The Young Hitler I Knew – August Kibizek
Chapter 14 –
29 Stumpergasse.

My first impression on arriving in Vienna was one of noisy and excited confusion. I stood there, holding my heavy case, so bewildered that I did not know which way to turn. All these people! And this noise and tumult! This was terrible. I was almost inclined to turn tail and go straight home again. But the crowds, thrusting and complaining, were jostling me through the barrier where the ticket inspectors and police stood, till I found myself in the Station Hall looking round for my friend. I shall always remember this first welcome in Vienna. While I stood there, still overwhelmed by all the shouting and hustling, recognisable from a mile away as a country bumpkin, Adolf behaved as a perfectly acclimatised city dweller. In his dark, good-quality overcoat, dark hat and the walking stick with the ivory handle, he appeared almost elegant. He was obviously delighted to see me and greeted me warmly and, as was then the custom, kissed me lightly on the cheek.

The first problem was the transport of my bag for, thanks to my mother's presents, this weighed very heavily. As I was looking around for a porter, Adolf grabbed one of the handles and I took the other. We crossed the Mariahilferstrasse – with people everywhere, coming and going about their affairs, and such a terrible noise that one could not hear oneself speak; but how thrilling were the electric arc-lights that made the station yard as bright as day.

I still remember how glad I was when Adolf soon turned into a side street, the Stumpergasse. Here it was quiet and dark. Adolf stopped in front of a fairly new-looking house on the right side, No. 29. As far as I could see, it was a very fine house, most imposing and distinguished looking, perhaps too distinguished for such youngsters as we were, I thought. But Adolf went straight through the entrance and crossed a small courtyard. The house on the far side of this courtyard was much humbler. We went up a dark staircase to the second floor. There were several doors opening on this floor – ours was No. 17.

Adolf unlocked the door. An unpleasant smell of kerosene greeted me, and ever since, this smell has been connected, for me, with the memory of that apartment. We seemed to be in a kitchen, but the landlady was not about. Adolf opened a second door. In the small room that he occupied, a miserable kerosene !amp was burning. I looked around me.

The first thing that struck me were the sketches that lay around on the table, on the bed, everywhere. Adolf cleared the table, spread a piece of newspaper on it and fetched a bottle of milk from the window. Then he brought sausage and bread. But I can still see his white, earnest face as I pushed all these things aside and opened the bag. Cold roast pork, stuffed buns, and other lovely things to eat. All he said was, "Yes, that's what it is to have a mother!" We ate like kings. Everything tasted of "home."

After all the commotion, I began to collect myself. Then came the inevitable question about Stefanie. When I had to confess that I had not been for the evening stroll on the Landstrasse for some considerable time, Adolf told me that I ought to have gone for his sake. Before I could reply there was a knock on the door. A little old woman, withered, and altogether of a rather comic appearance slipped inside.

Adolf rose and introduced me in his most formal manner: "My friend, Gustav Kubizek, of Linz, a music student." "Pleased to meet you, pleased to meet you," the old woman repeated several times, and announced her own name: Maria Zakreys. From the singsong tone and the peculiar accent, I realised that Frau Zakreys was not a real Viennese. Or rather, she was a Viennese, perhaps even a typical one, but she had not first seen the light of day in Hernals or Lerchenfeld but rather in Stanislau or Neutitschein. I never asked and never found out, and after all, it made no difference. In any case, Frau Zakreys was the only person in this city of millions with whom Adolf and I ever had any dealings,

Tired as I was this first evening, I remember that Adolf showed me around the city How could a person who had just come to Vienna go to bed without having seen the Opera House? So I was dragged to the Opera House. The performmace was not yet over. I admired the entrance hall, the magnificent staircase, the marble balustrade, the deep, soft carpets and the gilded decorations on the ceiling. Once away from the humble abode in the Stumpergasse, I felt as though I had been transported to another planet, so overwhelming was the impression.

