Rick Steves Tells the Story of Fascism’s Rise & Fall in Germany

“Healthy, vig­or­ous, respectable: every­one’s favorite uncle.” How many of us hear these words and think of that most beloved of all Amer­i­can trav­el-tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ties, Rick Steves? Indeed, in the video above they’re spo­ken by Steves, though to describe a fig­ure very dif­fer­ent from him­self: Adolf Hitler, who con­vinced his peo­ple not to tour Europe but to invade it, spark­ing the dead­liest con­flict of all time. How and why this hap­pened has been a his­tor­i­cal ques­tion writ­ten about per­haps more volu­mi­nous­ly than any oth­er. But the Stevesian method of under­stand­ing demands first-hand expe­ri­ence of Ger­many, the land in which the Nazi par­ty came to pow­er.

Hence “Ger­many’s Fas­cist Sto­ry,” a 2020 episode of Rick Steves’ Europe whose itin­er­ary includes such des­ti­na­tions as Nurem­berg, site of the epony­mous Nazi ral­lies; Hitler’s moun­tain retreat in Bercht­es­gaden; the Gestapo and SS head­quar­ters in Berlin. We’re a long way indeed from Steves’ usu­al cir­cuit of cathe­drals, mar­kets, and bed-and-break­fasts.

Enriched with the his­tor­i­cal footage and the reflec­tions of Ger­man inter­vie­wees, this trav­el­ogue explains the rise in the 1930s and fall in the 1940s of a pow­er­ful Euro­pean strain of fas­cism. This man­i­fest­ed in pop­u­lar capit­u­la­tion to race-based, nation­al­is­tic, and ulti­mate­ly total­i­tar­i­an state pow­er, not just in Ger­many but oth­er coun­tries also once regard­ed as the cen­ter of Euro­pean civ­i­liza­tion.

We all know how World War II end­ed, and the blue-jeaned Steves sums up the rel­e­vant chap­ter of the sto­ry while stand­ing atop the under­ground bunker in which Hitler killed him­self. But such a defeat can nev­er tru­ly be con­sid­ered final, an idea that under­lies the con­tin­u­ing encour­age­ment of tourism to places like Berlin’s Memo­r­i­al to the Mur­dered Jews of Europe and the con­cen­tra­tion camp of Auschwitz-Birke­nau, which fig­ures briefly into this episode despite being locat­ed in Poland. As any ded­i­cat­ed “Rick­nick” knows, the pur­suit of any giv­en cul­tur­al or his­tor­i­cal inter­est inevitably leads the trav­el­er through a vari­ety of lands. Hence a project like The Sto­ry of Fas­cism, Steves’ hour­long doc­u­men­tary on that ide­ol­o­gy’s traces as found all through­out his favorite con­ti­nent. As he him­self has put it, trav­el is a polit­i­cal act — and it’s one nec­es­sary to under­stand­ing both the pol­i­tics you like and the pol­i­tics you don’t.

For those inter­est­ed in how Steves built his trav­el empire, we’d rec­om­mend lis­ten­ing to Guy Raz’s lengthy inter­view with Steves, one episode in his How I Built This pod­cast.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism: Rick Steves’ Doc­u­men­tary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Rick Steves’ Europe: Binge Watch 9 Sea­sons of America’s Favorite Trav­el­er Free Online

20 Lessons from the 20th Cen­tu­ry About How to Defend Democ­ra­cy from Author­i­tar­i­an­ism, Accord­ing to Yale His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der

How Did Hitler Rise to Pow­er? : New TED-ED Ani­ma­tion Pro­vides a Case Study in How Fas­cists Get Demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly Elect­ed

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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