The Young Hitler I Knew – August Kubizek
Chapter 15 –
Adolf Rebuilds Vienna.

We often saw the old Emperor when he rode in his carriage from Schönbrunn through the Mariahilferstrasse to the Hofburg. On such occasions Adolf did not make much ado about it, neither did he refer to it later, for he was not interested in the Emperor as a person but only in the State which be represented, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

All my recollections of life in Vienna are sharpened by contrasts, and are thus more clearly etched in my memory. Indeed, in the course of the turbulent year 1908, there took place two political events which agitated the people.

On the one hand, there was the Emperor's Diamond Jubilee. On the other, there was the annexation of Bosnia, decreed in connection with the Jubilee, a matter which caused heated arguments among the citizens. This extension of the external power of the country only revealed its weakness within, and soon all the signs were of war. In fact, the events which took place in 1914 might easily have happened then, six years earlier. It was no mere coincidence that the 1914/18 war actually had its origins in Sarajevo.

The people of Vienna, among whom we two unknown youngsters were living, were at that time torn between loyalty to the old Emperor and anxiety about the threatening war.

Everywhere we noticed a deep chasm between the social classes. There was the vast mass of the lower classes who often had not enough to eat and merely existed in miserable dwellings without light or sun. In view of our standards of living, we unhesitatingly included ourselves in this category. It was not necessary for us to go out to study the mass misery of the city – it was brought into our own home. Our own damp and crumbling walls, bug-infested furniture and the unpleasant odour of kerosene were typical of the surroundings in which hundreds of thousands of people in this city lived. When we went with empty stomachs into the centre of the city, we saw the splendid mansions of the nobility with garishly attired servants in front, and the sumptuous hotels in which Vienna's rich society – the old nobility, the captains of industry, landowners and magnates – held their lavish parties; poverty, need, hunger on the one side, and reckless enjoyment of life, sensuality and prodigal luxury on the other.

I was too homesick to draw any political inferences from these contrasts. But Adolf, homeless, rejected by the Academy, without any chance of changing his miserable position, developed during this period an ever growing sense of rebellion. The obvious social injustice which caused him almost physical suffering also roused in him a demoniacal hatred of that unearned wealth, presumptuous and arrogant, which we saw around us. Only by violently protesting against this state of affairs was he able to bear his own "dog's life." To be sure, it was largely his own fault that he was in this position; but this he would never admit. Even more than from hunger, he suffered from the lack of cleanliness, as he was almost pathologically sensitive about anything concerning the body. At all costs, he would keep his linen and clothing clean. No one, meeting this carefully dressed young man in the street, would have thought that he went hungry every day, and lived in a hopelessly bug-infested back room in the Sixth District. It was more the lack of cleanliness in the surroundings in which he was forced to live than the lack of food which provoked his inner protests against the prevailing social conditions. The old Imperial City, with its atmosphere of false glamour and spurious romance and its now evident inner decay, was the ground on which his social and political opinions grew. All that he later became was born of this dying Imperial Vienna. Although he wrote later, "The name of this city of lotus eaters represents for me five years of misery and distress," this statement shows only the negative side of his experience in Vienna. The positive side was that his constant revolt against the existing social order produced his political philosophy to which little was added in later years.

In spite of his sympathetic interest in the poverty of the masses, he never sought direct contact with the inhabitants of the Imperial City. He profoundly disliked the typical Viennese. To begin with, he could not stand their soft, though melodious accent, and he even preferred the clumsy German spoken by Frau Zakreys. Above all, he hated the subservience and dumb indifference of the Viennese, their eternal muddling through, their reckless improvidence. His own character was just the opposite. As far as I can remember, Adolf was always very reserved, simply because he disliked any physical contact with people; but within him everything was in a ferment and urged him on to radical and total solutions. How sarcastic he was about the Viennese partiality to wine, and how he despised them for it! Only once did we go to the Prater pleasure gardens, and this only out of curiosity. He could not understand why people wasted their precious time with such nonsense. When he heard people laughing uproariously at some sideshow, he would shake his head, full of indignation at so much stupidity, and ask me angrily if I could understand it. In his opinion, they must have been laughing at themselves, which he could well understand. In addition, he was disgusted at the medley of Viennese, Czechs, Magyars, Slovaks, Rumanians, Croats, Italians and God knows what else which surged through the Prater. To him, the Prater was nothing but a Viennese Babel. There was here a strange contradiction which always struck me: all his thoughts and ambitions were directed towards the problem of how to help the masses, the simple, decent, but underprivileged people, with whom he identified himself – they were ever-present in his thoughts. But in actual fact he always avoided any contact with people. The motley crowd in the Prater was physically repugnant to him; however much he felt for the little man, he always kept him at the greatest possible distance.