Now it was I who insisted on seeing the St. Stephen's Spire. We turned into the Kärntnerstrasse. But the evening mist was so thick that the spire was lost to view. I could just see the heavy, dark mass of the nave stretching up into the grey monotony of the mist, almost unearthly, as though not built by human hands. In order to show me something else special, Adolf took me to the Maria am Gestade Church, which, compared with the overpowering bulk of St. Stephen's, seemed to me like a delicate Gothic chapel.

When we got home we each had to pay the grumpy concierge whom we had awakened a Sperrsechserl (a penny for unlocking) for opening the big door of the house. Mrs. Zakreys had made me up a primitive bed on the floor of Adolf's room. Although midnight was long past, Adolf still kept talking excitedly. But I stopped listening – it was just too much for me. The moving farewell from my home, my mother's sad face, the journey, the arrival, the noise, the clamour, the Vienna of the Stumpergasse, the Vienna of the Opera House – worn out, I fell asleep.

Of course, I could not stay at Frau Zakreys'. Anyhow, it was impossible to put a grand piano in the little room. So the next morning, when Adolf finally got up, we set out to look for a room. As I wanted to stay as near as possible to my friend, we wandered at first along the nearby streets. Once more I saw this alluring city, Vienna, from the "other side." Gloomy courtyards, narrow, ill-lit tenements and stairs, ever more and more stairs. Adolf paid Frau Zakreys ten crowns, and that was what I reckoned to pay. But the rooms we were shown at that price were mostly so small and wretched that it would have been impossible to get a grand piano into them, and when we did find a room that would have been big enough, the landlady would not hear of having a lodger who played the piano.

I was very depressed and low-spirited and full of home sickness. What kind of big city was this Vienna? Full of indifferent, unsympathetic people – it must be awful to live here. I walked, despairing and miserable, with Adolf along the Zollergasse. Once more we saw a notice "Room to Let." We rang the bell and the door was opened by a neatly dressed maid, who showed us into an elegantly furnished room containing magnificent twin beds. "Madame is coming immediately," said the maid, curtsied, and vanished. We both knew at once that it was too stylish for us. Then "Madame" appeared in the doorway, very much a lady, not so young, but very elegant.

She wore a silk dressing gown and slippers trimmed with fur. She greeted us smilingly, inspected Adolf, then me, and asked us to sit down. My friend asked which room was to let. "This one," she answered, and pointed to the two beds. Adolf shook his head and said curtly, "Then one of the beds will have to come out, because my friend must have room for a piano." The lady was obviously disappointed that it was I and not Adolf who wanted a room, and asked whether Adolf already had a room. When he answered in the affirmative, she suggested that I, together with the piano I needed, should move into his room and he should take this one. While she was animatedly suggesting this to Adolf, through a sudden movement the belt which kept the dressing gown together came undone. "Oh, excuse me, gentlemen," the lady exclaimed, and immediately fastened the dressing gown together again. But that second had sufficed to show us that under her silk covering she wore nothing but a brief pair of panties.

Adolf turned as red as a peony, gripped my arm, and said, "Come, Gustl."

I do not remember how we got out of the house. All I remember is Adolf furiously exclaiming as we got into the street again, "What a Mrs. Potiphar." Apparently, such experiences, too, were part of Vienna.

Adolf must have realised how hard it was for me to find my way around in this bewildering city, and on our way home he suggested that we should take a room together. He would speak to Frau Zakreys; perhaps she would fix up something in her own house.

In the end he succeeded in persuading Frau Zakreys to move into his little room and let us take over the somewhat bigger room that she occupied. We agreed on a rent of twenty crowns a month. She had nothing against my playing the piano, so this was an excellent solution for me.

The next morning, while Adolf was still asleep, I went to register at the Conservatory. I produced my references from the Linz Music School and was immediately examined. First came an oral examination, then I had to sing something at sight, and finally, a test in harmony. All went well, and I was asked to go to the Administration Office, Director Kaiser – and for me he was really the Emperor-congratulated me, and told me about the curriculum. He advised me to register as an extramural student at the University and to attend lectures in the history of music. Then he introduced me to the conductor, Gustav Gutheil, with whom I should study, among other things, the practical side of conducting. In addition to this, I was accepted as viola player in the Conservatory's orchestra. All this was quite straightforward and soon, in spite of the initial bewilderment, I felt on firm ground. As so often happened in my life, I found help and consolation in music; even more, it now became my whole life. I had finally escaped from the dusty upholsterer's workshop and could devote myself entirely to my art.

