While Linz, in the last decade, has become a modern industrial town and attracted people from all parts of the Danube region, it was then only a country town. In the suburbs there were still the substantial, fortresslike farmhouses, and tenement houses were springing up in the surrounding fields where cattle were still grazing. In the little taverns the people sat drinking the local wine; everywhere you could hear the broad country dialect. There was only horse-drawn traffic in the town and the carriers took care to see that Linz remained "in the country." The townspeople, though largely themselves of peasant origin and often closely related to the country folk, tended to draw away from the latter the more intimately they were connected with them. Almost all the influential families of the town knew each other; the business world, the civil servants and the military determined the tone of society. Everybody who was anybody took his evening stroll along the main street of the city, which leads from the railway station to the bridge over the Danube and is called significantly "Landstrasse." As Linz had no university, the young people in every walk of life were all the more eager to imitate the habits of university students. Social life on the Landstrasse could almost compete with that of Vienna's Ringstrasse. At least the Linzers thought so.
Patience did not seem to be one of Adolf's outstanding characteristics; whenever I was late for an appointment, he came at once to the workshop to fetch me, no matter whether I was repairing an old, black horsehair sofa or an oldfashioned fashioned wing chair, or anything else. My work was to him nothing but a tiresome hindrance to our personal relationship. Impatiently he would twirl the small black cane which he always carried. I was surprised that he had so much spare time and asked innocently whether he had a job.
"Of course not," was his gruff reply.
This answer, which I thought very peculiar, he elaborated at some length. He did not consider that any particular work, a "bread-and-butter job" as he called it, was necessary for him.
Such an opinion I had never heard from anybody before. It contradicted every principle which had so far governed my life. At first I saw in his talk nothing more than youthful bragging, although Adolf's bearing and his serious and assured manner of speaking did not strike me at all as that of a braggart. In any case, I was very surprised at his opinions but refrained from asking, for the time being at least, any further questions, because he seemed to be very sensitive about questions that did not suit him; that much I had already discovered. So it was more reasonable to talk about Lohengrin, the opera which enchanted us more than any other, than about our personal affairs.
Perhaps he was the son of rich parents, I thought, perhaps he had just come into a fortune and could afford to live without a "bread-and-butter job" – in his mouth that expression sounded full of contempt. By no means did I imagine he was work-shy, for there was not even a grain of the superficial, carefree idler in him. 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 windowpanes and wasting their time in idle gossip, without apparently realising how much this indignation was contradicted by his own way of life. Perhaps some of those who were sitting "in the shop window" already had a good job and a secure income.
Perhaps this Adolf is a student? This had been my first impression. The black ebony cane, topped by an elegant ivory shoe, was essentially a student's attribute. On the other hand it seemed strange that he had chosen as his friend just a simple upholsterer, who was always afraid that people would smell the glue with which he had been working during the day. If Adolf were a student he had to be at school somewhere. Suddenly I brought the conversation round to school.
"School?" This was the first outburst of temper that I had experienced with him. He didn't wish to hear anything about school. School was no longer his concern, he said. He hated the teachers and did not even greet them any more, and he also hated his schoolmates whom, he said, the school was turning into idlers. No, school I was not allowed to mention. I told him how little success I had had at school myself. "Why no success?" he wanted to know. He did not like it at all that I had done so badly at school in spite of all the contempt he expressed for schooling. I was confused by this contradiction. But so much I could gather from our conversation, that he must have been at school until recently, probably a grammar school or perhaps a technical school, and that this presumably had ended in disaster. Otherwise this complete rejection would hardly have been possible. For the rest, he presented me with ever recurring contradictions and riddles. Sometimes he seemed to me almost sinister. One day when we were taking a walk he suddenly stopped, produced from his pocket a little black notebook – I still see it before me and could describe it minutely – and read me a poem he had written.
