The 1937 World Expo of Paris: History, Images and the German-Soviet Face-Off

In 1937, the International Exhibition in Paris, dedicated to art and technology in modern life, brought together 44 countries in the city of light, allies and enemies.

The Exposition Internationale would be the last European enactment of the ritual of peace and progress before the horrors of World War II.

The centerpiece of the expo was the presence of two equally iconic structures, the German and Soviet pavilions, fronting a wide promenade.

Their presence and intent were in direct opposition to the express purpose of the 1937 Expo, to promote peaceful coexistence and cooperation among nations. In fact, the two buildings presented the opposite of that impression; They were cold, belligerent, and rough in design.

The exhibition was meant to showcase the world's best contemporary scientific and technological achievement.

Pavilions were dedicated to cinema, radio, lighting, railways, aviation, refrigeration and printing. Posters advertising the exhibition emphasized it as a coming together of 'art and technology'.

In March 1936, German forces violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and entered the Rhineland; And by October, Germany and Italy had agreed to form an axis that would set the scene for the Anschluss between Germany and Austria in 1938.

The Spanish Civil War had broken out in July 1936, and would see Germany and Italy supporting Nationalist forces against the Republicans, who were supported by the Soviet Union. It was a decade full of tension and ideological conflicts.

At first, the centerpiece of the Exposition was to be a 2,300-foot (700 m) tower ("Fare du Monde") with a parking garage located at the top and a winding road leading to a hotel and restaurant located above it. , This idea was abandoned because it was too expensive.

The most notable pavilions were those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The organization of the World Exhibition placed the German and Soviet pavilions directly opposite each other.

Hitler wanted to withdraw from participation, but his architect Albert Speer finally convinced him to participate, showing Hitler his plans for the German Pavilion.

Speer later revealed in his autobiographies that he had a secret look at the plans for the Soviet pavilion, and that he designed the German pavilion to represent a defense against communism.

There were delays in the preparation and production of the exhibits. On the opening day of the exhibition, only the German and Soviet pavilions were completed.

This, as well as the fact that the two pavilions faced each other, turned the Exposition into a contest between two great ideological rivals.

The spire's pavilion was concluded by a tall tower with symbols of the Nazi state: an eagle and a swastika. The pavilion was conceived as a monument to "German pride and achievement".

It was to broadcast to the world that a sense of national pride had been restored in a new and powerful Germany. At night the pavilion is illuminated by floodlights.

The sculpture by Josef Thorke stood outside the Comradeship Pavilion, depicting two giant naked men standing side by side, holding hands in a gesture of mutual defense and "racial camaraderie".

The architect of the Soviet pavilion was Boris Iofan. Vera Mukhina designed the large figurative sculpture on the pavilion.

At the top of the grand building was Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, a large motion-stimulating sculpture of a male worker and a female farmer, their hands together, throwing a hammer and a sickle. This statue was a symbol of union of workers and farmers.

Italy was competing for attention between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, who presented themselves as great (and opposing) powers.

Italy was a benevolent dictatorship: sunny, open and Mediterranean, it was founded on discipline, order and unity.

Marcello Piacentini was given the task of designing the exterior of the pavilion. He used a modern reinforced concrete frame with traditional elements such as colonnades, terraces, courts and galleries, tower forms, classical timbers and the use of Mediterranean marble and stucco.

Britain had not expected such a competitive performance, and its planned budget was a small fraction of Germany's.

Frank Pick, chairman of the Council of Arts and Industry, appointed Oliver Hill as architect but asked him to avoid modernism and concentrate on traditional crafts.

The main architectural element of Hill's pavilion was a large white box, decorated externally with a painted frieze by John Skepping and internally with giant photographic figures including Neville Chamberlain fishing.

Its contents were craft items arranged according to English words that became loan words in French, such as "play" and "weekend", and included some items by the famous potter William Worrall.

There was considerable British criticism that the result did not represent Britain and compared poorly to other pavilions' projections of national power.

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