Farewell Berlin: Giesler’s last days and hours with Hitler in the Berlin Bunker
Translation and commentary by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann of Hermann Giesler’s Ein Anderer Hitler
Copyright 2011 by Carolyn Yeager
Hermann Giesler at work.
We began this series of translations of Hermann Giesler’s Ein Anderer Hitler in the fall of 2008 with Giesler’s account of Adolf Hitler in Paris on the eve of the signing of the French-German armistice, June 1940.1 Hitler had invited his “artists”—Albert Speer, Hermann Giesler and Arno Breker—to accompany him on a one-day excursion to view the important architectural monuments and street-layout of Paris.
Ever the artist, Adolf Hitler never lost his interest, nay deep commitment, to the re-structuring of German cities, to the end that they would reflect the greatness that he envisioned as a thousand-year Reich. To rebuild Grossdeutschland as an important and prosperous nation in every respect was his overriding desire from the very beginning of his amazing career. But his enemies desired otherwise, and, in combined force, had the power and destructive ability to deny the aroused will of the German people for an illustrious future. That Germany’s enemies insisted there would be nothing left of those dreams and hopes is more than apparent in the aftermath of war that was gloatingly portrayed in photographs sent around the globe.
Yet, the constructive nature of Adolf Hitler’s Weltanschauung can be seen in the photographic record of the models that were built from the city-rebuilding plans he helped to create for Berlin, Munich and Linz. Hitler was especially fond of his Linz plans, of which he had placed Hermann Giesler in charge as leading architect. All during the war years Giesler was summoned to whatever Fuehrer headquarters was being used at the time, ordered to bring with him all his Linz plans, to provide for Hitler’s relaxation and enjoyment in devising the creative architectural ideas that were a tonic for the hard-working leader.
So very fitting it is, then, that our concluding installment of this series brings us full circle back to Adolf Hitler’s primary love for art and architecture. Out of necessity as Commander in Chief of his armed forces, he also became an outstanding war strategist, responsible for some of the most remarkable victories in military history.
It was in February 1945—when the Allied bombers dominated the skies everywhere over Germany and the retreating Wehrmacht was assisting in the vital task of bringing as many Germans from their home provinces in the East further westward, away from the advancing barbarian Soviet Red Army with its raping, murdering and pillaging—that Giesler was finally able to bring to the besieged Berlin bunker the completed model of the Linz Danube riverbank reconstruction that he and Adolf Hitler had been designing together for nearly five years.
In spite of the deteriorating conditions all around, including the cruel, shocking fire-bombing of the undefended “art and culture” city of Dresden, this was an event of deep satisfaction to Hitler the architect—to be able to see and study the completed Linz project, albeit in model form.
Our concluding installment opens with Giesler, in Munich, receiving calls from the Fuehrerbunker in Berlin asking when the Linz model would be ready to show to Hitler, who was so anxious to see it.
* * *
"Again and again the Fuehrer talks about your Linz plans and about the model of the Danube riverbank reconstruction. When will your model be ready to show to the Fuehrer?”
Such calls arrived from the last Fuehrer Headquarters—the command bunker at the Reichskanzlei (office of the federal chancellor in Berlin), from the adjutants office, and from Bormann, during the depressing weeks of January.
The battle of the Bulge failed. It did not lead to the strategic success hoped for and earned by our hard-fighting, sacrificing divisions. In the East, the front was weakening under the forward-storming Russian armies and day-by-day the threat, not only around but also above us, increased.
The Bavarian and Danube districts2 that were under my jurisdiction as an OT [Organization Todt] leader, were under increased bomber attacks. At that time of deadly worries and pressure, how contrary to my Sisyphus work of removing the damages from the attacks was this question: “How long ‘til the model of Linz is finished … when can you present it to the Fuehrer?” Could one understand that?
I, at least, could. In autumn 1940, Adolf Hitler gave me an additional task, introduced me to the new layout of Linz. His idea given to me at that time in Linz indicated that he had been thinking for a long time—maybe even since his youth—of a renovation of the city, changing its orientation toward the Danube.
