I have to correct here a small error which Adolf Hitler made in Mein Kampf in regard to his first stay in Vienna. He is wrong when he says that he was then not yet sixteen years old, for actually he had just had his seventeenth birthday. For the rest, his account of it corresponds entirely with my own.
I well remember the enthusiasm with which my friend spoke of his impressions of Vienna. Details of his account, however, escape my memory. It is all the more fortunate that the postcards he wrote to me on this first visit are still preserved. There are, altogether, four postcards which, apart it from their biographical interest, are important graphological documents; for they are the earliest substantial examples of Adolf Hitler's handwriting still existing. It is a strangely mature, rather flowing hand, which one would hardly connect with a youth of barely eighteen, while the incorrect spelling not only bears witness to patchy schooling, but also to a certain indifference in such matters. All the picture postcards he sent me were, significantly enough, of buildings. A different kind of young man of his age would certainly have chosen a different kind of picture postcard for his friend.
The first of these cards – dated May 7, 1906 – is a masterpiece of the postcard production of the period and must have cost him a pretty penny: it opens out into a kind of triptych, with a full view of the Karlsplatz, with the church – the Karlskirche – in the centre. The text is: "In sending you this postcard I have to apologise for not having written sooner. Well, I have safely arrived and am going around everywhere. Tomorrow I am going to the Opera, 'Tristan,' and the day after, `The Flying Dutchman,' etc. Although I find everything very beautiful, I am longing for Linz. Tonight Stadt-Theatre. Greetings, your friend, Adolf Hitler."
On the picture side of the card, the Conservatory is expressly marked, probably the reason for his choice of this particular view, for he was already playing with the idea that someday we would study together in Vienna, and never missed an opportunity of reminding me of this possibility in the most alluring form. On the lower margin of the picture, he adds: "Greetings to your esteemed parents."
I would like to mention that the words "Although I find everything very beautiful, I am longing for Linz" do not refer to Linz but to Stefanie, for whom his love was all the greater the farther from her he was. It certainly satisfied his impetuous longing for her that he, a lonely stranger in this heartless metropolis, could write these words which only his friend who shared his secrets would understand.
On the same day, Adolf sent me a second postcard which depicts the stage of the Hof Opera House. Presumably this particularly successful photograph, which shows a part of the decor, had appealed to him. On it he wrote: "The interior of the edifice is not very stirring. If the exterior is mighty majesty, which gives the building the seriousness of an artistic monument, the inside, though commanding admiration, does not impress one with its dignity. Only when the mighty sound waves flow through the hall and when the whispering of the wind gives way to the terrible roaring of the sound waves, then one feels the grandeur and forgets the gold and velvet with which the interior is overloaded. Adolf H."
On the front of the card there is again added: "Greetings to your esteemed parents."
Adolf is completely in his element here. The friend is forgotten, even Stefanie is forgotten; no greeting, not even a hint, so overwhelmed is he by his recent experience. His clumsy style clearly reveals that his power of expression is not sufficient to do justice to the depth of his feelings. But even his poor style, which sounds like the ecstatic stammering of an enthusiast, reveals the magnitude of his experience. After all, it had been the greatest dream of our boyhood in Linz to see, someday, a perfect production at the Vienna Opera House instead of the performances in our provincial theatre, which left so much to be desired. Certainly Adolf, with his glowing description, aimed at my own art-loving heart. For what could make Vienna more attractive to me than the enthusiastic echo of such artistic impressions?
On the very next day, May 8, 1906, he wrote again; it is rather surprising that he wrote three times in the space of two days. His motive becomes clear from the contents of the postcard, which shows the exterior of the Vienna Opera House.
He wrote: "I am really longing for my dear Linz and Urfar. Want and must see Benkieser again. What might he be doing, so I am arriving on Thursday on the 3.55 in Linz. If you have time and permission, meet me. Greetings to your esteemed parents! Your friend, Adolf Hitler."
The word "Urfar," misspelt in the hurry, is underlined, although Adolf's mother was still living in Humboldtstrasse, and not in Urfahr. Of course, that remark referred to Stefanie, ie, and so did the agreed code word, Benkieser. The phrase "Want and must see Benkieser" is typical of Adolf's style and character. Also significant are the words, "If you have time and permission, meet me." Although it was a matter of urgency for him, he respects my duty of obedience towards my parents, nor does he omit to greet them on this card.
