Preceding Post: Down and out in Vienna


THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, Chapter XII


“Every night and every morn,
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night,
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

William Blake “Auguries of Innocence”, L. 119


Then as now, the town of München is the capital of Bavaria, one of the oldest German self-governing states – first a duchy, then a kingdom. As European states go, she is of fair to middling size, about 27,000 square miles or 70,000 square kilometres big, slightly smaller than modern Austria or South Carolina but larger than Belgium, Switzerland or West Virginia, and forms the southeastern part of modern Germany. She shares borders with the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland, and reaches, in the north-west, close to Frankfurt in Hesse. In the south, she harbours a part of the great central European mountain range, the Bavarian Alps, with the Zugspitze peak, at 9270 ft. or 2960 metres her highest elevation (Germany’s too), where, as the saying goes, only eagles dare to fly. . . .

The 19th Century bestowed on the somewhat sleepy town a protracted period of modernization, a side effect of the industrialisation that much accelerated from the 1830s on. The land changed within two generations from its former almost exclusively rural character into a modern industrial state. The first German railway line had been opened between the Bavarian towns of Nuremberg and Fürth in 1835, and only half a century later, in Baden and Württemberg, slightly to the west, Nikolaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz worked on building horseless carriages. The company founded by the latter two, Daimler-Benz, is still one of the finest names in automobile manufacture; Bavaria, of course, is home to the fast cars of BMW and Audi.

Munich around the turn of the century … sheep grazing at the Theresienwiese, place of the annual Oktoberfest …

Cultural cross-fertilization and a strong artistic inheritance from the Italian Renaissance gave München an almost Italian charm: compared to Prussia, Bavaria was almost an anarchy (the royal family was proof enough, as we will see), but a lovely one and people from near and far came to settle there. The Bavarians still pursue an almost southern tradition of easiness of living, a very un-Prussian flair of dolce far niente. The country prides herself, reminiscent of her tradition, as the purveyor of Libertas Bavariae, Bavarian Liberty; and the land honoured her commitment when, although staunchly Catholic, she provided refuge to over ten thousand French Huguenot, i.e. Calvinist, families, who fled France and the wrath of Catharina de Medici in the seventeenth century after the Edict of Nantes – guaranteeing freedom of worship – had been revoked. The industrious newcomers were an important gain for Bavaria in general and München in particular; a number of streets named after prominent Huguenot families remind of the benefits they brought to town.

In the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, the early reign of Ludwig I, the town began to lose her provincial character; before he had met and fallen for Lola Montez, the King had sponsored a public building program in neoclassical style – the results can still be seen on the boulevards of Ludwig Street and Maximilian Street. The genius of architects Leo von Klenze and Friedrich von Gärtner remains visible in the great number of their designs adorning the town which we all rebuilt according to the original plans after the bombing damage of the Second World War.

With Bavarian charm and a much more gregarious social climate than stiff-necked Prussia, provincial Berlin or mercantile Hamburg, München became a centre of international art and culture by the end of the nineteenth century, second only to Paris; leaving Vienna’s imperial fatigue and London’s faux Westminster grandeur easily behind. . . .

Second only to Paris, München, then harbouring about 600,000 inhabitants, attracted artists from all countries and walks of life, and became, in particular, a vortex for the avant-garde. As far as painting goes, the year 1909 alone had witnessed the establishment of four new artist groups, one of which called itself simply the ‘New Artists Association‘ and included Alexej von Jawlensky and Wassily Kandinsky. In the Café Stephanie at Amalienstraße, one could meet, at any time of day or night, radical intellectuals like Kurt Eisner, Erich Mühsam or Ernst Toller, all of whom rose to prominence after the war. While these artists and philosophers were far too progressive for Hitler’s bourgeois taste, they brought to München artistic flair and fervour unsurpassed until, twenty fateful years later, Berlin entered into the Roaring Twenties. But in 1910 Berlin was a cultural graveyard. Ian Kershaw [Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris (London, 1998), ISBN 0-393-32035-9]observed:

Schwabing, the pulsating centre of Munich’s artistic and Bohemian life, drew artists, painters, and writers from all over Germany and from other parts of Europe as well. They turned Schwabing cafés, pubs and cabarets into experimental hothouses of “the modern”. “In no city in Germany did old and new clash so forcefully as in Munich,” commented Lovis Corinth, one celebrated artist who experienced the atmosphere there at the turn of the century.