Later, in the war years, whenever there was a chance, the Linz plans were a theme of our discussion. Linz was also the only peace-task dealt with, on his order, during the last war years. Often he visited my studio and discussed partial plans and part models with me, and then gave his instructions. For weeks at a time, he asked me to his headquarters in Winniza and Wolfsschanze.
Between military meetings, we were drawing together just like colleagues on the details of the plans. And during the hours when he was waiting for the front reports, we were talking about city reconstruction and architecture. That often took place during the greatest tension and most bitter disappointments.
It seemed to me always, at the planning sessions or at the discussions, he was primarily concerned about performance—to get his mind off his concerns, maybe—but more so, he wanted to obtain a clear mind for his military decisions by concentrating on creative work.
Even during the most desperate days, he did not separate his thoughts from tasks of the future, binding them to peace beyond the war. He wanted to dedicate his time to work on the basic ideas of a new social structure, to shape the environment according to the requirements of the present time, thereby to solve the problems of city building. When he said we will win the war regardless of all the problems, he was very much convinced of it—even though he fully recognized the reality contradicted it. And that conviction had its roots in his unshakeable belief in his mission.
Therefore, I understood his wish to see the model of the new creation of his hometown Linz, the architectural version of the Danube Bank reconstruction.
LINZ MODEL PRESENTED TO HITLER
Finally the Linz model was ready. The remaining model builders had worked tirelessly, often deep into night hours. It was an exceptionally high-class, professional job. The large model-structure now stood in one of the light-colored cellar rooms of the New Chancellery.
When I took Adolf Hitler to that room he stood for a long time, overwhelmed by the impression, just looking. I had positioned the search light like rays of the afternoon sun; the significant Urfahr structure at the river, across from the Linz site, stood picturesque and impressive in the light. It was just as he described his architectural vision to me in autumn 1940. Now his view was just as he would see his “city at the Danube” from his planned retirement home.
With a somber face he looked at me, stepped toward my coworker, the model-builder Mehringer, still busy with the last additions, and thanked him for the wonderful achievement.
We switched the searchlight to the ‘morning light’ and again he was completely engrossed, deeply sunk into the overall impression of the model. Now he looked at the Linz Danube bank construction from the Urfahr side.
What might be going on inside him, what thoughts moved him? I never saw him so serious in front of a model … so far away and so moved at the same time. I stood aside, depressed by the war events, over-tired and, looking at the model, I could not get rid of the thought: architecture never built.
Slowly, while continuing to look, he now stepped along the Urfahr side of the model toward the top side, where the Danube flows right from the natural landscape of the wooded mountains through the newly planned city district. He bent forward and looked downriver. I switched the lighting to midday light to avoid blinding him. He asked for a chair.
Bending forward, he looked across the river at the vertical rhythm of the housing blocks. He nodded to me. That was followed by his checking of the intervals and the proportions of the groups of buildings vis-a-vis the domineering verticals.
February 13, 1945, the very day of the barbaric Allied nighttime bombing of the undefended city of Dresden, Hitler got his first look at the Linz model—the project that so much of his own designing genius had gone into. From Giesler: “I switched the lighting to ‘midday light’ to avoid blinding him. He asked for a chair. Bending forward, he looked across the river at the vertical rhythm of the housing blocks.”
Regrettably, I was distracted by questions from the men accompanying him, until Bormann sent them off with a handshake and ‘later,’ giving me a chance to watch Hitler again.
He was now sitting at the Linz side and looking across the river toward the “Great Hall” with the Danube tower and, inside, the planned gravesite for his parents marked by a bronze cenotaph.3 Adolf Hitler observed it all attentively, awake and yet distantly dreaming, as if he would hear from the tower Bruckner’s bell tower motif4 he was so fond of.
The escort left us alone; only Bormann stood aside in his typical pose with arms crossed, watching quietly.
The following day and during my stay at the command bunker of the Reichs-Chancellery, I accompanied Hitler mostly twice-a-day to the Linz model—in the afternoon, when lunch was often delayed because of the Lage [military strategy meeting], and then again in the night hours. It was nearly always the same: a long, deep, dream-like observation, followed by a discussion about details of the buildings and bridges appearing in the model.
Visitors participated, often requested by him, like Dr. Goebbels or military—if they, as he said, are open-minded. He showed the model to them as if it were the Promised Land into which we would find entrance.