In the nearby Liniengasse I discovered a piano store, called Feigl. I inspected the instruments for hire; of course, they were not particularly good ones, but I did finally find a grand piano that was fairly good and I hired it for ten crowns a month. When Adolf came home in the evening – I did not yet know how he spent his days – he was astonished to see the grand piano. For that comparatively small room an upright model would have been more suitable. But how was I to become a conductor without a grand piano! Admittedly, it was not as easy as I had thought.

Adolf immediately took a hand to try out the best place to put it. He agreed that to get enough light, the piano had to stand near the window. After much experiment, the contents of the room-two beds, a night chest, a wardrobe, a washstand, a table and two chairs, were distributed to the best advantage. In spite of this, the instrument took up the whole space of the right-hand window. The table was pushed into the other window enclosure. The space between the beds and the piano, as well as that between the beds and the table, was hardly more than one foot wide. And for Adolf, room to stride up and down was every bit as important as playing the piano was for me. At once he tried it out. From the door to the curve of the piano – three steps! That was enough, because three steps one way, and three steps the other made six, even though Adolf in his continual pacing up and down had to turn so often that it became almost a case of moving around his own axis.

The bare, sooty rear side of the house in front was all we could see from our room. Only if you stood very close to the free window, and looked sharply upwards, would you see a narrow slice of the firmament, but even this modest bit of sky was generally hidden by smoke, dust or fog. On exceptionally lucky days the sun would shine through. To be sure it shone hardly at all on our house, much less in our room. But on the rear of the house in front streaks of sunshine were to be seen for a couple of hours, and this had to compensate us for the sun that we so sorely missed.

I told Adolf that I had got through the entrance examination at the Conservatory quite well and was glad that I was now firmly settled down to my studies. Adolf remarked baldly, "I had no idea I had such a clever friend." This did not sound very flattering, but I was used to such remarks from him. Apparently he was at a very critical period, was very irritable, and shut me up brusquely when I began to talk about my studies. He finally reconciled himself to the piano. He could practise a bit too, he remarked. I said I was willing to teach him – but here again I had put my foot into it. Ill-temperedly he snarled at me: "You can keep your scales and such rubbish. I'll get on by myself." Then he calmed down again and said, in a propitiating tone, "Why should I become a musician, Gustl? After all, I have you!"

Our circumstances were modest in the extreme. I certainly could not do much with the monthly allowance my father made me. Regularly at the beginning of each month, Adolf received a certain sum from his guardian. I do not know how much this was, perhaps only the twenty-five crowns orphan's pension, of which he had immediately to pay out ten to Frau Zakreys; perhaps it was more, if his guardian was paying out of capital in installments whatever his parents may have left. Perhaps relatives helped to support him, for instance, the humpbacked Aunt Johanna; but I do not know. I only know that even then Adolf often went hungry, although he would not admit this to me.

What did Adolf have for an ordinary day's meals? A bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, some butter. For lunch he often bought a piece of poppyseed cake or nutcake to add to it. That is what he made do with. Every fortnight my mother sent a food parcel, and then we feasted. But in money matters Adolf was very precise. I never knew how much, or rather, how little, money he had. Doubtless he was secretly ashamed of it. Occasionally, anger got the better of him and he would shout with fury, "Isn't this a dog's life?" Nevertheless, he was happy and contented when we could go once more to the opera, or listen to a concert, or read an interesting book.

For a long time I could not find out where he ate his lunch. Any enquiries about it he would crossly dismiss – these were not subjects one discussed. As I had some spare time in the afternoon, sometimes I used to come home directly after lunch; but I never found Adolf at home. Perhaps he was sitting in the Soup Kitchen in the Liniengasse where I sometimes had my midday meal. No, he was not there, I went to the "Auge Gottes." Neither was he there. When I asked him in the evening why he never came to the Soup Kitchen, he made a long speech about the contemptible institution of these soup kitchens which only symbolise the segregation of the social classes.