Unfortunately, I cannot verify whether Adolf really returned to Linz on the following Thursday, or if this indication was only intended to satisfy his unappeasable longing for Stefanie. His remark in Mein Kampf that his sojourn in Vienna lasted only a fortnight is incorrect. Actually, he stayed there about four weeks, as is evidenced by the postcard of June 6, 1906. This card, which shows the Franzensring and House of Parliament, is on conventional lines: "To you and to your esteemed parents, I send herewith best wishes for the holidays and kind regards. Respectfully, Adolf Hitler."
With this memory of his first stay in Vienna transfigured by his yearning for Stefanie, Adolf entered the critical summer of 1907. What he suffered in those weeks was in many respects similar to the grave crisis of two years earlier. Then, after much heart-searching, he had finally settled his accounts with the school and made an end of it, however painful this might be for his mother. A grave illness bad rendered the transition easier for him. But this transition led him only to the "hollowness of the life of leisure." Without school, with no career in mind, he had spent two years living with his mother and not earning a penny. These were by no means idle years. Having had daily contact with Adolf, I can testify how intensely my friend, studied and worked in those days, But this private study, as well as his artistic activity, had no determined goal. He felt himself that it couldn't continue. Something had to happen, a profound change would give a clear direction to his aimless, day-to-day mode of life.
Outwardly, this seeking for a new path showed itself in dangerous fits of depression. I knew only too well those moods of his, which were in sharp contrast to his ecstatic dedication and activity, and realised that I couldn't help hint. At such times he was inaccessible, uncommunicative and distant. It might happen that we didn't meet at all for a day or two. If I tried to see him at home, his mother would receive me with great surprise. "Adolf has gone out," she would say, "he must be looking for you." Actually, Adolf would wander around aimlessly and alone for days and nights in the fields and forests surrounding the town. When I met him at last, he was obviously glad to have me with him. But when I asked him what was wrong, his only answer would be, "Leave me alone," or a brusque, "I don't know myself." And if I insisted, he would understand my sympathy, and then say in a milder tone, "Never mind, Gustl, but not even you can help me."
This state lasted several weeks. One fine summer evening, however, when we were strolling beside the Danube, the tension began to ease. Adolf reverted to his old, familiar tone. I remember this moment exactly. As usual, we had been to see Stefanie pass by arm-in-arm with her mother. Adolf was still under her spell. Even though he saw her, at this time, almost every day, these meetings never became something commonplace for him. While Stefanie had probably long since become bored by the silent, but strictly conventional adulation of the pale, thin youth, my friend lost himself increasingly in his wishful dreams the more he saw her. Yet he was past those romantic ideas of elopement or suicide. He explained to me in eloquent words his state of mind: the vision of the beloved pursued him day and night; he was unable to work or even to think clearly; he feared he would go mad if this state of affairs went on much longer, though he saw no way of altering the situation, for which Stefanie was not to blame, either. "There is only one thing to be done," he cried. "I must go away – far away from Stefanie."
On our way home he explained his decision in greater detail. His relationship with Stefanie would become more bearable for him once he was living at a distance and could not meet her every day. It did not occur to him that in this way he might lose Stefanie altogether – so deeply convinced was he that he had won her forever. The true situation was different. Adolf perhaps already realised that if he wanted to win Stefanie, he would have to speak to her or take some such decisive step – it is probable that even he began to find the exchange of glances on the Landstrasse a little childish. Nevertheless, he felt instinctively that it would abruptly destroy his life's dream if he actually made Stefanie's acquaintance. Indeed, as he said to me: "If I introduce myself to Stefanie and her mother, I will have to tell her at once what I am, what I have and what I want. My statement would bring our relations abruptly to an end." This awareness, and the simultaneous realisation that he had to put his relationship with Stefanie on a firm basis to avoid ridicule, were the horns of a dilemma for him, from which he saw only one way out – flight. He started at once to expound his plan to the last detail. I received precise instructions what to tell Stefanie if she asked, full of astonishment, what had become of my friend. (She never did!) Adolf himself realised that if he wanted to marry her, he would have to offer her a secure existence.