One afternoon Adolf Hitler said: Dr [Robert] Ley married; he would like to know something about his wife. Then, after a short pause, to Schaub5: He should see that Dr. Ley sends me [Giesler] an invitation, so that I meet Mrs. Ley and could tell him [Hitler] all about her.
So one evening I was a guest at Ley’s house, at their bomb shelter as it turned out. With some flowers, I conveyed to him Hitler’s regards. The main theme of our discussion was Linz and Hitler’s interest in the architectural model. For various reasons, Ley was rather impressed: The Fuehrer knows how much he is interested and all that he is involved in and busy with. He knows, also, his interest in architecture; he certainly will show him the Linz model soon—more so since he [Ley] is responsible for some of the buildings at the Danube bank.
At the nightly tea hour, I told Adolf Hitler of the evening at Ley’s house. Dr. Ley met his young wife when helping a rescue party after a bombing attack. She was from the Baltics; had run away from the Russians. When I was alone with Dr. Ley he told me, “I saw her in the glow of the fiery blaze—she looked to me like the reincarnation of my wife that I lost. Giesler, you knew her—isn’t there a similarity?”
Mrs. Ley, I said at the end, is a harmonious person, attentive and modest. With her intelligent eyes she carries a nice, quiet appearance. I had the impression Adolf Hitler was happy with my report. A few days later he showed Dr. Ley the Linz model.
GIESLER’S DIFFICULTIES WITH ALBERT SPEER
With Bormann, I had detailed discussions about the tunnel shelter system at the Obersalzberg. The scale of this installation for the headquarters and staff of OKW demanded and obviously justified a large labor force and rationed building materials. Speer caused problems; dissonance occurred which was out of proportion to the importance of my building requests at that time.6
I was the one compromised when we could not then meet urgent deadlines. I asked Bormann to understand my situation. I pointed out that even the Jaegerbauten (fighter program), an exclusive responsibility of Speer and Dorsch, was already delayed by three months even though they were privileged with special allocation quotas.
Those two were present when I expressed my and my brother’s doubts about the location of those building sites, the use of concrete and steel, the necessary labor force, and the fixed deadlines assured by Dorsch. I said at that time, those steps were taken too late. The Fuehrer was annoyed: “Speer and Dorsch are responsible for that,” and he gave me the order, “Giesler, you will not be concerned with that anymore. You remain with your tasks.”
I stuck to that order. Now, after the deadline debacle, co-workers of Speer and Dorsch visited with me, asking if I might not order the shut down of the Jaegerbauten at Landsberg and Muehldorf.
"Unbelievable,” Bormann remarked. “And what did you say?”
"What’s that all about?—I neither proposed those super structures, nor did I plan them, and they do not fall under my supervision. The ones responsible for those buildings are—and you know it well enough—Dorsch and Speer, and a decision about the shutdown can only be made by the Fuehrer.”
"They want to blame you,” Bormann said, in order to weasel themselves out of the deadline problems. “Stay out of it!”
YALTA CONFERENCE AND DRESDEN
The Yalta conference was on. Reports reached Hitler even before the Linz model arrived, which should have given him—if even for a short time only—some relief.
Suendermann, the deputy press chief, himself brought the reports in, written with large letters, and explained them. The Fuehrer dictated further directions and orders for the press, decided on meetings with the Foreign Secretary and Dr. Goebbels, and all that without taking his eyes off the model.
During the hours of the Lage and the other meetings, I talked to the men of Hitler’s inner circle about the results we had to expect from Yalta. Apparently, they agreed again on points like in Wilson’s time, only now without unholy pretensions, but with all the frank, brutal decision of the total destruction of Germany. Germany was divided into occupied zones, but they did not know yet how many Nationalsocialists should be shot. They talked about peace-loving nations, meaning only their own, chatted about the highest ideals for mankind and sacred duties, about a secured and lasting peace and a life free of worries and misery for all people and nations; everything will be good, peaceful and glorious as soon as Germany is shattered. A courageous soldier of WWI said cynically: Well, it seems to me the peace will be terrible! Did he have any idea what was approaching him? After a heavy wound in Berlin, the Lubjanka in Moscow and 10 years in Siberia!
