Dictatorship by Division, Architecture of Intimidation - Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 - Volker Ullrich

Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 - Volker Ullrich (2016)

Chapter 17. Dictatorship by Division, Architecture of Intimidation

“What does it feel like, Herr Reichskanzler, being a Reichskanzler?” Sefton Delmer asked Hitler in February 1933, shortly after he was named German chancellor. “Do you know, Mr. Delmer,” Hitler answered. “I’ve made a great discovery. There’s nothing to this business of governing. Absolutely nothing. It is all done for you…you just simply sign your name to what is put before you, and that is that.”1 If Hitler did in fact say what the British journalist wrote in his memoirs, it was one of his typical poses. The truth is that in the early months of his government, the new man in charge was very diligent about performing his duties as chancellor.

He would arrive in his office punctually at 10 a.m., consult with his most important aides and force himself to read documents.2 He carefully prepared himself for cabinet meetings in an attempt to impress his conservative coalition partners with his knowledge of details.3 Hitler had no experience whatsoever in administration, so especially at the start he depended on ministerial civil servants. On the evening of 29 January 1933, in the Hotel Kaiserhof, he allegedly offered the ministerial counsel of the Interior Ministry, Hans Heinrich Lammers, the post of state secretary in the Chancellery with the words that he himself “was no politician and did not know anything of this administration business.” Hitler did not intend to change, but he also did not want to embarrass himself, so he felt he needed “a civil servant who knows his way around.”4

The more invulnerable Hitler thought his power was, however, and the less heed he had to pay Hindenburg and his conservative coalition partners, the more he tried to duck the routine duties of his office. With visible pleasure he told those around him again and again how people had “tried to get him used to how civil servants worked” and how he had been “so occupied reading through files and going through current issues” that he had no time “to take a calm look at larger problems.”5 Albert Speer quoted Hitler once saying over lunch: “In the first few weeks, every minute detail was laid before me to decide. I found piles of files on my desk every day, and no matter how hard I worked, they never got any fewer. Until I radically put an end to such senselessness.”6

When the ailing Hindenburg retreated to his East Prussian estate in the spring of 1934, Hitler’s self-imposed discipline concerning work dissipated noticeably, and he no longer bothered to maintain regular office routines. When he hired his assistant Fritz Wiedemann a few days before Christmas in 1933, he told him that he initially had had “great respect” for ministerial civil servants, but had since come to see that “they only put on their pants one leg at a time.”7

In a remarkably brief time, Hitler had learned how to use the bureaucratic apparatus for his own ends so that he no longer had to be constantly present in the Chancellery. That gave him the space to pursue his personal interests and proclivities. Once again he was beset by the restlessness that had driven him from one campaign event to the next during his “days of battle.” One manifestation was an insatiable desire to travel. “I cannot imagine anything more terrible than to sit in an office day in, day out, and to spend my whole life poring over files,” one of his domestic servants overheard him saying on one of his car journeys. “I am afraid of getting old and not being able to travel as I like.”8 One of his favourite destinations was Munich. Speer, who had become part of his entourage of close associates over the course of 1933 and 1934, noticed that Hitler always reverted to his bohemian ways when he visited the Bavarian capital: “Most of his time is spent strolling around aimlessly, visiting construction sites, artists’ studios, cafés and restaurants.”9

During the first year of his reign, Hitler lived in Berlin in the official state secretary’s apartment on the fourth floor of the extension to the Chancellery in Wilhelmstrasse 78, which had been opened in 1930. He was unable to move immediately into the old Chancellery at Wilhelmstrasse 77, the former Radziwill family mansion in which Bismarck, his successors and the chancellors of the Weimar Republic had lived, because Hindenburg had been using it since the autumn of 1932 while the Reich president’s palace was being renovated.10 After Hindenburg moved out in the autumn of 1933 Hitler turned to his Munich architect, Paul Ludwig Troost, who had renovated the Brown House, and commissioned him to modernise and refurnish the apartment in the Chancellery. But Troost died suddenly on 21 January of the following year. “Irreplaceable loss,” noted Goebbels. “The Führer crushed. No one can replace him.”11

But a new favourite architect was waiting in the wings: 28-year-old Albert Speer. Himself the son of an architect from the southern German city of Mannheim, Speer grew up in an affluent family and followed in his father’s footsteps, studying in Karlsruhe, Munich and Berlin. He joined the NSDAP in March 1931 after attending a Hitler speech in Berlin’s Hasenheide Park. Shortly thereafter, he met Karl Hanke, the organisational director of the Berlin Gau, who gave him his first commissions, including the renovation of the new Gau headquarters on Vossstrasse. Speer demonstrated his talent for improvisation and theatricality when he designed the backdrop, bordered by gigantic swastika banners, for Hitler’s inaugural 1 May address on Tempelhof Field.12 He attracted Hitler’s personal attention in the summer of 1933, when he renovated, in record time, the official apartment Goebbels had taken over from Alfred Hugenberg. Hitler now asked Speer to supervise the construction work at Wilhelmstrasse 77. The Führer visited the site almost daily to check on progress, insisting that the work be carried out quickly since the small state secretary’s apartment on the top floor of the extension was unsuited to hosting official events.13Renovations were complete in May 1934, and Hitler was finally able to move in.

On the ground floor were the public rooms: an expansive foyer that hosted official receptions, a small salon looking out on the garden, leading to the left to a “music salon” that was also used to screen films in the evening, and to the right to the so-called Bismarck room, also called the smokers’ salon, where Hitler’s lunch and dinner guests congregated before meals. It was connected to the dining room, which in turn gave out onto a conservatory with a long row of windows, also looking out over the garden. Hitler’s private quarters were on the first floor and consisted of a living room with library, an office, a bedroom and a bathroom. A portrait of Hitler’s mother hung over the spartan iron bed. Next to the chancellor’s suite, a guest room was set up for Eva Braun, but it was rarely used before 1939. The servants lived next to that. The so-called “stairway room” in front of the Führer’s apartment served as a reception for Hitler’s secretaries. This led via a corridor to the wing of the building that housed the offices of Hitler’s assistants, Reich Press Spokesman Otto Dietrich and the commander of Hitler’s bodyguard, SS Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich.14

Hitler had four personal assistants: his main assistant, Wilhelm Brückner, who had commanded the Munich SA regiment during the Beer Hall Putsch and who had begun serving Hitler personally in August 1930; Julius Schaub, who had also taken part in the putsch and who had shadowed Hitler like a second skin since 1925; Fritz Wiedemann, the retired sergeant who had been Hitler’s commanding officer in the List Regiment in 1916 and 1917 and who began working in the chancellery in 1934; and Albert Bormann, Martin Bormann’s younger brother, who ran Adolf Hitler’s “private chancellery.” Hitler also had three military aides who served as go-betweens with the armed forces: Colonel Friedrich Hossbach for the army (as of 1934), Lieutenant Captain Karl Jesko von Puttkamer for the navy (as of 1935) and Captain Nicolaus von Below for the air force (as of 1937). Three secretaries were also members of Hitler’s personal staff: Johanna Wolf (since 1929), Christa Schroeder (since 1933) and Gerda Daranowski (since 1937). Hitler also had two manservants, Able Seaman Karl Krause (as of 1934) and the bricklayer and member of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Heinz Linge (as of 1935), both of whom were trained at Munich’s Hotel College before entering Hitler’s service. Building manager Arthur Kannenberg and his wife Frieda were responsible for running the Führer’s household. Aeroplane captain Hans Baur and Hitler’s chauffeur Julius Schreck (as of 1936 Erich Kempka) took care of travel security on journeys.15

As Heinz Linge later testified, Hitler was “difficult to predict” in his dealings with his servants.16 Sometimes he was charming, enquiring about their personal welfare and pausing for chats, especially with his secretaries in the reception area. He rarely neglected to give Christmas and birthday gifts to members of his staff and friends and acquaintances from the “battle days.”17 If someone was ill, Hitler sent flowers or sometimes even delivered them in person. And if we believe Goebbels’s diaries, Hitler was deeply affected by the death of his long-time chauffeur Schreck in 1936: “The Führer very depressed. It’s hit him the hardest. He stayed at home all day.”18

But these seeming gestures of caring were not necessarily motivated by pure altruism. In general, Hitler’s treatment of his underlings was based on cold calculations of usefulness. Friedrich Hossbach related how every time he thought he saw “signs of true human intimacy,” Hitler’s behaviour would swing around radically the following day: “Then you thought that you were standing in front of an alien and completely changed person.”19 Karl Krause also recalled after the war that it became increasingly difficult to talk to Hitler on a personal level: “It was as though he were cut off. A high wall of isolation was erected.”20

Hitler’s scattershot working habits put a great deal of pressure on his staff. He kept no regular hours, so his aides and his secretaries were practically on call around the clock. His servants also suffered from his notorious impatience. Knotting Hitler’s tie when he wore a dinner jacket was always a challenge. “It had to be done very quickly, in about twenty-five seconds, and it had to be done properly,” Krause recalled. “Otherwise, he grew ill-tempered and started shifting his weight from one foot to the other.”21

Hitler surrounded himself with people he knew and whose loyalty he trusted, which is why he disliked personnel changes in his entourage. If he had tired of an underling, however, the slightest excuse was enough to fire or banish him. Fritz Wiedemann, for instance, was sent off to San Francisco in January 1939 as a consul general.22 And Hitler’s long-time friend and foreign press secretary Ernst Hanfstaengl was shunted off in particularly brusque fashion in February 1937 after his falling from grace.