On the other hand, the arrogance of the ruling classes was equally alien to him, and he understood even less the apathy and resignation which in those years was gaining a hold on the leading intellectuals. The knowledge that the end of the Hapsburg State was inevitable had bred, especially among the traditional upholders of the Monarchy, a kind of fatalism which accepted whatever might befall, with the typically Viennese "there's nothing one can do about it." This bittersweet tone of resignation prevailed also among Vienna's poets; for instance, Rilke, Hofmannstahl, Wildgans – names which never reached us, not because we had no appreciation of the words of a poet, but because the mood which prompted the work of those poets was foreign to us; we had come from the country and were nearer to nature than were the townsfolk. In addition, we were of a different generation from those weary and resigned people. While the hopeless social conditions in their apparent inevitability produced in the older generation nothing but apathy and complete indifference, they forced the younger generation into racial criticism and violent opposition. And Adolf, too, felt the urgent need to criticise and counterattack. He did not know what resignation meant. He who resigned, he thought, lost his right to live. But he dissociated himself from his contemporaries, who were at that time very arrogant and turbulent, and went his own way, refusing to join any of the then existing political parties. Although he always felt a sense of responsibility for everything that happened he was always a lonely and solitary man, determined to rely upon himself only, and to reach his goal.

One other thing should be mentioned – Adolf's visit to the typical working-class district of Meidling. Although he never told me exactly why he went there, I knew that he wanted to study personally the housing and living conditions of the workers' families. He was not interested in any individual; he only wanted to know the ways of the class as a whole. He, therefore, made no acquaintances in Meidling, his aim being to study a cross section of the community quite impersonally.

However much he avoided close contact with people, he had nevertheless grown fond of Vienna as a city; he could have lived quite happily without the people, but never without the city. Small wonder, then, that the few people whom he came later to know in Vienna thought of him as a lone wolf and an eccentric, and regarded as pretence or arrogance his refined speech, his distinguished manners and his elegant bearing, which belied his obvious poverty. In fact, the young Hitler made no friends in Vienna.

All the more enthusiastic was he about what people had built in Vienna. Think only of the Ringstrasse! When he saw it for the first time, with its fabulous buildings, it seemed to him the realisation of his boldest artistic dreams, and it took him a long time to digest this overwhelming impression. Only gradually did he find his way about this magnificent exhibition of modern architecture. I often had to accompany him on his strolls along the Ring. Then he would describe to me at some length this or that building, pointing out certain details, or he would explain to me its origins. He would literally spend hours in front of it, forgetting not only the time but all that went on around him. I could not understand the reason for these long drawn out and complicated inspections; after all, he had seen everything before, and already knew more about it than most of the inhabitants of the city. When I occasionally became impatient, he shouted at me rudely, asking whether I was his real friend or not; if I was, I should share his interests. Then he continued with his dissertation. At home he would draw for me ground plans and sectional plans, or enlarge upon some interesting detail. He borrowed books on the origin of various buildings, the Hof Opera, the House of Parliament, the Burg Theatre, the Karlskirche, the Hof Museums, the Town Hall; he brought home more and more books, among them a general handbook of architecture. He showed me the various architectural styles, and particularly pointed out to me that some of the details on the buildings of the Ringstrasse demonstrated the excellent workmanship of local craftsmen.