* * *
Next evening, I found a deeply-shattered Hitler: Dresden. As a horrifying signal notifying the world, the great European, Churchill, dreamed up and ordered that terror attack against the refugee and hospital city, as a present to the killer Stalin.
According to the reports, far more than one million people were in the city, among them 1/2 million refugees from Silesia. In a night attack of countless allied bombers approaching in waves, the city was helpless without anti-aircraft defense, hailed down upon by exploding and incendiary bombs. Then the last bomber wave arrived and unloaded phosphor bombs on the tortured people who had survived the previous attacks.
With a stony face, Adolf Hitler listened to the reports. Standing erect, he read the messages, finally bending over the table, the crammed papers in his clenched fist. He remained shut off. Only late at night, after the second attack at the edge of the burning city of Dresden, he spoke:
“This renewed attack was meant for those who were able to escape hell—that depressing day was followed by a night of recognition: the threat of relentless annihilation!
"What was possible after the terror attack at Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin, and wherever else—to trace the victims—at Dresden it is impossible. We do not know how many fugitives were in the city. The estimates differ by the hundred thousands.
"Whatever happened, one still could imagine Europe—after Dresden, however, it is hardly possible anymore. Now, again, like after the attack at Hamburg, I think back at the situation in 1940. The defeated French-English forces were encircled at Dunkirk in the flats of Flanders. At that time I was pondering, realistic and responsible, as a soldier and politician. Should I admit that an ethical thought might have been involved in my deliberating? It is not easy to order the annihilation of hundred thousands.
"Today, my decision is considered a mistake, stupidity or weakness. Naturally, after the years of armed clashes degenerating into actions of terrible destruction—today, after Dresden, I would react differently.
"During the lucky, but also during the hard, unlucky battles of those war years, I tried to be sensible. I made the effort to hold to some kind of humanity—if one could react that way responsibly in the middle of a relentless war. I did not lead a war of destruction against cities and cultural institutions, neither when occupying a place or moving out—Rome, Florence or Paris. They should not pretend keeping Paris undamaged was the merit of the Resistance or even the Allied forces. If I would have thought that the defense of the city would have been necessary, then that would have happened. And if I wanted the destruction of that city Paris, a battle-experienced commander with a division would have been enough.”
That terror attack at Dresden can by no means be militarily justified—it was murder, and destruction of a culturally prominent city.
A remark of Dr. Goebbels refers to it also: “That is the raging of a follower of Herostratus,7 the deed of a madman knowing that he is unable to build a temple and trying to prove to the world he is at least able to burn it.”
To me, those words were too one-sided, referring to Dresden as a city of historical culture. My thoughts were with the victims. Those people were fleeing the horror of war, the rape and murder by Asiatic bolshevists, and then met relentless death by explosive and fire bombs, and the phosphor of Winston Churchill.
Later—after the devaluation of all values—pompous non-historians celebrated Churchill as the great European and awarded him, at Aachen, the Karlspreis.8
RUDEL GETS PERSONAL ATTENTION
During my further stay at the Reichskanzlei (federal chancellery), Adolf Hitler again took officers and men he kept in high esteem to see the Linz model, and explained his city planning. Everybody was impressed, be it only because they experienced the Fuehrer at a level they had been excluded from until now.
I saw my task fulfilled. My discussions with Bormann and the military at the OKW about the protective system at the Berghof, and the area for the alternative headquarters at the Obersalzberg were completed. At the late afternoon tea, I reported my departure to Adolf Hitler.
No, he decided he would ask me to stay. He still has to talk with me about many matters. Did I know that Colonel Rudel lies at the Zoo bunker with an amputated leg?
Yes, Colonel von Below told me so.
"Visit with him tomorrow, give him my regards, talk with him! Get personally acquainted with him and report to me.”
Colonel Rudel rested at the hospital of the gigantic shelter bunker at the Zoo.9 He was surrounded by Luftwaffen comrades and young ladies. I gave him Adolf Hitler’s greetings and late congratulations for receiving the highest military award. Then I was only a listener to a very lively conversation with a very attentive Rudel until the doctor entered and the visiting hour closed.
After the busy saying of goodbyes, I could talk with him for a short while and ask him a few questions undisturbed. “What should I report to the Fuehrer? How are you, peppery and confident as I’ve seen you during this conversation?”