Hanfstaengl’s crime—if we believe the accounts by Albert Speer and others—was that he once opined over a meal that he had shown just as much bravery as a civilian wartime internee in the United States as front-line soldiers had during the war. Hitler and Goebbels decided to teach him a lesson. Hanfstaengl was issued sealed orders, which he was only to open after the plane he was ordered to board had taken off. It contained instructions to fly to Spain and to parachute into republican territory to work there as an agent for Franco. Hanfstaengl frantically tried to convince the pilot to turn the plane around, but the latter calmly kept flying on. When the plane finally touched down, Hanfstaengl recognised that he was in Leipzig, not Spain, and realised that he had been the victim of a cruel practical joke. He soon left Germany for Switzerland before heading on to London.23

Despite Hitler’s aversion to schedules in his work and private life, something akin to a routine in the Chancellery was established in the years prior to 1939. In the morning, before Hitler got up, one of his servants had to place the latest newspapers and press agency reports on a stool in front of his bedroom door. Waking Hitler was a strange procedure. The servant would ring a bell three times, whereupon Hitler would ring back three times by pressing a button on his bedside table. Only then was the servant allowed to knock on the door and tell Hitler what time it was. Karl Krause would always know by the sound of his master’s voice what sort of mood he was in. While the servant prepared Hitler’s breakfast, which consisted of two cups of warm milk, as many as ten biscuits and half a bar of broken-up, dark chocolate, Hitler would take a bath, shave and get dressed. Hitler breakfasted standing up, scanning through the latest reports of the German News Agency. He would then also discuss the lunch menu and choose from three vegetarian meals on offer.24

After breakfast, Hitler went to his official office in the Chancellery extension, which Speer had moved from the front to the back of the building overlooking the garden to avoid the noise of the crowds who gathered every day on Wilhelmstrasse and chanted their desire to see the Führer. He did have Speer put a balcony on the front façade, upon which he would show himself to his admirers when he felt like it. “The window was too uncomfortable,” he told Speer. “I could not be seen from all sides. After all, I could not lean out.”25 On the way from his private chambers to the chancellor’s office, he would discuss whom he would receive that day with his anxiously waiting aides. The decision as to who would be admitted and who would be turned away was his alone, but it is scarcely credible that his decisions depended solely on “his mood and his feelings about the individuals in question,” as Otto Dietrich contended.26 One of his most impressive talents as an actor was his ability when receiving others to conceal his personal antipathies behind solicitous gestures. Once he had arrived at his office, Dietrich would give Hitler a summary of the morning papers, and Hans Heinrich Lammers would brief him about ongoing business. After Hitler had unified the offices of chancellor and president, Otto Meissner would also be summoned to give a report, as was Goebbels’s deputy at the Propaganda Ministry, Walther Funk. Following that Hitler usually held discussions with ministers, diplomats and other figures.27

These conferences typically lasted until 2 p.m., sometimes longer, so that lunch guests had to be prepared to wait. “Hitler was sovereign and unreliable about when he would appear,” Speer recalled.

Lunch was planned for 2 p.m., but it was usually 3 p.m. or even later before Hitler arrived. He entered as casually as a private figure. He would greet his guests with a handshake, and they would gather around him as he expressed his opinion about this or that current issue. With more privileged guests, he would enquire as to the health of the wife. Then the head of press would give him excerpts of the news, and he would sit down in a chair off to the side to read them.28

His guests were left standing around with growling stomachs for another fifteen to twenty minutes until a servant announced: “Lunch is served.”29 Then Hitler led everyone into the dining room—a large square space, with a round table in the middle with room for some fifteen people. There were four other tables for four to six people in the corners. Hitler always sat with his back to the window facing a large painting that hung above the sideboard: Triumph of Music by the Munich society painter Friedrich August von Kaulbach.30

Before entering the dining room, Hitler would decide who would be sitting to his right and left: this was an eagerly awaited decision since proximity to the Führer was a sign of prestige and importance. “All of his paladins stood on their toes and tried to make themselves as tall and wide as possible in the hope that the Führer’s eye might fall upon them,” recalled Ribbentrop’s private secretary Reinhard Spitzy. “Hitler clearly enjoyed the situation and took his time. ‘Yes,’ he would say, ‘I’d like to my right…’—pause—‘…Dr. Goebbels, and to my left Herr von Ribbentrop, and then further to the right General X and to the left Gauleiter Y.’ ”31 The rest of the guests took the places that were left over, and aides and less important individuals usually sat at the side tables. The guest lists varied quite a bit. Often they contained NSDAP Gauleiter in Berlin on business, and government ministers, ambassadors and business leaders were also invited. Goebbels was there almost every day, and Speer and Otto Dietrich were also frequent guests. Göring, Hess and Himmler appeared far less frequently. Occasionally Magda Goebbels or Leni Riefenstahl were invited, but usually the company was exclusively male. The food was simple. Most days, there was soup, meat with vegetables and potatoes, and something sweet for dessert. Hitler ate his vegetarian meal and drank Fachinger mineral water. Guests were welcome to follow him in these habits, but few chose to.32

Hitler jokingly nicknamed his lunches the “Merry Chancellor Restaurant,”33 but the atmosphere was hardly one of relaxed merriment. “The people at his table did not feel free,” Dietrich remarked. “Amidst the atmosphere Hitler created, even the liveliest people became taciturn listeners…They were self-conscious and did not volunteer much of themselves, while Hitler spoke and put them under his spell with words and gestures he had practised thousandfold.”34 Since Hitler often talked about current issues, his lunches were, in Speer’s words, a “great source of information” for his guests, without which they would “lack orientation.”35 When Hitler took an uncharacteristic break from lecturing the others, an embarrassed silence would descend. At such moments, Goebbels would jump in. The propaganda minister enjoyed playing the maître de plaisir, and he was invited so often because he knew how to liven things up, entertaining the guests with jokes and anecdotes while undermining his rivals for Hitler’s favour with seemingly harmless little jibes. Not infrequently, he would make fun of one of the other guests and engage in some verbal sparring, which Hitler would follow with amusement, intervening only if things threatened to escalate into a genuine quarrel.36

After lunch, which lasted between thirty minutes and an hour, Hitler would ask individual guests to accompany him to the conservatory, where they continued this or that discussion. For the movers and shakers of the Third Reich, this was the best chance to get Hitler’s ear in hopes of influencing a decision in their favour. Speer, for instance, eagerly seized such opportunities to discuss his construction plans. Often such discussions lasted until late in the afternoon. When the weather was fine, Hitler enjoyed walking up and down the garden with his guests. He always carried some nuts in his pockets to feed the squirrels.37 Early on in his regime, Hitler would sometimes retire to the Hotel Kaiserhof, where a corner table was kept reserved for him, for late-afternoon tea. But he soon abandoned this habit because word of his presence there would quickly make the rounds and attract flocks of mostly older female admirers.38

Dinner was usually planned for 8 p.m. and was mostly restricted to a smaller circle, including Goebbels, Speer, and frequently Heinrich Hoffmann and Captain Baur. Often, not all of the seats at the main table were taken so that Hitler’s aides hastily invited guests from the world of culture, above all actresses. Unlike lunch, the table talk focused on general topics rather than political issues. “Hitler enjoyed hearing about theatrical performances and society scandals,” Speer recalled. “The pilot told flying stories, Hoffmann contributed anecdotes from Munich’s art world…but mostly Hitler repeated tales from his past and told us about how he had become what he was.”39 During the meal, Hitler’s servants would bring him a list of four to six German and foreign films. Hitler would then select one or two to be shown that evening.40

After dinner, Hitler and his guests would repair to the “music salon,” where everything had been set up for the screening. “We all sat down in comfortable armchairs,” Speer related. “Hitler unbuttoned his jacket and stretched out his legs. The light slowly dimmed while household servants and bodyguards entered though the rear door.”41 Hitler liked breezy entertainment. If a film featured one of his favourite actors—Emil Jannings, Heinz Rühmann, Henny Porten, Lil Dagover, Olga Chechova, Zarah Leander or Jenny Jugo—he would order a copy before it had premiered in the cinemas. If a film was not to his taste, he made no secret of it, bellowing, “Stop the projector! What nonsense! Put on the next one!”42 Goebbels occasionally complained to his diary about this monotonous ritual, which he considered a waste of time. On the other hand, it was important for him to get Hitler’s opinion so that he could intervene and, if necessary, have changes made to the film before its premiere.43

