Wednesday, February 28

Hitler at Home: How Interior Design and Propaganda Sold a Monster

About one in two Americans (47% to be exact) haven’t updated their home’s design in five years or more, and outside of guilty pleasure reality TV shows, most Americans think of interior design as a distraction, if they think of it at all. But a fascinating new book from a University of Buffalo author shows exactly how interior design was used to soften the image of the world’s most notorious dictator, Adolf Hitler.

Before Hitler was exposed as the war-mongering, genocidal egomaniac we all know and loathe today, he was the subject of often fawning profiles in the international press. Despina Stratigakos is an architectural historian and the interim chair of Architecture at the University at Buffalo; she recently wrote Hitler at Home, which details how interior design was incorporated into the Nazi’s diabolical propaganda. Before World War II began, the National Socialist party renovated Hitler’s homes — the chancellery in Berlin, an apartment in Munich, and his famous Alpine home in Berchtesgaden. Carefully staged photos meant to humanize Hitler in his stylish, cosmopolitan homes appeared in newspapers and magazines the world over.

“There were photos that didn’t make it into the book because I felt they were too effective,” Stratigakos says.

Before the war, a New York Times writer described Hitler’s summer home like this:

“Berchtesgaden, where Hitler has spent most of his Summer, is the home of his own choice… The handsome new house, the Berghof on the hill, is in many ways less private than the old Wachenfeld; it has seen many visitors of distinction, including kings and heads of foreign governments, yet this does not mean that Hilter has given up the privilege of retiring when he likes… The house, furnished harmoniously, according to the best of German traditions, contains beautiful common rooms, a large central hall, a sitting room facing west and overlooking the deep bowl amid Alpine heights in which the quaint market town of Berchtesgaden is situated.”

The reporter goes on to detail Hitler’s daily routine, his late breakfasts, vegetarian meals, long walks on mountain trails, meetings with widows and orphans, and so forth.

“How was it that Hitler, who people knew who was a horrible man in the late 1920s and early ’30, had transformed by the mid ’30s into this charming, cultivated neighbor?” she asks.

Perhaps the propaganda tactic shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, even beloved American presidents and first ladies publicize their White House renovations in scrupulous detail. Of course, Hitler would soon be exposed as the villain of the century. Even so, Hitler at Home shows exactly how a monster’s image can be rehabilitated, if only for a short while.

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