Raumbild Paris 1937: Introduction, ten images, and English text

RAUMBILD WARNING: This post contains stereographic images from Raumbild-Verlag Otto Schönstein, a company that was largely controlled by the Nazi party between 1936 and 1945. If you are offended or disturbed by imagery containing Nazi symbols, leaders, salutes, or the like, please click away. In no way do I personally, nor this blog as a forum, support Nazism, and any comments which appear to do so will be removed and their posters blocked.

In this post, I’ll begin to take a look through the 1937 Raumbild album related to the Paris International Exposition which took place during the year of its publication. Photographed by Heinrich Hoffmann, and with an essay in German, French, and English, Paris 1937 is in my opinion the best collection of stereography of this World’s Fair that I’ve yet come across. Being a product of Raumbild-Verlag Otto Schönstein, there are obvious biases contained within – but being a group of images from a very talented Nazi photographer, it’s both a fascinating historical curio, and the best way to see (most of) the Expo in a stereo format. Of course, Hoffmann chose to omit many subjects – some of which can be found in other Expo stereoviews. But the quality blows away all of the amateur views I’ve seen, as well as (predictably) the two Tru Vue rolls featuring the Fair. I’m not aware of any other commercial manufacturers who put out stereography of this event.

Today, I’m going to first describe the physical material – the book, as well as the text and stereoviews contained within – before moving on to talk a little more about the context it existed in, how it worked as propaganda, and demonstrating the first 10 views from the album. So without further ado…

The Book: Paris 1937

One of the rarest – and also most interesting – Raumbild albums that I own is Die Weltausstellung – Paris 1937, usually just referred to by the title on its cover – “Paris 1937”. I don’t know why it is so difficult to find an intact copy – it was widely produced, including before the outbreak of the Second World War, and has text in three languages (German, French, and English). This would have made it more accessible to buyers, as non-German speakers who’d attended the featured International Exhibition would be able to purchase and enjoy a copy as well as German-speakers – unusual for a publication by Raumbild-Verlag Otto Schönstein. My copy has a vibrant “rust”-colored (according to a guide to identifying shades of orange) cover with silver embossing:

I have also seen it in a lighter, tan color. The cover features a stylized image of the German Pavilion from the 1937 International Exposition next to the Eiffel Tower.

Like most of the major Raumbild albums, both covers are thick, and contain recesses; the front cover holds a Raumbild-Verlag Photoplastikon (stereoscope), while the rear cover has three compartments which contain stereoviews #23-100. The pages are of a thick and high-quality barely-yellowed paper, interspersed with thick black dividers which have stereoviews #1-22 glued to them. For an 81-year-old book, it’s in incredible shape.

The textual contents of the book are as follows:

  • A German version of the Title Page, Introduction, Historical Review, and main essay
  • French, and then English versions of the same
  • An “Index of pictures”, with the number of each Bild (view) followed by its German, French, and English titles in that order

Since I speak neither German nor French, I’ve chosen to reproduce the English text for this blog. The interpreter must have been hastily chosen, given the quality of said text – it sounds more like a Google Translate algorithm than a bilingual human being at times. But it gets the point across well enough. And when you get into the subtext, the point can be fairly disturbing – keep in mind that this was, after all, a propaganda effort.

The Text

Reproduced below is the complete English text of Paris 1937, straight out of my copy. Click on any image to see it larger, and use the arrow keys in the multiple-page documents to navigate through the pages. Any image can be further enlarged by clicking the “see full size” button in the bottom right of the gallery pages.

Of course, if you are just here for the pictures, skip down until you see stereoviews – I can understand that not everybody who wants to see the Exposition Internationale Paris 1937 wants to read a bunch of stuff written by members of the Third Reich. But here’s the contents:

Title Page

Introduction

Historical Review

Essay

The Subtext

Obviously, if you’ve read the text above, you’ll note that, in addition to a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes, there is a lot of subtext here. Nothing that Raumbild put out after Venice and before the end of the Second World War was not in some way designed to be a piece of Nazi German propaganda, and this is no different. With the German Forest book being on the “light” side of the spectrum, and the folios on the final three Nuremberg Rallies representing the “heavy” side, this is somewhere in the middle, leaning towards light. But the propaganda here is subtle, and was designed to be coercive towards the undecided reader. While addressing the effectiveness of stereography as a propaganda tool is the work of another essay, I’ll just state that here, it works pretty well.

Having been crippled by the Treaty of Versailles, the Weimar Republic had struggled – economically, militarily, and really quite generally – in the years following the Great War. In secret at first, and then more and more blatantly, Germany had started to rebuild itself, with a significant chip on its shoulder, and a not insignificant superiority complex. This allowed the suppression of Socialists, Social Democrats, and other rivals, until by 1932, Hitler had forced Paul von Hindenburg’s hand to the point that he was appointed Chancellor, a role he officially took on in January, 1933. By March, he’d passed the Enabling Act, and the Weimar Republic was effectively dead. The Nazi party was now the only game in town – and the fierce nationalism of the NSDAP ensured that the country quickly rebuilt a robust military – to the point that by the time of this International Expo, Germany was ready to make a grand entrance.