I do not remember the poem itself any longer; to be precise, I can no longer distinguish it from the other poems which Adolf read to me in later days. But I do remember distinctly how much it impressed me that my friend wrote poetry and carried his poems around with him in the same way that I carried my tools. When Adolf later showed me his drawings and designs which he had sketched – somewhat confused and confusing designs which were really beyond me – when he told me that he had much more and better work in his room and was determined to devote his whole life to art, then it dawned on me what kind of person my friend really was. He belonged to that particular species of people of which I had dreamed myself in my more expansive moments; an artist, who despised the mere bread-and-butter job and devoted himself to writing poetry, to drawing, painting and to going to the theatre. This impressed me enormously. I was thrilled by the grandeur which I saw here. My ideas of an artist were then still very hazy – probably as hazy as were Hitler's. But that made it all the more alluring.
Adolf spoke but rarely of his family. He used to say that it was advisable not to mix too much with grownups, as these people with their peculiar ideas would only divert one from one's own plans. For instance, his guardian, a peasant in Leonding called Mayrhofer, had got it into his head that he, Adolf, should learn a craft. His brother-in-law, too, was of this opinion.
I could only conclude that Adolf's relations with his family must have been rather peculiar. Apparently among all the grownups he accepted only one person, his mother. And yet he was only sixteen years old, nine months younger than I.
However much his ideas differed from bourgeois conceptions it did not worry me at all – on the contrary! It was this very fact, that he was out of the ordinary, that attracted me even more. To devote his life to the arts was, in my opinion, the greatest resolution that a young man could take; for secretly I, too, played with the idea of exchanging the dusty and noisy upholsterer's workshop for the pure and lofty fields of art, to give my life to music. For young people it is by no means insignificant in what surroundings their friendship first begins. It seemed to me a symbol that our friendship had been born in the theatre, in the midst of brilliant scenes and to the mighty sound of great music. In a certain sense our friendship itself existed in this happy atmosphere.
Moreover my own position was not dissimilar to Adolf's. School lay behind me and could give me nothing more. In spite of my love and devotion to my parents, the grownups did not mean very much to me. And, above all, in spite of the many problems that beset me there was nobody in whom I could confide.
Nevertheless, it was at first a difficult friendship because our characters were utterly different. Whereas 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 high-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 was he indifferent.
But in spite of all the difficulties arising out of our varying temperaments, our friendship itself was never in serious danger. Nor did we, as so many other youngsters, grow cool and indifferent with time. On the contrary! In everyday matters we took great care not to clash. It seems strange, but he who could stick so obstinately to his point of view could also be so considerate that sometimes he made me feel quite ashamed. So, as time went on we got more and more used to each other.
Soon I came to understand that our friendship endured largely for the reason that I was a patient listener. But I was not dissatisfied with this passive role, for it made me realise how much my friend needed me. He, too, was completely alone. His father had been dead for two years. However much he loved his mother, she could not help him with his problems. I remember how he used to give me long lectures about things that did not interest me at all, as for example the excise duty levied at the Danube bridge, or a collection in the streets for a charity lottery. He just had to talk and needed somebody who would listen to him. I was often startled when he would make a speech to me, accompanied by vivid gestures, for my benefit alone. He was never worried by the fact that I was the sole audience. But a young man who, like my friend, was passionately interested in everything he saw and experienced had to find an outlet for his tempestuous feelings. The tension he felt was relieved by his holding forth on these things. These speeches, usually delivered somewhere in the open, seemed to be like a volcano erupting. It was as though something quite apart from him 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 realised that this was not play-acting. No, this was not acting, not exaggeration, this was really felt, and I saw that he was in dead earnest. Again and again I was filled with astonishment at how fluently he expressed himself, how vividly he managed to convey his feelings, how easily the words flowed from his mouth when he was completely carried away by his own emotions. Not what he said impressed me first, but how he said it. This to me was something new, magnificent. I had never imagined that a man could produce such an effect with mere words. All he wanted from me, however, was one thing – agreement. I soon came to realise this. Nor was it hard for me to agree with him, because I had never given any thought to the many problems which he raised.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that our friendship confined itself to this unilateral relationship only. This would have been too cheap for Adolf and too little for me. The important thing was that we were complementary to each other. In him, everything brought forth a strong reaction and forced him to take a stand; for his emotional outbursts were only a sign of his passionate interest in everything. I, on the other hand, being of a contemplative nature, accepted unreservedly all his arguments on things that interested him and yielded to them, always excepting musical matters.
