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Art of the Hipster: Adolf Hitler

Lawrence Russell

§§ Hitler -- more popular by the day, by the hour. As artists go, his posthumous success has been phenomenal, although he destroyed more than he created. His political legend continues to grow, while his artistic expression is either forgotten or dismissed as amateur. In the 1930s, as his paintings were forged and bootlegged, he cynically dispatched agents to hunt down the copies and copyists. Is he another artist whose own story is far more interesting than any of the work he created, a homicidal lunatic who parlayed a failed career as a painter of sentimental Austrian landscapes into the leader of German defeat-outrage and the death-cult of lebensraum? He was a master of manipulation and revenge, but was he ever any good as an artist? And what was his "art" exactly: was it all show-biz uniforms and searchlight tattoos, radio monologues and neo-Roman salutes?

He always thought big, and that big statements were the best, so he wanted to be an architect. Speaking about a folio of a 125 drawings by Hitler that he had in his possession, Albert Speer said, "They were casually tossed off but accurate in perspective; he drew outlines, cross-sections, and renderings to scale. An architect could not have done better." [Inside the Third Reich, p.143] Albert Speer was Hitler's architect, a sort of benign doppelganger Hitler used to carry out his Wagnerian fantasies for the reconstruction of the new Germany as a mythic 1,000 year Reich. Speer certainly knew what he was talking about. He and Hitler designed their modernist, neo-classical public buildings according to an aesthetic they called "ruin value", that is, as a civilization and its culture is defined by the supernatural expression of its future ruined monuments, all building design should anticipate its archaeological fate. While this "death as beauty" concept might seem radical, it is just the natural extension of Greco-Roman classicism and German Romanticism, which always loved madmen, ruined castles and forgotten tombs. A famous example of this would be Caspar David Friedrich's painting The Cloister Graveyard in the Snow (1810), which was destroyed by a bombing raid in 1945. The irony is obvious, of course, although Friedrich painted a number of variations of this setting and theme. [Dolmen in the Snow, Giant Grave by the Sea, The Ruins of Eldena, et. al.]

Friedrich Cloister in the Snow

Hitler probably never read Madame de Stael's influential book De l'Allemagne (Germany) (1810), which drew a distinction between the "imitativeness" of classicism and the "spirituality" of romanticism. Hitler's failure as a painter and his success as a proto-architect is mirrored in this distinction. He was indifferent to religion and completely imitative in terms of architecture, although his obsessive knowledge of design minutiae reveals some intellectual depth. When he first went to Vienna in 1908, his application for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts was rejected on the basis that his painting wasn't good enough, but it was noted that he had a strong aptitude for architectural rendering. As he says in Mein Kampf, he was crushed by the rejection. Here he was, the best student in drawing back in his home town of Linz, but in Vienna he just wasn't good enough... and as a high school dropout he simply didn't have the mathematics to go on in architecture.

Yet the drawing obsession was rooted. At that time, Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an uneasy multicultural coalition of eleven different states (or cultural groups) ruled by the absurd paternalism of the Hapsburg (dual) monarchy. No common language, no common law, and no common sense. It was Rome without Latin or common citizenship for the client states. It had the Emperor, it had the temples, it had the imperial illusion afforded by a combined population of 50 million. In 1910, Vienna was 2 million, of which 70, perhaps 100 thousand was a fluid multi-national underclass of unemployed coarselings. Crime, racism, prostitution, sweat shop slavery, demonstrations, riots and all the rest. Yet there was a lot of pomp and arrogance ingrained in the cityscape, especially in the large institutional buildings on the famous Ringstrasse, the road that encircles Vienna. The Ringstrasse followed the old medieval fortification wall, which was demolished in the mid 1800s, then became the access road to many elaborate buildings in the neo-gothic, renaissance, neo-classical and modernist styles by the time of Hitler's Viennese street education, 1908-1913. He mapped some of these buildings like a thief preparing a master heist, had a detailed knowledge of dimensions, materials, rooms, stairways and even doors unknown to the general public. For him, culture was a series of theatres, venues for mass hypnosis. His weltanschauung was secular, but its intent was religious. Intimidation and awe, glory and unconditional love. Speaking with the art critic Robert Hughes in 1979 about Nazi architecture, Albert Speer said simply, "Size matters."