After the screening, everyone went into the smoking parlour. While by that point most of the guests had trouble concealing their fatigue, Hitler usually seemed astonishingly fresh, as if he had only just come to life. The company sat around the fireplace, drinks and sandwiches were brought, and there was a bit of chit-chat. It was during these hours that the dictator seemed most relaxed. The greatest fear of his aides was that late at night the conversation would turn to Hitler’s favourite topics, his experiences in the First World War and the “days of struggle.” Such reminiscing could go on until two or three in the morning. After his guests had finally left, Hitler and his aides would discuss the next day’s schedule. Karl Krause would then present him with the latest news agency report and prepare a valerian tea with a small bottle of cognac on the side. It was supposed to help Hitler fall asleep more quickly.44

On some nights, though, Hitler would withdraw earlier to his chambers to read newspapers and magazines. “Flipping through the pages of periodicals was one of his favourite activities,” Krause recalled. For relaxation, he even read through back issues. In December 1933, for example, he ordered Schaub to procure all the editions of the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung (Berlin Illustrated Newspaper) published between 1914 and 1932. The directorship of the Ullstein publishing house was only too happy to oblige and wished the chancellor “several hours of pleasant leisure in a life full of strenuous work perusing an illustrated chronicle of twenty years of ever-changing German history.”45

A weekly, as well as a daily, routine also crystallised during the early years of Hitler’s regime. There was hardly a weekend when Hitler did not set off for Munich or the Obersalzberg. Since he usually left on Friday evening and returned during the course of Monday, that meant that appointments in the Chancellery were condensed into four days.46 Hitler had three Junkers 52s managed by Baur at his disposal. They were supplemented in the spring of 1935 by two four-motor Condor aircraft, which could fly from Berlin to Munich in only one hour and thirty-five minutes. Until September 1937, if Hitler decided to travel by rail, an extra carriage was attached to the regular Berlin-Munich train. After that, Hitler would make use of a special train with ten to twelve carriages all for himself. The “Führer car” consisted of a mahogany-panelled salon where Hitler could congregate with his aides, a sleeping compartment with a bath, and sleeping berths for his servants. During Wehrmacht manoeuvres, his special train served as his “main headquarters.” A motorcade stood ready for him wherever he chose to alight.47

For shorter trips, Hitler preferred to travel by car. He always chose the destination and frequently kept it a secret from his entourage until the last minute. Sometimes he himself could not decide where he wanted to go and flipped a coin. “Once the decision had been reached in this way, it was set in stone, and he abided by it,” Dietrich recalled, adding that this was “Hitler’s one concession to superstition.”48Nonetheless, even if the final destination was set, Hitler did not mind making the odd detour. He remained loyal to the same hotels: in Weimar the venerable Hotel Elephant on the central market square; in the Bavarian spa town of Berneck Bube’s Hotel; in Nuremberg the Deutscher Hof; in Augsburg the Drei Mohren; in Frankfurt the Baseler Hof (where, he once sneered, there was always a Bible on his bedside table); in Hamburg the luxurious Hotel Atlantik on Alster Lake; in the Rhineland and Ruhr Valley the Rheinhotel Dreesen in Bad Godesberg; and later in Vienna the royal suite of the Hotel Imperial.49 Led by the Führer’s black Mercedes, there was always a veritable caravan of cars containing Hitler’s bodyguards, officers of the criminal police, his aides and personal physician, his servants and one of his secretaries as well as a car full of luggage at the tail end.50

Always restless, Hitler eagerly exploited any opportunity for a change of scenery. “There were years when he could hardly stand to stay in one place or in one of his homes for more than three or four days,” Dietrich recalled. “You could almost set your watch by when his entourage would get the order to pack up and move on.”51 The constant moving around was a nightmare for his servants since fifteen to twenty suitcases had to be packed at the drop of a hat, and departures could never go fast enough for their impatient master.52

The business of government continued while Hitler was on the go. If he was in Munich, urgent conferences were held in his private apartment on Prinzregentenstrasse or in the Brown House. If he was somewhere else, he constantly received reports and requests, in response to which he issued immediate instructions and orders. Dietrich saw this idiosyncratic “flying’ form of government” as one of the special qualities of Hitler’s style of rule.53

Even when he was working in the Chancellery, Hitler avoided writing down his orders. Instead, his commands were issued verbally and delivered on the spur of the moment. As a rule he considered his decisions carefully, but sometimes he took them on the spot, leaving his underlings with the unenviable task of translating hasty remarks into practical instructions and make sure they got where they needed to. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations were an inevitable part of this oral leadership style.54 On the other hand, it also opened up considerable room for those around Hitler to exert an influence. Here, too, Goebbels achieved a certain mastery. At lunch, Dietrich observed, “he fed Hitler with entertaining catchwords, adopted and exaggerated his tendencies and seized opportunities to elicit verbal orders in his favour in a variety of areas.”55 Not only party bigwigs used this strategy. Ministers and state secretaries, who had increasing difficulty getting access to Hitler, tried to as well. If they succeeded in gaining his attention, they immediately tried to explain their problems to Hitler one-to-one and to draw him into statements that could be interpreted as “the Führer’s will.” The “art of the ministries,” Ernst von Weizsäcker, who became state secretary in the Foreign Ministry in 1937, emphasised in his memoirs, “was to exploit the lucky hour or minute when Hitler, sometimes through a stray word, made a decision that could be passed on as ‘Führer mandate.’ ”56

Hitler’s non-bureaucratic, personalised style of rule encouraged underlings to push ahead with initiatives of their own in the hopes of anticipating the Führer’s will. “The Führer can hardly order from above everything that he may want carried out at some point,” Werner Willikens, state secretary in the Prussian Agriculture Ministry, told agricultural representatives of the German states in February 1934. Therefore, it was the duty of every individual to try to work towards the Führer.57 Ian Kershaw rightly sees this idea of “working towards the Führer” as one of the keys for understanding the specific ways in which Nazi rule functioned. Those who wanted to get ahead in this system could not wait for orders from above, but rather had to anticipate the Führer’s will and take action to prepare and promote what they thought to be Hitler’s intentions. This not only explains why the regime was so dynamic but also why it became more and more radical. In competing for the dictator’s favour, his paladins tried to trump one another with ever more extreme demands and measures.58 Small-time and medium-level NSDAP functionaries—from the block wardens to the cell, local and district leaders—were also convinced that they were “working towards the Führer” when they harassed Jews and informed on putative “parasites on the people.” They were not just the willing executioners of Hitler’s ideological postulates: they drove racist policies forward.

After the Nazification of parties and associations, the unification of the offices of president and chancellor, and the self-subordination of the Reichswehr to their new commander-in-chief, Hitler had personally concentrated more power than any German ruler in history. “Responsible to no one and unable to be replaced, his position is comparable only with that of the crowned heads of state of the absolute monarchies of the past,” read an SPD-in-exile report from July-August 1934.59 In contrast to Fascist Italy, where Il Duce had to tolerate a king at his side, Nazi Germany had no institutions that could have developed into a counterweight to Hitler’s stranglehold on power.60 In his two-pronged stroke in June 1934, the dictator had eradicated SA unrest within his own movement and got rid of his critics and detractors among the conservatives. The “Führer state” was now solidly established, and in it Hitler’s charismatic authority was the most important resource for ruling. The referendums he staged after major domestic and foreign-policy decisions confirmed his overwhelming popularity. Without Hitler as the “hub of the entire National Socialist system,”61 and without the mythology of the Führer as an integrative framework, there is no explaining the regime’s astonishing cohesive force. “Fundamental to National Socialism and its system of rule,” argued the historian Karl-Dietrich Bracher, “was the fact that from the beginning to its extreme end, it stood and fell with this one man.”62 Decisions could only be made under the regime if they were derived from and thus sanctioned by the will of the Führer.

