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Unfinished Nazi Resort Is Drawing Investors, Vacationers to Baltic Island

Berlin — Vacation homes for sale in the German town of Prora, on the Baltic island of Ruegen, feature private saunas and sea views at a steep discount to similar properties nearby. The catch? They’re part of a dilapidated complex of identical, unadorned blocks built by Adolf Hitler to house 20,000 workers on Nazi party-sponsored vacations.

Developers this spring began marketing apartments in the Colossus of Prora, as it’s known, for as much as $900,000 each. They’ve stripped the grimy plaster off facades, smashed through walls to create spaces big enough to appeal to modern tastes, and added balconies, wood floors and glossy kitchens.

“It’s better than letting the whole thing crumble,” Uwe Heuer, a banker from Hamburg, said as he toured a model apartment. “When I’m here I don’t think about the Nazi history.”

Begun in 1936 and abandoned when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Prora was the largest project of the Nazis’ “Strength Through Joy” organization, created to keep workers busy with patriotic activities in their leisure time. More than twice as long as the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris, the complex consisted of eight buildings with a total of 10,000 rooms.

The design, with its vast swimming pools filled with seawater, a column-lined meeting hall reminiscent of ancient Rome, and a square for parades, won a Grand Prix award at the 1937 Paris World Exposition.

Four of the eight blocks are now being renovated. Since the first was sold almost a decade ago, negotiations with local officials and resistance from hoteliers fearing a glut of rooms delayed construction, according to Rolf Hoffmeister, chairman of Inselbogen Strandimmobilien, an investor group that bought a block in 2004. A youth hostel with 100 rooms is in a fifth block, and the three others are in ruins.

Backers of the projects, about three hours north of Berlin by car, are betting on a continuing property boom that has lifted German home prices by 23 percent in the past five years as investors seek the relative safety of real estate. Prices per square foot are about two-thirds of those in nearby resorts, and developers hope to draw young vacationers with spas, tennis courts and shopping malls.

“It’s a location that can’t be duplicated,” said Gerd Grochowiak, co-founder of IrisGerd, a Berlin developer that bought one of the blocks in an auction last year. The fine white sand and clear water add to the allure of the biggest undeveloped stretch of land along Germany’s northern coast, where new construction is limited. IrisGerd plans to turn a 1,250-room block into 250 apartments in the next two years.