Albert Speer was born on March 19, 1905 in Mannheim, Germany. He was the second of three children and his father was an architect. During his youth, he developed a strong interest in mathematics and planned to become a mathematician. However, he changed his mind just before graduating and decided to study architecture at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in 1923.
In 1924, he transferred to the Munich Institute of Technology, which was a more prestigious school. In 1925, he transferred yet again to the Berlin Institute of Technology. There, he came to greatly respect a professor named Heinrich Tessenow and began working for him as an assistant in 1927. As his assistant, it was his task to conduct lectures three days out of the week and grade exams.
At this time, the Nazi Party was gaining a lot of momentum under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, particularly in Berlin. Although Speer did not initially agree with the platform of the party, he began attending rallies in late 1930 after being encouraged by his students. Speer was struck by Hitler's speech at the rally and attended a second one a few weeks later, which was conducted by Joseph Goebbels. Although he did not agree with Goebbels' speech, he was still following what Hitler had said and he joined the Nazi Party the day after.
In 1931, he met a woman named Margarete Weber, whom he married. He continued to work at the university and attended Nazi functions, but did not take a very active role. In 1932, his name came up when Goebbels was seeking an architect to renovate the Propaganda Ministry building. Goebbels recommended him to Hitler, who hired Speer to work under head architect Paul Troost on the project.
While working on the project, Speer was able to meet Hitler frequently and the two became good friends. Hitler appeared to particularly like Speer because he had originally planned to study architecture before becoming the Nazi Party leader. After a while, Speer was getting invited to high level Nazi parties and gatherings.
In 1934, Paul Troost, Speer's superior, died and Speer was promoted to work as the Nazi Party's chief architect. He was immediately directed to design the Zeppelintribune, a parade grounds located in Nuremberg. The original was, in Speer's opinion, ridiculous and after making a remark to that effect he was allowed to redesign the entire project to his own specifications. When it was unveiled later that year, it was a massive triumph for him. Later that year, it was used for the 1934 Nazi Party Rally, holding over 240,000 people at one time.
Speer developed an attitude towards architecture in which he envisioned how the buildings would look if they were destroyed and left in ruins. He decided to design all of his buildings such that they would look impressive as ruins in order to inspire future people with the greatness of the Third Reich. When he introduced the concept to Hitler, it was met with great enthusiasm.
Speer was also directed to design a number of buildings to improve the city of Berlin. One building was the Reichs Chancellery, which featured a long hall of mirrors twice as long as the one in the Palace of Versailles. The building was later destroyed by bombings and the Soviet Army.
He also planned to reorganize the city of Berlin to center around a three mile long straight avenue. At the north end would have been a giant building similar to St. Peter's Basilica, except with a seven hundred foot tall dome, sixteen times larger than that of the other building. At the southern end of the avenue would have been a giant four hundred foot tall arc similar to the Arc de Triomphe. However, none of these plans were realized since the outbreak of World War 2 changed priorities.
In 1937, he designed the German Pavilion for the International Exposition in Paris, France. He conceptualized his design as representing the resistance of communism and was awarded a gold medal for his work. It was placed directly across from the Soviet Union's pavilion, which also won a gold medal.
In 1942, Fritz Todt, the Minister of Armaments and War Production, was killed in a plane crash. Hitler took the opportunity to promote Albert Speer to the position, which would be more useful to Germany during the time of war. With the German economy under his control, Speer tried to improve Germany's industrial output, but he found himself under opposition from other party leaders.
Despite the uncooperative nature of the upper echelons of the Nazi Party, Speer managed to increase German production by a factor of 4 by 1944. One of the country's major problems was its policy of disallowing women from working in factories. Speer circumvented this issue by employing foreigners, many of which were forced to work.
Speer began to become disenchanted with Hitler's leadership towards the end of World War 2. When the plot to assassinate Hitler was uncovered, a list containing supporters of the move included Speer as a possibility, but he never ultimately supported the failed attempt. He later claimed that he considered killing Hitler by pumping cyanide gas into the air intake of the Fuhrerbunker, but decided not to.
Towards the end of the war, Speer also secretly campaigned against Hitler's scorched earth policy of warfare. Speer also supposedly encouraged General Gotthard Heinrici to surrender his troops rather than have them sacrifice their lives to the endless stream of Soviet troops pouring into Berlin. As the fall of Berlin was approaching, Speer visited Hitler at the Fuhrerbunker and confessed that he had actively opposed his warfare policies, a revelation that supposedly brought Hitler to tears and inspired Hitler to remove Speer from power.
After the war ended, Speer took part in the fledgling German government that took over temporarily. He also held a number of lectures for Allied leaders to explain Nazi policies and what Germany had been doing during the war. During one of the lectures, he was arrested and sent to Nuremberg to stand trial.
During the Nuremberg Trials, he confessed that he felt remorse over his actions during the war. He also explained his opposition to Hitler's leadership towards the end of war. These revelations led the court to extend mercy and spare him the death sentence. He ultimately plead guilty to all charges and was sentenced to twenty years in prison at Spandau Prison, West Berlin. The majority of his crimes centered around his usage of forced labor, which he admitted was a major mistake.
While in prison, he penned a number of books about his time working for Hitler. Since the prison officials forbade him from writing anything other than letters to his family, he was forced to write on toilet paper, and other materials out of desperation. He also spent a lot of time in the prison library and garden.
He was released in 1966 at the age of sixty-one to much media attention. He was then able to spend the remainder of his life putting together his writings and publishing them. He died on September 1, 1981 in London, England from a cerebral hemorrhage.