Hitler's Berlin: Abused City

Hitler's Berlin: Abused City

by Thomas Friedrich


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ISBN-13: 9780300219739
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 07/05/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 1,302,333
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

The late Thomas Friedrich grew up in Berlin and spent his adult life there. He was a museum curator and for many years was project leader for history at the Museum Education Service in Berlin.

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Copyright © 2007 Thomas Friedrich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-16670-5

Chapter One

'It's a wonderful city'


Berlin (13° 23' 54 E 52° 30' 17" N), the capital of the kingdom of Prussia and of the German Reich, the principal residence of the king and Kaiser, the centre of government and, after London and Paris, the largest city in Europe. It lies on a sandy plain surrounded by low hills that rise to a height of between 105 and 160 feet above sea level on both banks of the River Spree, which is still navigable at this point. [...] On 1 January 1914 the city's population was 2,079,156 inhabitants. Clustered around it are also numerous suburbs and outlying villages, most of which are closely connected to it, so that a Greater Berlin exists with a population of more than four million. Grieben's Travel Guide to Berlin, 1917

The House in the Schonensche Straße

The building still exists. It is one of those countless blocks of rented flats that were built in Berlin and the surrounding area from around 1830 – the start of the Industrial Revolution in Germany. Even by that date the city was already growing exponentially. Each year another ten thousand immigrants would arrive, so that by 1877 the city's population was over a million. By 1905 that figure had doubled. After that, the growth rate declined, but only because better transport links meant that the suburbs and neighbouring communities were able to absorb the influx of new arrivals: the municipality of Pankow to the north of Berlin, for example, expanded from 38,000 inhabitants in 1908 to 58,000 in 1913. Like most of the city's other suburbs, Pankow was already so comprehensively merged with Berlin by this date that no one apart from the inhabitants of the districts on the edge of the city even so much as noticed the existence of a boundary.

Pankow lay on the northern side of the Schonensche Straße. Visitors arriving from the Schönhauser Allee will still find that no. 15 Schonensche Straße is the last house on the right. In 1917 it was still a part of Berlin. Named after a region in southern Sweden, the Schonensche Straße lay at the very northern edge of the city in postal district N 58. In the plan of Berlin published by Baedeker in 1908, it is in the square marked '28' at the top, squeezed between the Wisbyer Straße, named – appropriately enough – after a city on the Swedish island of Gotland, and the Kaiser-Friedrich-Straße. Whereas the Wisbyer Straße was in Berlin, the Kaiser-Friedrich-Straße was in Pankow. No. 15 was the last house to be built in the Schonensche Straße. Dating from 1909, it does not appear in the 1908 Baedeker guide, where the area in question is uncoloured, indicating that the plot of land was still undeveloped.

Each of the building's five floors was divided into four apartments comprising two rooms and a kitchen – not exactly palatial luxury. Hundreds of thousands of workers lived in such cramped quarters in Berlin, many of them families. The typesetter Fritz Arendt and his wife, Helene, lived on the third floor at 15 Schonensche Straße. They would have counted themselves lucky that the building was new rather than one of the older, dilapidated properties thrown up over the course of the previous decades. The flat was just big enough for them to find room for their twenty-two-year-old son, Richard, when he returned home on leave between 2 and 19 September 1917. Like his father, Richard Arendt was a trained compositor. Before the war he had lived in Augsburg, but now he was a non-commissioned officer in the Reserve Battalion of the Sixteenth Bavarian Infantry Regiment. Soon after enlisting, he had got to know a volunteer who had been a member of the regiment since 1 September 1914. The regiment was stationed in Alsace until the middle of October 1917. When Arendt returned from his two weeks' home leave, he presumably told his comrade about his experiences in Berlin. After all, the latter had for years taken a lively interest in the capital. The conversation must have prompted Arendt to invite his comrade to spend his forthcoming two-week leave of absence with his parents in Berlin – his friend had repeatedly claimed that he had no wish to spend the time with members of his own family or to return to Munich, where he had lived prior to the outbreak of the war. In the German army no superior officer had the right to tell a volunteer where he should spend his home leave. Provided the latter observed the necessary formalities, remained within his country's frontiers and returned to the front on time, he could go wherever he wanted.

