After years of uncertainty about its future, a Nazi-era resort on the German island of Ruegen is now set to get a makeover and open its doors for vacationers.
The windows are either broken or boarded up, the roof is leaking and the plaster is crumbling from the walls. But the monumental steel and concrete structure planned as a Nazi-era holiday complex has survived otherwise unscathed.
The gigantic building in the Baltic Sea resort of Prora on the island of Ruegen was part of Hitler's so-called "Strength Through Joy" program to keep Germans fit and healthy.
Never used by vacationers
It was to house 20,000 vacationers in 8,000 rooms as part of the Nazi program to make soldiers fit for war and workers strong for production.
No holiday-makers ever stayed at Prora. Work on the complex, which began in 1936, slowed in 1939 with the outbreak of war when Germany attacked Poland and was finally halted in 1943.
The only Germans to live in the half-built resort were refugees from bombed-out cities and those fleeing the invading Soviet Red Army. After the end of the war, the communist East German military used one of the five 550-meter (1,800-foot) blocks as a convalescence home.
The sweeping six-storey concrete complex is situated on one of Ruegen's most beautiful beaches and was closed to the public with barbed wire and guards armed with sub-machine guns.
Following German reunification in 1990 it was taken over by the federal government. Saddled with this unwelcome legacy, officials had been scratching their heads for years over what to do with Prora.
Decision after years of uncertainty
Now, 18 years after unification, a major reconstruction project is about to be launched to turn the site into a huge holiday complex.
The makeover was made possible after private investors and the local government in Ruegen purchased four of the blocks, which were under a historical preservation order.
Horst Schaumann, mayor of the nearby town of Binz, said that "after years of uncertainty we expect the construction cranes to start turning in the first half of 2009."
The local government is next month expected to approve 14.5 million euros ($18.4 million) to turn one of the blocks into a youth hostel, providing accommodation for 500 people by 2011.
A group of investors plans to spend 80 million euros to turn two of the other blocks into hotels, complete with pool area and 150 private apartments. Work here is also expected to begin next year.
The fourth block is to be made into a youth sports facility, event center and hotel complex for holidaymakers at a cost of 50 million euros.
If all goes according to plan, the entire area will provide rooms for 3,000 visitors.
Critics say state not taking responsibility
Some historians have criticized the plans, accusing the government of shirking its historical responsibility by selling the property to private investors.
Juergen Rostock, chairman of the foundation New Culture, says it is "scandalous" to host party-like events at what is essentially a site of remembrance.
"Holding parties there is what the 'Strength Through Joy' program envisaged," he said. "Prora stands for a perfidious social policy with which the Nazis intended to bring the entire population into line."
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