The Cadiz coastline is one of the most international that surrounds the Iberian Peninsula. Beni de Cádiz repeated it like this: “To the south it borders Morocco, to the north with Spain, to the west with the United States. [base de Rota] and to the east with England [Gibraltar]”. Among its treasures is the one known as Playa de los Alemanes and is located between Cabo de Plata or Gracia and Agua beach in the middle.
Gustav Draëger, the Nazi spy who dynamited the Third Reich from Seville
Next to Zahara de los Atunes, the cove is in the municipality of Tarifa. It is a magnificent inlet about 1,500 meters long and 50 meters wide. Nobody endorses the name “the Germans” but the locals insist that it was not put by chance. Not surprisingly, it is known that many Germans spent time in the area since before the 1940s. But around this piece of coastline there are legends and a good handful of realities that justify its name.
Why from “the Germans”? The story goes back to the beginning of the 20th century where the rumor circulates that there is “one German every 30 km on the Spanish coast” due to the interest that Kaiser Guillermo II had in controlling the Strait. History confirms that the Kaiser unfolded in Tangier in 1905 with colonial appetites, although it is unknown if any of his spies were located on that beach.
What is certain is that this beach, already before World War II, hosted German neighbors in its surroundings, which could be the origin of the nomenclature. As it is also true that during the Second World War it served as a place of surveillance and supply of Nazi ships and submarines that circulated through the Gibraltar Strait. His plots, in Zahara, emerge in the novel ‘To forget who you were’ (Ateneo de Sevilla Prize, Algaida 2019) by Fernando García Calderón, based on historical reviews.
This is confirmed by Margarita Neuer, daughter of the Consul and spy Gustav Draëger, who told José María Irujo (El País) what Fernando Soto firmly affirms: his father used to travel regularly –during World War II– to the Playa de los Alemanes to supply food to Nazi submarines that landed there. In fact, the historian Alfonso Escuadra, one of the experts who has most investigated the Nazi footprint in Cádiz, in the work ‘In the shadow of the Rock’ (Cajastur, 1997), documented incursions and shipwrecks carried out by units of the army of the Third Reich, between the period of June 18, 1941 to February 22, 1944 on the Andalusian coast. Two of them are located on the beach of the Germans.
Even Claudio Bonifacio, an Italian shipwreck expert based in Seville, located the coordinates (N 36 ° 04 ‘265 “W 5 ° 47’ 453”) of a German submarine sunk near that beach. To this evidence is added the theory that places in the submersible a load of gold bars and jewels stolen from the Jews by the Nazis. The cause of the wreck would be accidental or because the crew itself sank it. The wreck has never been refloated. Just when Bonifacio and Luis Ángel Valero de Bernabé were processing the finder’s rights before the Junta de Andalucía, they were implicated in the summary Bay 2. The sentence in the case, 12 years later, imposed a symbolic fine on them. In his work ‘Galleons and submerged treasures’ (Editorial Lulú, 2010) it is clear where the submersible is: near the beach of the Germans.
It has also been proven that submarines U-208, U-451, U-732, U-340, U-761, U-392 and U-731 during World War II they sank between the beginning of 1942 and the end of 1944 while trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from the Atlantic. It is recorded by U-Historia, the spokesman for the Ubootwaffe (fleet of German submarines in the Nazi era) and many of them rest on the seabeds of Cadiz near the Playa de los Alemanes. And it is tangible that, in the mid-1940s, a bunker was built that delimits the Germans beach and the Atlanterra beach. Franco’s phobia of being invaded in fact planted the Cadiz coast with those defensive forts.
After the war
The investigation into what happened after the end of the war with the escaped Nazis leads to many cases in Andalusia, of course, also on the coast. In the case of Cádiz, the documentary ‘Playa de los Alemanes’, made in 2019 by Daniel Marí and Johannes Hofman, seeks – with determination and little results – traces and testimonies about Nazis who took refuge there after the war. It is not clear if they used such a remote place for ODESSA, the network that was orchestrated after the conflict by Nazi leaders to get them out alive and take refuge in other parts of the globe. The hypothesis says that the Nazis were introduced by the route from Valencia-Madrid / Seville / Algeciras-Tangier / and then shipped them to South America. And in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay they essentially got rid of their identity and erased their past. Another novel, which repeats the title ‘Playa de los Alemanes’ (Jirones de Azul, 2010) is signed by Javier Compás. This historian insists that “German refugees lived in that beautiful cove after the end of the Second World War.”
In any case, the area’s relationship with Germany does not end there. According to the journalist, writer and collaborator of elDiario.es Juan José Téllez, the Spanish military espionage investigated, decades ago, near this beach a kind of logistics platform to supply ships of the former Democratic Republic of Germany (GDR). The presence of agents from that country of the Warsaw Pact alerted Spanish counterintelligence. But no one knows what our military spies concluded.
The harshest reality is that Playa de los Alemanes was difficult to access from the closest towns until the 1950s. Although then there are already German houses that used horses to enter and leave their homes. Near the beach there were huts; from the sea it was easier to reach this short strip of beach.
Specifically, on the slope leading up from the beach, only three German families lived permanently there. According to the documentary by Marí and Hofman, they were wealthy Nazis who had little contact with the locals. His descendants, already in the fifties and sixties, returned to Germany.
“To the east and to the west”
This could be considered the moment of the beginning of German tourism in the area. But it was not until the early sixties when tourism was activated in Zahara. And it was done in a somewhat curious way, as recounted by the tourism website of Zahara. They say that a group of German businessmen appeared at the office of Álvaro Domecq, then President of the Cádiz Provincial Council. They spoke very politely of their investment purposes. Don Álvaro was perplexed by the proposal. It was a millionaire what was planned to invest in such an inhospitable place. The surprise of the President of the County Council was not hidden, as the area was hit by winds from the east and west. The man came up with a question, faced with such an outlandish proposal: “Have you taken the winds into account?” The Germans replied in unison and smiling: ‘To the east and to the west it is very healthy‘.
From that first interest we went to an emblematic building that increased the German presence on the beach to which that name gives its name. In 1970 they started the works of the Atlanterra and Zahara Hotels (demolished in 2002) directed by Architect Alvis Franz Rotter. Franco’s minister Sánchez Bella endorsed the project and supervised it in 1973, after arriving at the emporium by helicopter.
Bankruptcies, delays and unpaid deferred hotel projects. Only the Atlanterra was inaugurated in 1983. It was key to bringing together numerous urbanizations around it. The tenacity of the new Architect Horts Mankel achieved the delayed hotel opening together with the entrepreneur Kurt Schlichtkrull, nicknamed ‘Juanaco’ by the locals. Both the hotel and the surrounding urbanizations are known by the locals as “the Germans” by the builders and by the first owners who settled there. To add mystery, there are rumors and unconfirmed stories that circulate in the area that speak of dinners at the hotel in which elderly and discreet Nazis participated, although unconfirmed. Be that as it may, in 87 the Hotel Atlanterra, owned by German businessmen, changed owners and managers. The sale was discreet. The multinational Meliá has operated the establishment since the late eighties.
What is clear is that Playa de los Alemanes reasons, legends, facts and stories are more than enough to show the name by which everyone knows it.