Lovis Corinth - The Three Graces
Lovis Corinth – The Three Graces

The theme of decline and renewal, the casting off of the sterile, decaying order, contempt for bourgeois convention, for the old, the stale, the traditional, the search for new expression and aesthetic values, the evocation of feeling over reason, the glorification of youth and exuberance, linked many of the disparate strands of Munich’s modernist cultural scene.

Schwabing Carnival 1900

The Stefan George circle; the scourge of bourgeois morality, playwright and cabaret balladeer Frank Wedekind; the great lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke; and the Mann brothers – Thomas, famous since the publication in 1901 of his epic novel of bourgeois decline, Buddenbrooks, and whose vignette of homosexual tension, Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) had been published the year that Hitler arrived, and his elder, more politically radical brother Heinrich – were but some among the galaxy of literary luminaries in pre-war Munich.

In painting, too, the challenge of “the modern” characterized the era. Around the very time that Hitler was in Munich, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Alexej von Jawlensky, Gabriele Muenter, and August Macke were leading lights in the group Der Blaue Reiter, revolutionizing artistic composition in brilliant and exciting new forms of expressionist painting. The visual arts would never be the same.

Munich City Centre
Marienplatz – City Centre

Here revolutionaries of any ilk and calibre peddled their doctrines and, at the Ludwig-Maximilian University, moved to München in 1826 from Landshut (whither it had been moved from Ingolstadt where it had been founded in 1472), a complete spectrum of political designs was brought to the attention of students and burghers alike. The main campus happened to be in Schwabing as well, providing the students – always on the prowl for new and exotic sensations – with a stage for every imaginable and some unlikely forms of artistic impression. The light-hearted spirit in which even the most outrageous or ridiculous doctrines of art or politics found an attentive audience became the modern articulation of Libertas Bavariae. In the juxtaposition of William Blake‘s verse, Schwabing was clearly born to sweet delight, and unconventional souls from all over the globe flocked to München.

One such unconventional soul was Herr Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, who was hearing law and politics at the university, where he had inscribed himself as Herr Meyer. Herr Meyer was domiciled in Schleißheimerstraße 106, only a few blocks west of the campus and was better known in his native Russia under the alias ‘Lenin’.

Another unconventional soul, Adolf Hitler, soon frequented the same cafés, pubs and beer gardens in Schwabing, reading newspapers while slowly sipping on a cup of coffee, or peddling his paintings in art shops or simply on the street. Opposite the main University building, a hundred yards past the Siegestor, a quarter-mile of the Leopoldstraße serves as the artists’ outdoor gallery, and until this day the resident painters sell their works there. Adolf was, as we will find out, a bit of a revolutionary himself, but the year 1913 saw him half-frightened and half-intoxicated by the sheer rush of the artistic scene. . . .

Schleissheimer Straße 34 during the Nazi Era, with a memento (Hitler’s room window marked)

Adolf Hitler and his friend Rudolf Häusler arrived from Vienna on Sunday, May 25, 1913, and immediately set out to find accommodation. They walked down Schleissheimer Straße, north-west of the railway station, and, in the window of a small tailor shop at # 34, noticed a small sign advertising a room to let. They went in, and quickly closed a deal with the tailor’s wife, Frau Anna Popp, to rent a tiny mansard on the third floor. On May 26 respectively 29, they registered with the Munich police, with Hitler estimating the duration of their visit at two years. In Vienna, Hitler had alerted the police to his leaving, as he was required to do, but had left no forwarding address; the police file dryly states “destination unknown”, indicating that Hitler was not keen on his whereabouts becoming known. This would concur with the fact that his earlier ‘disappearance’ in the autumn of 1909 magically coincides with the exact period in which he was obliged to report to the Austrian army. He left Vienna, Sechshauserstrasse 56, c/o Frau Antonie Oberlechner, on September 16, 1909, without providing a forwarding address, and did not re-register with the Vienna police until February 8, 1910, the day he resurfaced and moved into the men’s hostel at Meldemannstrasse. . . .

