Architectural Legacy Vogelsang
From the “Ordensburg” to a historic learning centre

Aerial view of former "Ordensburg" Vogelsang, Eifel
Aerial view of former "Ordensburg" Vogelsang, Eifel | Photo: Roman Hövel

Golf club, go-cart track, organic farm - the proposals for civic use of the former National Socialist “Ordensburg” Vogelsang included even “managed deterioration.” In the end, the obvious idea of a historic learning centre prevailed. A decision that facilitates – as in the case of the former NS Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg – making a dark chapter of German history tangible. 


The new visitors’ centre adjoining the exhibition spaces finally could be launched in September 2016. Now, the permanent exhibition here, entitled: “Bestimmung: Herrenmensch – NS-Ordensburgen zwischen Faszination und Verbrechen” (i.e. Mission: Master Race – NS Ordensburgen between Fascination and Crime), now documents the baneful significance bestowed on this site in the Eifel region in the 1930’s. At that time, Reichsorganisationleiter (i.e. Reich Organisation Leader) Robert Ley, had a training facility built on a high plateau near the Belgian border that was to school the future elite of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei /NSDAP).

National Socialist gigantomania

Clemens Klotz, a Cologne architect who was also tasked with the “Bad der Zwanzigtausend” (i.e. Seaside Resort for 20,000) in Prora on the island of Rügen, was commissioned. From 1934 until 1937, following his design, the communal building with “Adlerhof,” tower, east and west wings and “Ehrenhalle” (i.e. hall of honour) arose. In addition, a castle tavern, ten “Kameradschaftshäuser” (i.e. comradeship houses) to accommodate 50 young men each, four “Hundertschaftshäuser” (i.e. buildings for 100 persons each), an open-air stage, housing for female employees, an indoor swimming pool and additional sports facilities. Up to 1500 workers from the region toiled for the rapid development of the 100 hectare grounds. In addition, an approximately 100 x 300 metre large “Haus des Wissens” (i.e. house of knowledge) was planned, as well as a “Kraft durch Freude” (Strength through Joy) hotel with 2000 beds. And finally one of Europe’s larges sports venues was to arise here. With the start of war in 1939, construction work that had begun was discontinued.

The concept “Ordensburg” (literally: order castle) was borrowed from the tradition of the German knightly orders of the Middle Ages. In addition to Vogelsang, there were two other NS Ordensburgen: Krössinsee (Pomerania) and Sonthofen (Allgäu).  As envisaged by National Socialist planning, participants in the course of study would have to pass through all three Ordensburgen as well as a fourth one for eastern Prussia that never advanced past the planning stage, during their four-year training in “Geopolitik” (i.e. geopolitics), “Rassenkunde” (i.e. race science) and athletics. However, the start of war necessitated the immediate call-up of the young men to the front. None of the 500 so called “Ordensjunker” (literally: order junkers) had completed a course of study. They first entered the Wehrmacht; later several hundred of them ended up within the occupation administration of the annexed areas of Poland and the Soviet Union and, in this way, became actors or at least perpetrators of German policies of exploitation and annihilation.

Camp Vogelsang becomes Nationalpark Eifel

After the war, the British military took over the grounds. In 1950, authority was handed over to the Belgians, who – like the British before them – declared “Camp Vogelsang” a military training ground and restricted area. In early 2000, the Belgian government decided to return the location to German authority.
On 1 January 2004, at the initiative of the former ministry of the environment of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, 11,000 hectares of Eifel landscape – including the area of the former military training ground – were declared a national park, the first in western Germany, and for Vogelsang a further step towards civic use. A feasibility study followed, an architectural competition that the Berlin firm Mola + Winkelmüller won, and finally the conversion work, starting in 2012. “Only at a few places in the landmarked complex, such as the visitors’ centre at the historic “Adlerhof,” a few window openings as well as a new conference building, have functionally necessary construction elements been added,” explains Albert Moritz, managing director of today’s Vogelsang IP gemeinnützige (non-profit) Gmbh. The real re-design took place in the interiors, to meet the exhibition-related needs of the NS-documentation “Bestimmung: Herrenmensch ­– NS-Ordensburgen zwischen Faszination und Verbrechen.”

Promoting democracy with pluralism

Today Vogelsang aims to serve as an “Internationaler Platz” (i.e. international site thus the official designation “Vogelsang IP”) a place of encounter under whose roof a wide range of educational activities for guests from around the world are gathered starting in 2008. In the work of coming to terms with the past, diverse impulses for value orientation and promoting democracy are to be set, as promised by the facility’s mission statement. Albert Moritz also underscores the facility’s educational character: “We seek to discover event formats that tie in with current discourses and aim to address issues such as pluralism in society, inter-culturalism and similar topics at this historic site.” With the new exhibitions – a second is entitled “Wildnis(t)räume” (i.e. wilderness spaces, wilderness dreams) – and the panorama-view restaurant arisen parallel to them – Moritz hopes for 300,000 visitors next year. His prognosis might well turn out to be right, since despite all naysayers: there’s always something new to learn here, and the view is phenomenal!