When he wished to study a certain building, the external appearance alone did not satisfy him. I was always astonished how well informed he was about side doors, staircases, and even back doors and little-known means of access. He approached a building from all sides; he hated nothing more than splendid and ostentatious facades intended to conceal some fault in the layout. Beautiful facades were always suspect, Plaster, he thought, was an inferior material that no architect should use. He was never deceived, and often was able to show me that some construction which aimed at mere visual effect was just bluff. Thus, the Ringstrasse became for him an object by which he could measure his architectural knowledge and demonstrate his opinions.

At that time also, his first schemes for the replanning of large squares emerged. I distinctly remember his expositions: for instance, he regarded the Heldenplatz, between Hofburg and Volksgarten, as an almost ideal spot for mass meetings, not only because the semicircle of the adjacent buildings lent itself in a unique way to holding the assembled multitude, but also because every individual in the crowd would receive a great monumental impression whichever way he looked. I thought these observations were the idle play of an overheated imagination, but nevertheless I always had to take part in such experiments. The Schwarzenbergplatz was also very much beloved by Adolf. We sometimes went there during an interval at the Hof Opera in order to admire in the darkness the fantastically illuminated fountains. That was a spectacle after our own hearts. Incessantly the foaming water rose, coloured red, yellow and blue in turn by the various spotlights. Colour and movement combined to produce an incredible abundance of light effects, casting an unreal and unearthy spell over the whole square.

To be sure, Adolf, influenced by the Ringstrasse architecture, was also interested in great projects during his time in Vienna: concert halls, theatres, museums, palaces. exhibitions. But gradually his style of planning changed. In the first place, these monumental buildings were in a certain sense so perfect that even he, with his unbridled will to build, could find no room for change or improvement. Linz had been quite different in this respect. With the exception of the massive pile of the old Castle, he had been completely dissatisfied with every building he had seen in Linz. Small wonder, therefore, that he planned a new and more dignified successor to the old town hall of Linz which was rather narrow and, squeezed in among the houses of the main square, was not very imposing; and that in the end, during our strolls through the town, he rebuilt the whole city. Vienna was different, not only because it was difficult for him to conceive as a unit the enormous dimensions of the city, but also because with growing political understanding, he became increasingly aware of the necessity for healthy and suitable housing for the masses of the population. In Linz it had never been a matter of great concern to him how these people, who would be affected by his great building projects, would react to them. In Vienna, however, he began to build for people. What he explained to me in long, nocturnal discussions, what
he drew and planned, was no longer, as it had been in Lint, building for building's sake, but conscientious planning which took into account the needs and requirements of the occupiers. In Linz, it was still purely architectural building; in Vienna, social building; that is how one could describe his progress. This was also due to the merely external factor that Adolf had been fairly comfortable in Linz, especially in the pleasant apartment in Urfahr. Now, in contrast, in the gloomy sunless back room of the Stumpergasse in Vienna, he felt every morning when he awoke, looking at the bare walls and depressing view, that building was not, as he had thought hitherto, mostly a matter of show and prestige, but rather a problem of public health, of how to remove the masses from their miserable hovels.

Adolf had told me that during the past winter when he was still alone in Vienna, he had often been to warmed public rooms in order to save fuel, of which his inadequate stove consumed large quantities without giving much heat. There, one could sit in a warmed room without payment, and there were plenty of newspapers available. I suppose that Adolf, in his conversations with the people who frequented these places, gained his first depressing insight into the scandalous housing conditions of the metropolis.

In our hunt for lodgings which, so to speak, heralded my entry into Vienna, I had had a foretaste of the misery, distress and filth that awaited us. Through dark, foul-smelling backyards, up and down stairs, through sordid and filthy hallways, past doors behind which adults and children huddled together in a small sunless room, the human beings as decayed and miserable as their surroundings – this impression has remained unforgettably with me, just as the reverse side of the medal, that in the one house which might have come up to our sanitary and aesthetic standards, we met that acme of viciousness which, in the person of the seductive "Mrs. Potiphar," seemed to us more repulsive than the wretchedness of the poor people. There followed those nocturnal hours in which Adolf, striding up and down between door and piano, explained to me in powerful words the causes of these squalid housing conditions.