Nonetheless, it would distort the reality of the Third Reich to imagine it as a strictly governed central system in which the Führer determined everything. Hitler’s marked aversion to bureaucratic procedures and his scattershot, impulsive style of rule made such a system impossible. He demanded of all his underlings that they spare him from unwelcome, banal, everyday details. “The best man is for me the one who burdens me the least by taking responsibility for himself ninety-five out of every one hundred decisions,” Hitler declared in October 1941. “Of course there are always cases that I ultimately have to decide.”63 In other words, Hitler claimed the solitary right to decide only on fundamental issues, not on routine matters he considered ancillary; it was then that he made determined use of his function as a coordinator. However, because he was not prepared to clarify the boundaries between state administration and party organisations, bureaucratic structures and administrative rules and procedures began to corrode from within. Hitler gradually transferred to government the practice he had already used as party leader of blurring areas of responsibility and staffing offices doubly so as to encourage rivalries and protect his own power.64 As a seemingly paradoxical result, a polycratic network of competing offices and portfolios developed alongside Hitler’s monocratic dictatorship.65 For example, as we have seen in the area of foreign policy, three organisations besides the Foreign Ministry were active: the NSDAP Foreign-Policy Office, the Foreign Organisation of the Party and Ribbentrop’s office.66 In the area of publicity, the president of the Reich press office and head of Eher publishers, Max Amann, fiercely battled for power with Press Secretary Dietrich and Propaganda Minister Goebbels.67

One of the first victims of the unregulated parallel existence of the Führer’s absolute authority and a plurality of competing power centres was the principle of government by cabinet. In February and March 1933 the cabinet met thirty-one times, on average once every two days. After the Enabling Act emancipated Hitler as chancellor from the emergency decrees of the president, Hitler’s interest in conferring with his cabinet declined noticeably. Between June and December 1933, the cabinet met twenty times, in all of 1934 nineteen times, in 1935 twelve times, in 1936 four times and in 1937 six times. Its final meeting took place on 5 February 1938.68

As meetings declined in frequency, their character also changed. “In the beginning, there were still lively discussions, but later Hitler’s monologues took up more and more time,” recalled Schwerin von Krosigk.69 Gradually, the cabinet devolved into an organ for carrying out the Führer’s will, and in October 1934, all of Hitler’s ministers were required to swear an oath of loyalty to him personally. On the fourth anniversary of the appointment of the “cabinet of national concentration,” on 30 January 1937, Hitler made all his ministers members of the NSDAP, in so far as they were not already, and awarded them the Golden Party Badge. Paul von Eltz-Rübenach alone refused to accept the accolade, citing the regime’s hostility to the Catholic Church, which horrified the rest of the cabinet. “It was as if we were all struck lame,” Goebbels noted. “No one had expected that. Göring, Blomberg and Neurath profoundly thanked the Führer…But the mood was ruined.”70 Eltz-Rübenach was forced to submit his resignation that very day, and his ministry was divided up: Julius Dorpmüller became Reich transport minister, and Wilhelm Ohnesorge became Reich postal minister.

Starting in the summer of 1933, a new legislative practice established itself which rendered cabinet consultations obsolete. Before a draft law was submitted to the Chancellery, the ministers concerned had to clear up all matters of potential disagreement. State Secretary Lammers would then send the law to cabinet members with a request to register any objections by a certain date. Only when this cycle of correspondence was complete would Lammers take the law to Hitler for signature. Hitler either accepted or rejected it—he showed little interest in any of the preliminaries.71 As the cabinet declined in importance, Lammers gained more and more power since his new function as an intermediary between the ministers and Hitler put him in a key position. He was informed early on about what laws which ministers intended to formulate and could intervene in the approval process since he was able to influence Hitler depending on how he presented a given law. In November 1937, the dictator honoured the work of this senior civil servant by naming him a Reich minister, elevating him to the same level as the other cabinet members. In the last years of the regime, however, Lammers would lose a battle for power with Martin Bormann, who had become the director of the party chancellery and the “Führer’s secretary” and who would regulate privileged access to the dictator in the Führer’s main headquarters.72

The dissolution of conventional forms of government was accelerated by Hitler’s tendency to appoint special agents to take care of what he considered the most urgent tasks. As a rule, they were responsible neither to the party nor to the government administration, but rather only to Hitler personally. Their authority was based solely on the Führer’s faith in them. Hitler largely kept out of the inevitable ensuing rivalries and battles for responsibility between newly established special staffs, on the one hand, and ministries and party offices on the other. As a social Darwinist, he was guided by the idea that whoever was stronger, and therefore better, would prevail in the end. He was also convinced that this was the way to overcome bureaucratic limitations and create incentives for greater competition, which would lead to a more effective mobilisation of forces. Finally, he was also inspired by a Machiavellian strategy of divide and conquer, playing rivals off against one another, and so shielding himself against potential usurpers of his power.73

The first in this series of special agents was the engineer Fritz Todt, whom Hitler named general inspector for the German road system on 30 June 1933 with a mandate to build the German autobahn network. Eltz-Rübenach was forced to turn over his Department K (automobile and roads division) to Todt. When ministerial experts complained at a cabinet meeting on 23 November 1933, Hitler replied that a gigantic enterprise like the construction of the autobahn required the creation of a new institution. As soon as the new autobahn was complete, Hitler promised, this new institution would be incorporated back into the Transport Ministry.74 But because the energetic Todt performed his duties to Hitler’s great satisfaction, in December 1938 he was also named general agent for the regulation of the construction industry. The companies and projects he directed were the genesis of the Organisation Todt, whose first projects included the construction of the West Wall along the Reich’s western border. It was the only special organisation in Nazi Germany to bear the name of its director.75

The development of the Labour Service was a further example of how Hitler prised areas of responsibility away from traditional governmental institutions and entrusted them to individuals. In the summer of 1931, Heinrich Brüning had introduced a volunteer labour service, nominating a Reich commissioner to direct it in July 1932. After Hitler became chancellor, the new labour minister, the head of the Stahlhelm, Franz Seldte, laid claim to this position. Hitler, however, gave the job of heading the service to former Colonel General Konstantin Hierl, whom he appointed to the rank of a Labour Ministry state secretary in early May 1933. The result was permanent friction between the labour minister and the “Reich labour leader,” as Hierl started calling himself in November 1933, which Hitler put an end to in early July 1934 when he officially appointed Hierl Reich commissioner for the labour service. He was formally responsible to Frick’s Interior Ministry, but de facto Hitler’s support made him the director of a special office. With the introduction of mandatory labour service in 1935, it developed into a huge organisation that forced hundreds of thousands of young men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform six months of “voluntary labour for the German people.”76

Much the same as Hierl, Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach sought to expand his organisation into a “superior Reich office” and transform the Hitler Youth into a mandatory state institution that would inculcate the National Socialist world view in all young males between the ages of 10 and 18. In late 1935, Hitler approved the basics of this plan. In the spring of 1936, Hans Heinrich Lammers passed on a draft Reich Youth Law to the relevant government offices, but it met with resistance. Education Minister Bernhard Rust protested against the idea of “separating the guidance of youth completely from the Reich’s existing responsibility to educate young people.” Finance Minister Schwerin von Krosigk objected to the creation of a “new, expensive apparatus separate from the general government administration,” and Frick complained that “the establishment of a new Reich special administration disrupts the necessary organic unity between the state and its administration.”77 Apparently surprised by such stiff opposition, Hitler decided to delay the drafting of the law. It was not until October that Schirach was able to discuss the project with Hitler and get him to reaffirm his support. On 1 December 1936, the cabinet approved the Law Concerning the Hitler Youth that made enrolment in the organisation mandatory. Prior to that Hitler had urged his education minister not to voice his reservations in the cabinet meeting. Thanks to Hitler’s support, Schirach triumphed over the ministries. Paragraph 3 of the law gave him and the leadership of the Reich Youth “the status of a superior Reich office based in Berlin” and made them responsible “directly to the Führer and Reich chancellor.”78

The clearest and most significant example of what the historian Martin Broszat called the “amalgamation of party and state functions in a special organisation immediately under the Führer” was the creation of the SS power complex.79 From their Bavarian springboard between the autumn of 1933 and the spring of 1934, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich gradually succeeded in taking over the political divisions of the police in all the German states. Only in Prussia did their urge for expansion meet with resistance—from State President and Interior Minister Göring. In April 1934, the two sides agreed that Himmler would become inspector of the Prussian secret police and Heydrich director of the Secret Police Office. Although formally that subordinated Himmler to Göring, in practice it gave the SS leadership control over the political police force. Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse 8, where the Gestapo had their headquarters, soon became synonymous with the National Socialist system of terror.80

The bloody purge of the SA leadership in the summer of 1934 represented a further strategic triumph for Himmler and Heydrich. The SS gained full independence from the SA, and the Security Service was acknowledged as the only official surveillance organ of the Nazi movement. Simultaneously, the SS assumed command over all of Germany’s concentration camps. Theodor Eicke, previously the commandant of the Dachau camp, was named “inspector of concentration camps and leader of the SS security associations.” He reported directly to Himmler. The Dachau system was a model copied throughout the Reich. The SS leadership rebuffed repeated complaints by Justice Minister Gürtner about the arbitrary use of protective custody and the high number of fatalities in the camps by claiming everything was being run in line with the Führer’s will.81

