Adoration: A Life of Stefanie von Rothenberg by Martine Jeanrenaud Linz on the Danube; Linz, third city of Austria; Linz, placid, contented, aloof; Linz, June 28, 1907. The city simmered in the heat of the summer morning. It was ten o’clock by the bells of the Martinskirche. After dutifully noting the hour, the bells started pealing their joy, in unison with the bells of the Pfarrkirche, the Minoritenkirche and the Cathedral: The Archduke was coming! Which Archduke? Why, the Heir Apparent, Franz Ferdinand, of course. He and his lady, the Duchess Sophie, were coming down from their Bohemian retreat at Konopiste to celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary by dining and regiment-reviewing and paying a visit to Leonding stables, just outside the city, where His Imperial Highness kept fine Lipizzaners. Among the populace few knew and fewer cared, Linz being a pro-German town and the Archduke not being the popular idol his cousin Rudolf, darling of Mayerling, had been, despite which the joy broadcast by the pealing bells was quite genuinely felt by the townsfolk, at least in part. Truth to tell, as far as most Linzers were concerned it might as well have been Michaelmas, or St. Jude’s, or the birthday of the Sultan in Constantinople. No matter. Like all Linz holidays, it would be a day of slow strolling along the riverside promenade of the Donaulände; of the gentle clown-music of tubas by the Holy Trinity pillar on the Hauptplatz; of foamy steins in the beergardens of Urfahr; of grilled Bergsteiger Wurst and pläcke potato cakes; and Linzer torte, and the sweet Nuss-Zopfbread of the provinces; of laughter, and forlorn hopes, and piercing desire, and once-prim gazes suddenly burning with the unnamable. Only the carriage-horses would hate the day, but even for them there would be extra feed, and a good rub-down under the linden trees. As for the humans—well, there was time enough, tomorrow, to nurse the hangover and stammer apologies to earn the deeper opprobrium of Herr Direktor, or Herr Doktor, or Unser Vater im Himmel. Today, a holiday, was made to enjoy. Relax! Drink deep! Work has made you free (for a day) . . . !
At ten-ten the joyous pealing rippled into silence. The air was still. Along the Donaulände a few family groups were taking the air, working hard, in their Austrian way, at having a good time, and any one of them could have been any one of the others, all typically consisting of heavily-whiskered Pappi in his Sunday best, a Franz Josef in miniature striding ahead and making pontifical comments on the blindingly obvious while Mamma was leading, or carrying, the young ones, oblivious to Pappi’s dull discourse.
“The boat to Vienna, Mutti,” he said. “Fifteen minutes late.”
He paused, raised an expectant forefinger: the bell of the Pfarrkirche, newly returned to yeoman service, announced the quarter hour. The Vienna mailboat steamed by, downstream, under the Urfahr bridge.
“Get along, Papi,” said Mutti. “We’ll be late for church.”
On the bridge, looking down at the now-swift mail boat, a young man in artistic garb—floppy hat, neckerchief, ivory-tipped cane—consulted his pocket watch and, turning to the young woman beside him, he (being Austrian too) made the same predictable remark as our bürgerlich Pappi, but in his voice was a slight tremor, as if what he was saying were merely a salve to the nerves of a young man on a date.
“Look at that. It’s nearly quarter of an hour late today.”
She ignored the remark, admired the watch.
“Oh, how pretty. Is it new?”
“No, no. My father’s. Twenty years of devoted hard labor in the Habsburg civil service.” He said this sarcastically, yet with a hint of pride.
“May I see?”
She took the watch, turned it over. It was as big as an onion, gleamingly gold, or (more probably) gold-plated, with a smooth Swiss moonface (Jaeger, Geneva) and Roman numerals.On the back was an inscription: For Esteemed Colleague and Friend Alois Hitler! With Respect and Best Wishes, Office of the Royal and Imperial Customs, Braunau-am-Inn, the 27th of May, 1895.
“It’s very fine, Adolf. It suits you, especially today.” She handed it back. “And that suit! Such respect for the Archduke!”
“The Archduke, pah! But I have the greatest respect, ah, er, for.” He paused, wound the watch-stem once, and tucked the watch back into his vest pocket. “For certain distinguished young ladies.” Then, the Austrian male reflex: rapid coordination of heel-clicking and head-dip, hardly a bow, more a ritual tic. But Adolf, daringly, went further: “I mean, of course, for certain distinguished young ladies, in particular, ah, for you, Fraulein Stefanie.” Then, racked with nerves, he made sure the moment had passed, he hurried it on its way by abruptly raising the ivory-topped cane (a recent affectation) and pointing it, while uttering a hoarse bark of a laugh, at a straw-hatted cyclist passing them on the Donaulände.
“Ha! My goodness, look. I believe it’s my friend Gustl. Now him I can talk to. He respects me, I think. He agrees with me, anyway.”
The cyclist waved, wobbled, nearly collided with the bürgerlich family in duck-procession (or another one just like it), regained his balance, waved again, laughed. Adolf frowned.
“I wonder if he knows who you are,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll have many questions. Where is she from? How old is she? Is she rich?” He chuckled. “It’s his main fault, he’s too curious. I had to tell him more than once that the business he was inquiring about was mine, not his. Of course, I would never intrude on your business, Fraulein Stefanie.” Again the half-bow, the moment of peerless awkwardness that was, however, not unusual, neither with young Hitler nor in most Austrian middle-class circles, where formality generally forestalled grace. As the daughter of minor provincial nobility, Stefanie was used to it, but she sought release from it whenever possible, this time from a plume of smoke drifting skyward.
