August Kubizek

Deine Zauber binden wieder
was die Mode streng geteilt,
alle Menschen werden Brüder
wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Joy, your miracles unite
what customs irately divide,
to love one’s brother never fails,
where your gentle sway prevails.

Friedrich Schiller “Ode an die Freude” [Ode to Joy], Str. 2

Not only does Schiller’s poem combine the universal themes of joy and friendship in perfect harmony, immortalized in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, it also demonstrates practical insight. Man is a social animal: not by accident is the harshest penalty barbarism can inflict upon a detainee the state of solitary confinement; proscribing social interaction, negating human dignity.
A proper friend often appears as if he were the complementary piece of a puzzle that has belatedly been found, the missing segment of a duality sought unconsciously by the soul; a remedy for feeling incomplete. On any road, Bob Hope was not complete without Bing Crosby, nor was Stan Laurel without Oliver Hardy, and where Walter Matthau showed up, Jack Lemmon could not be too far. It seems that female friendship may occur in triplicate, as with the Graces, or in groups, as with the Muses or the Pleiades. The joy of companionship was acknowledged even by the Gods: on Mons Olympus, Zeus paid homage to the human and, perhaps, also divine need of companionship by giving Castor and Polydeukes, the Dioscuri, an eternal place in the night sky and in human memory as the constellation Gemini, the Twins.

For a few years in the first decade of the twentieth century, Adolf Hitler was not complete without August Kubizek.

One late autumn night in 1904, around All Saints’ Day, Adolf visited the Linz Opera House, as it was his wont if he could get one of the few but cheap tickets to the Standing Area. He came early so as the get a spot on one of two wooden columns, where one could prop one’s back up and still have a full view of the stage. On this evening, he observed another young opera buff that had availed himself the use of the second pillar. (1) He may have seen the young man before, perhaps they had exchanged a word or two during an intermission, or on the staircase; at any rate, on this evening they began a conversation. In these years, Adolf’s attempts at extra familiar communication were often awkward or ambiguous: his way was either gloomy sullenness or exultant monologues: silence or tirades. Something about the other boy must have induced his trust. August Kubizek was the son of an upholsterer and worked as apprentice in his father’s shop, an occupation he truly despised, and complained that:

Landestheater – Linz Opera House

“It is a repulsive job to re-upholster old furniture by unravelling and remaking the stuffing. The work goes on in clouds of dust in which the poor apprentice is smothered. What rubbishy old mattresses were brought to our workshop! All the illnesses that had been overcome – and some of them not overcome – left their mark on these old beds. No wonder that upholsterers do not live long.” (2)

The surviving photographs show a sensitive young man with an artist’s forehead, huge eyes, and a somewhat unreal air of innocence, or perhaps unworldliness. Gustl’s [the southern-German diminutive of his name August] interests centred on music: he had begun to play the violin with nine and a few years later entered the respected local school of music where he was taught by Professor Dessauer. In the course of the lessons he added the viola, trombone and trumpet to his repertoire, and aspired to become an orchestra player, preferably with the Vienna Philharmonic. He was a busy student, gifted, dreamful, and naive. Adolf was dreamful as well, but certainly not naive and questionably gifted. Soon they were inseparable and visited every opera performance they could afford or, if they were broke, took long walks together.

Adolf’s knowledge of music at that time had been solely obtained by listening to operatic scores over and over, but great music does not give up her secrets all too easily, and he could not yet analyse what he had heard. He had not received musical education for some time and was happy to have found a patient instructor in August, who summarized his task as follows:

“Hitler’s musical education was very modest. Aside from his mother, pride of place goes to Father Leonhard Gruner of the choir of the Benedictine monastery at Lambach, who trained Adolf as a chorister for two years. The boy was eight when he joined, and therefore at a highly receptive age. Those who know the culture level of these old Austrian institutions will appreciate that there was scarcely a better musical training to be had than that in a well-led choir: The boy’s primary school reports were always endorsed ‘outstanding’ for singing, but the Realschule offered no musical instruction at all. Whoever wished to pursue it had to pay for private tuition or go to music school. Because he spent more than two hours daily on the trek between Leonding and the Realschule, Adolf would have had no time for private musical tuition even if his father had been in favour of it.” (3)