Of course, I must admit that Adolf's claims on me were boundless and took up all my spare time. As he himself did not have to keep to a regular timetable I had to be at his beck and call. He demanded everything from me, but was also prepared to do everything for me. In fact I had no alternative. My friendship with him did not leave me any time for cultivating other friends; nor did I feel the need of them, Adolf was as much to me as a dozen other ordinary friends. Only one thing might have separated us – if we had both fallen in love with the same girl; this would have been serious. As I was seventeen at the time this might well have happened. But it was precisely in this respect that fate had a special solution in store for us. Such a unique solution-I describe it later in the chapter called "Stefanie" – that, rather than upsetting our friendship, served to deepen it.
I knew that he, too, had no other friends besides me. I remember in this connection a quite trivial detail. We were strolling along the Landstrasse when it happened. A young man, about our age, came around the corner, a plump, rather dandified young gentleman. He recognised Adolf as a former classmate, stopped, and grinning all over his face, called out, "Hello, Hitler!" He took him familiarly by the arm and asked him quite sincerely how he was getting on. I expected Adolf to respond in the same friendly manner, as he always set great store by correct and courteous behaviour. But my friend went red with rage. I knew from former experience that this change of expression boded ill. "What the devil is that to do with you?" he threw at him excitedly, and pushed him sharply away. Then he took my arm and went with me on his way without bothering about the young man whose flushed and baffled face I can still see before me. "All future civil servants," said Adolf, still furious, "and with this lot I had to sit in the same class." It was a long time before he calmed down.
Another experience sticks out in my memory. My venerated violin teacher, Heinrich Dessauer, had died. Adolf went to the funeral with me, which rather surprised me as he did not know Professor Dessauer at all. When I expressed my surprise he said, "I can't bear it that you should mix with other young people and talk to them."
There was no end to the things, even trivial ones, that could upset him. But he lost his temper most of all when it was suggested that he should become a civil servant. Whenever he heard the word "civil servant," even without any connection with his own career, he fell into a rage. I discovered that these outbursts of fury were, in a certain sense, still quarrels with his long-dead father, whose greatest desire it had been to turn him into a civil servant. So to speak, a "posthumous defence."
It was an essential part of our friendship at that time, that my opinion of civil servants should be as low as his. Knowing his violent rejection of a career in the civil service, I could now appreciate that he preferred the friendship of a simple upholsterer to that of one of those spoilt darlings who were assured of patronage by their good connections and knew in advance the exact course their life would follow. Hitler was just the opposite. With him everything was uncertain. There was another positive factor which made me seem, in Adolf's eyes, predestined to be his friend: like him I considered art to be the greatest thing in man's life. Of course, in those days, we were not able to express this sentiment in such hifalutin words. But in practice we conformed to this principle, because in my life music had long since become the decisive factor – I worked in the workshop only to make my living. For my friend art was even more. His intense way of absorbing, scrutinising, rejecting, his terrific seriousness, his ever active mind needed a counterpoise. And only art could provide this.
Thus I fulfilled all the requirements he would look for in a friend: I had nothing in common with his former classmate, I had nothing to do with the civil service and I lived entirely for art. In addition I knew a lot about music.
The similarity of our inclinations welded us closely together as did the dissimilarity of our temperaments.
I leave it to others to judge whether people who, like Adolf, find their way with a sleepwalker's sureness, pick up at random the companion that they need for that particular part of their path, or whether fate chooses for them. All I can say is that from our first meeting in the theatre up to his decline into misery in Vienna I was that companion for Adolf Hitler.