The life of Albert Speer was undoubtedly shaped by his personal background and historical context. These include his membership into the Nazi Party, his appointment as First Architect of the Reich, and eventually, as the Minister for Armaments and Munitions. These events gave Speer the opportunity to expand his architectural endeavours and exhibit his undeniable technical and administrative skills.
Speer’s membership into the Nazi Party on 1 March 1931 as member #474,481 was the indisputable cornerstone of his future success. Joining the Nazi Party because of Hitler’s “magnetic force” and “peculiar magic”, Speer was able to escape the worries of post-depression and gain professional advancement. However, his initial role in the party was minute, extending no further than driving party members to meetings and rallies. However, his luck changed upon acquainting Karl Hanke, who gave him the job of redecorating Goebbel’s headquarters in Voss Strasse. Here, Speer proved his ability to get a job done well in a limited time period. As a result of impressing Nazi party leadership, Speer was appointed Commissioner for the Artistic and Technical Presentation of Party Rallies and Demonstrations, and later head of the Building Department of Deputy Fuhrer. Therefore, as Speer himself states, “this coincidence [was] the luckiest turning point in my [Speer’s] life”.
Furthermore, the close relationship between Speer and Hitler, which was the result of a shared architectural vision, enabled Speer to expand his architectural endeavours. This of course, was cemented upon his appointment as First Architect of the Reich following the death of Hitler’s chief architect, Paul Troost. With this title, Speer was given the opportunity to develop the ‘Germania’ project, which according to Hitler “should also speak to the conscience of a future Germany centuries from now”. Similarly, Speer was also given the opportunity to design the new Reich Chancellery, which would become one of his major architectural achievements. Historian Van de Vat points out that due to their close relationship, Speer was “granted the closest approximation to a carte blanche [blank cheque] even given to anyone by Hitler. Therefore, Speer’s architectural achievements would have otherwise been non-existent without the support of Hitler and his appointment as First Architect of the Reich.
Similarly, his appointment as Minister for Armaments and Munitions in February 1942 granted him further success and allowed him to exhibit his vast technical and administrative skillset. With his technocratic skills, Speer was able to eliminate the gross efficiencies of war, and increase production despite a lack of resources and increased Allied bombings. As a result, Speer gained a high degree of respect amongst Nazi party officials, though some remained jealous. However, in maintaining the busy workload of Minister for Armaments, Speer’s architectural career suffered tremendously, and by the end of the war, very few of Speer’s designs remained standing. Following the Nuremburg trials, and being convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Speer’s reputation was further tarnished, with the world seeing him as a war criminal, rather than a successful, innovative architect. Hence, Speer’s unexpected appointment as Minister for Armaments belittled any efforts he had earlier made to gain professional advancement in the field of architecture.
Self-admittedly technocratic by nature, Albert Speer’s life was undoubtedly shaped by the events that offered him an opportunity to further his professional career. However, these advancements were nullified following World War II, where his successes became overlooked.