Soon they established a routine. Since August was still working in his father’s shop, Adolf would collect him there around five in the afternoon, and they would be off to “saunter through the city like a pair of conspirators taking secret notes and calculating to a hairbreadth the exact degree of absurdity reached by the inhabitants.” (4) Hitler did not understand the relaxed way in which the Austrian bourgeoisie faced the future; to his earnest, if slightly hypocritical, mind, idle entertainment was a sin. Kubizek remarked that “when we passed by the Café Baumgartner he would get wildly worked up about the young men who were exhibiting themselves at marble-topped tables behind the big window panes and wasting their time in idle gossip, without apparently realizing how much this indignation was contradicted by his own way of life.” (5) For when Kubizek was still busy in his father’s shop, and the more so on his own in later years in Munich and Vienna, Hitler was the first to enter the coffee house to read the international newspapers; that is, if he could afford the twenty Heller that were charged for a cup of coffee. In the beginning, the friends’ discussions invariably orbited around art and music, hence foremost around the opera. Adolf was not one to talk much about his inner self, and listening was Gustl’s forte in any way. Kubizek described their rapport as follows:

“Nevertheless, it was at first a difficult friendship because our characters were utterly different. Whilst I was a quiet, somewhat dreamy youth, very sensitive and adaptable and therefore always willing to yield, so to speak a ‘musical character’, Adolf was exceedingly violent and highly strung. Quite trivial things, such as a few thoughtless words, could produce in him outbursts of temper which I thought were quite out of proportion to the significance of the matter. But, probably, I misunderstood Adolf in this respect. Perhaps the difference between us was that he took things seriously which seemed to me quite unimportant. Yes, this was one of his typical traits; everything aroused his interest and disturbed him – to nothing he was indifferent.” (6)

Since Gustl was a gentle soul, collisions with the strong-willed Hitler were the exception; usually the orator-to-be and the one-man-audience harmonized well. They promenaded endlessly through Linz and its bucolic surroundings, visited every slightly famous place or building at least twice and climbed the towers of the churches and the hills that formed the backdrop of the town. A frequent target of excursions was the famous Baroque monastery of St. Florian, where Anton Bruckner was laid to rest, and the ruins of Kürnberg Castle, where the boys tracked the origins of the Song of the Nibelungs.

With Gustl as the straight man, Adolf fabulated non-stop about God and the world. Kubizek did not mind the monologues, for they “made me realize how much my friend needed me.” (7) He soon understood, from his friend’s less than amused reaction to a few aberrant opinions, that Adolf courted approval, not critique. This approval August duly provided, amazed by the intensity of his friend’s soliloquies.

Linz, “Landstraße” (Main Street), around 1918

“These speeches, usually delivered somewhere in the open, under trees on the Freinberg, in the Danube woods, seemed to be like a volcano erupting. It was as though something strange, other-worldly, was bursting out of him. Such rapture I had only witnessed so far in the theatre, when an actor had to express some violent emotions, and at first, confronted by such eruptions, I could only stand gaping and passive, forgetting to applaud. But soon I realized that this was not play-acting. No, this was not acting, not exaggeration, this was really felt, and I saw that he was in deadly earnest. It was not what he said that impressed me at first, but how he said it. This to me was something new and magnificent. I had never imagined that a man could produce such an effect with mere words.” (8)

When rain or heat obstructed their outside activities, they reposed to locations suited to yield motives for Adolf’s drawing and watercolours. From the painting of the favourite buildings of Linz, Adolf soon graduated to fantasies of tearing down and rebuilding them – according to the plans he had designed. One of these was a blueprint for the villa he would build for Gustl and him, where the internationally renowned conductor August Kubizek and the famous architect and painter, Adolf Hitler, could reside in status-conscious splendour. It was to be a birthday present.

