Ed Simon in The Baffler:
IN OLIVER HIRSCHBIEGEL’S endlessly memed 2004 German film Downfall, about Adolf Hitler’s last delusional, self-obsessed days toward the end of the Second World War, there is an unsettling scene that stands out in a movie made up of them. Hitler, as played with reptilian efficacy by Bruno Ganz, crouches down and stares through a white plaster miniature of a planned triumphal arch. As the camera pans out, we see that Hitler is intensely studying an entire city of these models, a reimagined new Berlin that was to be called “Germania.” About the size of several pool tables linked together, the Third Reich’s architect Albert Speer has assembled what looks like a fascist model railroad town, a reconceived capital of monumental columns and widened boulevards, of neoclassical statues and massive marble buildings.
The dictator circles around the table, slowly, pompously, and reverentially considering the design, while delivering an encomium for the assembled officials and their secretaries (including Speer) about past architectural wonders, such as the Acropolis, which Germania will supposedly supplant. Finally, he pauses in front of the ribbed dome of the Volkshalle, which was to have been sixteen times larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica, so huge that it would have had its own weather patterns underneath the roof. “You know Speer, there’s an advantage to those bombings,” Hitler says, amid the distant sound of Soviet incendiaries exploding over Berlin’s streets. “It’s easier to clean up debris than to demolish everything ourselves.” He’d of course be dead within a few months.