But that did not by any means satisfy Himmler’s ambitions. His next target was control over the entire police force, which he wanted to amalgamate into the SS. In conversation with Hitler on 18 October 1935, he succeeded in gaining the dictator’s basic support for the idea, although it would take nine months for his plan to be realised. Wilhelm Frick as interior minister was dead set against police powers being taken away from his ministry. On the contrary, he wanted to reintegrate the political divisions of the police back into the police force as a whole and put concentration camps under normal state supervision. Here, too, battles between Hitler’s paladins were decided in favour of whoever could claim to be carrying out a “task for the Führer.” On 10 February 1936, Himmler achieved a partial victory with the Prussian Law Concerning the Gestapo, which confirmed the autonomy of the political police as a special institution. His decisive breakthrough followed on 17 June, when Hitler named him “Reichsführer-SS and head of the German police in the Interior Ministry,” a title which also gave him the rank of state secretary. Frick had insisted on the phrase “in the Interior Ministry” as a qualifier, but it was illusory to think that Himmler could be kept on a leash. Nominally he was subordinate to Frick, but as Reichsführer-SS he was responsible only to Hitler and could go over the interior minister’s head whenever he wanted.82

Hitler’s order of 17 June 1936 was, in the words of Heydrich’s biographer, the “cornerstone of a new type of apparatus for political repression,” which knew no more legal limits, operating instead in a situation of permanent state-of-emergency rule.83 The immediate result was the reorganisation of the police into two main departments along SS lines: the “Order Police” (gendarmerie and uniformed police) under SS Obergruppenführer Kurt Daluege, and the “Security Police” (Gestapo and criminal police) under Heydrich. Himmler and his underlings envisioned a comprehensive “state protection corps” that would pre-emptively intervene against putative dangers to the “German people and race.” In the spring of 1936, Werner Best—Heydrich’s deputy at the Secret Police Office—defined the political police in an “ethnic-popular Führer state” as “an institution…that carefully monitors the political health of the body of the German people and recognises in timely fashion every symptom of illness, identifying and employing appropriate means to eradicate the destructive bacilli, whether they be products of self-induced decay or intentional infection from without.”84

Operating under the premise that they were carrying out racial-hygienic preventative measures, the police could extend their persecution of Jews, Communists and socialists to more and more “enemies of the state” and “parasites on the people.” Their victims included Freemasons, politically active clergymen, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies, homosexuals, prostitutes, “antisocials,” the “work-shy” and “habitual criminals.” Nonetheless, recent historical research has contextualised the two-dimensional picture of an all-powerful, omnipresent secret police in the Third Reich: the Gestapo’s efficiency depended on the participation of ordinary Germans who were willing to inform on people they did not like.85

At the same time they were intensifying their terror campaigns, Himmler and Heydrich pressed on with the amalgamation of the SS and the police. The process was completed on 27 September 1939, a few weeks before the beginning of the Second World War, with the founding of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA). It combined the Security Police and the Security Service into one super-entity, which would become the central executive institution carrying out the National Socialist policies of annihilation during the war.86

In terms of accumulating posts and expanding his own responsibilities, there was no competing with Göring, who in fact dubbed himself “the Führer’s first paladin.” In addition to his position as Prussian state president and interior minister, Göring was named Reich aviation minister in May 1933. In May 1934 he had to yield the Prussian Interior Ministry to Frick, but he was compensated for that in July, when he was appointed as the Reich forestry and hunting master in the newly created Reich Forestry Office.87 Hitler occasionally made light of Göring’s obsession with uniforms and glamour, but he valued the former military officer’s political gravitas so much that in a secret decree in December 1934, he made Göring his successor. “Immediately after my death,” Hitler ordered, “he is to have the members of the Reich government, the Wehrmacht and the formations of the SA and SS swear an oath of loyalty to himself personally.”88

The most important instrument of personal power for the Reich’s “second man” was the Luftwaffe, command of which he assumed in the rank of colonel in early March 1935 and whose expansion into a third and equal branch of the armed forces, alongside the army and navy, he oversaw. Göring sought to use this position to extend his influence upon economic and rearmament decisions. This put him on a collision course with Hjalmar Schacht, who had been named “general agent for the war economy” in the Reich Defence Law of May 1935.89

As an acknowledged expert on economic questions and as the financial architect of Germany’s rearmament programme, Schacht had enjoyed Hitler’s special regard in the early years of the regime. That gradually changed as the finance minister and Reichsbank president began to draw insistent attention to the potentially ruinous consequences of accelerated rearmament for the German economy. Indeed, the problems were impossible to ignore even as early as 1934. Lacking sufficient currency reserves, the Reich had increasing difficulties importing raw materials for the arms build-up and foodstuffs to feed the population. Schacht had been a dedicated adherent of rearmament for years before and after the Nazis’ rise to power, he told Blomberg in December 1935, but his sense of duty required him “to point out the economic limits that constrain any such policy.”90 Schacht pursued a running feud in particular with Agriculture and Food Minister Walter Darré over the availability of foreign currency. A decision by Hitler was required, but as was so often the case, he let things slide—in part because his attention in the spring of 1936 was monopolised by his riskiest endeavour to date, the remilitarisation of the Rhineland. In a secret decree of 4 April 1936, however, he did name Göring “Reich agent for raw materials and foreign currency matters.”91

Schacht initially welcomed the appointment, assuming that Göring would protect him against attacks from the party. That soon proved to be a capital mistake. Göring was anything but content to referee conflicts over foreign currency. As commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, he had a vested interest in accelerated rearmament, and he used his new “Führer mandate” to gain control over the entire military economy. In early May 1936, without informing the Economic Ministry or any other government institution, he set up a new, autonomous office called the Raw Materials and Currency Staff of State President Göring.92 Hitler brusquely rejected Schacht’s subsequent request to rein in Göring’s authority over currency matters, saying he did not want anything more to do with the matter. Schacht, Hitler said, “should settle such issues with Göring” and forbade the economics minister from ever raising the topic with him again.93 Goebbels, another enemy of the acid-tongued finance expert, noted with satisfaction: “Things won’t go well for long with Schacht. He’s not one of us with all his heart. The Führer is very angry with him.”94 Considering himself irreplaceable, Schacht had overestimated Hitler’s support. For him, the ensuing struggle for power with Göring was a losing battle.

Schacht’s and Göring’s positions collided head on at a meeting of the Prussian Ministerial Council on 12 May 1936 to discuss the general economic situation and the financing of armaments. Schacht emphasised his “unshakeable loyalty to the Führer” but warned of the danger of inflation if the pace of rearmament were not decelerated. For the first time he also threatened to resign. Göring continued to insist on the primacy of the arms build-up and argued that the currency problem could be got round by extracting more domestic raw materials and using “replacement materials.” “If we have war tomorrow,” Göring said, “we’ll have to help ourselves with replacement materials. Money will no longer play a role. If that’s the case, we have to be prepared to create the conditions for it during peacetime.”95 It was clear right from the start, given Hitler’s ideological premises and the political goals he derived from them, which side of this fundamental economic disagreement he would favour. In late August 1936, he wrote a lengthy secret memo concerning the future direction of economic policy. It adopted the essentials of Göring’s position and concluded with a pair of unambiguous commands: “1. The German army must be capable of being deployed in four years. 2. The German economy must be capable of waging war in four years.”96

On 4 September, Göring used a ministerial council meeting declared as a “secret Reich matter” to reveal the content of Hitler’s memo to Schacht, Blomberg and Krosigk. Göring interpreted it as a “general instruction,” which he alone had been charged with executing. “Thanks to the genius of the Führer, seemingly impossible things have become reality within the shortest span of time,” he responded when Schacht objected. “All measures are to be carried out as if we were under the immediate threat of war.”97 On 9 September 1936 Hitler announced the new “Four Year Plan” for the economy at the Nuremberg rally, and on 18 October, he officially named Göring “the agent of the Four Year Plan,” giving him the authority to issue orders to all Reich and party offices.98 Göring felt he had achieved his goals. Supported by a generous interpretation of the Führer’s will, he had gained a nearly all-powerful position in the armaments economy. The “specialists” he recruited for his new office from the party, the military and the private sector—including Carl Krauch, an IG Farben board member and an expert in the production of synthetic fuels—allowed him to usurp major responsibilities from the Economics Ministry. Nonetheless, Schacht kept his position, and Hitler never thought of firing him. “The Führer is very sceptical about Schacht,” Goebbels noted in mid-November 1936. “But he’s not relieving him of his responsibilities for foreign-policy reasons.”99

It was more than just Schacht’s reputation abroad, however, which inspired Hitler to retain him. He also seems to have wanted to keep Göring from getting too powerful. Schacht’s dogged efforts to combat his rival’s presumption were not unwelcome to their mutual boss. In any case, for months Hitler merely sat back and watched Göring and Schacht’s battle for power simmer. In early July 1937, Göring concluded an agreement with Schacht in which both men agreed to carry out their respective tasks in “close cooperation with one another.”100 But the deal was not worth the paper it was written on, as became clear a few days later when Göring announced the creation of the “Reich Works for Ore-Mining and Steel-Making Hermann Göring” in the town of Salzgitter without previously informing the Economics Ministry about his plans. This affront was too much for Schacht. In an enraged letter to Göring, Schacht declared that he could no longer countenance such unilateral actions, writing that “in a totalitarian state it is impossible to conduct a split economic policy.”101

In a conversation with Hitler on 11 August on the Obersalzberg, Schacht once more tendered his resignation, but the dictator again refused to let him go. Hitler appealed to Schacht to come to an understanding with Göring and take two months to think things over. Hitler only accepted Schacht’s resignation in late November 1937, appointing Goebbels’s deputy Walther Funk as his successor. Schacht remained at the helm of the Reichsbank, however. Although practically without power, he continued in that post until 20 January 1939, at which point Hitler dismissed him with the remark “You don’t fit into the whole National Socialist framework.”102 What prompted Schacht’s dismissal was a memo he had written on 7 January in which he again underscored, in dramatic words, the danger of inflation. “The unlimited swelling of state expenditures demolishes any attempt at an orderly budget,” Schacht had warned. “It brings state finances to the brink of collapse and shakes the national bank and the currency.”103 The monetary doomsayer had exhausted Hitler’s patience long before that, but the dictator wanted to avoid a public break and appointed Schacht minister without portfolio. Schacht had no scruples about enjoying the privileges associated with that title, including a healthy annual salary and an official chauffeured car.

