Here, among the couches, Hitler was particularly fond of drifting into endless monologues. The subjects were mostly familiar to the company, who therefore listened absently, though pretending to attention. Occasionally, Hitler himself fell asleep over one of his monologues. It was all very familiar. Once we agreed we wanted to get him a birthday present, but naturally we were given pause, confronted as we were with the problem of what present to bring a man who was incurably deranged in his mind. After eliminating a number of articles that might offend or frighten him, we chose a dainty and innocent trifle: a basket with ten different fruit jellies in ten little jars.
There were two sitting areas: one a sunken nook at the back of the room, with the red upholstered chairs grouped around a fireplace; the other, near the window, was dominated by a round table whose fine veneer was protected by a glass top. Beyond this was the movie projection cabinet, its openings concealed by a tapestry. Along the opposite wall stood a massive chest containing built-in speakers, adorned by a large bronze bust of Richard Wagner. Large oil paintings covered the walls: a picturesque reclining nude, Indians fighting Indians, a landscape with Roman ruins, a child in a jumper bathed in a bluish light. We found places on the sofas in either of the sitting areas; then the tapestry was raised and the second part of the evening began with a movie as the company gathered around the huge fireplace – some six or eight persons lined up in a row on the excessively long and uncomfortably low sofa.
According to one’s taste, one had tea, coffee or chocolate, and various types of cakes and sweets, followed by liqueurs. Records were played – a few bravura selections from Wagnerian operas, promptly followed by operettas. Hitler made a point of trying to guess the names of the sopranos and was pleased when he guessed right. No one took the trouble to raise the conversation above the level of trivialities. These social occasions dragged on in monotonous, wearying emptiness for hours.
I might have been able to smuggle Aeromat into one of these gatherings, earlier in the war, but there were few newcomers brought in during the middle-war period, simply because at that point Hitler’s paranoia was so extreme that he was unable to trust anybody.
Aeromat continued to want to join us, although I warned him there was not much pleasure to be had – conversations were drawn-out and Hitler’s speeches were endless. Yet my friend was taken by the elegance of the gatherings, as I had described them – the chocolate, the cakes, the liqueurs, the film projections, and loafing on the upholstered couches after a rich meal. When I finally told Aeromat no, he fell upon the rug in his bare apartment and began to cry in frustration. I left. I had no time for his hysterics – not when there was so much else of greater concern on my mind.
Hitler’s decision to settle in Obersalzberg was on account of his love of nature, and while he did frequently admire a beautiful view, as a rule he was more affected by the awesomeness of an abyss than the harmony of a landscape. He took little pleasure in flowers and considered them entirely as decorations. When a delegation of Berlin women’s magazines visited around 1934, he was asked by the head of the organization what his favourite flower was. He telephoned round to discover what his favourite flower was, but in the end he replied, ‘I haven’t any.’
All winter long people plunged horribly from the mountains, young men and women, in the distance, tumbling and flipping over from front to back while on their alpine skiing and climbing vacations. Gazing out of the chalet window, as in the distance young men and women fell through the air to their deaths, Hitler’s dislike for snow burst out repeatedly. ‘What pleasure can there be in prolonging the horrible winter artificially by staying in the mountains?’ he’d exclaim. ‘If I had my way I’d forbid these sports, with all the accidents people have doing them! But of course the mountain troops draw their recruits from such fools.’
Nightly we took nature strolls along the pathways Bormann cleared. With total insensitivity to the natural surroundings, he had laid out a network of roads through this magnificent landscape. He turned forest paths, hitherto carpeted by pine needles and penetrated by roots, into paved promenades. Dormitory barracks for hundreds of construction workers clung to the slopes. Trucks loaded with building materials rumbled along the roads. At night the hills glowed with light, for work went on in two shifts, and occasionally detonations thundered through the valley.
Once, after our return from a nightly constitutional, we were seated at the round table in the teahouse and Hitler began staring at me. Instead of dropping my eyes, I took it as a challenge. Who knows what primitive instincts are involved in such staring duels. I have had others, and have frequently won, but this time I had to muster almost inhuman strength, seemingly forever, not to yield to the ever-mounting urge to look away – when Hitler suddenly closed his eyes, then opened them and looked at the woman at his side.