Preceding Post: Down and out in Vienna

Adolf Hitler had now arrived in the town that would become his principal residence for the next twenty years; the town he was to christen later the ‘Hauptstadt der Bewegung’, the Capital of the [Nazi] Movement.” For a while, the Popps’ became his family; Robert Payne gives us a mise en scène of life at Schleißheimerstraße 34:

Many years later, when the National Socialists were in power, Frau Popp was asked what she remembered about her lodger. Naturally, she remembered many things to his advantage: he was kind to the children, Peppi and Liesel, and was modest, well-mannered, and self-effacing. He spent the day painting and drawing, and he studied every evening and every night. …

She was one of these inquisitive landladies who examine the possessions of their tenants, and she remembered that his books were “all political stuff and how to get on in Parliament.” She also remembered something that others had observed: his solitude.

He seemed to have no friends, lived completely alone [as mentioned above, for reasons unknown, nobody mentioned Rudolf Häusler before Thomas Orr investigated the neighbourhood in 1952, ¶], refused the Popps’ invitations to share their supper, rejecting all their overtures, and spent whole days in his room without stirring outside. He lived on bread and sausages and sometimes knocked politely on their kitchen door to ask for some hot water for his tea.

“He camped in his room like a hermit with his nose stuck in these thick heavy books,” she said. It puzzled her that he should be both a painter and a voracious reader, and one day she asked him what all this reading had to do with his painting. He smiled, took her by the arm, and said: “Dear Frau Popp, does anybody know what is and what isn’t likely to be of use to him in life?” (4)

The Little drummer boy, p.279-80

The Popps liked him. He knew how to behave, which impressed them, for it seemed to imply that, in reality, beyond the mask they were sure he was wearing, he was someone different, someone better than who he professed to be. He lived on his own planet, not necessarily in the known universe, and had no contacts we know about except that a former resident of the men’s hostel claimed to have met him once in München, in a chance encounter at the railway station. [FN 1] He did paint, though, and he did sell his works; we have a good handful of reports by his customers. The physician Dr Hans Schirmer remembered:

[FN 1]: The name of the man was Josef Greiner, who seems to have been a welsher and a blackmailer. In 1939 and 1947, he published books describing his supposed friendship with Hitler in München and Vienna. Both books were banned, 1939 by the Nazis themselves and the 1947 opus by the occupation authority. Cf. Joachimsthaler (8)

… I was sitting one summer evening in the garden of the Hofbräuhaus, nursing my beer. Around 8 p.m. I noticed a very modest and somewhat coarsely clad young man, who looked to me like a poor student. The young man went from table to table, offering a small oil painting for sale.

Time lapsed, and it was around perhaps 10 p.m. when I saw him again and realized that he still had not sold the picture. When he came near me, I asked him whether I could but it, since his fate troubled me somewhat. He answered: “Yes, please,” and when I asked for the price, he put it at five Marks.

My fortunes at that time … were not great, and since I had in my pockets only the little cash one needed to buy the beer, I gave the young man three Marks and my address, on a prescription form, and asked him to come back, with the painting, to my practice the next day, where I would give him the rest.

He handed me the painting right away and told me he would see me tomorrow immediately after the transaction was finished, he went to the buffet and bought two Frankfurters and a roll, but no beer.” (5)

A merchant in hats, Josef Würbser, was visited in his store.

“It was in April 1914. I was manning the cashier post, in the hat shop Zehme at Marienplatz and Dienerstraße, when a young man came in and asked me whether I would be interested in buying two of his paintings. He needed to sell them in order to buy books for his studies.