“Look,” she said. “Isn’t that the Vienna train?”
Adolf stiffened to attention.
“Yes,” he said. “Ah yes yes. The 10:20 express. I will be taking that train. Actually, I took that very train last year when I went up to Vienna. Our imperial capital, ha! In fact, it is a splendid city, Fraulein Stefanie, a splendid city. The buildings! The music! The coffeecakes! A bit dirty, and there are human dregs everywhere, even in the most elegant neighborhoods, but Paris is like that, too, I hear, and London, of course, and even Berlin. Shall we walk on?”
They did so. Anyway, it was a command rather than a suggestion. Adolf strode ahead, swinging his cane. Stefanie hurried after him like a meek hausfrau, somewhat resenting this (but he was a man, he was an Austrian...). He was talking over his shoulder as they descended the stairs from the bridge and came onto the Donaulände. Stefanie caught the tail end of his peroration.
“Vienna in October, you know, to study at the Academy. Perhaps sooner, except I will be sitting the admittance exam then. In any case, after I pass the exam I plan to keep a studio there and maintain my residence here, in Urfahr, with my mother. My mother is not well, these days. Too much worrying about her children, but this is so typical of mothers, ja? Or perhaps I will take an apartment on the Graben, depending on the extent of my artistic success.” He slowed down, again aware of her. “You must come to visit me, Fraulein Stefanie!”
“Yes. I’d like to.”
Vienna! She’d been to Munich, a nice town and more worldly than Linz, certainly; but Vienna, she knew from her reading, and letters from her Kahane cousins, was on another scale entirely: Habsburgs and the Hofburg! glamor! the theater! the arts! Herrn Klimt, Schnitzler and Mahler! The Opera! Lehar!
“Everything absolutely respectable, of course. Absolutely. Yes, I am an artist,” dreamy I-am-an-artist expression wafting across Adolf’s features, “above all I am an artist, God be thanked, but please don’t think that because of that I have no morals, no, no, I have the utmost respect, believe me. Not that I...”
He slowed down to interrupt himself, gave her a sidelong glance, slyly. True to prim form, Stefanie smiled, placidly awaiting resumption of the monologue. Inwardly she was assessing him, responding to his peacock-display: almost handsome, with those blue eyes, that mobile mouth, but not quite, with that beak of a nose, that oddly weak chin; but he was hardly ugly, and by no means stupid, a bit self-important, in fact pompous in the extreme when he started on his ideas, like so many men she knew, but he was passionate, at least, unlike most men, and so utterly courteous when he was paying attention to her that he was almost like a character in the theater, as if he’d only rehearsed his good manners, never practiced them. Most of all, he was an artist, and a good one, judging by the watercolors he’d shown her with that same odd combination of self-effacement and arrogance: Pah, it’s nothing, only genius!He was a real artist, anyway, not just a talker, although a talker he certainly was, too . . . of course this was all part of the artistic personality, or so she’d heard.
“Not that I am incapable, or unaware,” he resumed, standing with his hands behind his back, wagging the cane gently from side to side like a headmaster about to administer punishment. “Of shall we say, oh I don’t know, deeper feelings? As in, as with—have you seen Tristan and Isolde, Fraulein Stefanie? I saw it last year in Vienna. Magnificent! But perhaps you are too young...?”
(Another quality he had was that of conveying his own nervous energy, almost to a fault: She felt slightly giddy, unsure yet elated at the same time, as if a great wonderment awaited.)
“No. No, I haven’t seen it, but not because I’m too young, Adolf. My father wouldn’t let me.”
Young she was, barely eighteen, but eighteen, in that day and age, was young no longer; girls were mothers by then, and farmwives, and courtesans. Naivete was for the spoiled, ignorance for the extremes of rich and poor. Stefanie was neither especially naive nor ignorant, and, although spoiled, as is normal with an only child, she had sufficient grace and spiritual wherewithal to temper the effects. The worst that could be said of her was that she was, perhaps, overly hopeful and determined, but these were, for the most part, qualities derived from her solid stock, the von Rothenbergs of Salzburg and environs. Her father, Herr Doktor Hermann, physician and part-time church organist, claimed descent from the same minor nobility as the great poet and dramatist Hans von Rothenberg; yet “minor” was hardly apt in view of the way he carried on in all of Salzburg’s best salons, for all the world as if his name were Habsburg. It was arrogance, but it imbued his daughter with a self-confidence and assuredness well beyond her years, qualities that normally come, if at all, only in opposition to life’s unremitting tests. That self-confidence had enabled her to accept young Herr Hitler’s invitation. It hadn’t deserted her yet, but she felt it wavering at his mention of Tristan and Isolde, undermined by the suspicion that Adolf was, in his clumsy way, coming around to a declaration of some kind. Certainly mentioning that opera was a sign of unusual, not to say cosmopolitan, interests. Tristan and Isolde was still frowned upon in certain formal family circles like her own: Her father was wont to call Wagner “that Italian,” implying not the glories of that nationality but the perceived over-amorousness, the lack of restraint, emotional extravagance...in brief, she knew the story, the great sweep of romantic passion, Nordic sensibilities allied to universal demands of the flesh.
Foolishly, her heart raced.
“Of course I know what it’s about,” she said, lowering her gaze.
