioned but close to becoming reality, as was the wholesale destruction of the Polish capital Warsaw, to allow much needed ‘lebensraum’ for pure breed, indigenous Germans. The cruel irony of the Berlin/Germania project was that the countless Jews defenestrated from their homes into concentration camps were forced into producing the very bricks that would replace the demolished homes in which they previously lived.
Buildings reflect the power of a regime, and final proof of the Nazi’s superiority would have been displayed in the frankly frightening scale imagined in their architectural dreams. Indeed, Germania’s purpose wasn’t just to serve as the Nazi capital of Germany, but the centre of a globe it saw as there for its taking. Far from just being a German capital, this was to be the epicentre of worldwide Nazism.
It is doubtful that Berdymukhamedow will have taken inspiration from the Nazi’s flawed ideology, although the penchant for buildings pointless for both their over-sized aspect and Potemkin-esque usefulness popular with he and the likes of Nicolae Ceausescu, shows that the fallacious belief common to most dictators that leviathan construction projects speak volumes for one’s might and competence is alive and well. Ashgabat has become a city few will ever visit, including the country’s own residents. Rather like a row of expensive ornaments on your grandparents’ mantle-piece, Berdymukhamedow’s buildings are strictly bracketed in the ‘look but don’t touch’ category.
To be built along neoclassical lines Hitler’s vision for Germania was to reflect his fondness for Italian and Geek architecture, whose “ruin value” was as heavily prized as the aesthetic appeal attached to the finished, and functioning, article. It was just as important to look good as a ruin a thousand years hence, as it was in real time. I doubt that Turkmenistan’s premier has given much thought to a time when he won’t be running the country, although it isn’t had to imagine that any uprising during or after his reign would precipitate the demise of his pet projects that have diverted many billions of crucial funds away from where he country’s people need it the most.
Unchecked megalomania usually ends in tears: Ceausescu, Mugabe, and to a far lesser extent Tito are examples of time and tide waiting for no man – however vital he deems himself to be to the nation and his place in world history. Berdymukhamedow assumes his countrymen should be grateful for the architectural advancements that his genius has bestowed upon them, although mere mortals cannot expect to get near to them or understand their raison d’etre. A drive to contrive a dynasty worthy of following, and furthering his work is the only way the misplaced faith placed in the built form will continue to live on in the nation’s consciousness, although in reality the hollow nature of such gestures runs strictly in tandem with the use these capital projects are to a society he seemingly despises.
Source material and further information:
Guy Walters’ excellent and essential series that imagined the consequences of World War 2 victory for Hitler’s Nazis: