Hitler in Paris in 1940. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"I often considered whether we would not have to destroy Paris"—How Hitler fell in love with the French capital

The way we were: Hitler's recollections of Paris and Rome
April 3, 2020

Albert Speer accompanies Adolf Hitler on his only visit to Paris: 

“Three days after the armistice [ie the French surrender] we landed at Le Bourget airfield. We drove… to the Opera, Charles Garnier’s great neo-baroque building. Hitler… went into ecstasies about its beauty, his eyes glittering with an excitement that struck me as uncanny.  

Afterward, we drove past the Madeleine, down the Champs-Élysées, on to the Trocadero, and then to the Eiffel Tower, where Hitler ordered another stop. From the Arc de Triomphe we drove on to the Invalides, where [he] stood for a long time at the tomb of Napoleon. Finally, Hitler inspected the Pantheon… He showed no special interest in some of the most beautiful architectural works in Paris. 

The end of our tour was the romantic, insipid imitation of early medieval domed churches, the church of Sacre Coeur on Montmartre—a surprising choice, even given Hitler’s taste. By nine o’clock in the morning the sightseeing tour was over. ‘It was the dream of my life to be permitted to see Paris. I cannot say how happy I am to have that dream fulfilled today.’  

That evening he received me once more: ‘Draw up a decree in my name ordering full-scale resumption of work on the Berlin buildings… Wasn’t Paris beautiful? But Berlin must be made far more beautiful. In the past I often considered whether we would not have to destroy Paris,’ he continued with great calm, as if he were talking about the most natural thing in the world. ‘But when we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow. So why should we destroy it?’” 



Hitler reminisces at dinner about Italy, which he’d visited in 1938: 

“The magic of Florence and Rome, of Ravenna, Siena, Perugia! Tuscany and Umbria, how lovely they are! The smallest palazzo in Florence or Rome is worth more than all Windsor Castle. If the English destroy anything in Florence or Rome, it will be a crime.  

“I’ve seen Rome and Paris, and I must say that Paris, with the exception of the Arc de Triomphe, has nothing on the scale of the Coliseum, or the Castel Sant’Angelo or St Peter’s. These monuments, which are the product of a collective effort, have ceased to be on the scale of the individual. What I saw in Paris has disappeared from my memory: Rome really seized hold of me. My dearest wish would be able to wander about in Italy as an unknown painter.”