As an extramural student of the university I was permitted to eat in the canteen – it was still the old canteen, for the new one erected by the German Schools Society did not then exist – and I could also procure cheap meal tickets for Adolf, and finally he consented to come with me. I knew how much he liked sweets, so, as well as the main dish, I got some cakes,

I thought he would enjoy this because you could see from his face how hungry he was, but as he sulkily gulped it down, he venomously hissed at me, "I don't understand how you can enjoy anything among such people!" Of course, there used to gather in the canteen students from all the nations of the realm, together with several Jewish students. That was reason enough to stop him going there. But, to tell the truth, in spite of all his determination, he let hunger get the better of him. He squeezed himself in next to me in the canteen, turned his back on the rest and greedily wolfed down his favourite nutcake. Many a time, in my political indifference, was I secretly amused to see him swinging between anti-Semitism and his passion for nutcake.

For days on end he could live on milk and bread and butter only. I certainly was not spoilt, but this was beyond me.

We did not make any acquaintances. Adolf would never have permitted me time for anybody but himself. More than ever did he regard our friendship as one that excluded any other relationship. Once, as a result of pure chance, he treated me to a very explicit reproof in this respect.

Harmony was my hobbyhorse; in Linz, too, I had shone at it, and here I got on swimmingly. One day Professor Boschetti called me to the office and asked me whether I would like to do some coaching in the subject. Then he introduced me to my future pupils. The two daughters of a brewer in Kolomea, the daughter of a landowner in Radautz, and also the daughter of a businessman in Spalato.

I was most depressed by the startling differences between the good-class boardinghouse in which these young ladies lived and our wretched hole that always stank of kerosene. Usually, at the end of the lesson, I partook of a tea so substantial that it served me for supper as well. When there was added to the group the daughter of a cloth manufacturer from Jägerndorf in Silesia and the daughter of a magistrate in Agram, my half-dozen pupils together represented every corner of the widespread Hapsburg Empire.

And then the unexpected happened. One of them, the girl from Silesia, found she could not get on with a piece of written homework, and came round to me in the Stumpergasse to ask for my help. Our good old landlady raised her eyebrows when she saw the pretty young girl. But that was all right; I was indeed only concerned with the musical example which she had not understood, and I explained it to her. As she copied it down quickly, Adolf came in. I introduced him to my pupil, "My friend from Linz, Adolf Hitler." Adolf said nothing. But hardly had the girl got outside when he went for me wildly – for since his unfortunate experience with Stefanie he was a woman hater. Was our room, already spoilt by that monster, that grand piano, to become the rendezvous for this crew of musical women, he asked me furiously?

I had a job to convince him that the poor girl was not suffering from the pangs of love, but from examination-pains. The result was a detailed speech about the senselessness of women studying. Like blows the words fell upon me, as though I were the cloth manufacturer or the brewer who had sent his daughter to the Conservatory. Adolf got himself more and more involved in a general criticism of social conditions. I cowered silently on the piano stool while he, enraged, strode the three steps along and the three steps back and hurled his indignation in the bitterest terms, first against the door, and then against the piano.

Altogether, in these early days in Vienna, I had the impression that Adolf had become unbalanced. He would fly into a temper at the slightest thing. There were days when nothing I could do seemed right to him, and he made our life together very hard to bear. But I had known Adolf now for over three years. I had gone through terrible days with him after the wreck of his scholastic career, and also after his mother's death. I did not know to what this present mood of deep depression was due, but I thought that sooner or later it would improve.

He was at odds with the world. Wherever he looked, he saw injustice, hate and enmity. Nothing was free from his criticism; nothing found favour in his eyes. Only music was able to cheer him up a little, as, for instance, when we went on Sundays to the performances of sacred music in the Burgkapelle. Here, one could hear at no expense soloists from the Vienna Opera House and the Vienna Boys' Choir. Adolf was particularly fond of this famous Boys' Choir, and he told me again and again how grateful be was for that early musical training he had received at Lambach. But in other ways, to remember, just at that time, his carefree childhood was particularly painful to him.