Since I dabbled in painting a bit myself, my interest was immediately aroused, and I studied the two paintings, one of which showed the “Old Mayor’s Office” and the other “The Old Courtyard”. I liked the pictures, which showed the beautiful motives in the brightest of colours and bought both of them. I cannot recall the price exactly, but it must have been between fifteen and twenty-five marks.” (6)

The jeweller Otto Paul Kerber recalled:

“A young man came into my store one day in 1912 [it must have been 1913 or early 1914, ¶] and offered me a watercolour of the Munich Residence. I liked the painting and bought this and subsequently a few more paintings of the young man, who came by regularly. As far as I remember, I paid, depending on size and quality, between 15 and 20 Marks per picture.” (7)

Little did they know it then, but most of his customers made the deal of their life, for, in the Third Reich, the paintings sold for up to 5,000 Mark. It remained clear, however, that the attraction was the artist, not the work. Joachim Fest remarks about Hitler’s artistic fancies and idols:

His standards had remained unchanged since his days in Vienna when he paid no heed to the artistic and intellectual upheavals of the period. Cool classicist splendour on the one hand and pompous decadence on the other – Anselm von Feuerbach, for example, and Hans Makart – were his touchstones. With the resentments of the failed candidate for the academy, he raised his own taste into an absolute.

He also admired the Italian Renaissance and early Baroque art; the majority of the pictures in the Berghof belonged to this period. His favourites were a half-length nude by Bordone, the pupil of Titian, and a large coloured sketch by Tiepolo. On the other hand, he rejected the painters of the German renaissance because of their austerity.

Paris Bordone, Venus and Amor – one of Hitler’s favourites

As the pedantic faithfulness of his own watercolours might suggest, he always favoured craftsmanlike precision. He liked the early Lovis Corinth but regarded Corinth’s brilliant later work, created in a kind of ecstasy of old age, with pronounced irritation and banned him from the museums. Significantly, he also loved sentimental genre paintings, like the winebibing monks and fat tavern keepers of Eduard Grützner. In his youth, he told his entourage, it had been his dream someday to be successful enough to be able to afford a
genuine Grützner. Later, many works by this painter hung in his Munich apartment on Prinzregentenstraße.

Alongside them, he put gentle, folksy idylls by Spitzweg, a portrait of Bismarck by Lenbach, a park scene by Anselm von Feuerbach, and one of the many variations of Sin by Franz von Stuck. In the “Plan for a German National Gallery,” which he had sketched on the first page of his 1925 sketchbook, these same painters appear, together with names like Overbeck, Moritz von Schwind, Hans von Martes, Defregger, Boecklin, Piloty, Leibl, and, finally, Adolph von Menzel, to whom he assigned no fewer than five rooms in the gallery. (9)

His business increased slowly, he obtained steady customers, and some actually ordered in advance. The chemist Dr Schnell, who had a shop at Sendlinger Straße 42 near the city centre and a chemical factory in the northern district of Milbertshofen, (10) remembered that one day a poor young painter came in…

… who apparently had been told by somebody that I had previously helped poor artists. He asked for a bit of support. “I am an architectural painter,” the young man said and offered to paint a small picture for me. On inquiry, he stated his name as Hitler, he was Austrian and in town to become a painter.

“Well then, please paint me the Asam Church next door,” Dr Schnell said. “After eight or ten days, Hitler brought a small painting of the Asam Church, which was surprisingly well done. I paid him the agreed-on Twenty Marks and bought a few more of his paintings, which he always delivered on time. I was also able to pass on further orders, which I received from my acquaintances that saw the picture of the Asam Church. … Then the First World War intervened, and Hitler and the paintings were forgotten. …

When Hitler entered the political scene after the Great War, I wanted to find out whether the politician Adolf Hitler was indeed identical with the pre-war painting student. So once I briefly went to the Hofbräuhaus, where Hitler was addressing a rally and established that he was indeed the same man whose paintings I had bought. …

