It must have been a glorious day for the tiny village of Achtel, in Hirschbachtal, not far from the southern German city of Nuremberg. Adolf Hitler himself had bestowed the honor of his presence along with his architect Albert Speer and several top Nazi party officials. Photographers couldn't get enough of what they thought would become a magnificent moment in history. The high-ranking delegation had come to inspect a massive construction site on a local hill -- one that had begun taking shape in recent months -- and which seemed radically out of place.
Small and disoriented, that is how visitors were supposed to feel in the presence of the edifice being built. Hitler himself referred to it as "words of stone," which, he added, were to be stronger than anything that could ever be spoken.
Several months prior to his visit to Achtel, on Sept. 9, 1937, the Nazi leader laid the corner stone for what he hoped would become the "world's biggest stadium." The ceremony took place in conjunction with the Reich Party Congress -- held every year in Nuremberg on the anniversary of the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. And the stadium was to be constructed in Nuremberg. On the occasion of the cornerstone celebration, Hitler presented a two-meter high model of the planned new construction in front of 24,000 people. The stadium was to have room for more than 400,000 spectators. Excavation began in 1938, but they didn't get much further than that. Construction in Nuremberg ceased only one year later due to the outbreak of World War II.
And yet workers continued working on the stadium, just not in Nuremberg. Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) away, in Achtel, five levels of stadium seating went up, enough for some 40,000 spectators, about a tenth of the planned capacity. The levels were a test for what, it was hoped, would eventually become the Deutsche Stadion, or German stadium. They were erected between 1937 and 1938 at a scale of 1:1.