Before his marriage my father had been an upholsterer's assistant at a furniture manufacturer's in Linz. He used to have his midday meal in a little café and it was there he met my mother who was working as a waitress. They fell in love, and were married in July, 1887.
At first the young couple lived in the house of my mother's parents. My father's wages were low, the work was hard, and my mother had to give up her job when she was expecting me. Thus I was born in rather miserable circumstances. One year later my sister Maria was born, but died at a tender age. The following year, Therese appeared; she died at the age of four. My third sister, Karoline, fell desperately ill, lingered on for some years, and died when she was eight. My mother's grief was boundless. Throughout her life she suffered from the fear of losing me, too; for I was the only one left to her of her four children. Consequently all my mother's love was concentrated upon me.
Meanwhile, my father had set up on his own and had opened an upholsterer's business at No. 9 Klammstrasse. The old Baernreiterhaus, heavy and ungainly, which still stands there unaltered, became the home of my childhood and youth. The narrow, sombre Klammstrasse looked rather poor in comparison with its continuation, the broad and airy promenade, with its lawns and trees.
Our unhealthy housing conditions had certainly contributed to the early death of my sisters. In the Baernreiterhaus things were different. On the ground floor there was the workshop and, on the first floor our apartment, which consisted of two rooms and a kitchen. But now my father was never free from money troubles. Business was bad. More than once he comtemplated closing down the business and again taking a job with the furniture makers. Yet each time, he managed to overcome his difficulties at the last moment.
I started school, a very unpleasant experience. My mother wept over the bad reports I brought home. Her sorrow was the only thing that could persuade me to work harder. Whereas for my father there was no question but that I should in due course take over his business – why else did he slave from morning till night? – it was my mother's desire that I should study in spite of my bad reports; first I should have four years at the Grammar School, then perhaps go to the Teachers' Training College. But I would not hear of it, I was glad when my father put his foot down and, when I was ten, sent me to the Council School. In this way, my father thought, my future was finally decided.
For a long time, however, there had been another influence in my life for which I would have sold my soul: music, This love was given full expression when, at nine years of age, I was given a violin as a Christmas present. I remember distinctly every single detail of that Christmas, and when today in my old age I think back, my conscious life seems to have started with that event. The eldest son of our neighbour was a young pupil-teacher and he gave me violin lessons. I learned fast and well.
When my first violin teacher took a job in the country I entered the lower grade of the Linz School of Music, but I did not like it there very much, perhaps because I was much more advanced than the other pupils. After the holidays I once more had private lessons, this time with an old Sergeant-Major of the Austro-Hungarian Army Music Corps, who straightway made clear to me that I knew nothing and then began to teach me the elements of violin playing "in the military fashion." It was real barrack-square drill with old Kopetzky. Sometimes when I got fed up with his rough sergeant-major manners he consoled me by assuring me that, with more progress, I should certainly be taken as apprentice-musician into the army, in his opinion the peak of a musician's glory. I gave up my study with Kopetzky and entered the intermediate class of the School of Music where I was taught by Professor Heinrich Dessauer, a gifted, efficient and sensitive teacher. At the same time I studied the trumpet, trombone and musical theory, and played in the students' orchestra.
I was already playing with the idea of making music my life's work when hard reality made itself felt. I had hardly left the Council School when I had to join my father's business as an apprentice. Formerly, when there was a shortage of labour, I had had to lend a hand in the workshop and so was familiar with the work.
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. But soon I also learnt the more pleasant aspects of my work: personal taste and a feeling for art are necessary in it, and it is not too far removed from interior decorating. One would visit well-to-do homes, one saw and heard a lot and, above all, in winter there was little or nothing to do. And this leisure, naturally, I devoted to music. When I had successfully passed my journeyman's test, my father wanted to take on jobs in other workshops. I saw his point, but for me the essential thing was, not to improve my craftsmanship, but to advance my musical studies. Thus, I chose to stay on in my father's workshop, since I could dispose of my time with more freedom there than under another master.
"There are generally too many violins in an orchestra, but never enough violas." To this day I am grateful to Professor Dessauer for having applied this maxim and turned me into a good viola player. Musical life in Linz in those days was on a remarkably high level; August Göllerich was the Director of the Music Society. Being a disciple of Liszt's and a collaborator of Richard Wagner's at Bayreuth, Göllerich was the very man to be the musical leader of Linz, so much maligned as a "peasants' town." Every year the Music Society gave three symphony concerts and one special concert, when usually a choral work was performed, with orchestra. My mother, in spite of her humble origin, loved music, and hardly ever missed one of these performances. While still a small boy, I was taken to concerts. My mother explained everything to me, and, as I came to master several instruments, my appreciation of these concerts grew. My highest aim in life was to play in the orchestra, either on the viola or the trumpet.