Adolf Hitler self-portrait 1910

Hitler: Vienna Opera House

Hitler landscape watercolor

Hitler painting

Hitler postage stamp

postcards from vienna

After his mother died, Hitler left Linz, came to Vienna in 1908. He applied for admission to the art academy, was rejected twice. While his money lasted, he spent his time visiting the museums and the public buildings on the Ringstrasse, and going to the state opera to witness productions in the post-Mahler era. By 1909 he was broke. In Mein Kampf (My Struggle) he says he worked on a construction site but lost his job after a political argument with a Social Democrat got ugly. This appears to be fiction, as Brigitte Hamann says in her authoritative book Hitler's Vienna (1999) there is no documented evidence of this and no one has ever come forward to share his experience of doing manual labour with the Fuhrer at this time. Like the majority of autobiographies, Mein Kampf fictionalizes either by lying or by wilful omission of detail.

By late 1909 Hitler is so destitute he's sitting in all-night cafes or sleeping on park benches. Things weren't good in the capital, which was full of economic migrants from all parts of the Empire. Unemployment was running at an unhealthy 28%. People were sleeping in the sewers and canals, stables and workhouses, begging in the parks, the streets, the charity outlets. Because of his soft hands and petit bourgeois laziness, Hitler was begging in the streets and doing the soup-kitchen shuffle. His health was poor, his clothes were shabby, and to escape the freezing weather, he ended up in the Meidling (Meidlingerstrasse) homeless shelter (a.k.a. "the Asylum") in late 1909... which is where he met his first art agent, Reinhold Hanisch.

Like many hustlers, Hanisch existed under a number of aliases, moved around. As such, he was involved in petty crime, spent some time in prison in Berlin, which is how he acquired a Berlin accent and subsequently passed himself off as a Berliner. As Hitler was bedazzled by all things German, he quickly befriended Hanisch, who showed him how to hustle. It was Hanisch who suggested he draw postcards, and, after borrowing some money from an aunt to acquire the necessary paper, pencils, brushes and paints, Hitler settled down in the cheap cafes and started to work.

You cannot over-estimate Hitler's cunning as an artist. Was he any good? Crap, you might say, with swift moral ease. But the fact is, good or bad, he knew how to make money. There are hundreds of these drawings and paintings out there, some of which were seized by the US Army in 1945, and are still under curfew somewhere in the US government vaults. The commonality is the lack of human figures within the precise rendering of sentimental landmarks, usually buildings and scenes that appeal to the volkisch aspects of German culture. For someone who later developed a dangerous psychopathology, you would expect these landscapes and buildings to have a van Gogh look, an electrified spacial muddling that betrays not only the amateur but also the madman. Not so. The perspectives are machine-like, free of ego, devoid of poetry. What about the subjects? Most are substitute photographs, suitable for the tourist industry, although some of the war time paintings do have the romance of "ruin value" i.e. "Ruins of a Cloister in Messines" (1914) and at least show some proof that Hitler actually was in the army and that his time at the front was not another Mein Kampf fiction. Yet there is little authenticity in the experience, either in the paintings or the account. If you compare Hitler's descriptions of the front in Mein Kampf to those of Ernst Junger in Storm of Steel (Stahlgewitten, 1920) you would think Hitler spent all his time painting well behind the front and was only accidentally involved in combat. Art for Adolph was strictly a fantasy of the present expressed as a sentimentalism of the past.