All this time he was ceaselessly busy. I had no idea what a student at the Academy of Arts was supposed to do. In any case, the subjects must have been exceedingly varied; one day he would be sitting for hours over books, then again he would sit writing till the small hours, or another day would see the piano, the table, his bed and mine, and even the floor, completely covered with designs. He would stand, staring tensely down at his work, move stealthily on tiptoe among the drawings, improve something here, correct something there, muttering to himself all the time and underlining his rapid words with violent gestures. Woe betide me if I disturbed him on these occasions. I had great respect for this difficult and detailed work, and said I liked what I saw of it.

When, getting impatient, I would open the piano, he would shuffle the sheets quickly together, put them in a cupboard, grab up a hook and make off to Schönbrunn. He had found a quiet bench there among the lawns and trees, where no one ever disturbed him. Whatever progress he made with his studies in the open air was accomplished on this seat. I, too, was fond of this quiet spot, where one could forget one lived in a metropolis. Often in later years I visited this lonely bench.

It would seem that a student in architecture could spend much more time in the open air and work more independently than could a Conservatory student. On one occasion, when he had once more written till all hours of the night – the ugly little smoky kerosene lamp had nearly burnt out and I was still awake – I asked him bluntly what was going to be the end of all this work. Instead of answering, he handed me a couple of hastily scribbled sheets. Astounded, I read: "Holy Mountain in the background, before it the mighty sacrificial block surrounded by huge oaks; two powerful warriors hold the black bull, which is to be sacrificed, firmly by the horns, and press the beast's mighty head against the hollow in the sacrificial block. Behind them, erect in light-coloured robes, stands the priest. He holds the sword with which he will slaughter the bull. All around, solemn, bearded men, leaning on their shields, their lances ready, are watching the ceremony intently."

I could not see any connection between this extraordinary description and the study of architecture, so I asked what it was supposed to be.

"A play," replied Adolf.

Then, in stirring words, he described the action to me. Unfortunately, I have long since forgotten it. I only remember that it was set in the Bavarian mountains at the time of the bringing of Christianity to those parts. The men who lived on the mountain did not want to accept the new faith. On the contrary! They had bound themselves by oath to kill the Christian missionaries. On this was based the conflict of the drama.

I would have liked to have asked Adolf whether his studies in the Academy left him so much free time that he could write dramas, too, but I knew how sensitive he was about everything appertaining to his chosen profession. I could appreciate his attitude, because certainly he had struggled hard enough to get his chance to study. I suppose that is what made him so touchy in this respect. But, nevertheless, there seemed to me something not quite right about it all.

His mood worried me more and more as the days went by. I had never known him torment himself in this way before. On the contrary! In my opinion, he possessed rather too much than too little self-confidence. But now things seemed to have changed round. He wallowed deeper and deeper in self-criticism. Yet it only needed the slightest touch – as when one flicks on the electric light and everything becomes brilliantly clear – for his self-accusation to become an accusation against the times, against the whole world; choking with his catalogue of hates, he would pour his fury over everything, against mankind in general who did not understand him, who did not appreciate him and by whom he was persecuted. I see him before me, striding up and down the small space in boundless anger, shaken to his very depths. I sat at the piano with my fingers motionless on the keyboard and listened to him, upset by his hymn of hate, and yet worried about him, for his ranting at the bare walls was heard only by me, and perhaps by Frau Zakreys working in the kitchen, who would be worrying about whether the crazed young man would be able to produce his next month's rent. But those at whom these burning words were directed, they did not hear him at all. So of what use was all the great display?

Suddenly, however, in the middle of this hate-ridden harangue where he challenged a whole epoch, one sentence revealed to me how deep was the abyss on whose edge he was tottering.