“The great hymn of nationhood,” said Adolf. He relaxed his stance, resumed walking, swung his cane. Over his shoulder he shot her intermittent glances, as if to make sure she was still following him. “German culture. In opposition to French. Do you understand? It is the greatest art ever created. I cannot begin to tell you of the esteem in which I hold Wagner. I would give anything for a chance to visit Bayreuth. Actually, I wrote a letter last month to Frau Winifred Wagner, wife of the Master’s son Siegfried. Such a lady, ah, she is a lady of distinction. I have not received a reply, but I am hopeful. Of course, she has many correspondents. So, Fraulein Stefanie. May I invite you?” Another pause, a direct blue gaze, for once hoping to elicit a response. Oh he is an artist, she said to herself. Unpredictable, moody, passionate. A difficult man, but his good manners will keep him in check.
“Well, invite me where?” “To the opera, of course! Next week the State Opera performs Wagner here. Kubizek is going, you can meet him.” (As if his friend Kubizek’s presence were an added attraction, the clincher, Adolf’s company by itself not being enough of a draw.) “They will be performing Rienzi, a truly magnificent work of art. Do you know it?” He paused just long enough to draw breath. “The story of a noble Roman senator who led the people against stupidity and tyranny. It’s not merely a great opera, Fraulein Stefanie. It’s a cause, a manifesto, a declaration! But most people don’t pay attention, you know. They think it should be all vulgar entertainment, like the music-hall. Unless you point it out to them.”
They were walking again. As they approached the nearby Hofgasse, the sounds of thumping drums and burbling tubas could be heard coming from the Hauptplatz, the main square. A loudmouthed party of soldiers in leopardskin waistcoats and green-white-and-red regimental plumes headed past them in a disorganized way, intent upon the music and beer tents and ready—as suggested by their sly glances at Stefanie (and brief, loud sniggering at the sight of her dashing companion)—for recreation.
“I thought Tristan and Isolde was about love,” said Stefanie suddenly.
“Ah yes, yes. Did you see those soldiers? Hungarians, pah. What kind of country is this. One wonders what business they could possibly have here in Upper Austria. Doesn’t Budapest need defending? Against gypsies, for example?”
This was evidently a joke, to judge by Adolf’s subsequent cough of laughter. Stefanie ignored it and repeated her question.
“Love?” said Adolf. “But many things are about love. Most works of art are about love. But you must ask yourself, is that all they are about? Do they not have secondary purposes, meanings for the intellect? Political meanings? Is Goethe about love? Is, ah. Schiller?” Startled, he turned. She was speaking; indeed, she had interrupted.
“Oh yes,” she said, firmly. “Goethe is about love, Adolf. ReadElective Affinities! The love of man for woman, woman for man. ‘Eternal Womanhood Leads us on High,’ as he said.” At the Realschule, as Adolf would hardly know, having left the year before (a no doubt touchy point which she forbore to bring up), they had just finished with Elective Affinities. Amorous, intellectual, generous, oft-despairing yet ever-hopeful, the Sage of Weimar was for Stefanie the summit of male perfection, a classical genius with Romantic panache, spirit and flesh co-existing in classical harmony.
“His love for Friederike of Sessenheim, Charlotte Buff, Maximiliane, Charlotte von Stein? Ach, Adolf, he was a great lover.”
Adolf sensed her sincerity, even knowledge. Von Rothenberg, after all. The name, when brooded upon, implied a world of formality and letters and breeding foreign to the young Hitler, customsman’s son of woodsman stock, from tight little Braunau and the deep wild weald of the Waldviertel. He turned sullen and uncommunicative, feeling spurned in favor of the glamorous dead, Goethe especially. Concerning German Nature and Art was the only Goethe piece he’d ever read in its entirety, hoping for a screed; in fact, he’d found it a bore, and parts of it decidedly unGerman. As for Young Werther, The Eternal Jew, Wilhelm Meister, Faust—yes, he’d dabbled, but the emotionalism, the wigs and silk stockings...he needed more. He needed paganism, but not Goethe’s genteel Hellenismus; Germanic paganism, brute force, kicking down the doors of the past; he longed for the purity of passion (blonde women like Stefanie), mountaintop bonfires, Nietzsche (except for the Frenchified later Nietzsche, gaga from syphilis anyway), Beethoven, Wagner. Especially Wagner. Adolf’s exposure to the great music-dramatist was of recent vintage, and his obsession had become quite dictatorial. In the absence of God, the ex-aspirant to the priesthood needed a God, and he’d found Wagner, who, in his opinion (however unfairly to Wagner), had it right, bringing together the pagan and the romantic, with a nod to Germanic Christiandom: the Teutonic Knights, Parsifal the Conqueror, the Grail-Seeker, the Avenger, the Hermann of Teutoburger Forest, Frederick Redbeard, Frederick the Great, Walpurgisnacht, every woman’s dream, every man’s inspiration, purity and manliness personified. Tristan? A masterpiece, undoubtedly, but Tristan himself was a bit too French, too languid, too much the sexual athlete. Typical of a woman to go for that one and overlook Parsifal and Rienzi, the real masterpieces...but this was no time, Adolf Hitler reminded himself, to tell her how wrong she was, she, Stefanie of his waking and sleeping dreams, his Minerva; she, Stefanie, glimpsed from afar on morning walks; Stefanie, whom his friend Kubizek had so often heard called “My lady” or “The goddess” (of course Kubizek must have recognized her on the bridge, how could he not, after weeks of hearing about her!) or even, with dubious jocularity, “My future missus”; incredibly, she’d responded, a month previously, when he’d approached her on the Kaiserplatz, more nervous than he’d ever been in his life but somehow carried along by that intoxicating confidence that came over him at odd times...and when Adolf had telephoned a week later she—instantly recognizing his guttural accent over the telephone at her aunt’s—had agreed to go out with him, without a chaperone, even! Well, she’d made inquiries, of course, and her Aunt Marie was acquainted, distantly, with Frau Hitler, through mutual relatives in Linz and Leonding, and of course the late Herr Alois had been a civil servant of unimpeachable probity and standing...young Adolf’s reputation was more uneven, however, and essentially came out as one of rebellious Bohemianism which Stefanie, aspiring actress-playwright-dancer-poet and general Woman of Letters, found sorely lacking in placid Linz and dull Leonding.