In a recent post showcasing two amateur glass stereoviews from the Expo, I discussed the reasons the Germans entered the event in the first place – and did so on a grand scale. The text above sends the same message – that once again, Germany was a dominant force in Europe and on the world stage. Where each pavilion at the Expo gets a little mention, the “largest and without a doubt the finest of the lot” – the German pavilion – gets two full pages. Everything about the German pavilion is exemplary, whereas most of the pavilions are found lacking, in some way or another. In particular, the Soviet exhibition received a ton of backhanded compliments and downright insults:

“Inside we see a collection of pictures, extremely unmatched as to subjects and size, but all possessing two common characteristic features: a very high artistic value, and a very pronounced propaganda tendency.”

“All the rest of the Soviet exhibition – motor cars, tractors, and a mass of statistics – seemed to me to have to be taken with a grain of salt, as well as their marvellous [sic] projects of town-planning and of social welfare: I may be mistaken, but I am unable to judge my own mistrust.”

“Behind the pavilion there is a separate building containing a Soviet moving-picture theatre. I did not go in and, consequently, am unable to guarantee the absolute impartiality of the films shown.”

If Germany was to make a splash at this event, then taking the Soviets and their massive and beautiful building down was absolutely the most important way to do so. And of course, the author couldn’t resist a bit on the “Zionist pavilion (‘Israel in Palestine’)”:

“Its architecture is very vague, and inside, where wall-paintings are used in excess, we hardly see anything but statistics, a few busts and portraits, and a few products of the country: fruit and wine. One leaves the pavilion by a gallery, where some pictures are exhibited, two or three of which are very fine. A restaurant – kosher, of course -, is attached to the pavilion.”

Here, the Jewish Palestinians are devalued in the text – in the stereoviews, they’re devalued by being ignored entirely – just like the Soviets, who merit no views of the interior, and views of the exterior only in contexts that show German supremacy.

We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of some of the other pavilions in future posts, but in general, most of them are given short entries which point out as many faults as points of praise. In general, the entire tone of the text is to support the idea of a grand Germany, superior to all other nations, with this International Exposition as a microcosm of the world stage.

We’ll refer back to the text from time to time, but for now, it’s enough to realize that it’s rather obviously propaganda. Now let’s move on to the meat of a Raumbild album:

The Stereoviews

Heinrich Hoffmann took all 100 views in this album (and likely many more) with his 6x13cm Rolleidoscop camera. He was many things – Hitler’s best friend, a war criminal who profited from stolen art, a drug addict – but one thing he wasn’t was a bad photographer. In fact, his work was excellent, and anybody who looks at stereoviews like these must surely agree that he was both talented with the camera, and at composing images which made a point. I’ll highlight a few as we go along, but let’s just get started and take a look at some of the first 10 images from the book:

Bild 1: The Eiffel Tower lighted by searchlights

Night photography is always a challenge; doubly so when artificial lighting makes a strong contrast, and even moreso when shooting stereo. But this image opens the book, and in fact has an entire page to itself – because it’s the iconic portrayal of Paris, and of the 1889 Exposition Universelle for which it was built. Speer – and by proxy Hoffmann and the whole Nazi regime – set the German pavilion up to be the icon of this exposition, hence the contraposition on the cover of this album – with the 1937 German pavilion in front of the 1889 French tower.

Bild 2: The Eiffel Tower rises above the exhibition, as usual
Bild 3: Waterspouts on the Seine
Bild 4: Flag-dressing

Note that of the flags displayed here, only one is captured in frame appearing higher than the peak of the Eiffel Tower. Hoffmann’s ability to subtly infuse his images with a message such as this was remarkable – and would probably slide right past the conscious radar of the casual viewer, captivated by the beauty of the stereoview.

Bild 5: Provincial and Overseas divisions, seen from the Eiffel Tower
Bild 6: Alexander-III-bridge
Bild 7: “Grand Palais” and Flagstaff
Bild 8: Entrance to the ehibition [sic] at the “Concorde”
Bild 9: Eiffel Tower and German Pavilion seen from the Trocadéro

Note how this image is almost perfectly toned, and uses great composition. Notice also the conspicuous absence of the Soviet Pavilion, which is cropped just out of frame at right. Once again, German supremacy and Soviet diminution is achieved by a subtle compositional choice. But there is nothing subtle in the next image – the best piece of propaganda in today’s images:

Bild 10: Two symbols, – two ideals

Looking from the front of the German Pavilion towards the Soviet pavilion, there are two interesting dynamics at work here – the “Comradeship” statue representing the Germans from ground level; from the angle of the camera, the Russian Worker and Kolkhoz Woman statue atop the Soviet Pavilion tower over it. It’s David and Goliath, with David surrounded by young people and Goliath alone in the sky. And yet above both – and particularly, right above the hammer and sickle of the Soviet simulacrum – is a grandly flowing Nazi flag, designed by Adolf Hitler, and dominating the skies.

As propaganda, it’s strong as a mono image – but looking at it in stereo, and seeing the depth attached to the USSR (in the far distance – a distant thought) is a brilliant use of stereography by Hoffmann.

That’s it for today, but in future posts we’ll look at the remaining 90 images in this folio and see how they fit with the text to form a cohesive narrative. We’ll see the triumphs of German engineering, and the Greeks displaying… some statue they recently dug up. We’ll see the grandeur of German architecture and design, and the Swedish… corner restaurant. And we’ll read reviews of these places from the pen of E. P. Frank.

But regardless of the Nazi ideology stamped into these images, we’ll hopefully appreciate them for the excellent stereo photographs that they are, and for being the best 3D record of the 1937 Expo that we have available. And now…

ANAGLYPHS (Click for larger gallery)

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