“On my eighteenth birthday, 3 August 1906, my friend presented me with a sketch of a villa. … By good luck, I have preserved the sketches. They show an imposing, palazzo-like building, whose frontage is broken up by a built-in tower. The ground plan reveals a well-thought-out arrangement of rooms, which are pleasantly grouped around the music room. The spiral staircase, a delicate architectural problem, is shown in a separate drawing, and so is the entrance hall, with its heavy beamed ceiling. The entrance is outlined with a few brisk strokes in a separate sketch. Adolf and I also selected a fitting site for my birthday present; it was to stand on the Bauernberg.” (9)

The palace would be paid for by the money the friends were going to win in the town lottery. Adolf asked August for a contribution of five crowns to the ten crowns the ticket was to cost, and took him to the lottery office to witness the ceremonial selection of the important certificate. After some time scrutinizing the available tickets, Adolf chose one: “‘Here it is!’ he said, and put the ticket carefully away in the little black notebook in which he wrote his poems.” (10) Yet when Hitler calculated the amounts necessary to build Gustl’s birthday present, he suffered an attack of thrift and proposed to his friend that they should instead rent an apartment they could fit to their needs. The boys went hunting, and after careful inspection of the town they agreed on the second floor apartment of Kirchengasse # 2 in Urfahr. They snuck in clandestinely and Adolf made a grounds map. He proposed, reasonably enough, that their respective studios were to be on opposite ends of the floor, so that his drawing would not be disturbed by August’s piano or viola practice.

“Although simplicity was the keystone of our home, it was nevertheless imbued with a refined, personal taste. Adolf proposed to make our home the centre of a circle of art lovers. … A refined lady should preside over our home and run it. It had to be an elderly lady, to rule out any expectations or intentions which might interfere with our artistic vocation. … This image remained with me for a long time to come: an elderly lady, with greying hair but incredibly distinguished, standing in the brilliantly lit hall, welcoming on behalf of her two young, gifted gentlemen of seventeen and eighteen years respectively, the guests who formed their circle of select, lofty-minded friends. During the summer months we were to travel. The first and foremost destination was Bayreuth, where we were to enjoy the perfect performances of the great master’s music dramas. After Bayreuth, we were to visit famous cities, magnificent cathedrals, palaces and castles, but also industrial centres, shipyards and ports. ‘It shall be the whole of Germany,’ said Adolf.” (11)

When the publication of the lottery results in the newspaper evidenced the whole extent of the government conspiracy that denied the boys first prize, or any other, Adolf “screamed and cursed.” (12) Not only was the lottery an obvious fraud, designed to exploit the humble citizen, the state itself, this hodgepodge of Slavic minorities gnawing on the German Oak, was in cahoots with the abusers of credulity who “insulted good artists by taking their money.” (13) It took weeks until Adolf resurfaced from the depths of his frustration.

Kubizek’s account of his friendship delivers a fascinating view of the future Führer as a work in progress, even if some of the more colourful episodes have to be taken on faith. Illuminating, and sometimes involuntarily funny, are Kubizek’s descriptions of the boys’ gradually germinating awareness of the opposite gender (as we will find out in the subsequent article). Puberty reaches our protagonists, the sudden influx of strange sensations.

Much of what we know about Hitler’s life during those years comes from Kubizek. He made notes for the Nazi Party archive and in 1951 published an extended version under the name “Adolf Hitler, mein Jugendfreund” (‘The Young Hitler I Knew, Arcade Books 2011, ISBN 978-1-61145-058-3) through the Leopold Stocker Verlag. Although several errors in his notes have been pointed out, it is the only source for these years that we have.

It was perhaps characteristic of Hitler that he never mentioned his friend in the autobiographical chapters of “Mein Kampf” or in conversation until they met again on 9 April 1938 in Linz. In 1939 and 1940, Hitler invited Kubizek to the Richard Wagner Festivals in Bayreuth. In 1942, when the tide of war had turned against the Third Reich, Kubizek finally joined the NSDAP.

Kubizek was arrested by U.S. troops in the winter of 1945 and jailed until 8 April 1947 without ever being accused of, or much less indicted of, breaking any law. The publication of his book in 1953 allowed a view of young Hitler’s life the public had not been aware of.

He died on 23 October 1956, aged 68.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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