So she’d lied to her aunt, or they’d have a chaperone now.
“Kitty’s meeting me and we’re going to the Getreidegasse Theater.”
Kitty would be apprised. Stefanie hated the deception, but she knew there were some things beyond the moral compass of her family. She was certain that meeting Adolf was one of them.
They left the riverbank, crossed the nearby Hofgasse, and made their way to the Hauptplatz, the bustling heart of Linz. It was a little before eleven, and preparations were underway for the great day ahead. Banners stirred feebly in the muggy riverine air. Standing about were groups of soldiers from different regiments, Austrian mostly, with a sprinkling of Serbs and Moravians, and German-speakers from the marches of Bessarabia, and Slovenes from Capo d’Istria, and the already-noted Magyars; most were laughing coarsely and smoking, ogling the women and not-so-gently mocking their escorts. One such escort, a student to judge by his general dress and demeanour (plumed hat, lace shirt, swagger) turned on them and screamed obscenities. Adolf, too, screamed briefly, then fell silent, intimidated by the sight of a regiment of strapping lancers strolling in his general direction.
“You got something you want to discuss?” one of them shouted. “Herr Wandervogel?”
“Careful,” said another. “Maybe that’s a swordstick Herr Doktor Professor Artist is carrying.”
Stefanie was nervous, but elated. There was something of the larger world in it all: the soldiers, the bantering, the undercurrent of male rivalry, the pervasiveness of sex. Almost, she thought, as if they weren’t in Linz at all. Her breath caught in her throat; her heart skipped a beat, as if in fear, or great excitement. She had a familiar swooning sensation of elevation, a passing giddiness, and a mist floated before her eyes, then yielded to an equally abnormal, almost painful, clarity, limning distant things. A moment later she felt calm, lucid, ready for anything.
“There must be scenes like this in Vienna all the time,” she said, as they walked away from the defenders of the Empire.
But Adolf seemed to have no further interest in Vienna. He rankled yet, over Goethe. Thoughts of stark Germanness had taken over. There was a faint throbbing in his temples. He felt thwarted, pent-up, unmanned.
“Let’s go over here,” he said, and abruptly changed course. They were just behind the reviewing stand, which faced a famous old drinking establishment, the Alte Welt. Grandees had fought duels in the Alte Welt; artists had cried over spilt wine in its cavernous cellars. In 1889 a Triestine count had, a la Prince Rudolf, shot himself and his mistress in a discreet room upstairs, and Anton Bruckner’s ghost had been seen draping itself humbly around a beer. Today the Alte Welt was filling up with soldiers and members of the archducal entourage: hussars, grenadiers, dragoons. Adolf, suddenly self-conscious, had no desire to engage in an exchange of witticisms or abuse with men twice his size. He might get beaten up. Also, he was in the (for him) unusual position of having a lady’s feelings, and impressions, to consider. Momentarily, he was at a loss; his hands kneaded the air; he was sweating. His hat was askew, revealing the pink line made by the hatband.
“Shall we?” he began, interrupted (again) by a sudden flurry of activity. Soldiers stopped lounging and assumed the rigid pose of review. Mounted units cantered in. An open carriage appeared in the distance. “Shall we,” mumbled Adolf again; then he cleared his throat and fell silent, yielding reluctantly to external events utterly indifferent to him. . . and Stefanie had eyes only for the arriving palanquins of the archducal parade. (And anyway, there were people about, pushing and shoving. Adolf’s walking stick, intended as an adornment, was rapidly becoming a liability.)
“Oh, look!” Stefanie exclaimed. Two soldiers of the royal guard, mounted on chestnut bays; Hussars in leopardskin and bandoliers, riding sturdy Andalusians; two Dragoons, plumes nodding, breastplates afire, atop solid Lippizaners; a brace of Arab-mounted Bukovinans (red, green, and gold uniforms, shakos shaking, swords shining) from the Archduke’s favorite hunting grounds in the Empire’s easternmost marches; a couple of Linz policemen in uniforms so disproportionately extravagant—silver piping, polished jackboots, braided epaulettes—that they nearly outshone their charge, His Imperial Highness himself, the archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the twin thrones of the Dual Monarchy, seated ramrod-straight in the rear of the carriage next to his morganatic wife the poor Duchess Sophie, both unsmiling, neither waving, His Imperial Highness rather acknowledging the existence of the crowd by giving a series of curt nods beneath the lowering plumes of his archducal helmet, he and his Sophie fading adornments on the frothy Sachertorte that was the Austrian Empire.