Feeling he was being ripped off, Hitler soon dumped Hanisch in favour of several other sellers, including Siegfried Loffner and a Jewish glazier called Samuel Morgenstern, who naturally had a lot of Jewish clients who became, ironically, major buyers of Hitler's art. Hitler himself said he liked Jewish dealers, as they were less judgemental, willing to take risks. Therefore it seems odd that Hitler later embraced the idea that the Viennese Jews were to blame for modernism and its corrupting influence on German culture. You would think that an architectural artist like Hitler would have been at ease with the anti-baroque stance of modernism, and the secular nature of its industrial straight-line economy of form. But no, he was too conservative; painting was furniture or souvenir illustration, never a means to enlightenment. While he would later say he was an artist first, a politician second, he nevertheless spent a lot of his time in the public gallery of the Austrian parliament, listening to anti-semitic politicians who followed Georg von Schonerer (German National Party) and the mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger (Christian Democrat). Rhetoric comes from the mouth, not the hand.

Years later Hanisch and another artist called Leidenroth from the hostel days tried to blackmail Hitler by stating that he sold forgeries (copied from other drawings or photographs), that he claimed to have an art academy diploma, and inferred that he was in an unnatural relationship with a Jew, Joseph Neumann, with whom Hitler had become friendly. The Vienna Police files have only one entry about Adolf Hitler -- that he was a "pervert". What this refers to remains a mystery. Neumann went to Germany and disappeared. Hanisch's relationship with Hitler was indeed odd, because, after the war when Hitler became famous as the leader of the National Socialists, Hanisch began painting and selling forgeries of "Hitler" watercolors. And he readily sold his recollections of Hitler to whatever magazine or biographer asked. Bizarre? It was certainly provocative and dangerous in the Nazi state and indeed he was arrested in 1936 and died mysteriously a short time later in prison. As Hitler's pictures had such a generic, anonymous look about them, they would be easy to fake, and it has to be recognized that forging them adds to the mystique of the Hitler cult.

The forgery of the forgery. Goering -- a great collector of looted art -- certainly didn't think much of the Fuhrer's art or his writing; he admitted he couldn't read Mein Kampf and that he saw "nothing" in Hitler's paintings. If art is the mirror of dysfunction, then the young Hitler was completely sane. There is no Rorschach confession, no symbolism, no sex, no death... no extra-sensory perception... no personality. If you compare him to one of his contemporaries like Giorgio de Chirico, the Greco-Italian painter who became famous for his metaphysical works (which were adopted by the surrealists), you might laugh, say the comparison is unfair. But De Chirico studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich from 1906 to 1909 and came under some of the same influences as Adolph Hitler, albeit more formally. De Chirico was influenced by the great German symbolist painters Kasper David Friedrich (The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog) and Arnold Bocklin (The Isle of the Dead), read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Hitler was fond of quoting these philosophers, although some have questioned whether or not he did actually read them (rather, he extemporized erroneously from newspaper summaries). As for Friedrich and Bocklin, they were everywhere to be seen. But of course Hitler had different preferences, such as the "Blut und Boden" (blood and soil) ethnic ideology... and he was poor. He was poor and his mother was dead. His idea of salvation was retrenchment, embrace all things German, including the old pagan religion. Paganism didn't show in his painting, but it was there later in his operatic politics and ruin-value architecture.

So as far as Hitler's "commercial" drawings and painting go, it appears to be a case of you can make a tombstone and sell it as art, but you can also do a painting of the same tombstone and never sell it as art.

Yet he did alright, got out of the homeless shelters, moved to Munich in 1913, continued painting, even after he joined the German Army in 1914. Later, when he became Reich Chancellor, he took a royalty payment from all stamps sold bearing his likeness, which, according to Albert Speer, was a lucrative source of extra income. What artists did he have in his personal collection? Arnold Bocklin for one, whose Isle of the Dead was so popular by the late 1800s that nearly every German household had a print of at least one version. Hitler also admired the ambiguous whimsy of Carl Spitzweg (1808-1885) whose corny portraits fitted well with the volk sensibility. In a similar folk vein were the "happy drunk" paintings of Eduard Grutzner, which Hitler blindly adored (perhaps he recognized his brutal, alcoholic father). "This Grutzner will someday be worth as much as a Rembrandt," he told his court photographer Hoffman. Or there was Franz von Stuck, a graduate of the Munich Academy, whose raunchy mythological paintings extended Bocklin's classical symbolism, and owning a few von Stucks suggests that Hitler indeed had an erotic life, albeit a very camouflaged one.