Much later, after the Nazis came to power, I was once invited by Hitler to the Four Seasons Hotel. He asked how I was doing and how the paintings were, and whether he could do me a favour. One time, between 1934 and 1936, a man from the staff of the “Führer’s Deputy” Hess visited me in the office by the shop, in which Hitler’s town paintings hung, and inquired whether Hess, who was interested in the paintings, could come and see them. Hess then did show up, with two or three other gentlemen, and viewed the pictures. … Later some party office asked for my permission to make photocopies of the paintings, for the party archive, which I granted.” (11)

Based on the testimonies of Hitler’s customers and Frau Popp, who said that he produced a painting every two or three days, Anton Joachimsthaler computed that if he sold, say, ten paintings a month, he could live rather well. In his municipal sales licence, which he needed to peddle his paintings legally and which doubled as a tax form, he entered sales of approximately one hundred Mark per month, which probably was the lowest number he could get away with. Even if he initially earned less than the fifteen or twenty marks that seem to have become the norm after a few months, he must have earned between 150 and 200 Marks per month soon. This was rather decent, compared to the wages of a normal worker, who at this time in München earned between 96 and 116 Marks but had to provide for his family, too. (12)

As in Vienna, it seems that Hitler had more money than he let on, and his professions of poverty in “Mein Kampf” ought to be taken with a large spoonful of salt. Even if it is true that he, as he later claimed, often had only one Mark for his lunch or dinner, this amount must be set in relation to the prices of the time, which were very low. A litre of beer, approximately two pints, was 30 Pfennige (pennies), one egg 7 Pfennige, a pound loaf of bread 16 Pfennige and a litre of milk 22 Pfennige. One Mark went a long way.

As far as we know, his way of life did not deviate much from that of Vienna, which may teach us caution about the tales Hitler later spun of his studies of politics, philosophy and history in pre-war München. In one of the table monologues during the Second World War, he professed art, not politics, as his reason to go to München.

“[I wanted to continue] … to keep working as an autodidact and to add on a period of practical work once I was in the Reich. I went to Munich happily: I had set my goal to learn for three more years and then, at 28 years of age, to apply as a designer at Heilmann & Littmann [a Munich construction firm, ¶].

I would have entered their first competition, and, I believed, they would realize my talent and acknowledge my faculties. I had contributed, privately, to all the current architectural competitions, and when the designs for the new Opera House in Berlin were publicized, my heart started beating, and I told myself, that they were much worse than what I had delivered. I had specialized in stage design.” (13)

None of the orderly archives of these competitions preserved any of the entries Hitler had – privately – contributed, so that, alas, we are precluded from a proper judgement of their artistic value.

His repose in München provided him with a less conspicuous benefit: that he, as he believed, has escaped being drafted into the Austrian army. It was the standard in Austria as in all other European countries, that the young men of a
certain age, twenty, in Austria, were called up for the military which kept them, after two or three years of active service, at the beck and call of the reserve units for the next twenty years or so. Hitler had been required to register in the autumn of 1909, exactly when he disappeared. Even if he had had a valid excuse, say, illness, he was required to re-register in 1910 or 1911. Given Hitler’s unfavourable opinion of the Habsburg state, it cannot surprise us that he felt no urge to serve it.

On August 11, 1913, the Linz police issued a warrant for Hitler, alleging draft-evasion. From Hitler’s remaining relatives, perhaps the Schmidts, they found out that he lived in the men’s hostel in Vienna. On inquiry, Vienna reported back to Linz that Hitler had flown out, leaving no forwarding address, but that a few occupants of the hostel remembered that Hitler had spoken of going to München.

Linz thus inquired at München, and on January 8, 1914, was notified that Hitler was indeed registered in München, c/o Popp, Tailor, Schleißheimerstraße 34/111. In the afternoon of January 18, 1914, a troop of the Munich police was sent there to serve Hitler with an Austrian summons for military inspection.