“Anybody could shoot him, with him sitting there like that,” said Adolf, momentarily restored at the thought. A veteran of the Cowboy-and-Indian wars of Old Shatterhand, fought in the sagebrush and chaparral of Braunau and environs, he mimed a gun, pointed, fired. “Pow!”As if in synchronism (or premonition) the Archduke glanced around. His eyes met Adolf’s for a fraction of a second; he frowned, and was borne away. Stefanie nudged Adolf impatiently.
“Show some respect,” she said, herself showing (he thought) none for him. “The Archduke! He’s your future Emperor.”
“Pah,” said Adolf. “Emperor? Yours, maybe. Not mine.” He said this sotto voce, aware of most of the crowd’s adulation of Habsburgs (the fools). Not everyone was charmed, not in pro-German Linz. Cries of “Heil,” the Germanists’ salutation, vied with the pro-Habsburg “Hoch!” Cheers and jeers and comments adulatory and scornful were made. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie appeared oblivious to them all.
“Oh look! She’s so pretty.”
“If only he’d smile more.”
“Yes, but they say he’s quite nice.”
“They didn’t bring the children.”
“How many do they have? Three?”
“Four, I think.”
“Get rid of the lot, I say.”
“God save the Archduke!”
“Ach, piss on them.”
The imperial procession had passed, slowed, and come to a halt at the Rathaus, farther up the Hauptplatz. The burgermeister and other notables bustled forth and proceeded to fawn over His Imperially Bored Highness in their best professional manner. Fortunately for Franz Ferdinand, at the end of the speeches there was lunch and a gallop around the stables and a cruise down the Danube, just His Imperial Self and his Sophie (and a retainer or two, or ten)...Stefanie was excited, even thrilled, and deemed the day a success, if only for this. And Adolf—well, Adolf was an artist, and you’d expect an artist to be grumpy and cynical, in this kind of situation. Still, there was artistry in the pomp and circumstance, and Stefanie, for all her longing for a vie de Bohème, had a deep reverence within her for the settled order, and family, and God; and she was Austrian enough to love it all. Momentarily, she waxed patriotic.
“God save the Archduke!”
“I’m hungry. Why don’t we, um.”
Plaintively, Adolf pleaded. He was hungry, and tired, and fed up. It was getting on for noon, and he wasn’t used to this kind of excitement and attention to another person not his mother. He was also sweating, and found himself almost (but not quite) longing for his quiet room in the flat in Urfahr (that attic window, those rooftops, the forested Pöstlingberg beyond). Not that Stefanie was any less alluring—somewhat more so, even, with a high color in her cheek and her blue eyes glistening with the emotion of having seen a genuine Imperial; and yet there were moments, and they were becoming more frequent, when he found himself damning all this man-woman rigmarole, the niceties of social life, the insincerity.
“Monchskeller,” said Stefanie.
“Begging your pardon, what?”
“The Monchskeller, on the Badgasse. It shouldn’t be too crowded, and they do a wonderful Linzer torte.”
Now, this appealed to Adolf. He perked up, even gave his cane a swing. Things were better now, with Linzer torte on the menu! An excellent idea. Few things got his juices flowing like a slice of pie in a restaurant and the concomitant opportunity to sit across from someone and expound on subjects of his choice. Inspired in advance, he offered Stefanie his elbow. She accepted, and arm-in-arm like Biedermeiers they crossed the square again against the melodious background of bells tolling twelve. The crowd was breaking up, with clumps of people gravitating mindlessly toward the Rathaus entrance from which, in an hour or so, the Archduke must emerge. The archducal phaeton sat outside, manned by the postern who had periodically to rouse himself and swat away curious boys. Adolf glanced back.
“What a fine carriage,” he said. “Someday I would like to ride in a carriage like that.”
The expression of this desire was in itself sufficient token of his improving mood; but when they arrived in the Monchskeller, and discovered an astonishing dearth of customers, with plenty of room next to the tall garden windows, Adolf was nearly euphoric. The long tables gleamed in the leafy green light from outside. Flags adorned the low ceiling beams, and in the corner behind the bar counter stood a souvenir of past campaigns, the military standard of the owner’s old regiment, the Styrian Jaegers. The owner himself, Herr Herzl, met them with a toothy grin and “Esteemed lady”s and “Fine gentleman”s galore. Adolf, responding in kind—good Austrian lad that he was—bowed and heel-clicked; masterfully, he selected the middle table of the row nearest the back, adjacent to the trellises of the as-yet empty wine garden; swashbucklingly, he tossed his cane, with a clatter, into the corner. His hat landed on the table. Stefanie settled herself, smoothed her skirts, and gazed into the garden, beyond which a blue patch of the blue Danube was visible between the neighboring houses and a spreading elm tree.
“Look,” she said. “The river.”
Stefanie watched her companion as he finger-combed his hair, rapidly and nervously, adjusted his collar, cracked his knuckles, and arranged himself in what for him was an informal pose: torso forward, arms folded, a hearty scoutmaster on the verge of laughter, or anecdote. Both: he chuckled, then waxed expansive.