But this unsolved and, for a person of my friend's nature, insoluble problem of his relationship with Stefanie was only one of the many reasons which prompted him to quit Linz, although the most personal and therefore decisive. Another reason was that he was anxious to escape the atmosphere that prevailed at home. The idea that he, a young man of eighteen, should continue to be kept by his mother had become unbearable to him. It was a painful dilemma which, as I could see for myself, made him almost physically ill. On the one hand, he loved his mother above everything; she was the only person on earth to whom he felt really close, and she reciprocated his feeling to the same extent, although she was deeply disturbed by her son's unusual nature, however proud she was at times of him. "He is different from us," she used to say. On the other hand, she felt it to be her duty to carry out the wishes of her late husband, and to prevail on Adolf to embark on a safe career. But what was "safe," in view of the peculiar character of her son? He had failed at school and had ignored all his mother's wishes and suggestions. A painter – that's what he had said he wanted to become. This could not seem very satisfactory to his mother, for, simple soul that she was, anything connected with art and artists appeared to her frivolous and insecure. Adolf tried to change her mind by telling her of his intention to study at the Academy. That sounded better; after all, the Academy, of which Adolf spoke with increasing enthusiasm, was really a kind of school, where his mother thought he might make up for what he had missed in the Technical School. When listening to these domestic discussions, I was always surprised by the sympathetic understanding and patience with which Adolf tried to convince his mother of his artistic vocation. Contrary to his habit, he never became cross or violent on these occasions. Often Frau Klara would also unburden herself to me, for she saw in me, too, an artistically gifted young man with high aims. Having a better understanding of musical matters than of her son's dabbling in drawing and painting, she frequently found my opinions more convincing than his, and Adolf was very grateful for my support. But in Frau Klara's eyes there was one important difference between Adolf and me: I had learnt an honest trade, finished my apprenticeship and passed my journeyman's examination. I would always have a safe haven to shelter in, whereas Adolf was just steering into the unknown. This vision tormented his mother unceasingly. Nevertheless, he succeeded in convincing her that it was essential for him to go to the Academy and study painting. I still remember distinctly how pleased he was over it. "Now mother will not raise any more objections," he told me one day. "I definitely go to Vienna at the beginning of September." Adolf had also settled with his mother the financial side of his plan. His living expenses and the Academy fees were to be paid out of the small legacy left him by his father and now administered by his guardian. Adolf hoped that, with great economy, he would be able to manage on this for a year. What would happen afterwards remained to be seen, he said. Perhaps he would earn something by the sale of some drawings and pictures.
The main opponent of this plan was his brother-in-law, Raubal, who, with his limited revenue official's horizon, was incapable of understanding Adolf's thoughts. That was rubbish, he said; it was high time that Adolf learned something respectable. Although Raubal, after some violent altercations with Adolf, in which he always came off worst, avoided any further argument with him, he tried all the harder to influence Frau Klara. Adolf found out most of this from "the kid," as he used to call his eleven-year-old sister. When Paula told him that Raubal had been to see his mother, Adolf would fall into a rage. "This Pharisee is ruining my home for me," he once remarked to me furiously. Apparently Raubal had also got in touch with Adolf's guardian, for one day the worthy peasant Mayrhofer, who would have liked best to make a baker out of Adolf and had already found an apprenticeship for him, came from Leonding to see Frau Klara. Adolf was afraid that his guardian might induce her to hold back the legacy. This would have put a stop to his moving to Vienna. But the plan did not get so far, though for some time the decision was very much in doubt. By the end of this tough struggle, everybody was against Adolf – even, as happens in tenement buildings, the other tenants. Frau Klara listened to this more or less well-meant chatter and became completely confused by it all. Often, when Adolf had his fits of depression and was wandering through the woods, I used to sit with her in her little kitchen, listening sympathetically to her laments, trying hard to comfort the wretched woman without being unfair to my friend, and at the same time helping him where I could. I could easily put myself in Adolf's shoes. It would have been simple enough for him, with his great energy, just to pack up and go, if consideration for his mother had not prevented him. He had come to hate the Philistine world in which he had to live. He could hardly bear to return to that narrow world after lonely hours spent in the open. He was always in a ferment of rage, hard and intractable. I had a lot to put up with in those weeks. But the secret of Stefanie, which we shared, bound us inseparably together. The sweet magic which she, the unattainable, radiated calmed the stormy waves. So, as his mother was so easily influenced, the matter remained undecided, although Adolf had long since made up his mind.
On the other hand, Vienna was calling. That city had a thousand possibilities for an eager young man like Adolf, opportunities which might lead to the most sublime heights or to the most sombre depths. A city magnificent and at the same time cruel, promising everything and denying everything – that was Vienna. She demanded the highest stake from everyone who pledged himself to her. And that is what Adolf wanted.
No doubt Adolf had his father's example before. him. What would he have become if he hadn't gone to Vienna? A poor, haggard cobbler somewhere in the poverty-stricken Waldviertel. And see what Vienna made of this poor, orphaned cobbler's boy!