And so it was that, on Sunday, 30 September 1917, twenty-eight-year-old Corporal Adolf Hitler, holder of the Iron Cross (Second Class) and, since 17 September, of the Military Service Medal (Third Class), set off on an eighteen-day leave of absence – the first such leave in his entire life. Travelling via Frankfurt and Leipzig, he arrived in Berlin on 2 October. Four days later he sent a postcard to his friend and fellow dispatch runner Corporal Ernst Schmidt:

Dear Schmidt,

Didn't get here till Tuesday. The Arendts are very kind, I couldn't have wished for anything better. It's a wonderful city. A real metropolis. Even now there's a tremendous amount of traffic. I'm out and about practically all day long. Finally have a chance to get to know the museums a little better. In short, I want for nothing. Every good wish, A. Hitler.

For all its brevity, Hitler's postcard is none the less precise and to the point, comprising, as it does, an address, a characterization of the sender's hosts, his assessment of the city, an account of his activities, a summing-up and a colloquial salutation. But what did Hitler mean when he wrote that he had 'finally' had a chance to get to know the museums 'a little better'? Had he already had an opportunity to visit the city's museums and galleries before October 1917? Although this was his first leave of absence in Berlin, it was in fact his second visit to the city. But what drew a 'German Austrian', as Hitler liked to describe himself, to Berlin? And why does none of the published accounts of his life, including his own autobiographical writings such as Mein Kampf, contain even a passing reference to his home leave? Is it not strange that a man normally so keen to tell others about himself should have maintained a lifelong silence about his visit to this 'wonderful' city in October 1917, whereas his brief stay in the autumn of 1916 at least receives a six-line mention in Mein Kampf? What reasons did Hitler have to be so unforthcoming about his relations with Berlin during the dying days of the Kaiserreich?

The Regiment as Home

Hitler was born in Braunau on the River Inn in 1889. In 1907 he applied for a place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna but failed the entrance examination. In spite of this rejection, he moved to Vienna from Urfahr, a suburb of Linz, in 1908. In October of that year he was not even allowed to re-sit the entrance examination. During the years that followed he led a life of indolence, incapable of coming to terms with his failure, while at the same time remaining convinced that he not only had the aptitude to become an architect but that he was positively predestined for the life of an artist. In May 1913 – not 'the spring of 1912', as he erroneously claims in Mein Kampf – he moved to Munich, ostensibly to continue his studies. Here he was forced to earn his living as a freelance architectural draughtsman, with a view to 'training to become an architect'. In the event he did nothing that could be described as a serious attempt to further his education. Still less did his activities amount to regular employment or systematic, planned work. He simply lived from hand to mouth.

Branded a failure and lacking any professional qualifications, the twenty-five-year-old Hitler was bound to welcome the outbreak of the First World War as a form of release. Although he was an Austrian citizen, he signed up for military service in Munich following mobilization and Germany's declaration of war on Russia. By the middle of August 1914 he had been summoned to report for duty at Recruiting Depot VI. During the days that followed he received his initial basic training, and by 1 September 1914 he had been assigned to the First Company of the Sixteenth Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, often known as the 'List Regiment' after its first commanding officer, Colonel Julius List. By 21 October the regiment was being transported to the Belgian front at Ypres and Becelaere, where the first military engagements took place before the end of the month, resulting in heavy losses. By 3 November Hitler had been promoted to the rank of corporal. Six days later he was assigned to the regimental staff as an orderly, his duties from now until the end of the war being those of a dispatch runner – for whatever reason, he makes no mention of this in Mein Kampf. By all accounts he was a courageous and reliable runner. On 2 December 1914 he received the Iron Cross (Second Class). In the middle of March 1915 the List Regiment was transferred to the front at Fromelles near Lille, where they fought in the trenches, defending a two-mile stretch of the front over a period of some eighteen months. According to Anton Joachimsthaler, 'the fighting at Fromelles resulted in many deaths and injuries among English and German troops alike, but the situation at the end was ultimately what it had been at the outset – in spite of two major skirmishes in May 1915 and July 1916 the front moved only a few metres throughout this entire period'.

