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The Woman Who Built Hitler’s Homes — and the Shelter Magazines That Loved Them

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Heinrich Hoffmann, photography of the Waiting Room in the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost

A cautionary tale for lifestyle editors, Hitler at Home is a strange and horrifying story about the German dictator and the media’s fascination with his home interiors. Author Despina Stratigakos explains how Nazi propagandists and Hitler’s interior designer Gerdy Troost helped sell him as a genteel bachelor to international publications including Vogue and The New York Times, as he rose to power.

Cover of the May 30, 1937 New York Times Magazine.
Cover of the May 30, 1937 New York Times Magazine.

Adolf Hitler, the Führer of Nazi Germany, started a World War and caused the deaths of millions. But during his rise to power in the 1930s, global news outlets seemed enthralled with the charismatic leader’s home interiors.

It turns out Nazi propagandists used interior design and aesthetic taste to sell Hitler to the world, and just how and why they did that is the subject of a fascinating book by Despina Stratigakos called “Hitler at Home.”

Despina Stratigakos

Stratigakos is associate professor and interim chair of architecture at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. She is also author of several books including, most recently “Where Are The Women Architects, which looks at the absence of women in the architecture profession, despite soaring numbers in architecture schools.

In doing research, initially, for a dissertation on women architects in Berlin she came across the Nazi personnel files of Gerdy Troost, personal architect to Hitler. Later on, she discovered her papers at the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

This lead to the writing of Hitler at Home, about Troost, her work on Hitler’s homes and how international publications including Vogue and The New York Times helped domesticate his image during his rise to power with gushing articles about his home interiors.

Troost became Hitler’s architect following the death of her husband Paul Troost, who conceived the neoclassical, pared-down style for Hitler’s early institutions in Munich that would later be expressed, at a more grandiose scale, in designs for the Third Reich by Albert Speer.

Stratigakos writes that the colors and furnishings for the old chancellery in Berlin, Hitler’s apartment in Munich and Berghof, his home on the Obersalzberg mountain retreat were conceived by Atelier Troost and the Fuhrer’s propagandists to strike just the right balance of “heterosexual masculinity, as well as refined but not ostentatious taste” with a view to offsetting public perception that he was an odd, rootless man living without a family.

Heinrich Hoffmann, postcard titled “The Führer as animal lover.”
Heinrich Hoffmann, postcard titled “The Führer as animal lover (Bavarian State Library).”

Photographs of Hitler in these abodes, often with children or dogs, were widely circulated in publications catering to a public newly obsessed with celebrity culture.

As for Troost, who began working directing for Hitler when she was widowed at age 29, and became a close confidante and powerful figure in the Third Reich, she was put on trial after World War II ended and refused to denounce him.

Following the war she did not give interviews and her role in building Hitler’s image remained largely unknown. In the early 1950s she resumed her design career, building in West Germany and the Middle East, and died in 2003 at the age of 98.

DnA talked to Stratigakos about her book on this DnA. See more images of interiors designed by Gerdy Troost, below.

Heinrich Hoffmann, photography of Hitler’s private library on the second floor of the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photography of Hitler’s private library on the second floor of the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Reception Hall in the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Reception Hall in the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Smoking Room in the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Smoking Room in the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Dining Room in the Old Chancellery in Berlin, designed by Paul Troost (died 1934) and completed by the Atelier Troost in 1934
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Dining Room in the Old Chancellery in Berlin, designed by Paul Troost (died 1934) and completed by the Atelier Troost in 1934
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of Hitler’s private study on the second floor of the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of Hitler’s private study on the second floor of the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the 1934 renovation by the Atelier Troost
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Cabinet Room (formerly the Congress Hall) on the second floor of the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the renovation by the Atelier Troost, c. 1934. On January 30, 1933, Hitler had been sworn in as chancellor by President Hindenburg in this room.
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of the Cabinet Room (formerly the Congress Hall) on the second floor of the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the renovation by the Atelier Troost, c. 1934. On January 30, 1933, Hitler had been sworn in as chancellor by President Hindenburg in this room.
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of Hitler’s Ceremonial Office on the second floor of the modernist building annex to the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the renovation of the former Red Room by the Atelier Troost, c. 1935. This office preceded the more famous and monumental formal office designed in 1939 for the New Chancellery by Albert Speer.
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of Hitler’s Ceremonial Office on the second floor of the modernist building annex to the Old Chancellery in Berlin after the renovation of the former Red Room by the Atelier Troost, c. 1935. This office preceded the more famous and monumental formal office designed in 1939 for the New Chancellery by Albert Speer.
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of Albert Speer (far left), Gerdy Troost, Hitler, and others inspecting the House of German Art construction site in Munich on June 29, 1935, on the occasion of the topping-out ceremony.
Heinrich Hoffmann, photograph of Albert Speer (far left), Gerdy Troost, Hitler, and others inspecting the House of German Art construction site in Munich on June 29, 1935, on the occasion of the topping-out ceremony.

Despina Stratigakos is associate professor and interim chair of architecture at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. She is the author of Hitler at Home, A Woman’s Berlin: Building the Modern City, and Where Are the Women Architects?