“Herr Adolf Hitler, born 1889, domiciled Linz an der Donau, presently staying in Munich, care of Popp, Schleißheimerstraße 34/111, is hereby summoned to present himself for military registration in Linz, at 30 Kaiserin Elisabeth Quay on January 20th, 1914, and in the event of his failure to comply with this summons, he will be liable to prosecution under Paragraphs 64 and 66 of the Law regarding Military Service of the Year 1912.” (14)

the little drummer boy, p. 282

This was no joke. According to the Austro-Bavarian Extradition Treaty of 1831, he could be arrested and delivered to the authorities in Linz in iron fetters if he did not heed the call. Hitler talked to the officer in charge of the delegation, Constable Herle, who demanded a signature for the receipt of the summons. For the benefit of the constable and his crew, Hitler composed an impromptu apology:

“I missed to register myself in the autumn of 1909 but corrected this oversight in February 1910. At this time I reported to the Conscription Office IB in the Mayor’s Mansion, and from there was directed to my home precinct, the XXth. I asked to report right there in Vienna [instead of Linz], signed some protocol or affidavit, paid one Krone and never heard again of the affair. It never entered my mind, however, to evade registration, neither is this the reason for my residing in Munich. I was always registered with the police in Vienna, [FN 2] as I am here in Munich.” (15)

[FN 2] This was an outright lie; we know he was not registered from September 16, 1909, to February 8, 1910. He repeated the lie in the letter to the Austrian authorities (see below), but, luckily, nobody checked the false claim.

The Austrians must have forgotten him, he said, for he was clearly no deserter. We do not know what Herle thought of the story, but in all probability, it was not the first time in his career that he encountered a suspect blaming an error on the authorities. The story Hitler concocted was fishy in itself, and maybe he counted upon the Bavarian officer’s ignorance of Austrian military laws and procedure; the European nations of this age very carefully kept track of their prospective recruits and did not simply “forget” them; the requirement of registering every change of address had been, in fact, created exactly for this military purpose.

Herle arrested Hitler and took him to the police headquarters. On the next morning, the prisoner was presented to the Austrian Consulate General. It appears that he was assisted there by a consular officer or perhaps a paralegal, for he was allowed to present his case in a written statement. This was not quite the normal procedure; perhaps Hitler’s sangfroid began to work.

By then he had fleshed out his tale. First, he claimed, untruthfully, that he had received the summons too late; then he contended that the problem was the fault of the Austrians, who had mistakenly looked from him in Linz when he was actually in Vienna or vice versa. Eloquent in excuse, and strangely lachrymose in tone, his statement reminds the reader of the wheedling style of his father’s letter to the bishop of Linz in the marriage affair, when it describes his toilsome life in München. Fortuna has conserved the document, which allows us a look into the young man’s vexations:

… In the summons, I am described as an artist. I bear this title by right, but it is only relatively accurate. I earn my living independently as a painter, being totally deprived of an income (my father was a civil servant), and I work only in order to further my education. Only a small portion of my time can be spent in earning a living, for I am still educating myself to become an architectural painter.

My income is therefore very modest, just enough to cover my expenses. As testimony, I refer you to my income tax statement, which is enclosed, and I would be grateful if it could be returned to me. It will be seen that my income is estimated at 1200 Marks, which is rather more than I really earn, and does not mean that I actually make 100 Marks a month. Oh no. …

With regard to my failure to report for military service in the autumn of 1909, I must say that this was for me an endlessly bitter time. I was then a young man without experience, receiving no financial assistance from anyone, and too proud to accept financial assistance from others, let alone beg for it. Without support, compelled to depend on my own efforts, I earned only a few Kronen and often only a few farthings from my labours, and this was often insufficient to pay for a night’s lodging. For two long years, I had no other mistress than sorrow and need, no other companion than eternally unsatisfied hunger. I never knew the beautiful word youth.

Even today, five years later, I am constantly reminded of these experiences, and the remainders take the form of frost blisters on my fingers, hands and feet. And, yet I cannot remember those days without a certain pleasure, now that these vexations have been surmounted. In spite of great want, amid often dubious surroundings, I nevertheless kept my name clean, had a blameless record with the law, and possessed a clear conscience – except for that one constantly remembered fact that I failed to register for military service. This is the one thing I feel responsible for. It would seem that a moderate fine would be an ample penance, and of course, I will pay the fine willingly.