Speer: "There was something fantastic about the absolute authority Hitler could assert over his closest associates of many years, even in matters of taste. Goebbels had simply groveled before Hitler. We were all in the same boat. I too, though altogether at home in modern art, tacitly accepted Hitler's pronouncement." (Inside the Third Reich, p.27)

Hitler as Wotan, opera artist

Look at Hitler's performance at the 1933 Nuremberg Rally as seen in Leni Riefenstahl's famous documentary The Triumph of Will and you will see his version of an operatic aria worthy of Richard Wagner. While his obsession with Wagner has been well-documented and accepted as an integral part of his megalomania, the actual stylistics of his appropriation are less discussed. These start with the redesign of the Nuremberg airship field into a vast Nazi Party venue with a wedge-shaped seating area on one end facing an elevated stage with a granite plaza or causeway between... consciously or unconsciously the entire make-over (with an adjacent stadium to hold 400,000) is like stretched modification of Wagner's personal opera house at Bayreuth in Bavaria. Bayreuth was a radical move away from the ubiquitous horse-shoe design, anticipated the rectilinear feel of modernism by eliminating private boxes and using a seating slope facing the stage, thereby employing "the mystic gulf" concept of spaciality between the actors and the audience. At Nuremberg, "the mystic gulf" between Hitler and the audience is enormous, almost as if he playing from a projected castle rampart, a machicolation that seems to levitate in the "cathedral of light" tattoo. The effect at night is quite supernatural, like a god addressing a vast host of the living and the dead. Some call it agitprop theatre, some pure evil.

Here, under the giant Nazi eagle decal, Hitler's style is that of a declaiming tenor, sometimes roaming the misty forest of Valhalla, others the cobbled streets of old Germany. The money-lenders, the foreign socialists... weed the weak from the strong, be peace-loving but brave... Deutschland uber alles... seig heil, seig heil. The rap is call and response, Hitler and the crowd, Hitler spasmodically rising onto his toes like a giddy ballet dancer. His right hand scrolls, an invisible baton articulating the score. He clasps his hands to his breast, clenches his fists, barks, barks... wags his erotic finger, plays to the applause. Seig heil! Seig heil! they roar. Hail victory! He is singing The Master Singer's Song (Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg): never forget to honour all that is German, especially the fallen, never forget to defend the Fatherland from subversion within and without, Deutschland uber alles. And then he is Wotan, the god of gods, now before them as The Fuhrer, and while they don't know it yet, this is a rehearsal for Gotterdammerung. Soon, like Wotan, he will set fire to Valhalla.

Hitler's oratorical style is the rhythm of the Wagnerian suspended chord, a modulated sequence of suspension upon suspension, where he avoids settling on any clear key except madness. Speaking of Wagner, Yehudi Menuhin says "(the suspended tone) is part and parcel of the aesthetic stretching of sexual sensations, the prolongation of the ecstatic, the unreal, the mysteriously dark and visionary". Indeed. The calculated distance Hitler keeps between himself and the microphones is also an indicator of the power of his vocal delivery, the sense that his aria is ambient, is near and real, even though at the back of the field it will be a rolling echo. The symbolism of Wagner's folkloric operas is one thing, the theatrical delivery another. Hitler's imitation was a natural consequence of those pre WW I days standing at the back of the Vienna Opera House, later reading the volkisch romance novels of Guido von List (via AH's friendship with Dietrich Eckart, the "Nazi" poet). In fact, Hitler's debt to Wagner was so autodidactic that he became involved with Winifred Wagner, the English wife of Richard Wagner's homosexual son, Siegfried.