"Confident, yes! But still with some worries. I hope to fly again soon.
"With one leg?”
"I will manage that! My place is now at the front line. Especially now, when we have to defend German soil. I cannot leave my wing and my comrades alone.”
I touched with a question: Does he know in the meantime what task is awaiting him from the Fuehrer? No, Rudel thought the Fuehrer understands him very well: he will not deny him his further front mission.
When I reported to Adolf Hitler in the evening, he shook his head thoughtfully and said, looking at me, “There is no time now. I will give Colonel Rudel a very important task within the Luftwaffe. I am certain he will master it.”
In the evening and night hours, Adolf Hitler talked about political, social, military and world affairs. He was concentrated, spirited, often visionary and Promethean.10 During the war years, especially at his solitary times, I was his talking partner—mostly, however, about space configuration, environment, architecture and city building. Now, I was surprised about these themes and how he summarized them; I was fascinated by the richness of his thoughts and his creative power.
During one interruption—he was called to the telephone—I whispered to Bormann, “That should be recorded; that is of great importance!” Bormann answered. “I’ve tried it for quite awhile.”11
GIESLER RECEIVES TERRIBLE NEWS; BIDS FAREWELL
The tension-rich hours at the command bunker at the old Reichskanzlei piled up to days and nights without any transitions. The timetable was marked only by the military Lage talks, but even they were rather fluctuating, like the interruptions by the short and very simple meals. No hectic atmosphere existed at the bunker; just the continuous coming and going by generals and officers of the armed forces. Everything was strictly organized by short orders and attentive adjutants.
On February 23, my brother called me from Munich: “I bring you bad news, get hold of yourself, toughen up and listen. Our dear mother was seriously wounded by an American low-attacking fighter airplane. No, no hope anymore. Our aunt was with her and died right away. Come as soon as possible, please.”
Our mother was with her sister on the way to us, her sons, after her house was bombed out. I needed a long time to regain my composure, then I said goodbye to my comrades at the Fuehrer Headquarters and walked to the Lage room at the new Reichskanzlei to report my departure to Adolf Hitler.
I stood in the big hall; beneath me was the cellar with the Linz model. It got dark, candlelight was brought in after the electricity went out. The big door opened and Adolf Hitler saw me. He came toward me and gave me his hand. “I know, Giesler, your mother.”
"I would like to report my departure, my Fuehrer. I take the next train to Munich.”
"No, I will not allow you to be alone. Come on.” He led me to the Lage room. I saw and heard, and then again I did not. What has remained in my mind was the unreal room, what I saw by the candlelight—the Fuehrer, the table with the maps, the tense faces, the officers epaulettes, the crosses of their awards, hands pointing out, voices, reports, harsh ordering words.
All that, I saw and heard; it was the now, the present. And behind lay the dark room, uncertain like the future. It seemed to me as if I had lived through all that already, or dreamed about it, deeply depressed. I remembered the evening at the Berghof, February 1941. Instead of the hoped for peace, there stood the threatening danger from the East. Also, at that time, there was the flickering light from the fireplace in the dim room when Lizst’s Les Preludes resounded as a fateful preamble—I was thinking about my mother.
The Lage ended. At the Fuehrer’s side, I went back to the bunker. Hitler said, “Kaltenbrunner12 takes the train to South Germany tonight; he will bring you safely to Munich. Your brother will be informed.”
"After all that’s happened, I would now like to become a soldier, and I ask you for it.”
"No, you did your duty as a young volunteer in World War I. You remain as my architect. I have enough soldiers, if they and their leaders only stand up steadfast and fight.”
A little later Kaltenbrunner arrived. I said goodbye. Adolf Hitler gave his hand and, as so often, he laid his left hand on my arm, wordlessly. I looked into Adolf Hitler’s eyes for the last time.
Before the Allied tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946, Col. General Alfred Jodl said about Adolf Hitler: “He acted like all heroes in history act, and they will continue to act that way. He let himself be buried in the ruins of his Reich and his hopes. Condemn him whoever may—I cannot.”
