Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

In Philip K. Dick’s alternative-history classic, The Man in the High Castle, the Nazis don’t simply win the war; after conquering Europe and Africa, they go on to drain the Mediterranean and convert it into farmland, too. Lebensraum!

What I didn’t realize was that this idea was not a product of PKD’s wild imagination; it was a real plan proposed in the 1920s by the (non-Nazi) German architect Herman Sörgel, who hoped to create a counterpart to the Americas called Atlantropa:

Its central feature was a hydroelectric dam to be built across the Strait of Gibraltar, which would have provided enormous amounts of hydroelectricity and would have led to the lowering of the surface of the Mediterranean Sea by up to 200 metres, opening up large new lands for settlement, for example in a now almost totally drained Adriatic Sea.

Sörgel saw his scheme, projected to take over a century, as a peaceful European-wide alternative to the Lebensraum concepts which later became one of stated reasons for Nazi conquest of new territories. Atlantropa would provide land and food, employment, electric power, and most of all, a new vision for Europe and neighbouring Africa.

The Atlantropa movement, through its several decades, was characterised by four constants:

  1. Pacifism, in its promises of using technology in a peaceful way;
  2. Pan-European sentiment, seeing the project as a way to unite a war-torn Europe;
  3. White-centric superiority (and even racist) attitudes to Africa (which was to become united with Europe into “Atlantropa”), and
  4. Neo-colonial geopolitics which saw the world being divided into three blocs, America, Asia and Atlantropa.

While it was generally considered technically feasible in its time, and became well known even in mainstream society, active support was generally limited to architects and planners from Germany and a number of other primarily northern European countries.

Critics derided it for various faults, ranging from lack of any actual cooperation of Mediterranean countries in the planning to the impacts it would have had on the historic shoreline cities stranded inland when the sea receded.

The project reached great popularity in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and for a short period again, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but soon disappeared from general discourse again after Sörgel’s death.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    Here’s a one-hour-long documentary on Atlantropa, with nice animations of what it would look like!

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