I am sending this letter independently of the testimony, which I have signed today at the Consulate. I request that any further orders should be transmitted to me through the Consulate and beg you to believe that I shall fulfil them promptly.

All the declarations made by me concerning my case have been verified by the Consular authorities. They have been exceedingly generous and have given me hope that I may be able to fulfil my military duties at Salzburg. Although I cannot dare to hope for such a thing, I request that this affair may not be made unduly difficult for me.

I request that you take the present letter under consideration, and I sign myself, Very respectfully,

ADOLF HITLER

Artist
Munich
Schleißheimerstraße 34/111 (16)

This letter is an early and excellent insight into the mind of a person who would go on to become a professional deceiver. It is not only the sheer bending of the facts that surprises, but it is also the style of the missive; it reveals that Hitler knew exactly what to write and how.

The letter reeks of the specific style of the age, of the servile lachrymosity employed when one has a problem with the authorities. The submissive, sometimes brown-nosed and sometimes cajoling tone is, by today’s standards, an all too obvious attempt to induce sympathy for one’s pleadings in the face of a stern bureaucrat, who has the power to take drastic measures. It may well be true that bureaucrats, in general, expect Byzantine flattery, and antecedent obedience from the public they serve (and which pays their salaries), but Hitler’s letter almost sounds as if he were trying to poke fun at the addressees. The style is hither awkward and yonder familiar, eerily intimate at times, as if to beg money from a rarely-seen uncle.

Strikingly effective, however, is his argumentation: even before the judgement is cast, he appeals to a higher court, beyond the transient character of Austrian military justice. His crime is not desertion, he claims, his bane was poverty. He will be using a very similar tactic of confessing to a non-existent charge eleven years later when facing trial for the Beer Hall Putsch. As he will then, he now proclaims his guiltlessness; in the words of Robert Payne, “the higher court will pronounce him innocent, for his only crime is poverty; his name is clean, his record blameless, his conscience clear. He claims that his sole ambition in life is to serve the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and as we read the letter we know that he despises this monarchy and all its works, and has not the least intention of abiding by its orders.” (17)

In the event, his attempts to enlist the sympathies of the consular staff were successful: the consul himself agreed to forward Hitler’s letter to Linz, along with one of his own, in which he states that he personally as well as the Munich
police believe that Hitler was honest and missed the registration by mistake, not criminal intention. Furthermore, the Herr Consul recommended that Hitler should be allowed to face the military examination board in the border town of Salzburg rather than to have to travel all the way to Linz. Showing rare generosity, the consulate even paid for Hitler’s train fare.

The military command in Linz agreed, and on February 5, 1914, Hitler took a train to Salzburg. In a brief examination, the doctors found Hitler unfit for combat or auxiliary duty and dismissed him without further obligations.
That was exactly what Hitler had hoped for, and he went back to Schwabing and his books and paintings with a lighter heart. In “Mein Kampf”, he later claimed that the lively political discussions in the cafes and beer gardens trained his intellect and improved his adeptness of argument. Of paramount importance, he wrote, was his repeated study of Marxism.

“I again immersed myself in the theoretical literature of this new world, attempting to achieve clarity concerning its possible effects, and then compared it with the actual phenomena and events it brings about in political, cultural and economic life. Now for the first time, I turned my attention to master this world-plague.” (18)

Three considerations may cause us to doubt the veracity of the statement. Since Hitler had never been “employed” in the sense that a factory worker is employed, one may doubt how much he truly understood of the realities of collective bargaining, of accident insurance, workman’s compensation, health care or pension plans, the bread-and-butter tasks of labour unions. Second, at the time he supposedly “immersed” himself in the study of Marxism, the Russian October Revolution or any other communist revolution was still years in the future, and no country in the world had a socialist government yet. Thus, one may wonder how exactly Hitler formed his opinion of the “world-plague” and where the “actual phenomena and events” occurred which he said he observed. It appears much more likely that these parts of “Mein Kampf” –
written not before 1924 – represent hindsight, and that he afforded himself prescient clairvoyance of the evils of Marxism as early proof of his political genius. Thirdly, it is questionable how much free time painting and selling the pictures left him.