He started with the house in which we ourselves were living. On an area which was hardly large enough for an ordinary garden, there were tightly packed three buildings, each in the others' way and robbing each other of light, air and elbow room.

And why? Because the man who bought the ground wanted to make as large a profit as possible. He therefore had to build as compactly as possible and as high as possible, because the more of these boxlike compartments he could pile one on top of the other, the more income he received. The tenant, in his turn, has to get from his apartment as much value as he can, and therefore sublets some of the rooms, usually the best ones; take, for instance, our good Frau Zakreys. And the subtenants crowd together in order to have room available for a lodger. So each one wants to make a profit out of the other, and the result is that all except the landlord have not enough living space. The basement flats are also a scandal, getting no light, sun or air. If this is unbearable for grownups, for children it is deadly. Adolf's lecture ended in a furious attack on the real estate speculators and the exploiting landlords. One word which I heard for the first time on that occasion still rings in my ears: These "professional landlords" who make a living from the awful housing condition of the masses. The poor tenant usually never meets his landlord, as the latter does not live in these tenements he owns – God forbids – but somewhere in the suburbs, in Hietzing or Grinzing, in luxurious villas where they enjoy in abundance that of which they deprive others.

Another day Adolf made his observations from the tenant's angle. What were such a poor devil's minimum needs for a decent home? Light-the houses must be detached. There must be gardens, playgrounds for the children – air – the sky must be visible; something green, a modest piece of nature. But look at our back building, he said. The sun shines only on the roof. The air – of that we would rather not speak. The water – there is one single tap outside on the landing, to which eight families have to come with their pails and jugs. The whole floor has one highly unsanitary lavatory in common, and it is almost necessary to take one's turn in a queue. And on top of all that, the bugs!

When, during the weeks that followed – I had learned in the meantime that he had been rejected by the Academy – I asked Adolf occasionally where he was during the day, he answered: "I am working on the solution of the housing problem in Vienna, and I am doing certain research for this purpose; I therefore have to go around a lot."

During that period he would often pore over his plans and drawings throughout the night, but he never spoke about it, nor did I ask him any more questions. But suddenly, I think it was towards the end of March, he said: "I shall be away for three days."

He returned on the fourth day, dead tired. Goodness knows where he had been, where he had slept and how hungry he had been! From his scanty reports I gathered that he had approached Vienna from some outlying point, perhaps from Stockerau or from the Marchfeld, to gain an idea of the land available for the purpose of relieving the city's congestion. He worked all night again, and then, at long last, he showed me the project. In the first place, some simple ground plans, workers' flats with the minimum requirements: kitchen, living room, separate bedrooms for parents and children, water laid on in the kitchen, lavatory and, at that time an unheard-of innovation, a bath. Then Adolf showed me his plans for various types of houses, neatly sketched in India ink. I remember them so clearly because for weeks these sketches were hanging on our walls, and Adolf returned repeatedly to the subject. In our airless and sunless subtenants' existence, I realised more sharply the contrast between our own surroundings and Adolf's attractive light and airy houses. For, as my glance wandered away from these pretty sketches, it fell on the crumbling, badly distempered wall which still showed traces of our nightly bug hunt. This vivid contrast has indelibly printed on my memory the vast and grandiose plans of my friend.

"The tenements will be demolished." With this pithy pronouncement Adolf began his work. I should have been surprised had it been otherwise, as in everything he planned, he went all out and detested half measures and compromise – life itself would bring these. But his task was to solve the problem radically – that is to say, from the roots. Private speculation in land would be forbidden. Areas along both banks of the Danube would be added to the open spaces resulting from the demolition of the working-class districts, and wide roads would be laid across the whole. The vast building area would be provided with a network of railway lines. Instead of big railway stations, there would be suitably scattered over the whole territory, and connected with the town centre, a series of small local stations which would cater for specified districts and offer favourable speedy communication between home and place of work. The motorcar at that time had not been envisaged as an important means of transport. The streets of Vienna were still dominated by the horsedrawn fiacre. The bicycle was only slowly becoming a cheap and practical means of travel. Only the railways were, is those days, able to provide transport for the masses.