"I shall give up Stefanie." These were the most terrible words he could utter, for Stefanie was the only creature on God's earth whom he excepted from this infamous humanity – a being who, made radiant by his glowing love, gave his tormented existence sense and purpose. His father dead, his mother dead, his only sister still a child, what was there left to him? He had no family, no home; only his love, only Stefanie in the midst of all his sufferings and catastrophes had remained steadfastly by his side – admittedly only in his imagination. Until now this imagination had been strong enough to be a help to him. But in the spiritual convulsion through which he was now passing, apparently even this obstinately held conviction had broken down.

"I thought you were going to write to her?" I interposed, meaning to help him by this suggestion.

He brushed my remark away with an impatient gesture (it was only forty years later that I learned that he really had written to her then), and then came words that I had never before heard him utter:

"It's mad to wait for her. Certainly Mama has already picked out the man for Stefanie to marry. Love? They won't worry about that. A good match, that's all that matters. And I'm a poor match, at least in the eyes of Mama."

Then came a furious reckoning with the "Mama," with everybody who belonged to these fine circles who, through cleverly arranged marriages among themselves, continue to enjoy their unmerited social privileges.

I gave up the attempt to practise the piano, and went to bed, while Adolf became absorbed in his books. I still remember how shocked I was then. If Adolf could no longer cling to the thought of Stefanie, whatever would become of him?

My feelings were divided: on the one hand, I was glad that he was finally released from this hopeless love for Stefanie, and on the other hand, I knew that Stefanie was his only ideal, the only thing that kept him going and gave his life an aim.

The next day, for a trifling reason, there was a bitter row between us. I had to practise, Adolf wanted to read. As it was raining he could not go off to Schönbrunn.

"This eternal strumming," he shouted at me, "One's never safe from it."

"It's quite simple," I answered, and getting up took my timetable out of my music case, and with a drawing pin fixed it on the cupboard door. Now he could see exactly when I was out, when not, and just when my hours for practising were. "And now hang your timetable under it," I added. Timetable! He didn't need any such thing. He kept his timetable in his head. That was good enough for him and it had to be good enough for me.

I shrugged my shoulders doubtfully. His work was anything but systematic. He worked practically only at night; in the morning he slept.

I had quickly settled into the life of the Conservatory, and my teachers were satisfied with my work – more than satisfied, as was shown by their offering me the extra coaching. Naturally, I was proud of it, and certainly a bit conceited. Music is perhaps the one art where a lack of formal education does not seem to matter so much. So, pleased with myself, and contented, I set off happily every morning for the Conservatory. But just this sureness of purpose, this certainty of success, awoke in Adolf the most bitter comparisons, although he never mentioned it.

So now, the sight of the timetable stuck on the wall, which must have seemed to him like an officially accredited guarantee for my future, brought about an explosion.

"This Academy," he screamed, "a lot of old-fashioned fossilized civil servants, bureaucrats, devoid of understanding, stupid lumps of officials. The whole Academy ought to be blown up!" His face was livid, the mouth quite small, the lips almost white. But the eyes glittered. There was something sinister about them. As if all the hate of which he was capable lay in those glowing eyes!

I was just going to point out that those men of the Academy on whom he so lightly passed judgment in his measureless hatred were, after all, his teachers and professors, from whom he could certainly learn something. But he forestalled me.

"They rejected me, they threw me out, they turned me down."

I was shocked. So that was it. Adolf did not go to the Academy at all. Now I understood a good deal that had puzzled me about him.

I felt his hard luck deeply, and asked him whether he had told his mother that the Academy had not accepted him.

"What are you thinking of?" he replied. "How could I burden my dying mother with this worry?"

I could not help but agree.

For a while we were both silent. Perhaps Adolf was thinking of his mother. Then I tried to give the conversation a practical turn.

"And what now?" I asked him.

"What now, what now," he repeated irritably. "Are you starting too – what now?"

He must have asked himself this question a hundred times and more, because he had certainly not discussed it with anyone else.

"What now?" he mocked my anxious inquiry again, and instead of answering, sat himself down at the table and surrounded himself with his books. "What now?"

Then he adjusted the lamp, took up one of the books, opened it and began to read.

I made to take the timetable down from the cupboard door. He raised his head, saw it and said calmly, "Never mind."