The year-long power battles between Göring and Schacht are a classic example of Hitler’s technique of promoting instead of mediating rivalries, leaving things up in the air and avoiding clear decisions as long as they did not impinge on his own authority as Führer. This style of rule was also evident in the distribution of tasks within the NSDAP directorship—another minefield of jealousy and rivalry. On 21 April 1933, he ordained Hess as his deputy and empowered him “to decide in my name on all questions of party direction.”104 Hess owed this promotion to the absolute loyalty he had shown to Hitler as his private secretary prior to 1933. The dictator could be sure that his deputy, who harboured only limited desires for power, was not a potential rival.105 The extremely succinct decree making Hess the “Führer’s deputy” put him in a superior position to other elite party circles. On the other hand, however, Hitler had intentionally stopped short of subordinating the Reich directors and Gauleiter to Hess’s authority. The result was a constant tug of war for responsibility within the party. Hess’s ability to survive had less to do with his own battling nature than with the persistence and tactical cleverness of Martin Bormann. Born in 1900 as the son of a postal worker, Bormann had joined a Freikorps paramilitary group in 1918 and had spent a year in jail for a politically motivated killing committed in the spring of 1923. After that, he had worked in the administration of the Weimar Gau, before taking over the “SA Insurance” at Munich party headquarters, an entity that he expanded into the “NSDAP Relief Fund.” In early July 1933, the industrious but widely unknown Bormann was named “staff director of the deputy to the Führer” and received the rank of an NSDAP Reich director the following October.106

Hess and Bormann did not just have to deal with pushy Gauleiter who insisted on their independence and knew how to exploit their connections to Hitler to get decisions made in their favour. Another source of resistance to the deputy to the Führer’s claim to party pre-eminence was Reich Organisational Director Robert Ley, who possessed enormous influence as the head of the German Labour Front. Ley enviously followed the establishment of Hess’s staff, which laid claim to an increasing number of responsibilities that had formerly been his own. In the subsequent power struggle between Hess/Bormann and Ley, Hitler behaved as usual, telling the rivals to reach an understanding on their own. Only when this failed did he mediate a compromise—albeit one that did not clarify spheres of responsibility, but instead rather encouraged further rivalry.107 As a result there existed, alongside the main personnel office of the Reich organisational director, the personnel office in the staff of the deputy to the Führer which became increasingly involved in filling lower-level party posts.

Over the years, the deputy to the Führer’s staff created a parallel office for every area of the Reich Organisational Directorship, in what amounted to a never-ending feud. In June 1939, only a few weeks before the start of the Second World War, Ley lobbied for the Reich Organisational Directorship’s responsibilities to be clearly limited to what they had been before the expansion of Hess’s office. That was the only way, he argued, to avoid “the organisationally superfluous and now untenable doubling of personnel and budgetary work.”108 Bormann brusquely rejected this demand:

It is beyond doubt that the Führer’s responsibility is boundless. Equally beyond doubt is the fact that the deputy to the Führer represents him, in so far as he wishes to be represented, in the entire realm of the party, so that the deputy’s authority here is also fundamentally boundless. Any limitation of the responsibility of the deputy to the Führer is thus not only unnecessary, but…impossible.109

In this instance, too, the side that could claim to be doing the Führer’s will on the basis of a commensurate mandate had more leverage in the struggle for power and influence.

Hitler’s aversion to adopting definitive positions was even more apparent in the allocation of executive responsibilities between the state and the party. The Law for the Securing of Unity of Party and State of 1 December 1933 may have stipulated that the NSDAP, as “the bearer of the German idea of state after the triumph of the National Socialist revolution,” was “indivisibly linked with the state.”110 But it was unclear what that meant in practice, and Hitler did not exactly clear up the issue when he proclaimed at the 1935 Nuremberg rally: “What can be solved by the state will be solved by the state. What the state because of its very nature is unable to solve will be solved by the movement. The state is after all only one of the organisations of ethnic-popular life.”111 The parallel existence and rivalries between local group leaders, district leaders, Gauleiter and the deputy to the Führer as a supreme party authority on the one hand, and chief administrative officers, senior civil servants, state governments and the Reich ministries on the other, generated permanent tension and friction. Hitler-appointed special representatives and their staffs succeeded in usurping a considerable amount of functions of state. As deputy to the Führer and—since 1 December 1933—minister without portfolio, Hess was even able to extend his power to the legislative process. On 27 July 1934, during a joint visit to the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, he secured Hitler’s signature on a decree that gave him the right to influence and monitor all legislative plans by the ministries. A further Führer decree in September 1935 required all government offices to submit the personnel files of all candidates for higher public office, whether promotions or new appointments, to Hess for prior approval.112

Hitler had little interest in a clear delineation of party and state spheres. Instead, he tended to blur responsibilities, as the institution of the Reich governors shows. The Second Law for Bringing the States into Line with the Reich of 7 April 1933 installed Reich governors—Reichsstatthalter—in all German states except Prussia. They were charged with “ensuring that the political direction determined by the Reich chancellor was maintained,” but they were not supposed to be members of the respective state governments. On Hitler’s recommendation over the course of May 1933, Hindenburg named Gauleiter as governors in almost all the states.113 The Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich of 30 January 1934, which dissolved the sovereignty of the states in favour of the Reich, actually rendered the Reich governors superfluous. But instead of getting rid of them, Article 3 of the law subordinated them to the “supervision of the Reich interior minister.”114 The Gauleiter/governors resisted this idea, claiming the right to refer any difference of opinion between themselves and Reich or state ministers to the Führer for settlement. Wilhelm Frick, in turn, found that this contradicted “the idea of a central, unified leadership of the Reich by the Reich chancellor and the specialised ministers at his side” and demanded that Hitler put the Gauleiter/governors in their place. Hitler agreed in principle with Frick but wanted to make an exception “with questions of special political significance,” as Hans Heinrich Lammers told the interior minister. Such a solution was in accordance with “the Reich chancellor’s own understanding of his leadership.”115 That decision essentially voided Article 3 of the law. In keeping with his policy of divide and conquer, Hitler retained the role of the final arbiter.

In the autumn of 1934, in an attempt nonetheless to subjugate the Reich governors, whose actual power rested in the fact that they were Gauleiter, Frick planned a law that would have rescinded the decree of 7 April 1933 and unified the offices of Reich governor and state president. In their new office as “leaders of the state government,” however, the Reich governors would be strictly bound to instructions from the Interior Ministry. Hitler approved of the basic idea but characteristically insisted on revoking the new regulation’s general applicability. Paragraph 4 of the Reich Governors’ Law of 30 January 1935 therefore read: “The Führer and Reich chancellor can charge the Reich governor with the leadership of the state government.” The replacement of “must” with “can” gave Hitler the freedom to do as he wanted. Whereas he immediately named the Reich governors as the state presidents of Saxony and Hesse, he refused to take the same steps in Württemberg, Baden and Thuringia, although he had already signed the preliminary documents at Frick’s request.116

The dualism of party and state remained unresolved. All of Frick’s efforts to reorganise the states with a comprehensive “Reich reform” and rationalise administrative structures never got beyond the initial stages. They foundered on Hitler’s aversion to committing himself. The Führer also scuppered Frick’s plan to replace the Enabling Act, which expired on 31 March 1937, with a Law Concerning Reich Legislature that would have transformed the emergency arrangement into a permanent, legally normative procedure. He had “doubts whether the moment was right for instituting that sort of law,” Hitler told his cabinet on 26 January 1937 to justify his decision to have the Enabling Act extended: “Only if a new basic law of state was short enough for schoolchildren to learn by heart, would it be advantageous to revise the whole procedure of the Reich legislature.”117 There was never any “new founding law of state,” and the dictator never believed that there would be one. In his later monologues at the Führer’s main headquarters, Hitler mocked the tendency of bureaucracies to put everything down in written rules: “Exception is a foreign word to them. That’s why they lack the courage to take on large responsibilities.” In this context, he dismissed the idea of unified laws for the entire Reich as a blind obsession. “Why not have a regulation for a part of the Reich?” he asked. The only thing that mattered to the leadership was to “maintain an overview of the activities of the administration and keep the strings of power in its own hands.”118 The characteristic nebulousness that ran through all levels and authorities in the Nazi system of rule was not the result of the incompetence of those in power: it reflected Hitler’s desire politically to secure for himself the greatest possible room to manoeuvre and intervene wherever he saw fit.