As Speer notes in Inside the Third Reich, when he and Hitler were driving to Nuremberg in the autumn of 1933 to survey the Zeppelin field, Hitler spent the night with Winifred at the Wagner house in Bayreuth where she managed the great composer's estate and the Bayreuth Opera Festival. While he makes no comment on the nature of this friendship, the duration of it suggests more than aesthetic companionship. Some say Mein Kampf was written on the paper wrapping of the food parcels that Winifred sent Hitler when he was incarcerated in Landsberg prison for his part in the failed Beer Hall Putsch (Munich, 1923). Some say it was the intellectual circle -- now known as the Bayreuth Circle -- that Winifred hosted that groomed Hitler into the committed xenophobe with a sense of historic destiny that allowed him to succeed. Male confidence is usually a feminine construction. Winifred Wagner remained incorrigible about Hitler to the end of her life, even resurrected a salon of the old fascists in Bayreuth, much to the disappointment of her children. Hitler was more than a one-night stand. Letters exist, jealously hidden and guarded by a granddaughter; one day, perhaps, they will be available to History.

When Hitler first visited Bayreuth in 1923, he was shown Wagner's grave, allowed to commune alone with the sacred vibe of the demi-god. On a return visit, he inspected the Wagner Opera theatre, abandoned since the outbreak of war in 1914 with the set of the Flying Dutchman still in place. Hitler reverently viewed this "dusty theatrical splendour from a bygone era... strangely transformed." (as quoted in Brigitte Hamann's 2002 bio of Winifred Wagner, p.61) This was the start of Hitler's immersion, where the Wagner Opera Festival became the Nazi Uppsala (Ostra Aros) in his atavistic quest for aryan pagan perfection.

Hitler-Speer Nuremberg Zeppelin Field

Zeppelin Field at Nuremberg

Nazi Eagle

Hitler Nuremberg 1933

von Stuck: the Sin

Hitler: Eva Braun

Hitler: Unity Valkyrie Mitford

trophy woman art

Hitler's sex life was so undercover that many people felt he was either asexual or homosexual, and even today remains a subject of psychoanalysis and fantastic speculation. But it's obvious that he liked shapely young women, and had no problem reaching back through the generations to get them. Eva Braun, who had a swimmer's body, was 23 years younger than Hitler when they committed suicide together in the Reich Chancellery bunker in the spring of 1945, he 56, she 33. Everyone knows about her: daughter of a school teacher and the assistant of Hitler's personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, 17 when she met Hitler, soon to become his mistress. Eva, who attempted suicide on two occasions during their relationship, was a substitute-type for Geli Raubal, who committed suicide with Hitler's pistol in his Munich apartment in 1931. Geli was Hitler's half-niece from the family back in Linz, came into Hitler's orbit when he hired her mother as his housekeeper. Not only does Geli look like Hitler, she also looks like Eva Braun, and was also 17 when procured. Their "relationship" lasted six years. She tried to escape, wanted to be a singer, but Hitler held her under guard. It was, as they say, a Freudian nightmare.

It's easy to draw the conclusion that Hitler was a classic Bluebeard control freak, and a serial killer as a lover. Five of his women committed suicide; some say two were murdered, and suggest there were others, invisible to public knowledge. The movie actress Renate Muller who either jumped or was thrown from an upper floor window of a hospital in 1937 wasn't invisible, although the depth of her connection to Hitler remains ambiguous. Adopted by the Nazi Party as the "ideal aryan woman" after the defection of Marlene Dietrich to Hollywood, Renate -- a beauty who was an artist as much as she was an object of art -- was caught between a Jewish boyfriend and Hitler.