“Ah yes, the river. The beautiful blue Danube, ja? Haha? Our glorious Austrian heritage. Do you like the music of Strauss? I too, but a genius, our beloved Herr Johann? Well, frankly, no. Too much the musical patissier, too many fancy confections—not that I have anything against fancy confections, quite the contrary! I’m looking forward to this torte, you can believe that! But I’m sure you know what I mean. The Austrian character? The soul of old Vienna? All cosmetics, no substance! Now, as to the Habsburgs, the Archduke, ja, I was less than enthusiastic, earlier. Should I apologize? Not at all! Of course, I understand your need for some kind of higher power to adulate,” he said, chortling. “Many people feel that way, hence religion, not so? And of course when one’s gods are also one’s leaders, and gaily caparisoned they are in fancy uniforms and plumed helmets, with a thousand years of aristocracy behind them—well! It’s appealing, I don’t deny it! Like a permanent fancy-dress ball. But their day is done, their time has come, it’s all over with, they should be booted out. No more kings and emperors and queens and archdukes. Ousted, I say!”
Stefanie reclaimed a small corner of the conversation.
“Altogether, I don’t entirely disagree with you, Adolf, but I wanted to express my admiration for His Imperial Highness. I think he’s the best of the lot. And he has handsome mustaches.” She smiled, signifying flippancy, but Adolf had the unfortunate habit, born of literal-mindedness, of marrying high spirits and magisterial contempt for others. He waved a dismissive hand, as if to a servant.
“Handsome mustaches? Best of the lot? That bunch of syphilitic fops? Pah. Look at ‘em. Half Jewish, half Hungarian, and entirely Habsburg.”
“Jewish? The Archduke?” “Oh yes, yes. Jewish! Well, you know. Not literally. In the way they use the term Jewish in Vienna, the way Herr Lueger uses it, it’s more of an idea than a fact...”
“However Herr Lueger uses it, it’s a fact in my family. We have Jewish cousins by marriage. In Vienna.”
Adolf was nonplussed. Herr Lueger, the Mayor of Vienna, was one of his heroes—a lesser presence in his personal empyrean than, say, Wagner, or Karl May, but a beacon in the ambient darkness, nonetheless. (And once again Stefanie had shown spirit, forthrightness, even insolence: contradicting him, dethroning Herr Lueger, enshrining Goethe, revealing Jewish links by marriage...where was it going to end?)
“Ah! So? Jewish in Vienna, eh? Well, of course. There are, I know, many Jews there. But your, ah connection is by marriage, you say?”
“By marriage, yes. A wealthy industrialist, knighted by the Emperor. Ernst von Kahane, Baron Ottoheinz. He married let me see my aunt Liesl, so. Yes. Cousins, but not by blood. I’ve heard their house is something grand indeed. You should visit them when you’re next in Vienna.”
“Ah. I don’t think so. Well, who knows. Perhaps, although I was planning to stay with my godparents, Herr und Frau Prinz. Distinguished folk, you know. Tell me, are these Jewish relatives of yours wealthy patrons of the arts? Or artists?”
“No. Well, they’re wealthy, of course. And they go to concerts and the opera and they have chamber music recitals at home, yes, and chess tournaments, Baron Ernst is a keen chessplayer. But art? No, I don’t think so.”
“Jews are very good at chamber music and chess.”
“Well, that’s very Austrian also, isn’t it? I mean, you can’t….”
Adolf narrowed his eyes.Their torte arrived. Initially courteous to the publican to the point of obsequiousness, Adolf now ignored him, so intense was his concentration within himself on topics dear to his heart. He stuffed his mouth with torte, chewed vigorously, swallowed, laid aside his fork. His eyes darted; his mouth worked; he blurted his thoughts.
“My mother is not well, you know. She has a cancer. She has a new doctor, a certain Bloch. He is Jewish, by the way. I would prefer she found someone else. I have no faith in his competence. Not because he is Jewish, incidentally, but because I have heard so-so reports from others. Well, I even looked here in Linz for another doctor, but nobody wants to make the trip out to Leonding, and they didn’t take to me, I could tell that straightaway, they thought I was too much the artist, or the outsider, or something, snobs, petty bourgeois in such a typical Austrian way...anyway, to get back to our subject, why am I using the term Austrian in the first place? What does Austrian really mean? Austrian, Austrian. I ask you to consider what that means. Germans of the Eastern Empire. Actually, it means nothing. The only distinction between the Germans of the Eastern Empire—Austrians—us—and the others, the Germans of the Greater Empire, is that conferred by us being ruled by that gang of overdressed syphilitic gypsy barons you seem to admire so much. Their fine mustaches, ha! I’d clip their fine mustaches, I can tell you! Not that I have much more use for the ruling clique of Prussia, I hasten to add. The Kaiser and his crowd, no, thank you very much! Red-faced Junkers with the brains of insects. They’re even worse than our lot, if that’s possible. Now. Allow me to describe to you my ideal form of government.”
The thought passed through Stefanie’s mind, otherwise aswim with pro-Adolf (or at least pro-artist) feelings (or at the very least responding favorably to the mating dance of the eager male), that young Herr Hitler could on occasion be quite overbearing, when the mood took him, as the mood seemed to take him now—well, perhaps overbearing wasn’t quite the right word: importunate? Yes, but with such enthusiasm that he was hard to resist. The very opposite of monotonous, anyway. With his gestures he parried, feinted, and thrust; his face and hands were constantly on the go; he stared, lip-licked, and finger-fiddled. He demanded one’s attention, which almost guaranteed that he wouldn’t get Stefanie’s. Such self-confidence, she thought, would be apt, no doubt, in the presence of worshippers, but she worshipped him not, and couldn’t imagine anyone else doing so...he was an artist, after all! No one took the political ravings of artists seriously. Such palaver was for late nights in the smoky confines of a small garret eave-secreted in some great city’s Bohemian quarter (she dreamed, for a second, of herself in just such a garret: Life, Love, and Art, the blessed triumvirate of youth’s empire!). No, no one would ever beg him to repeat himself. No one would dream of designing society along his lines. No one would restructure his or her life according to the ravings of Adolf the Artist! She felt pity (constant companion of her future life), pity for the intensity and seriousness and probable future failure of a bright but muddled young man. Only eighteen she might be, but she’d already seen, in her own family, in her own father and uncles and cousin and various distant relatives, enough shortcomings and fallings-short and half-measures and life-imposed compromises to recognize failure in the making. Poor Adolf. And yet! The intensity was rare.
