After the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the new regime immediately began efforts to bring German society completely under Nazi control in a process known as Gleichschaltung (German for “coordination” or “synchronization”). All political parties and trade unions were outlawed except for the Nazi Party and the Nazi German Labor Front (Deutsches Arbeitsfront), which created the “Strength through Joy” program (Kraft durch Freude) in November 1933 to improve “Aryan” workers’ quality of life and build popular support for the Nazi regime.1
Nazi leaders hoped that the athletic and cultural programs of “Strength through Joy” would improve the health and productivity of the German workforce while easing class tensions within the so-called Volksgemeinschaft (German racial community). Providing organized alternatives to unstructured leisure time, the first “Strength through Joy” programs focused on filling workers’ evening and weekend time with classes, concerts, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, and sporting events.2 The program also began providing cheap vacation packages to German workers in 1934, but ambitious plans to expand German mass tourism further were abandoned in 1939 with the beginning of World War II.3
The featured photograph shows a “Strength through Joy” event held on the outskirts of Berlin on April 24, 1937. A large group of adults and children are gathered on the popular public beach at Strandbad Wannsee to perform exercises led by a “Strength through Joy” representative holding a bullhorn.4 The public beach facilities shown in this photograph were first constructed during the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) as part of a growing movement toward outdoor recreational activities that would greatly influence Nazi-era public health policies.5
Within months of the establishment of the Nazi regime in early 1933, local officials and business owners began banning Jews from public swimming pools.6 Strandbad Wannsee barred Jews from its beach and its public programs later that summer. As the first Nazi-era acts to exclude all Jewish Germans from public spaces, these prohibitions became a precedent for the increasing marginalization and segregation of Jews from German public life.
Although Jews were barred from visiting Strandbad Wannsee during the years of the Nazi regime, the beach continued to be a popular getaway for Berlin’s “Aryan” citizens—even during the last years of World War II. In fact, Strandbad Wannsee has remained a popular destination for generations of Berliners ever since the years of the Weimar Republic. The sun decks and walkways on the upper level of the buildings in the featured photograph have fallen into disrepair over the decades, but these very same facilities at Strandbad Wannsee continue to offer public recreation courses to Berlin-area beachgoers.