Mitzi Reiter tried to commit suicide soon after she met Hitler in 1927 when she was sixteen. Her story is complicated, perhaps opportunistic. Hitler was crazy for her, but his need was too complicated, too fixed with strings. She became depressed, tried to hang herself, but was saved. Four years later she had a one-nighter with the Fuhrer in Munich, and was then married off to a SS officer. Twenty five years later she sold her story to the German magazine Stern.

The story of Unity Valkyrie Mitford is the story of a groupie, the story of a young English aristocrat who first became infatuated with fascism, then with Hitler. She and her sister Diana -- who was married to Oswald Mosley, the British fascist leader -- travelled to the Nuremberg Rally, got caught up in the blood fever. Her contact really came through the Bayreuth (Wagner) Circle where she learned about the Fuhrer's routines, then moved to Munich and began to stalk him. It took a few months of parading in his favorite cafe before he invited her to join him; when he learned her middle name was "Valkyrie" and that her father had been a friend of the great composer Richard Wagner, then destiny took over. Hitler took her to the Olympics, even Austria during the "anschluss". He took her to his retreat at Obersalzberg, where Eva Braun, driven to despondency by the appearance of "the Valkyrie" with the "Valkyrie legs" attempted suicide. After war broke out between Great Britain and Germany in September 1939, Unity tried to kill herself in the "English Garden" in Munich using a pearl-handled gun Hitler had given her. He sent her to a hospital in Switzerland and then had her repatriated back to the UK on a tramp steamer. The bullet remained lodged in her brain, and was the eventual cause of her death in 1948. Her promiscuous career from London debutante to Nazi mistress was recently used as the model for the character of "Lady Persie" (Persephone) in the BBC period serial drama Upstairs, Downstairs.

The political fantasy became a sexual fantasy... or was it the other way around? Throughout the years of his Chancellorship, Hitler received thousands of letters from adoring women begging him to father their children. Once again, art is the sexual perception of an object.

Speer: Reich Chancellery

Albert Speer: Reich Chancellery

Germania and ruin-value

Hitler's idea of "Germania" was a Palestine of the mind, a return to the pre-Roman pagan culture of northern Europe, the genesis of Aryan civilization according to Wagner's son-in-law Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the Germanophile author of the influential racialist book, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899). Then, of course, there was Guido von List, the fake aristocrat who wrote The Secret of the Runes and Carnuntum, a novel based on the pagan Roman city located on the Danube in lower Austria. It was from von List that Hitler obtained the swastika, the Nazi Party symbol, and the dominant symbol of the Third Reich.

Albert Speer includes a sketch of a triumphal arch that Hitler "tossed off" (and a photograph of the large model of this arch that was presented to Hitler on his 50th birthday in 1939) in his (seminal) book Inside the Third Reich. Of course it looks like the Arc de Triomphe, which is also a Roman rip (the Arch of Titus), yet just as obviously Hitler's design is a reinvention of the Heidentor (pagan gate) at Carnuntum. In keeping with "ruin value" Hitler worked from an archaeological model, just as Jean Chalgrin did for the Arc. So, as a search for grandeur in the monuments of the past, neoclassicism becomes a means of predicting the future. Size? The Arc de Triomphe is 164 feet high by 148 wide; Hitler's arch was to be bigger by far at 550 feet by 392. With a rooftop plaza of circa 200,000 sq feet, you could drill a small Festung (Fortress) Wehrmacht Division and watch Luftwaffe formations fly through the arch below. The scale was Babylonian, pure Fritz Lang. No wonder the Fuhrer often dismissed Speer's budgetary concerns with a soft hiss and a flutter of the hand.