Adolf's design was by no means concerned with the one. family or owner-occupier type of house, as is being built today, nor was he interested in "settlement." His idea was still based on the old type of tenement house, carved up into fractions. Thus came into being as his smallest unit the fourfamily house, a one-storied, well-proportioned structure, containing two flats on the ground floor and two on the first floor. This basic unit was the prevailing type. Where conditions required, from four to eight of these units were to be combined to form housing blocks for eight or sixteen families, but these blocks, too, remained "near the ground," that is to say, they still consisted of one story only, and were surrounded by gardens, playing grounds and groups of trees. The sixteen-family house was the limit.

Having designed the types of house necessary to relieve the congestion in the town, my friend could now turn his attention to the problem itself. On a big map of the town, which was too large for the table and had to be spread out on the piano, Adolf laid out the network of railways and roads. Industrial centres were marked, residential districts suitably located. I was always in his way when he was engaged on this vast planning job. There was, indeed, not a square foot of space in the room that was not utilised for this task. If Adolf had not pursued his course with such grim determination, I would have regarded the whole thing as an interesting but idle pastime. Actually, I was so depressed by our own bad housing that I became almost as fanatical as my friend, and that is no doubt the reason why so many details have remained in my memory.

In his way, Adolf thought of everything. I still remember that he was preoccupied with the problem of whether inns would be necessary or not in this new Vienna. Adolf was as radically opposed to alcohol as he was to nicotine. If one neither smoked nor drank, why should one go to an inn? In any case, he found for this new Vienna a solution which was as radical as it was bold: a new popular drink! On one occasion in Linz I had to redecorate some rooms in the office building of the firm of Franck, who manufactured a coffee substitute. Adolf came to see me there. The firm provided the workers with an excellent iced beverage which cost only one heller a glass. Adolf liked this drink so much that he mentioned it again and again. If one could provide every household, he said, with this cheap and wholesome beverage, or with similar nonalcoholic drinks, one could do without the inns. When I remonstrated that the Viennese, from my knowledge of them, would be most unlikely to give up their wine, he replied brusquely, "You won't be asked!" as much as to say in other words "Nor will the Viennese either."

Adolf was particularly critical of those countries, and Austria was one of them, which had established a tobacco monopoly. In this way, he argued, the State ruined the health of its own subjects; therefore all tobacco factories must be closed and the import of tobacco, cigars and cigarettes forbidden. But he did not find a substitute for tobacco as a companion to his "People's Drink."

Altogether, the nearer Adolf came in his imagination to the realisation of his projects, the more utopian did the whole business become. As long as it was only a matter of the basic principles of his planning, everything was quite reasonable; but when he thought out the details of its execution, Adolf juggled with ideas which seemed to me completely nebulous. Having to pay ten of my father's hardearned crowns for a half share in a bug-ridden room, I had the fullest sympathy with the idea that in his new Vienna there should be no landlords and tenants. The ground was to be owned by the state, and the houses were to be not private property but administered by a sort of housing cooperative. One would pay no rent but instead a contribution to the building costs or the house, or a kind of housing tax. So far I could follow him. But when I timidly asked him, "Yes, but in this way you cannot finance such an expensive building project. Who is going to pay for it?" I provoked his most violent opposition. Furiously, Adolf flung replies at me, of which I understood but little. Besides, I can hardly remember details of these explanations, which consisted almost entirely of abstract conceptions. But what remains in my memory were certain regularly recurring expressions which, the less they actually meant, the more they impressed me.