A shiver passed through her, heralding another of her spells. Migraine, the doctor had said. Nonsense, had been Stefanie’s reply. She rubbed her eyes.
Adolf didn’t notice. He had moved from the specific, his audience of one, to the general, an abstract, celestial audience of Hermanns and Frederick Redbeards and dumb but willing German yeomen. Talking all the while, he was gazing through the window at the sliver of blue Danube and the wooded Pöstlingberg beyond, momentarily indifferent to ambient banalities. He appeared to ignore, for instance, a mild metallic burning odor that caught in Stefanie’s nose right away.
The smell seeped faintly into the air, as if a frying pan had been left on the fire in the kitchen; then, suddenly, it was gone. Stefanie took a deep breath. She blinked away the rosettes of eyestrain. Specks of light danced before her eyes, then disappeared. In the distance there was a low screech, as of a chair being dragged across the floor. A warm breeze played over her neck.
“German ideals, of course,” Adolf was saying. “We Germans have never had much luck with the parliamentary style of government. We have our own needs, our own dictates. Why should we try to imitate countries that after all are decaying from within?These liberal and socialistic parties speak constantly of importing the French, or the English, or the American, system...”
Adolf’s ideal form of government, however tedious to Stefanie, seemed to be arousing interest in other quarters, which was hardly surprising, she thought, as Adolf had developed a very audible, indeed hectoring, tone of voice; however, she had not been aware of other customers sitting down nearby, but one or two must have, behind their backs. Anyway, she was definitely having another of those attacks, longer than usual. She wondered if something obvious triggered them: strain, anticipation, excitement? Such attacks in a girl her age were quite absurd and irritating, like an insistently recurring bout of heart palpitations or some other ailment she associated with nervous old people who spent most of their lives taking their pulses and sipping muddy water at thermal spas...a violent throb in her temples was followed by a swiftly-dissipating mist that yielded to prism-like clarity with a hint, too, of prism-like distortion, or refraction, around the edges, like a shimmering gilded frame. On this particular occasion, while Adolf spoke of his ideals, through the dissolving blur and subsequent lens-sharpness Stefanie discerned the hard-edged profile of a stranger sitting in part-shadow at an adjoining table, smoke rising from an invisible pipe or cigar (odorless? perhaps it was a cigarette), his hands cupped in front of him, his legs crossed in somewhat grotesque fashion, as if he were seated sidesaddle on a horse. Was he a cripple? An athlete? Another artist, or agent provocateur? Stefanie idly shifted her full attention from her haranguing companion to this new arrival. Adolf seemed not to notice. The man’s face, apart from its profile—whose aquiline nose, weak chin, and high sloping forehead were as sharp as if they had been etched in glass—was oddly vague and imprecise, like a much-erased drawing. His shoulders, or what Stefanie could see of them, seemed to be shaking, as in silent laughter, although there was no corresponding mirth reflected on his features: perhaps he was ill? His eyes seemed to be closed, or deep in shadow. Stefanie’s attention was drawn again to his legs, which were as imprecise in outline as his face was in feature, as if heavy clouds were blotting out the sun (but they weren’t, because she could see through the window into the cheerful sunlit world beyond), yet in some way those legs were grotesque, incomplete—not that she could see at all clearly under the neighboring table....
“...I firmly believe, and I’m aware that I probably offend you, I know some educated young ladies of liberal conscience would be quite shocked at my words, ja, ja, but I must say it, I do believe in the importance of maintaining national characteristics, that is to say: No foreigners! Now of course—before you say how shocked you are, before you remind me how Goethe would disagree, and so on—when you think about it, this is precisely the Greco-Roman ideal. Have you read Chamberlain? One of the most eminent English authors, I only recently discovered him, and I must say I am finding him very stimulating... but I see you are shocked.”
Stefanie was indeed shocked, but not at Adolf’s theorizing. She had found a precise comparison for the mental image evoked by the spasmodic shifting, or uncrossing (with hoof-like clattering of feet), of her neighbor’s legs: the stables at her Uncle Karl’s farm in the Salzkammergut, specifically (she remembered the acrid mingling of the smells, hay-urine-manure) the momentary loss of balance of a cow being milked. Or a horse stung by a fly. Or—and she squarely faced the final, diabolical image—a goat, startled, stumbling...the image was absurd, then terrifying for a second, then absurd andterrifying; then, as soon as the image began to fade, so did the mysterious stranger at the neighboring table, gathering up him- or itself (what was the appropriate pronoun for an angel, fallen or not?) and heading for the door in the corner (what door? there was no door there), but on his or its way out—moving in an ataxic, jerky, pantomime-horse kind of way—turning to look back, as Stefanie thought, not at her but at Adolf, and in an unaccountably intimate, devouring way, like a lover, or long-lost family member, enormous eyes flaming with a hideous immortality, a misshapen head that seemed to culminate—yes, she could have predicted it(had predicted it)—in an odd, stiff little coiffure that resembled horns...were horns. Of course.