When you think of large triumphalist "art" statements, what do you think of? Gutzon Borglum's Mount Rushmore (South Dakota) 4 Presidents sculpture that covers 1,200 acres... or the giant Soviet war memorials such as Yevgeny Vuchetich's 273 foot high female warrior The Motherland Calls in Volgograd... or the strange "monument to the Soviet Army" in Bulgaria... or the abandoned giant science fiction relics of the former Yugoslavia... yet none of these have the functionality of Hitler's arch. They are symbolism only, whereas Hitler's arch is a working fortress, a god window into Germania for those entering the "Welthauptstadt" (World Capital, as Speer called it) along the Avenue of Splendour (Prachtallee). The plan for the make-over of Berlin was statist theatre, a fashion code for fascists. Functionality, speed and indoctrination. All the old state games could be played -- parades, rallies, drills, political operas all -- with the thrilling efficiency of Hitlerian modernism. When Speer first showed Hitler the plan for the new Chancellery, he was worried that the hall -- which was twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles -- was too long, and visitors would become fatigued. But Hitler approved, indeed, delighted in the distance foreign dignitaries would have to walk before reaching the inner sanctums of the Nazi leadership. Intimidation and awe were to be the order of the day. The symbolism of "space" was the secret of mind control. The visitor becomes metabolic and compliant, an insect within the Nazi Buddha.

Hitler's favorite architect was Paul Troost (1878-1934) whose shaven head bespoke of his baroque revolt and neo-classical modernism. Troost learned his method in part from the industrial restriction of designing ocean liner decor. Many architects were moving in step with human desire and the new building materials which allowed a new way, indeed, a new level of desire. Gropius... van der Rohe... Le Corbusier... and especially the Germano-Zen architect Bruno Taut who was forced into exile in Japan. This design evolution (or "Futurism") is all about movement and speed because, even if buildings are static, the world around them isn't. It's also a movement away from freehand doodling into the geometry of the set-square and the efficient mathematical description of time and space. Speer says anything Hitler knew about modern architecture came from Troost. When Troost died in 1934, Hitler allowed his widow Gerdy to become the art maven of Munich.

The mysticism that drove Hitler's idea of architecture is contained in his unrealized plan for an new planetarium in his hometown of Linz, which needed an ego makeover for his projected retirement sometime in the 1950s. It would have three levels dramatizing cosmological evolution: the ground floor would be the Ptolemic universe; the second, the Copernican; the third, the Horbiger Welteislehre. Who was Hans Horbiger? An Austrian engineer who came up with the "World Ice Theory" (Welteislehre or WEL) which Hitler became familiar with through Houston Stewart Chamberlain (Wagner's son-in-law) and began talking up at his discussion circles in the twenties, later incorporated as official Nazi doctrine. The WEL idea came to Horbiger as a "dream vision" which he eventually published as Glazial-Kosmogenie in 1912. WEL postulated that huge blocks of ice from a cold star fractured and fell into a large hot star, which in turn shattered and spread out in spirals, forming the universe and the Milky Way. Hitler was smitten with the concept, as it provided a nice aryan counter-challenge to Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Others ran with it, had the aryan races emerging from an ice field in the north. The idea was as crazy as it was convenient. It sounds suspiciously like Casper David Friedrich's painting "The Sea of Ice" viewed after ten schnapps, then dressed up as nightmare science. Yet its adherents were many and are still out there.

Berlin Germania Volkshalle

Berlin Volkshalle model

Hitler's Arch of Triumph

Carnuntum Roman arch

Hitler Flak tower

brutalism of the flak tower

Hitler had eight "flakturmes" built in various cities of the Reich, including Berlin (near the zoo), Hamburg and Vienna. These were massive anti-aircraft concrete towers, the ultimate expression of castle "keep" architecture, functional and impenetrable, outstanding examples of modern art as ideology. Today you could mistake them for grain elevators or low cost housing towers. During the war they were used as bomb shelters for thousands of Berliners, and were difficult to destroy by foe or friend, so that most remain standing. Some were solo towers, others were linked duals or quads, the walls 14 feet thick and seven stories high, and typically had several anti-aircraft batteries on the roof using the formidable twin-barreled Flakzwilling-40 5 inch guns.