1. “With Hitler in Paris” appeared in the Nov. 2008 and Jan. 2009 issues of The Barnes Review. Watch a short film taken at the time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrrcOB8yYUE&feature=player_embedded
2. These were the Gaus, the administrative districts in Germany at the time.
3. A cenotaph is a monument erected in honor of a dead person whose remains lie elsewhere.
4. A motif from Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, on special occasions chimed from a bell tower in Linz.
5. Julius Schaub was Hitler’s personal adjutant since 1925.
6. Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect, was in charge of all building material allocation at that time.
7. Herestratos was an ancient Greek who set fire to the temple in Ephesus, considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. He is said to have destroyed that which he was unable to build.
8. The Karlspreis is an annual award given to an “outstanding European” by the German city of Aachen.
9. The Zoo refers to the Zoological Gardens district in Berlin where a five-story, super-strong bunker, with anti-aircraft batteries on top, had been built. Inside the bunker were shelters and a hospital.
10. Promethean, in the sense of one who is boldly creative or defiantly original in behavior or actions.
11. This appears to be a reference to what has come to be known as “Hitler’s Table Talks,” notes taken by Bormann’s adjutants Heim and Picker, with Hitler’s approval, during tea and mealtimes. However, the English translations of these notes are not considered reliable by all historians, so take care when consulting them.
12. Ernst Kaltenbrunner was head of the RSHA, the Reich Main Security Office.
A LETTER FROM ARNO BREKER
Arno Breker in front of a version of his famous relief Apollo and Daphne. The most significant neo-classic sculptor of the 20th century, Breker (1900-1991) placed the image of man in the center of his creative work. Like his patron Adolf Hitler, who named him “official state sculptor” and gave him a large property, studio and many assistants, Breker thought in historical dimensions. After the war, the Allies destroyed over 90% of his public works.
This letter appeared as an appendix in the original edition of Ein Anderer Hitler. Arno Breker was Hitler’s favorite sculptor and highly admired throughout Europe, especially in France.
Professor Arno Breker
Lieber Hermann Giesler,
Last night I finished reading the last chapter of your book; that chapter is also truly shattering. Your book brought many things to light I did not know; above all, the scope of the unbelievable treason. That up to this time one does not know who was behind it, riddles me anew.
Your writing covers by far the most essential, most true and realistic reporting that has been written about the immense tragedy of that epoch. Specifically concerning the field of architecture, one has to go far back in history to meet a similar situation. Our epoch proves anew that the powerful documents of architecture, lasting beyond all time, derive from a lonely personality coined by fate for a specific period.
I am convinced that today’s media is helpless when confronting what you’ve written. Thanks to your extensive documentation, historiography is faced with a new task. In your report, the fateful events roll on like a natural phenomenon.
Hitler is the consequence of the Versailles treaty. The whole drama fell upon an anonymous man and providence destined him to break the fateful situation. Hitler’s primitive, dazzled enemies were not aware that there stood a man who wanted to create a new epoch—also [in] architectural [terms]. That could only happen during a quiet, peaceful period. Your book clearly demonstrates it.
The prologue already makes one prick up his ear. It is a masterful work. How blindfolded the world still is today is proved by the trouble you had to go through before you found a publisher for your manuscript.
Nobly, you treated your adversaries with your critique, above all Mr. Reeps.1 Cool and collected, you can look your opponents in the eye. Max Liebermann2 would say: Mir kann keener [nobody can touch me]. Everything is said by that. Either your book launches an avalanche of comments, or it will be silenced to death. We face that alternative.
For now, my dearest regards,
— Arno Breker
1. Reeps is Speer spelled backwards. A long chapter of Giesler’s book is devoted to his differences with fellow architect Albert Speer, both during and after the Third Reich period.
2. Max Liebermann was a prominent Jewish impressionistic painter of the Weimar period who associated with anti-Nazi elements and the Stauffenberg circle. He remained unmolested up to his natural death in 1935.
A REICH OF ART AND CULTURE
By Carolyn Yeager
Adolf Hitler’s study at the Berghof, where every detail was carried out to his exact specifications. A British Homes & Gardens magazine pictorial lay out on Hitler’s home described him as “his own decorator, designer and furnisher, as well as architect.”
The effort to “explain” the phenomenon of Adolf Hitler is made impossible for mainstream writers by their obligatory need to portray him as a perpetrator of genocide, war atrocities, and “the murderer of millions.”
