18 Sep 2015

Atlantropa: One man's colossal answer to Europe's post-WWI refugee crisis

Perpetual war, grinding poverty and a time bomb of overpopulation resulting in millions of refugees crossing continents. A fitting description perhaps for the emergency facing Europe today – but those problems also fuelled a German architect’s extraordinary 1920s scheme to resettle millions of Europeans in Africa. The “Atlantropa” scheme proposed to form land bridges between Africa and Europe by damming and partially draining the Mediterranean, allowing millions of Europeans to find a new life in what would become the southern zone of a Eurafrican supercontinent. It would, of course, lead to European domination of Africa – a fact deemed acceptable in an era scarred by racism and colonialism.


The plan was the result of Herman Sörgel’s experience of the First World War, the economic and political turmoil of the 1920s and the rise of Nazism in Germany. It convinced him a new world war could only be avoided if a radical solution was found to European problems of unemployment, overpopulation and an impending energy crisis.

In line with the colonial and racist attitudes of the times, Mr Sörgel envisaged Africa to be entirely at the disposal of Europe, a continent with plenty of space to accommodate Europe’s masses. While his proposal may sound absurd to our ears, it was taken seriously by architects, engineers, politicians and journalists at the time. The extensive Atlantropa archive in the Deutsche Museum in Munich abounds with architectural drawings for new cities, the dams and bridges of the future continent as well as letters of support and hundreds of articles about the project, which appeared in the German and international popular press, as well as in specialised engineering and geographical magazines.

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