With hindsight Hitler came to regard his regiment as a kind of 'home'. After his aimless years in Vienna and Munich, he now found a sense and purpose in his life. He was part of a larger community that relieved him of the need to struggle to earn a living. A quarter of a century later he fondly recalled this period:

One thing is certain – your worries are never-ending. I had worries as a young man when I was dealing with denominations of 10, 20 or 30 marks. There was only one time when I didn't have any worries: my six years in the army; people didn't take it all so seriously – you had your suit delivered, and even if it wasn't a good one, at least it was respectable, and the same was true of your meals, your accommodation and you had permission to lie down wherever you wanted.

Hitler's father had died in 1903, his mother in 1907. He had no contact with his surviving relatives in Austria such as his sister, Paula, and his half-sister, Angela. And from the middle of 1915 onwards he received no more parcels or post from his few remaining acquaintances in Munich. He told his war comrades at this time that his present home was his regiment and, inasmuch as he had no relatives in Germany and had absolutely no desire to return to Austria, he 'felt no great urge to go on leave'. At the end of September 1916 the regiment left Fromelles and moved to Cambrai. By 2 October they were already engaged in the Battle of the Somme, which had been going on since the end of June. Only a few days earlier the soldiers, who until then had worn spiked leather helmets (in 1914 they had had only oilcloth caps), had been given steel helmets. The regiment was positioned at Allaines, between Bapaume and Le Barque. The regimental staff were accommodated in a dugout at Le Barque-Nord.

In early October the dispatch runners moved into a tunnel so narrow and low that they could barely sit upright or pass one another. The air was thick and stifling. Pressed tightly against one another, mostly with their legs drawn up against their bodies, they tried to sleep in spite of their discomfort. One of the entrances was in the direct line of fire of the English artillery position. The likelihood of a shell striking the narrow entrance at exactly the right angle was negligible, and yet this is precisely what happened. A light grenade exploded, causing shrapnel to fly down the passageway in which the dispatch runners were sleeping. Six of them were injured, including Hitler, who sustained a wound to his left thigh. It was not particularly serious, and when the regimental adjutant, Friedrich Wiedemann, startled by the explosion, arrived, Hitler is said to have told him: 'It's not so bad, Lieutenant, I'll stay with you, I'll stay with the regiment!' Decades later Wiedemann described his impressions of this incident: 'He lay there, wounded, and had no desire other than to be allowed to remain with his regiment. He had no family and, if you like, no homeland either. For Corporal Hitler, the List Regiment was his home.'

From Field Hospital to the Reich's Capital

For the first time since moving to the front, Hitler now found himself – much against his will – returning to Germany, where his injuries could be better treated. As he himself put it in Mein Kampf, he now saw his 'home' again after two years – in the circumstances this was 'an almost endless time. I could scarcely imagine how Germans looked who were not in uniform.' He arrived at the Red Cross hospital at Beelitz near Berlin on 9 October 1916. His bed was in Ward 34 in Section I.

After months of fighting in the mud of the Somme, Hitler – by his own admission – scarcely dared climb into 'the white beds of this miraculous building'. He was disturbed by the strange atmosphere in the hospital. The whole scene was dominated by 'cowards'; 'a few wretched scoundrels' set the tone, 'the most unscrupulous agitators', who mocked the ideas of 'decent soldiers' and who even boasted that they were capable of mutilating themselves to escape from the front. One such inmate 'went so far in his insolent effrontery as to represent his own cowardice as an emanation of higher bravery than the hero's death of an honest soldier', an attitude that Hitler found so repellent that 'disgust mounted' to his throat. The managers of the hospital tolerated such 'agitators' on their premises and, even though the identity of these discontents was known, 'nothing was done' about them. Eight years later, in his statement to the People's Court in Munich, Hitler tried to give an anti-Semitic gloss to his alleged horror at the way in which the hospital had secretly condoned the agitators' actions. But his mendacious account of his clash with a Jewish senior doctor presumably failed to achieve the desired result, for he made no attempt to relate the episode in Mein Kampf, which he wrote in 1924.