But he came to like Munich as much as he of late despised Vienna. The townspeople had an easy way of living, Hitler liked the Bavarian dialect, which he had picked up as a child in Passau, and the racial and lingual hodgepodge of
Vienna that he had learned to detest was completely absent. Even in the very cold winter of 1913/14, when fewer customers than usual could be found on the snow-covered streets and empty beer gardens, he was still high in spirits;
Munich continued to shine. [FN 3] Yet it is clear that he did not partake in the social or political life of the town; not a single document, no newspaper clip mentions his name. With the exception of Rudolf Häusler, we know of no other acquaintances. In the last sixty years, all likely archives have been searched: we have, for example, even a letter of a friend, Fritz Seidl, who knew Hitler during the one year at the boarding-house of Frau Sekira in Linz, when they were in first grade at the Unterrealschule; but nothing from Munich – but not a single photograph. (19) In a well-known paragraph of “Mein Kampf”, Hitler praised the town:

[FN 3] “Munich Shines!” was the title of a popular cabaret program.

“If today I am more attached to this city than to any other spot on earth in this world, it is partly due to the fact that it is and remains inseparably bound up with the development of my life; if even then I achieved the happiness of a truly inward contentment, it can be attached only to the magic which this miraculous residence of the Wittelsbachs exerts on every man who is blessed, not only with a calculating mind but with a feeling soul.” (20)

Oktoberfest 1910

But when he sat in the cafés and read the newspapers, he could not fail to become informed of the latest international tensions. The Balkans occupied the headlines again, as they had when wars had erupted there in 1912 and 1913. In one of the literary more recommendable passages of Mein Kampf, Hitler describes the peculiar atmosphere of early 1914:

“As early as my Vienna period, the Balkans were immersed in that livid sultriness which customarily announces the hurricane, and from time to time a beam of brighter light flared up, only to vanish again in the spectral darkness. But then came the Balkan War and with it, the first gust of wind swept across a Europe grown nervous. The time which now followed lay on the chests of men like a heavy nightmare, sultry as feverish tropic heat, so that due to constant anxiety the sense of the approaching catastrophe turned at last to longing: let Heaven, at last, give free rein to the fate which could no longer be thwarted. And then the first mighty lightning flash struck the earth; the storm was unleashed and with the thunder of Heaven there mingled the roar of the World War batteries.” (21)

The steady worsening of Europe’s international relations since about 1906 will properly be the subject of the following chapters. But in a strange way, all the accounts we have of June and July 1914 agree on its perfect weather, which contrasted so starkly with what was to follow. On these long summer nights, Hitler was still selling the fruits of his brush and pencil in the beer gardens unless he was busy painting the glow of the sunsets. But he was in his mansard, alone, immersed in a book, on the afternoon of June 28, 1914, when his landlady stormed up the stairs and entered his room without knocking on the door.

In tears, Frau Popp informed her lodger that earlier in the day the heir apparent to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Habsburg and his wife Sophie had been assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, by a young man called Gavrilo Princip, an anarchist with presumed connections to Serbia.

The archduke, a nephew of Emperor Francis Joseph, had arrived in Bosnia three days earlier to inspect the annual military manoeuvres. After the conclusion of the exercise, the prince insisted on paying a visit to the Bosnian capital, although the local administration had received warnings of a plot. Half a dozen conspirators, dispersed over the town’s main thoroughfares, had been waiting for the royal couple, but it was only dumb luck that Princip met the open royal carriage backing out slowly from the wrong end of a one-way street, unguarded. He fired a pistol twice and killed both the archduke and his wife.

Hitler ran down the staircase and joined the crowds that assembled on the streets. In Vienna, a mob already beleaguered the Serbian Embassy. The news from Sarajevo was the sensation of the year.


Next post: The Assassination of the Archduke

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/18)

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