The principal problems of the whole project were to be solved, as Adolf put it, "in the Storm of the Revolution." It was the first time that in our wretched dwelling this ponderous word was uttered. I do not know if Adolf picked it up from his copious reading. At any rate, at the moment when his flight of ideas would come to a standstill, regularly the bold words "Storm of the Revolution" would crop up and give a new fillip to his thoughts, though he never paused to explain the phrase. It could mean, I found out, either nothing or everything. For Adolf it was "everything," but for me "nothing," until he, with his hypnotic eloquence, had convinced me, too, that it only needed a tremendous revolutionary storm to break over the tired old earth to bring about all that which had long since been ready in his thoughts and plans, just as a mild rain in late summer brings the mushrooms springing up everywhere.

Another ever recurring expression was the "German Ideal State," which, together with the conception of the "Reich," was the dominating factor in his thinking. This "Ideal State" was in its basic principles, both national and social, social above all in respect of the poverty of the masses of the working class. More and more thoroughly, Adolf worked on the idea of a state which would give its due to the social requirements of our times. But the idea remained vague and was largely determined by his reading. Thus he chose the term, "Ideal State" – most likely he had read it in one of his many books – and left it to the future to develop the details of this ideal state, for the time being only sketched in general outline, but, of course, with the "Reich" as its final aim.

Also in connection with his bold building projects, Adolf first adopted a third expression which had already become a familiar formula in that period: "Social Reform." This expression, too, embraced much that was still swirling around in his brain in a very unformed state. But the eager study of political literature and visits to the House of Parliament, to which he dragged me, too, gradually lent the expression "Social Reform" a concrete meaning.

One day, when the Storm of the Revolution broke and the Ideal State was born, the long overdue Social Reform would become reality. This would be the moment to tear down the tenements of the "professional landlords," and to begin with the building of his model houses in the beautiful meadows behind Nussdorf.

I have dwelt so long on these plans of my friend's because I regard them as typical of the development of his character and his ideas during his sojourn in Vienna. To be sure, I realised from the beginning that my friend would not remain indifferent to the misery of the masses of the metropolis, for I knew that he did not close his eyes to anything and that it was quite contrary to his nature to ignore any important phenomenon. Yet I would never have believed that these experiences in the suburbs of Vienna would have stirred up his whole personality so enormously. For I had always thought of my friend as, basically, an artist, and would have understood if he had grown indignant in the face of the masses, who appeared to be hopelessly perishing in their misery, yet remained aloof from all this, so as not to be dragged down into the abyss by the city's inexorable fate. I reckoned with his susceptibility, his aestheticism, his constant fear of physical contact with strangers – he shook hands rarely and then only with a few people – and I thought this would be sufficient to keep him at a distance from the masses. This was only true of personal contacts. But with his whole, overflowing heart, he stood then in the ranks of the underprivileged. It was not sympathy, in the ordinary sense, he felt for the disinherited. That would not have been sufficient. He not only suffered with them, he lived for them and devoted all his thoughts to the salvation of these people from distress and poverty. No doubt this ardent desire for a total reorganisation of life was his personal response to his own fate, which had led him, step by step into misery. Only by his noble and grandiose work, which was intended "for everybody" and appealed to "all," did he find again his inner equilibrium. The weeks of dark visions and grave depressions were past; he was again full of hope and courage.

But for the time being, good old Maria Zakreys was the only person who occupied herself with these plans. To be exact, she did not really occupy herself with them, for she had given it up as a bad job to try to bring order into this mess of plans, drawings and sketches. She was satisfied as long as the two students from Linz paid their rent punctually.

As far as Linz was concerned, Adolf had not contemplated more than to transform it into a fine, attractive town whose distinguished buildings should raise it from its low, provincial standing. But Vienna he wanted to transform into a modem residential town in which distinction and prestige did not matter – this he left to the Imperial Vienna: what mattered was that the uprooted masses, who had become estranged from their own soil and their own people, should again settle down on firm ground.

The old Imperial City changed, on the drawing board of a nineteen-year-old youth who lived in a dark back room of the Mariahilf suburb, into a spacious, sunlit and exuberant city, which consisted of four- eight- and sixteen-family houses.