But for the time being it was still a matter of remaking dusty old mattresses and papering walls. In those years my father suffered much from the usual occupational diseases of an upholsterer. When persistent lung trouble once kept him in bed for six months, I had to run the workshop alone. Thus the two things existed side by side in my young life: work, which made calls on my strength and even on my lungs, and music, which was my whole love. I should never have thought that there could be a connection between the two. And yet there was. One of my father's customers was a member of the Provincial Government, which also controlled the theatre. One day there came to us for repair the cushions of a set of rococo furniture. When the work was done my father sent me to deliver them to the theatre. The stage manager directed me to the stage, where I was to replace the cushions in their frames. A rehearsal was in progress. I don't know which piece was being rehearsed, but it was certainly an opera. What I remember still is the enchantment which came over me as I stood there on the stage, in the midst of the singers. I was transformed as though now, for the first time, I had discovered myself. Theatre! What a world! A man stood there, magnificently attired. He seemed to me like a creature from another planet. He sang so gloriously that I could not imagine this man could ever speak in the ordinary way. The orchestra responded to his mighty voice. Here I was on more familiar ground, but in this moment everything that music had hitherto meant to me seemed to be trifling. Only in conjunction with the stage did music seem to reach a higher, more solemn plane, the highest imaginable. But there I stood, a miserable little upholsterer, and fitted the cushions back into their place in the rococo suite. What a lamentable job! What a wretched existence! Theatre, that was the word that I had searched for. Play and reality became confused in my excited mind. That awkward fellow with ruffled hair, apron and rolled-up shirt sleeves who stood in the wings and fumbled with his cushions as though to justify his presence – was he really only a poor upholsterer? A poor, despised simpleton, pushed from pillar to post and treated by the customer as if he were a stepladder, placed here, placed there according to the moment's need and then, its usefulness over, put aside? It would have been absolutely natural if that little upholsterer with his tools in his hand had stepped forward to the footlights and, at a sign from the conductor, had sung his part only to prove to the audience in the stalls, nay to an attentive world, that in reality he was not that pale, lanky fellow from the upholsterer's shop in the Klammstrasse, but that his place was really on the stage in the theatre!
Ever since that moment I have remained under the spell of the theatre. Washing down the walls in a customer's house, slapping on the paste, affixing the undercoat of newspaper and then pasting on the wallpaper, I was all the time dreaming of roaring applause in the theatre, seeing myself as conductor in front of an orchestra. Such dreaming did not really help my work, and at times it would happen that the pieces of wallpaper were sadly out of position. But once back in the workshop, my sick father soon made me realise what responsibilities faced me.
Thus I swayed between dream and reality. At home nobody had any inkling of my state of mind; for rather than utter a word about my secret ambitions, I would have bitten off my tongue. Even from my mother I hid my hopes and plans, but she perhaps guessed what was occupying my thoughts. But should I have added to her many worries? Thus there was no one to whom I could unburden myself. I felt terribly lonely, like an outcast, as lonely as only a young man can be to whom is revealed, for the first time, life's beauty and its danger.
The theatre gave me new courage. I didn't miss a single opera performance. However tired I was after my work, nothing could keep me from the theatre. Naturally, with the small wages that my father paid me, I could only afford a ticket for standing room. Therefore I used to go regularly into the so-called Promenade, from which one had the best view; and moreover, I found, no other place had better acoustics. Just above the promenade was the Royal box supported by two wooden columns. These columns were very popular with the habitués of the Promenade as they were the only places where one could prop oneself up with an undisturbed view of the stage. For if you leaned against the walls, these very columns were always in your field of vision. I was happy to be able to rest my weary back against the smooth pillars, after having spent a hard day on the top of the stepladder! Of course, you had to be there early to be sure to get that place.
Often it is the trivial things which make a lasting impression on one's memory. I can still see myself rushing into the theatre, undecided whether to choose the left – or the righthand pillar. Often, however, one of the two columns, the right-hand one, was already taken; somebody was even more enthusiastic than I was.
Half annoyed, half surprised, I glanced at my rival. He was a remarkably pale, skinny youth, about my own age, who was following the performance with glistening eyes. I surmised that he came from a better-class home, for he was always dressed with meticulous care and was very reserved.
We took note of each other without exchanging a word. During the interval of a performance some time later we started talking, as apparently neither of us approved of the casting of one of the parts. We discussed it together and rejoiced in cur common adverse criticism. I marvelled at the quick, sure grasp of the other. In this he was undoubtedly my superior. On the other hand, when it came to talking of purely musical matters, I felt my own superiority. I cannot give the exact date of this first meeting; but I am sure it was around All Saints' Day in 1904.
This went on for some time – he revealing nothing of his own affairs, nor did I think it necessary to talk about myself. But all the more intensely did we occupy ourselves with whatever performance there happened to be and sensed that we both had the same enthusiasm for the theatre.
Once, after the performance, I accompanied him home to No. 31 Humboldtstrasse. When we took leave of each other he gave me his name: Adolf Hitler.