It snowed and snowed and snowed. Railroad and highway traffic came to a total stop. The airport runway was drifted over. We were cut off. I was taken into a hospital. For twenty days I lay on my back, my legs immovable in a plaster cast. Although the doctors prepared my wife for the worst, with the application of the morphine I fell into a remarkable euphoria. The little room expanded into a magnificent hall, and the plain wardrobe I had been staring at turned into a richly carved display piece, inlaid with rare woods. The nurses who attended me fluttered like angels, and any anxious thoughts of my situation left me as I hovered happily between living and dying. Even the angry telephone calls from Hitler failed to have any effect on my drug-addled reverie. ‘Why did you have to go skiing up there!’ he shouted over the telephone. ‘I’ve always said it is madness. With those long boards on your feet! Throw those sticks into the fire!’
My return to Berlin had to be postponed. Once I had recovered, socializing with the construction workmen filled the time. Get-togethers were held, songs sung. Sepp Dietrich made speeches and was cheered. I stood by; with my awkwardness at speech-making, I did not dare say even a few words. Among the songs distributed by the army corps were some very melancholy ones, expressing a longing for home and the dreariness of the Russian steppes.
I am not at all disposed to be a hero, and since the eight days of my stay had been of no use whatsoever, and I was eating into my engineers’ scarce provisions, I decided to take a train that was going to attempt to break through three snowdrifts to the west. My staff gave me a friendly – and, it seemed to me, grateful – farewell. All night we went along at six or seven miles an hour, stopped, shovelled snow, rode again. I thought we were a good deal farther to the west when, at dawn, we pulled into a deserted station.
An adjunct came in and requested I join Hitler. It was then after one o’clock in the morning. He asked me to tell him what impressions I had gathered on my visit to southern Russia, and helped me along by interjecting questions. The difficulties in restoring the railroad equipment, the social evenings with their melancholy songs – bit by bit everything came out. When I mentioned the songs, his attention sharpened and he asked about the words. I produced a handwritten text I had in my pocket. He read it over slowly and asked my opinion. My opinion was that the songs were a natural response to a grim situation. Hitler, however, decided at once that some traitor was trying to undermine morale. Later, I found out that he’d court-martialled the author of those songs.
Walking into Hitler’s office, I passed an attractive young woman walking out. He said to me suspiciously, ‘Imagine if on top of everything else I had a woman who interfered with my work. In my leisure time I want to have peace! I could never marry. And think of the problems if I had children! In the end they would try to make my son my successor. And the chances are slim for someone like me to have a capable son. That is almost always how it goes in such cases. Consider Goethe’s son – a completely worthless person!’
Hitler had increasingly begun showing signs of distraction and overwork. At times he would be distinctly averse to making decisions, and relapse into one of his painful monologues, or else fall into a sort of muteness. He was also at all times worried about gaining weight. ‘Out of the question! Imagine me going around with a pot belly. It would mean political ruin!’ Then he would push aside his cake or the plate of cookies or whatever was on his desk. ‘Take it away,’ he would demur. ‘I like it too much.’
Walking down Unter den Linden one afternoon, I noticed a former acquaintance of mine, a man of my father’s age who had been a teacher in the gymnasium when I was a boy. He had been arrested ten years ago on charges of molesting some of the younger male students. But he had been the best teacher I’d ever had, casual, intelligent, so unlike the other, colourless tutors. I still felt disturbed over my visit with Aeromat, so I was in no mood to approach. I had been curious about him, however, ever since the trial. Seeing him sitting there, on a bench with a newspaper in hand, I felt something in me slacken. I remembered him young and athletic, with a distinguished posture. I turned and left the park. I hoped he hadn’t seen me. Even if he had, he probably wouldn’t have recognized me. I am no longer a boy of twelve. I have changed, also.
The Observer article of 9 April 1944 was read aloud in Hitler’s chambers. Among us were Bormann, Himmler and Dorsch. I stood, and with considerable irritation, Hitler put on his glasses and began to read:
Speer is not one of the flamboyant and picturesque Nazis, but in a sense he is more important for Germany than Hitler, Goering, Goebbels or the generals, who are mere auxiliaries to him who is the very epitome of the managerial revolution. Much less than any other German leaders does he stand for anything particularly Nazi. He rather epitomizes a type which is becoming increasingly important in this, our modern world: the pure technician; the bright, classless young man with no background, and with no more original aim than to make his way in the world with his technical and managerial abilities. It is precisely his lack of psychological and spiritual ballast, and the ease with which he handles the terrifying technical and organizational machinery of our age, which makes this slight type go so extremely far nowadays. This is their age. After the Hitlers and the Himmlers have been gotten rid of, the Speers will be long with us.
‘What do you think of all this?’ Hitler asked me, shouting.
I said, ‘It is obviously not true.’