Ever since his first visit in the spring of 1906, these rather vague ideas had assumed concrete form in Adolf's mind. He who had dedicated his life to art could develop his talents only in Vienna, for in that city were concentrated its most perfect achievements in every field. During his first short stay there he had already been to the Hof Opera House and seen The Flying Dutchman, Tristan, and Lohengrin. By these standards, the performance in the Linz Theatre appeared provincial and inadequate. In Vienna, the Burg Theatre, with its classic productions, awaited the young man. There was also the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra which, with justification, was then considered the best in the world. Then the museums, with their immeasurable treasures, the picture galleries, the Hof Library, provided unending possibilities for study and self-improvement.
Linz had little more to offer Adolf. What rebuilding had to be done in this city he had already done, mentally, and no more large tempting problems were left for him to solve. And I was always there to report any further alterations to the town, such as the new building of the Bank of Upper Austria and Salzburg on the main square, or the projected new theatre. But he wanted to look at grander things – the magnificent buildings of the centre of Vienna, the vast, truly imperial layout of the Ringstrasse – rather than the humble little Landstrasse in Linz. Moreover, his growing interest in politics found no outlet in conservative Linz, where political life ran in well-defined grooves. Simply nothing happened that might have had any political interest for a young man; there was no tension, no conflict, no unrest. It was a great adventure to move from this absolute calm into the centre of the storm. All the energies of the Hapsburg State were concentrated in Vienna. Thirty nations struggled for their national existence and independence, and thus created an atmosphere like that of a volcano. How the young heart would rejoice at throwing itself unrestrainedly into this struggle!
At long last the great moment arrived. Adolf, beaming with delight, came to see me at the workshop, where we were very busy at that time. "I'm leaving tomorrow," he said briefly. He asked me to accompany him to the station, as he didn't want his mother to come. I knew how painful it would have been for Adolf to take leave of his mother in front of other people. He disliked nothing more than showing his feelings in public. I promised him to come and to help him with his luggage.
Next day I took time off and went to the Blütengasse to collect my friend. Adolf had prepared everything. I took his suitcase, which was rather heavy with books he did not want to leave behind, and hurried away to avoid being present at the farewells. Yet I couldn't avoid them entirely. His mother was crying and little Paula, whom Adolf never bothered with much, was sobbing heart-rendingly. When Adolf caught up with me on the stairs and helped me with the suitcase, I saw that his eyes, too, were wet. We took the tram to the railway station, chatting about trivialities, as often happens when one wants to hide one's feelings. It moved me deeply to say goodbye to Adolf, and I felt miserable going home alone. It was a good thing that there was so much work waiting for me at the workshop.
Unfortunately, our correspondence of that period is lost. I only remember that for several weeks I had no news at all from him. And it was during those days that I felt most deeply how much he meant to me. Other young people of my age did not interest me, as I knew in advance that they would only turn out to be disappointing, with few interests other than their own shallow and superficial doings. Adolf was much more serious and mature than most people of his age. His horizon was wide and his passionate interest in everything had carried me along with it. Now I felt very lonely and miserable, and to find some comfort I went to the Blütengasse to see Frau Klara. Talking to somebody so fond of Adolf would certainly make me feel better.
I thought that Adolf would already have written to his mother, for after all, it was a fortnight since he had left; and I would get his address and write to him, according to instructions, of all that had happened meanwhile. Actually, not much had happened, but for Adolf, every detail was important. I had seen Stefanie at the Schmiedtoreck, and indeed, she was surprised when she saw me there alone, for that much she knew about us, that in this "affair" I played only a secondary role. The chief protagonist was missing. That seemed strange to her. What could it mean? Though Adolf was only a silent admirer, he was more persistent and tenacious than all the others. She did not want to lose this faithful adorer. Her enquiring glance caught me so unexpectedly, that I was almost tempted to address her. But Stefanie was not alone, being, as usual, accompanied by her mother, and moreover my friend had given me strict instructions to wait until Stefanie, herself asked me. Surely, as soon as she realised that he had gone for good, she would take the first opportunity of running over the bridge alone to entreat me impetuously to tell her what had become of my friend. Perhaps he had had an accident, or he was ill again as he was that time two years ago, or perhaps even dead. Unthinkable! Anyhow, though that conversation had not yet taken place, I had enough material to fill four pages of a letter. But what on earth had happened to Adolf? Not a line from him. Frau Klara opened the door to me and greeted me warmly, and I could see that she had been .longing for me to come. "Have you heard from Adolf?" she asked me, still at the door. So he hadn't written to his mother either, and this made me feel anxious. Something out of the ordinary must have happened. Perhaps things hadn't gone according to plan in Vienna.
