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The Cathedral of Light

Every year, the Nazi Party used to hold large annual rallies in Nuremberg, which was at that time the center of the German Reich. These rallies were grandiose propaganda events, carefully orchestrated to reinforce party enthusiasm and to showcase the power of National Socialism to the rest of Germany and to the world.

At the designated assembly grounds, which spanned more than 10 square kilometers, hundreds of thousands of party loyalists, as well as spectators, assembled. Buildings were festooned with enormous flags and Nazi insignia. Immaculately dressed soldiers, holding flags and torchlights, goose-stepped through the streets. Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis delivered rousing speeches, and there were magnificent fireworks displays.

In 1933, after Adolf Hitler rose to power, the Fuher decided that the Nuremberg rallies needed to be even more extravagant events than they already were. So he called his favorite architect, Albert Speer, and entrusted him the responsibility of building a large stadium.

Unfortunately for the Fuher, the stadium could not be completed in time for the 1933 rally. But Albert Speer was a resourceful person. As an ad hoc substitute for an unfinished stadium, he devised a cathedral built not of concrete but of light. Speer borrowed from the Luftwaffe 152 powerful anti-aircraft searchlights and placed them pointing skywards at intervals of 12 meters. When switched on at night, it created an immense wall of towering beams encircling the rally and making it visible for miles around. Speer described the effect as like being in “a vast room, with the beams serving as mighty pillars of infinitely light outer walls.”

The Cathedral of Light, as it came to be known, is still considered amongst Speer's most important works.

The Flak Searchlights Speer used were very powerful devices. Developed in the late 1930s, each searchlight was nearly five feet across and had an output of 990 million candelas, bright enough to illuminate enemy aircraft flying 5,000 meters above and up to 8 km away.

The 152 searchlights that Speer used for the Cathedral actually represented most of the country’s entire stockpile. Hermann Göring, the commander of the Luftwaffe, objected to the misuse of this strategic resource, but Hitler overruled him suggesting that using searchlight in such large numbers could trick other nations into believing Germany had far more searchlights than they actually did.

The Cathedral of Light became the characteristic element of all future party rallies until 1938. The 1939 rally was cancelled at the last moment when Germany invaded Poland igniting the Second World War. Ironically, the 1939 rally was supposed to be named “Rally of Peace”, because it was meant to reiterate the German desire for peace.

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