Frederic Spotts, in his informative though biased book Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, obligingly writes that it was Hitler who “turn[ed] Europe upside down and nearly destroy[ed] it.1 Yet he also wrote in the preface that “After being appointed chancellor in 1933 the first building he had erected was not a monument to his own triumph [as did Mussolini] but a massive art gallery.”2 Hitler’s complaint to his field commanders after Winston Churchill refused peace terms in 1940 was, “It is a pity that I have to wage war on account of that drunk instead of serving the works of peace.”
The tasks of peace—grand architectural renovations and the promotion of German culture—were uppermost in Hitler’s mind, as Hermann Giesler has shown us throughout his memoir. But not only Giesler. After pondering the matter for 20 years in Spandau prison, Hitler’s other architect Albert Speer concluded that Hitler was always and with his whole heart an artist.3
Hitler’s secretary Christa Schroeder recalled that his non-military conversation turned more and more to the arts.4 Josef Goebbels provides numerous examples in his diaries. In Jan.1942, after a long discussion with Hitler, he wrote: “The intensity of the Fuehrer’s longing for music, theatre and cultural relaxation is enormous.” The life he was then leading was “culturally empty,” the Fuehrer had told him, and he looked forward to the war’s end when he would “compensate for this by a dedication stronger than ever to the more beautiful sides of life.”
Giesler, in charge of designing Hitler’s retirement home overlooking Linz, was told by him, “The great hall with the terrace [is] the right room for an ‘Artus Runde’ [King Arthur’s Round Table] … You, as my architect, will be a member.” Hitler envisioned discussion of art, philosophy and matters of importance to the future of Europe by those invited to his home. “Ms. Braun,” whom he would marry when he retired after the war, would be the lady of the house.5
Hitler was no dilettante. His knowledge of architecture was enormous, along with many other subjects. He had supported himself from 1909-1913 in Vienna and Munich by drawing and painting architectural landmarks in watercolor and oil, selling them through dealers. His Munich landlord, Herr Popp, said he often found his lodger reading the works of Schopenhauer and Plato, along with war histories. Throughout the First World War Hitler carried with him a pocket edition of The World as Will and Idea.6
His enthusiasm for Richard Wagner’s music began as a 12 year-old boy attending a performance of Lohengrin in Linz. He’s said to have seen Tristan und Isolde up to 40 times and Der Meistersinger one hundred times. He could hum or whistle all its themes.7
In 1942, Hitler became equally enthused about Austrian-born composer Anton Bruckner. He considered Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony the equivalent of Beethoven’s Ninth. Always generous with his own funds, Hitler personally financed a center of Bruckner studies, had his organ repaired and added to his library; he designed a monument in his honor in Linz; endowed a Bruckner Orchestra and subsidized the publication of the composer’s original scores.8
No other leader of the time came close to that dedication. “Stalin as well as Lenin, Mussolini, Mao Tse-tung and their ilk … had never set foot in an art gallery.”9 While ostensibly better-educated, Churchill, Roosevelt and Wilson were also far below Hitler’s level of cultural awareness. It turns out, by a close study of Adolf Hitler’s biographers, memoirists, associates and the record itself, that his idea of national greatness was only fulfilled in a true national art and culture—reminiscent of the ancient Greeks he admired, wherein magnificent physical beauty combines with a brilliant mind and noble soul.
The Fuehrer Art Museum for Linz designed by architect Herman Giesler. Linz was to become a cultural mecca, with a large theater, a concert hall devoted to Anton Bruckner, a special operetta theater and an opera house with 2000 seats, along with the art museum—all placed along a grand boulevard. Most of the buildings were based on Hitler’s own sketches.
1. Frederick Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, Overlook Press, Woodstock and New York, 2002, p 8.
2. Ibid, p xi.
3. Ibid, p 3
4. Christa Schroeder, He was my Chief, Frontline Books, London, 2009
5. See “Who Are the Traitors?” The Barnes Review May/June 2009, p 58
6. Werner Maser, Hitler: Legend, Myth & Reality, Harper & Row, 1973, p. 124
7. Spotts, p. 235
8. Ibid, p233
9. Ibid, p 10