A group photograph taken in the hospital grounds on 26 October 1916 shows Hitler with his usual staring eyes but, after two and a half weeks of medical treatment, he is by no means as hollow-cheeked as in earlier photographs taken on the front. And his moustache is no longer twirled up at the ends in the Wilhelminian manner. Once he had recovered from his injury and was able to walk again, he was allowed to travel from Beelitz to Berlin. The Red Cross hospital lay right next to the extensive grounds of the Beelitz Clinics, which had their own station on the line from Wetzlar, making it easy for Hitler to take the train to the FriedrichStraße Station in Berlin in little over an hour. A postcard that he sent on 4 November 1916 to Franz Mayer – a fellow corporal in the List Regiment – congratulating him on the award of the Iron Cross, shows a view of the National Gallery in Berlin. It seems likely, then, that Hitler visited Berlin for the first time in early November 1916, perhaps on Friday, 3 November.

Nor will it have been mere chance that the postcard showed the National Gallery. Hitler admired nineteenth-century German art and he could be certain that he would find works by at least some of his favourite artists at the National Gallery. We can imagine him arriving at the station early one morning during the first week of November 1916 and walking south along the FriedrichStraße, past the Central Hotel with its legendary Winter Gardens, and then turning either right along Unter den Linden in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate, or left in the direction of the Royal Palace and then aiming towards the city's cluster of museums on an island in the River Spree. If he took the second alternative, he would have passed, in turn, the Royal Library, the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great, the main building of the Friedrich Wilhelm University and, on the other side of the road, the Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Platz with the Old Palace of Wilhelm I and the Royal Opera, Schinkel's New Guard House fronted by marble statues of two Prussian generals, Gerhard von Scharnhorst and Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow, the Princesses' Palace, the Crown Prince's Palace, the Commandant's Residence and the Arsenal, ending at the Schloß-Brücke. Arriving at the Lustgarten, at that date still a park, he may have headed northwards through the gardens themselves and, passing Schinkel's Old Museum with its columned front hall, reached the National Gallery on the Friedrichsgracht, a branch of the River Spree. Like the other museums and galleries on the island, the National Gallery was open from ten to three. Admission was free.

When Hitler came to describe this visit to Berlin in Mein Kampf, he saw it – remarkably enough – in a completely different light. Here he makes no mention whatsoever of his visit to the gallery but presents his stay in the city as a kind of political reconnaissance trip. 'Clearly there was dire misery everywhere,' he wrote of his impressions of Berlin in November 1916. 'The big city was suffering from hunger. Discontent was great. In various soldiers' homes the tone was like that in the hospital. It gave you the impression that these scoundrels were intentionally frequenting such places in order to spread their views.'


Excerpted from HITLER'S BERLIN by THOMAS FRIEDRICH Copyright © 2007 by Thomas Friedrich. Excerpted by permission of YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

List of Abbreviations ix

Preface x

1 'It's a wonderful city': 1916-18: Hitler's Early Visits to Berlin 1

2 'Not away from Berlin but towards Berlin': 1919-25: A Social Climber from Munich on his Way North 21

3 'It is the Gau's tragedy that it never had a real leader': 1922-6: Setbacks in Building Up the NSDA'P in Berlin 50

4 'A second headquarters': 1926: Goebbels Takes Over the Running of the Party in Berlin 78

5 'The alternative Berlin is lying in wait, ready to pounce': 1927-8: The Successes of a Dangerously Misjudged Splinter Group 107

6 'The movement is now gaining ground in worrying ways': 1928-30: The Breakthrough as the Dominant Party of the Right 139

7 'Hitler is standing at the gates of Berlin': 1930: The NSDAP between Legitimate Tactics and Open Violence 178

8 'He hates Berlin and loves Munich': 1931: The Capital as the Butt of Ridicule and Vituperation 204

9 'The power struggle is just beginning': 1932: The Start of a Decisive Year 242

10 'German Berlin is on the march': 1932-3: The Road to Power 273

11 'A real and genuine capital': 1933: and Later: Hitler's Metropolis 316

Notes 373

Bibliography 441

Index 456

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