Frau Klara offered me a chair. I saw how much good it did her to be able to unburden herself. Ah, the old lament, which I had come to know by heart! But I listened patiently. "If only he had studied properly at the technical school he would almost be ready to matriculate. But he won't listen to anybody." And she added, "He's as pigheaded as his father. Why this crazy journey to Vienna? Instead of holding on to his little legacy, it's just being frittered away. And after that? Nothing will come of his painting. And story-writing doesn't earn anything either. And I can't help him – I've got the little one to look after. You know yourself what a sickly child she is, but just the same she must get some decent training. Adolf doesn't give it a thought, he goes his way, just as if he were alone in the world. I shall not live to see him making an independent position for himself. .."
Frau Klara seemed more careworn than ever. Her face was deeply lined. Her eyes were lifeless, her voice sounded tired and resigned. I had the impression that, now that Adolf was no longer there, she had let herself go, and looked older and more ailing than ever. She certainly had concealed her condition from her son to make the parting easier for him, Or perhaps it was Adolf's impulsive nature that had kept up her vitality. Now, on her own, she seemed to me an old, sick woman.
I forget, unfortunately, what happened during the course of the following weeks. Adolf had briefly informed me of his address. He was living in the 6th District, at No. 29 Stumpergasse, Staircase II, second floor, door No. 17, in the flat of a woman with the curious name of Zakreys. That was all he wrote. But I guessed that there was more behind this obstinate silence, for I knew that Adolf's silences usually meant that he was too proud to talk.
I quote, therefore, from his own description in Mein Kampf of his second sojourn in Vienna, which by general consent is entirely truthful:
... I had gone to Vienna with the intention of taking the entrance examination for the Academy. I had set out, armed with a thick wad of drawings, convinced that it would be child's play to pass. At the technical school I had been by far the best in my class at drawing, and since then my ability had developed quite extraordinarily; so I was quite satisfied with myself and this made me proudly and happily hope for the best ...
So here I was for the second time in the beautiful city, waiting impatiently, but hopefully, for the result of the entrance examination. I was so sure of success that the news of my rejection hit me like a bolt from the blue. Yet, that was what happened. When I went to see the Rector and asked to know the reasons why I had not been admitted to the general painting school of the Academy, I was told by this gentleman that the drawings I had submitted showed clearly that I had no aptitude for painting, my ability seemed rather to lie in the field of architecture, and I should not go to the painting school, but rather to the school of architecture of the Academy. That I had never been to a school for building, nor received any training in architecture, seemed to him hard to believe.
Defeated, I left the monumental building on the Schiller Square, for the first time in my young life at variance with myself. For what I had been told about my ability seemed to me to disclose in a flash of lightning a discord from which I had long suffered without, hitherto, clearly realising the why and wherefore.
In a few days, I knew myself that I would become an architect. Yet this was an incredibly difficult path, for what I had missed, out of obstinacy, in the technical school, now took its bitter revenge. The attendance at the school of architecture of the Academy was dependent on the attendance at a technical school for building, and entrance to the latter required one to have passed the matriculation examination at a secondary school. I didn't fulfil any one of these conditions. As far as could be foreseen, therefore, the fulfilment of my dream to become an artist was impossible.
He had been refused by the Academy, he had failed even before he had got a footing in Vienna. Nothing more terrible could have happened to him. But he was too proud to talk about it, and so he concealed from me what had happened. He concealed it from his mother, too. When later we met again, he had to some extent already lived down this hard verdict. He did not mention it at all. I respected his silence and didn't ask him any questions, because I suspected that something had gone wrong with his plans. Not until the next year, when we were living together in Vienna, did all these circumstances gradually become clear to me.
Adolf's talent for architecture was so obvious that it would have justified an exception – how many less talented students were to be found at the Academy! This decision was therefore as biased and bureaucratic as it was unjust. Yet Adolf's reaction to this humiliating treatment was typical. He made no attempt to obtain exceptional treatment, or to humiliate himself in front of people who did not understand him. Then were neither revolt nor rebellion; instead came a radical withdrawal into himself, an obstinate resolve to cope alone with adversity, an embittered "Now, more than ever!" which he flung at the gentlemen of the Schillerplatz, just as, two years earlier, he had settled his account with his school teachers. Whatever disappointments life brought him, they were but a spur for him to brave all obstacles, and to continue on the path on which he had embarked.
In his book Mein Kampf he writes: "As the Goddess of Misery took me in her arms and so often threatened to break me, the Will to Resist grew, and in the end the Will triumphed."