Then, thank God, he, or it, was gone, fading into a small whirlwind of shadow. The smell that lingered was one that had earned its place in folklore.
Stefanie shook her head violently.
“My God! I have seen the devil,” she murmured, head in hands.
“Ah,” said Adolf. “You are ill?” There was a touch of impatience in his voice at this further sign of the unpredictability of this young woman, or women in general; indeed, his mind reluctantly filled with images of horrible illness setting in, unseemly dashing to and fro, a cab commandeered for the hospital, encounters with family members, feeble explanations offered and instantly dismissed, himself made to feel inferior again...
“No, I’m quite all right,” she said. “But I will go home now, I think.”
“But.” He was confused, nonplussed, surprised. “It’s not even two o’clock.”
“And it was this morning we met! Already we’ve spent four hours together. It’s enough, Herr Adolf. It was enjoyable, yes, but it’s enough. My Aunt Marie will be wondering what has become of me. And I need to rest.“
With a firmness of demeanor that impressed Adolf, while simultaneously pushing him to the brink of despair, Stefanie made preparations to leave. Sensing departure, their host Herr Herzl appeared, hovered, allowed a touch of hand-wringing impatience to show at Adolf’s laborious (because reluctant) counting-out of coins that nonetheless ended with a surprisingly large gratuity being tossed disdainfully onto the table (thus restoring the landlord to the state of bluff grovelling that was his trademark).
“Many thanks, esteemed young gentleman. Your servant, Fraulein.”
Adolf retrieved his cane, clapped his artist’s cap on his head, and bowingly gestured for Stefanie to precede him. They went through the door into the burning sunlight of the Hauptplatz.
“I would be most grateful”—oh now he reminded himself how lovely she was, with her hazel eyes, golden hair and honey-brown skin, his longed-for Stefanie, dream-companion of his haunted nighttime hours!—”if you would consent to accompany me again, Fraulein Stefanie, perhaps to the opera performance I mentioned?”
“Ja. Perhaps, Herr Adolf.”
“And now? May I? Escort you, perhaps?”
“I have a visit to make. Thank you, but no.”
“I kiss your hand, dear young lady.”
Adolf Hitler did so, and bowed, relief and disappointment struggling within him: Relief, that he no longer had to play the courtier (not that he did so very well), pay attention, laugh at jokes, agree with the nonsensical opinions of another, flutter about, think of banalities, spend money; and disappointment, of course, at leaving the current object of his desire, who might now be on her way elsewhere for good, outraged or shocked or disappointed or disgusted—yes, he could all too easily imagine the type of smooth-talking middle-class or aristocratic Hungarian and/or Jewish skirt-chaser who might win her heart, a man with a box at the opera, a yacht at Fiume, a house in the Vienna Woods, and a well-rehearsed line of seductive patter; exactly the kind of suave Romeo, in fact, he had disapprovingly taken note of in Vienna. Just the type, he was sure, who would eagerly engage in silken chit-chat about Goethe and with supreme confidence offer his arm on the dance floor; raise a cape-cloaked arm to summon a cab out of nowhere on a rainy night; airily speak French, and Italian, and English, and say “old chap,” and order expensive aperitifs; the kind of devious, disloyal, untrustworthy cosmopolite, in short, who would undermine Adolf’s very notion of nationhood, i.e., civilization itself. Through his confusion he glimpsed, as he often did, salvation, with himself as Wagner reborn, successfully manning the barricades in a great social and cultural revolution, a French Revolution for Germany...and Austria, too...anyway, Stefanie was too young, that was it. Deeply as he desired her, he knew himself to be too mature, too seasoned, too steeped in learning and philosophy, too elevated by the fates and amibiton to waste time on a girl, or girls. Some day one would heed the call and join him in his quest; but she would be more pliable, more understanding, more loyal, than the temperamental, if beautiful, Stefanie. The thought of the future and what it would hold reassured him, as it always did. He gave his cane a flourish and took out his pocket-watch. (Faintly, regret trembled, prompted by the fresh memory of Stefanie’s awe; then it vanished, vanquished.) Two fifteen. That would give him a good three hours or so in the library. He was halfway through Chamberlain, and wanted to finish the book before going home to Leonding. He would tell Mamma he had shared a torte with Stefanie von Rothenberg. She would be impressed.
As for Stefanie, deeply shaken, she tried to explain her experience to the statues and altar and immanent God at the Mariakirche, a dark, chilly place dimly illuminated by red-flickering candles honoring the forgotten dead. But for a priest, the church was empty, yet it was full of the vast echoes of a living silence: footfalls; a creaking beam; a door closing; a scuffling churchmouse...dear God, said Stefanie to God, make me normal again. If what I saw was real, make me blind; if a vision, make me see as others see.
There was, of course, no reply. Then the priest shuffled by.
“Yes, my child?”
“I want to make my confession, Father.”
She confessed, but Father Rupprecht was an old priest who’d been in Linz since the days of Metternich and wanted only an easeful slide into dotage and death, with no sudden intrusions of mysticism and hallucinations to upset his nice parish and tear open his neatly-wrapped package of a remote Christ triumphant and remoter God serene. Grudgingly (he had an appointment with an osteopath, then a game of chess at Meinherr Schmitz the barber’s) he heard Stefanie’s confession, which she watered down accordingly; then, paternally, impatiently, indifferently, he extended the benediction.