When the Soviets invaded Berlin, their howitzers were useless against these neo-medieval keeps. Interestingly, their projected post-war function was envisioned as war memorials to the fallen German soldiers, the architectural brutalism to be disguised with marble, and so dressed for eternity. Who designed them? Friedrich Tamms, a Berlin protege of Hitler, and associate of Albert Speer.


If you had to draw or paint a picture of Hitler, how would you represent him? As a hipster clown in lederhosen, or would you be more circumspect. He didn't smoke, he didn't drink, he had a fear of human touch. He was secretive and cunning to the point of anal retention. He had a shame of origin, yet he over-justified his origin in the cult of the volk. He had a sense of class inferiority, yet he despised Marxism because it was internationalist and Jewish. He was capable of compassion, although his compassion always seemed political. He seemed to be driven, yet he was often lazy, slept 'til noon, even when Reich Chancellor. He liked children, but didn't want any of his own. He liked war, never wanted it to end.

He liked getting his information from newspapers and museums, so he was like someone today who is educated by TV. He was visual, inclined to be pictographic (and yet he was quite literate as Mein Kampf reveals, political bore that it is).

How, then, would you draw him? As the Fuhrer in a leather great coat, seen from behind, anonymous, a figure staring into blank space... or as a child-man playing with his model buildings in the penthouse of the Chancellery... or perhaps you would steal from Fuseli's The Dream, show him as a demon monkey sitting beside a reclining unconscious neo-classical beauty as an insane war-horse stares through the curtains... or perhaps you would be a bit more modern, a block of Horbiger ice melting before an infernal sun (which could be mistaken for a furnace)... or you might go completely off the catalogue, go conceptual, because after all isn't that what Adolf Hitler was? A conceptual artist?

Gropius couldn't draw, and that didn't stop him from being a renowned and successful architect. It certainly didn't stop Hitler. He realized his fantasies through Speer and Gisseler and a number of other German architects, like a Master marshalling his students to assist in painting a giant mural (of the Apocalypse). He was, perhaps, one of the first media artists, anticipating the production-line methods of Picasso, Dali, and more obviously Andy Warhol. He started with postcards, did postage stamps, official photographs, marketed his own image and attitude. He did radio, he did theatre. He was a personality cult, the basis of any successful artist, be it Richard Wagner or John Lennon.

Albert Speer said it would be a mistake to look for a Hitlerian form of architecture, that he was merely a grandiose version of Troost neo-classicism. The art critic Robert Hughes didn't agree when he did his Third Reich architecture episode for the BBC documentary Visions of Space (2003). Hughes got quite moralistic about the bad vibes left by the Nazis in Berlin, Munich and Nuremberg: "It was about architecture as ideology: function, obedience, efficiency." This is the de rigueur response for the times, of course, and it might even be correct. Yet, when you look at the Hamburg flak tower in today's incarnation as a music school and nightclub, where is the evil? Removed from its original context, Hitler's weltanshauung is weak. Even Stonehenge requires imagination to see murder. Shape, by itself, is neutral. It requires the living to make it erotic.

Adolf Hitler: who was he? An artist, or just someone who existed --

LR April 2013 | Culture Court/ Media Court/CC Audio | my novel RADIO BRAZIL

Flakturm IV Hamburg

Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich (1970) probably the best insider view of Hitler | Brigitte Hamann: Hitler's Vienna (1999) well-researched, authentic, non-judgemental | Adolph Hitler: Mein Kampf (1938 version) lacks narrative detail, heavy on period politics | Leni Riefenstahl The Triumph of the Will (1934) superb film even if you neither know nor care about the politics | Richard Hughes Visions of Space (2003) very good BBC documentary on Speer, van der Rohe, and Gaudi | Briggitte Hamann Winifred Wagner (2002) excellent research on Hitler's Wagnerian paganism and the women who groomed him

Hitler: Germania, S.A. »»»»

Narrator: 6 soundscape stories by Lawrence Russell now available on CD from Amazon. Downloads available from Tunecore:

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