The regime’s departure from normative commitments bolstered not only radicalism but encouraged unprecedented degrees of corruption, patronage and outright embezzlement. In their first years in power, the National Socialists may never have tired of excoriating the alleged dishonesty of democratic politicians during the Weimar Republic, but they themselves flung the door to corruption wide open within their own ranks. This began with preferential treatment for long-standing party members in the procurement of jobs. Thanks to political favouritism, National Socialists poured into open positions in the civil service even though they sometimes lacked even the most basic qualifications. Moreover, city utilities—water, gas and electricity companies—and former union-owned and union-affiliated institutions like the Volksfürsorge insurance company or the GEG consumer cooperative became, in the words of the historian Frank Bajohr, “job-creation entities for National Socialists.”119

The sense of personal entitlement and privilege flourished most at the top levels of the regime. “The degree and extent of corruption in the ruling class is without parallel,” complained Sebastian Haffner in 1940, looking back at the years 1933 to 1938, before he fled to Britain.120 Hitler led his underlings by poor example. In October 1934, a conscientious auditor determined that the chancellor owed 405,494.40 reichsmarks in taxes for the fiscal year 1933-34 alone. Munich Superior Financial President Ludwig Mirre was hastily summoned to Berlin where the state secretary in the Finance Ministry, Fritz Reinhardt, informed him that Hitler was exempt from taxes “due to his constitutional status.” In December, Mirre consequently instructed the head of Hitler’s local tax office: “All tax notifications in so far as they concern an obligation on the part of the Führer are by definition null and void…with that the Führer is exempt from taxes!”121 As an expression of gratitude for his “official help,” Mirre received a monthly raise of 2,000 reichsmarks and was named president of the Reich Financial Court in April 1935.

The tax-exempt dictator also had a plethora of funds into which he could dip to reward favourites and loyal vassals or to finance his private art collection. Among them were the Reich chancellor’s and (after Hindenburg’s death) the Reich president’s discretionary funds, with which he as the head of state could do as he pleased. Along with royalties from sales of Mein Kampf, which earned him 1-2 million reichsmarks a year, Hitler acquired another enviable source of income in 1937, when he was paid a percentage of the revenues brought in by stamps bearing his image. The annual resulting income was in the tens of millions—Reich Postal Minister Ohnesorge presented Hitler with a cheque every year on his birthday.122 Even more lucrative was the “Adolf Hitler donation of the German economy,” instituted in June 1933 at the suggestion of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. It had employers paying a quarterly tax-deductible donation of 0.5 per cent of their wage costs into a private account that Hitler could use as he saw fit. Hitler appointed Martin Bormann to manage this account, and he used it, for instance, to cover part of the costs of expanding Haus Wachenfeld into a stately Alpine residence, the Berghof.123

Most of Hitler’s paladins followed the lead of their Führer and had themselves declared exempt from taxes, acquired luxurious homes and set up special funds, foundations and secret bank accounts shielded from any public financial scrutiny. Göring—the Third Reich’s “second man”—may have been particularly conspicuous with his grandiose lifestyle, including his feudal estate “Carinhall” in Schorfheide, north of Berlin. But other leading figures in the regime were hardly slouches either when it came to unscrupulously abusing their positions for personal gain. Goebbels, one of the more vitriolic critics of “bigwigs” in the Weimar Republic, lived in splendid fashion in his villa on Schwanenwerder Island in Lake Wannsee and had a second home on Lake Bogensee, north of the capital. And despite bemoaning the corruption among the clique of Nazi leaders while writing his memoirs in Spandau prison, Albert Speer was a more-than-willing beneficiary of the system of patronage, concealing his rocketing income from the tax authorities and acquiring an estate in Oderbruch to go along with his large new house on Berlin’s Lichtensteinallee.124

Functionaries lower in the party hierarchy, from the Gauleiter on down to the district and local leaders, exploited their respective networks in the same way as the top members of the regime. Wasting public resources, embezzlement, abuse of party funds, shameless greed and crass careerism were part of everyday reality.125 There was “no combating it,” Fritz Wiedemann reasoned in retrospect, because the Nazified press was not allowed to report on corruption and because Hitler covered up abuses committed by the party’s old guard: “This plague ate its way from the top to the bottom. What was allowable for the bigwigs was also all right for the little guy.”126

Along with flourishing corruption, another of the most striking characteristics of National Socialist rule was a feverish mania for massive construction projects. From the very beginning, Hitler thought in dimensions that went beyond anything that had previously existed. Size beyond all rational proportion, in Speer’s interpretation of his logic, “would impress and intimidate the people and psychologically secure his own rule and that of his successors.”127 Nazi architecture was intended as a visual representation of the power of the Third Reich, which Hitler’s genius had built up after a period of Germany’s decline and which he had bestowed as a gift upon its people. The monumental projects he commissioned, Hitler told those attending the Nuremberg rally in 1937, were conceived neither for the year 1940 nor for the year 2000. “They are intended,” Hitler said, “to cast their shadows like the cathedrals of our past into the millennia of the future.”128 One had to build “on as large a scale as technically possible,” he declared on another occasion, “and for all of eternity!”129

By no means did such megalomaniacal visions first crystallise in Hitler’s crude world view after 1933. On the contrary, they originated in ideas he had developed in the first volume of Mein Kampf while still an inmate in Landsberg. In that book, he had lamented that “today’s big cities…do not have any landmarks that dominate the entire look of the city…and could be seen as emblems of an entire era.” He contrasted this with the example of ancient and medieval cities, which contained monuments, be they the Acropolis or Gothic cathedrals, “constructed for eternity, not for the moment, because they were intended to reflect the greatness and significance of a society and not the wealth of an individual owner.”130

At the time when Hitler wrote these words, he complained to his fellow inmate Hess “how few monumental structures we will leave to prosperity aside from a few commercial skyscrapers.” There was “nothing comparable to our cathedrals that belonged to and unified the collective,” Hitler carped, adding: “Here, too, Germany must take the lead.” He then presented his astonished disciple with sketches for a gigantic domed building, which was to serve as a conference space for “great national celebration.” Even if such an expensive project would not meet with general understanding, and narrow-minded philistines would complain, Hitler believed that “generations to come would understand it—man doesn’t live from bread alone, and neither does the nation.”131 Hitler’s belief in his political mission and his passion for monumental construction projects were intimately connected, and he continued to engage in wild architectural fantasies after being released from Landsberg. After a joint visit to Berlin in 1925, Hess wrote that the “tribune” dreamed of “further expanding” a city that he “absolutely adored.” And in December 1928, Hess summarised Hitler’s attitude: “Only a metropolis that overshadowed everything as an uncontested centre could overcome the [German] tendency towards atomisation and provincialism.”132

Hitler also shared his architectural daydreaming with Goebbels. “He talks about the future architectural look of the country and is very much a master builder,” gushed the latter in July 1926. In the years that followed, the Führer and his chief propagandist regularly gave themselves over to self-indulgent musings about the colossal structures they would build some day. “Hitler is developing fantastic plans for new architecture—he’s a real humdinger,” Goebbels enthused in October 1930. One year later, a few days before the meeting of the “National Opposition” in Bad Harzburg, he noted: “The boss is developing construction plans for Berlin. Fantastic, genius. For the millennia. An idea hewn in stone. At heart he’s an artist.”133

From very early on, Hitler made no secret of his intention to fundamentally remake the look of Germany’s larger cities once he came to power. In a speech in Munich’s Löwenbräukeller in early April 1929, Hitler said that he did not want to construct purpose-driven buildings like department stores, factories, skyscrapers and hotels in the Third Reich. Instead he aimed to create “documents of art and culture…to last for millennia.” He proclaimed: “We see before us the ancient cities, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Colosseum, we see the cities of the Middle Ages with their gigantic cathedrals and…we know that people need this sort of focus if they are not to come undone.”134

No matter how half-baked these plans were, Hitler set about trying to realise them immediately after taking power. In the night of 30-31 January 1933, he started talking about architecture in one of his never-ending monologues. For starters, he announced, he would have the Chancellery redesigned since in its current state it was nothing more than a “vulgar reception site.”135 At the leaders’ conference in Munich in late April 1933, he proclaimed his intention to create “new unforgettable documents,” which would make the German people the latest in a series of the “world’s great cultural peoples.” He added: “We are not working for the moment but for the judgement of millennia.”136 In the spring of 1934, when Speer introduced Hitler to his wife at an evening reception, the chancellor solemnly intoned, without a trace of irony: “Your husband will erect buildings for me, the like of which have not been created for four millennia.”137

There has been a lot of speculation as to why Hitler was so enthralled with Speer in particular. If we believe Speer’s own account, Hitler himself offered a plausible explanation: “I was looking for an architect to whom I could entrust my blueprints. He had to be young since, as you know, these plans stretch far into the future. I needed someone who could carry on after my death with the authority I invested in him.”138But there was apparently more to it than that. With his typically keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people, Hitler recognised not only Speer’s architectural and organisational talent, but also the burning ambition concealed behind a cool, completely controlled exterior. Hitler may also have regarded the ambitious young architect as the embodiment of everything he had dreamed of becoming as a young man—as a kind of alter ego, albeit one that was “more effortless and secure thanks to his good social background.”139 In any case, Hitler treated Speer with more affection than any other member of his inner circle except Goebbels. There have been repeated speculations as to an “erotic element” in their relationship, but as is the case wherever Hitler’s emotional life is concerned, there is no concrete evidence for the idea.140

For his part, as he wrote in his Spandau Diaries, Speer felt at home around and “honestly drawn to” Hitler.141 Speer enjoyed being a favourite and receiving the patronage of such a powerful man, who opened up for him, although he was not yet 30, seemingly limitless opportunities in his profession. After 1945, when commenting on his role as Hitler’s favourite architect, Speer would repeatedly insist that he had had no other choice but to seize this dream chance and conclude a Faustian bargain. Hitler had exercised a “suggestive and irresistible power” over him, Speer claimed, and the magnitude of the task he was given had caused an “intoxication” and “massive increase in self-worth” which he had soon needed “as an addict needs his drug.”142 But Speer was not nearly as emotionally dependent as he tried to suggest. Hitler did not need to do anything much to win him over: from the very start, Speer was obsessed by grotesquely proportioned construction projects. The extent of his fundamental agreement with the dictator’s political and architectural ideas and the degree to which his behaviour was calculated to secure the latter’s lasting favour can be seen in an article he wrote in 1936 entitled “The Führer’s Buildings.” It was no less sycophantically wordy than any of Goebbels’s many paeans:

It will go down as unique in the history of the German people that at the decisive turning point, its leader not only commenced the greatest reordering of our politics and world view but also proceeded with superior expertise as a master builder to create structures of stone that will still serve as testaments of the political will and cultural ability of their great age thousands of years down the road.143

The pilot project for the new cooperative flurry between Hitler and Speer was Nuremberg, the home of the party rallies. In early 1934, Speer was commissioned to replace the provisional wooden stage on Zeppelin Field with gigantic stone terraces. Hitler was so pleased with Speer’s design that in the autumn he put the architect in charge of the planning for the entire Nuremberg rally site.144 Alongside the existing assembly buildings and marching ground—the Luitpoldhalle, the Luitpoldarena, the Old Stadium and Zeppelin Field—Speer was to construct a series of colossal buildings: the Congress Hall, the German Stadium and the March Field. A few months later, Hitler was able to present the Nuremberg mayor, Willy Liebel, with the first sketches. In late 1935, the Association for the Nuremberg Rally Site was founded to help realise these plans. Citing his Führer mandate, Speer had no trouble getting his way with this group. The tenth rally after the Nazi “seizure of power,” September 1943, was set as the deadline for the entire site to be finished.145 Hitler repeatedly travelled to Nuremberg to inspect progress. He also frequently studied Speer’s blueprints in the Chancellery. “The Führer showed us plans for Nuremberg,” Goebbels noted in December 1935. “Truly grand. A unique monumentality! Speer has done a good job.”146 Hitler was less interested in the financing of the project. When asked about who was going to pay for all the construction work, Goebbels recorded: “The Führer doesn’t want to talk about money. Build, build! It will get paid for. Friedrich the Great did not worry about money when he built Sanssouci.”147

Speer’s plans combined existing and planned structures into an ensemble, connected by a 2-kilometre-long “Great Street” of granite. At its southern end was the March Field, a 1,050-metre-wide and 600-metre-long parade ground surrounded by stands for 160,000 spectators and crowned by a Goddess of Victory that would have been 14 metres higher than the Statue of Liberty.148 The new Congress Hall on the northern end of the Great Street was to be based on plans by Nuremberg architect Ludwig Ruff, who had succeeded in winning Hitler’s approval for his designs in early June 1934. The building was conceived as the sacral centre of the rallies and would have accommodated 50,000 people. “The most monumental covered building since antiquity,” Goebbels effused.149 This, as Hitler declared when laying the foundation stone on 12 September 1935, was where “the elite of the National Socialist Reich” would meet annually for centuries to come. “And if the movement should ever fall silent,” Hitler proclaimed, “this building will speak as a witness for centuries. In the middle of a sacred grove of ancient oak trees, people will admire this first giant among the monuments of the Third Reich with reverent amazement.”150

Even more gigantically proportioned was the German Stadium, a horseshoe-shaped arena with a planned capacity of more than 400,000, which would have made it the largest sports arena in the world. It would have positively dwarfed the 80,000-plus-capacity Olympic Stadium in Berlin. At the foundation-laying ceremony on 9 September 1937, Hitler congratulated Speer in front of a group of Nazi grandees with the words: “This is the greatest day of your life!”151 By that point at the very latest, the star architect could have been under no illusions about the political goals inherent in Hitler’s concept of colossal architecture. It was a prelude to the campaigns of territorial expansion soon to commence, at the end of which the Third Reich would not only aim to have hegemony over Europe but dominance of the entire world.152 In the spring of 1937, when Speer informed Hitler that oversized athletics fields did not conform to Olympic norms, the latter allegedly replied: “That’s of no consequence. The Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo in 1940 and thereafter, they will take place in Germany, in this stadium, for all time. And we’re the ones to determine how the athletics fields are to be measured.”153

None of these colossal projects was ever completed. By the start of the Second World War, the German Stadium had not got beyond the excavation stage. On the March Field, only a few of the twenty-six travertine gate towers were finished, and the Congress Hall was still a torso, although its construction was most advanced and was allowed to continue for a while.154 Still, even if Hitler had not unleashed war in 1939, the deadline for the inauguration of the facilities could hardly have been met.

The Nuremberg rally grounds were by no means the Nazis’ only gigantic construction project. Munich, the “capital of the movement,” was supposed to be fundamentally remade. Along with a new main train station, the city was to get a massive “pillar of the movement,” designed by Hitler himself, that would have loomed over the twin towers of the Frauenkirche. True to his habit of dividing responsibilities and encouraging competition so as to encourage improvements in performance, in 1937 Hitler commissioned the Munich architect Hermann Giesler, and not Speer, to oversee this project. In the autumn of 1940, Giesler also received a commission to supervise the remaking of Linz, “the hometown of the Führer.” Two monumental bridges over the Danube were planned there, as well as a “Gau forum” with a massive auditorium, a picture gallery and a retirement residence for Hitler. Hamburg was to receive a viaduct spanning the Elbe River that was intended to overshadow the Golden Gate Bridge. And a host of other German cities were also earmarked for epochal construction projects.155

But the Reich capital was the central focus of the planned construction. Berlin, Hitler declared in September 1933 to a delegation of city administrators headed by State Commissioner and later Lord Mayor Julius Lippert, “must be elevated in terms of culture and urban development so that it is capable of competing with capitals throughout the world.”156 To this end, he pledged to make 40 million reichsmarks per year available—that sum was increased to 60 million in July 1934. In the months that followed it emerged that the heart of the project was the construction of a North-South Axis. The space and railway tracks of the Potsdam and Anhalt train stations were to be sacrificed for two new rail stations at either end of the axis. In March 1934, Hitler shared his pet project with city fathers. In the vicinity of the southern train station, there should be “a gigantic triumphal arch dedicated to the unvanquished army in the Great War” and in the middle, not far from the Brandenburg Gate, there would be an enormous assembly hall capable of holding 250,000 people.157 Not much progress was made on these plans, perhaps because Berlin administrators hesitated in the face of such a radical intervention in existing city structures, perhaps because Hitler himself could not decide who should be entrusted with such a project for posterity. “He did not know the right architect,” Lippert reported him saying in late June 1935. “And he could not say whether Speer alone would be up to the job.”158

In the spring of 1936, Hitler seems to have made up his mind, mentioning to Speer that he still had one commission, “the biggest of all,” to hand out. Speer therefore was probably not surprised when Hitler summoned him a few months later and asked him to take charge of the entire redevelopment of the Reich capital. Hitler used the occasion, Speer recalled, to give him two sketches, one of the Victory Arch and the other of the massive, domed People’s Hall. “I did these sketches ten years ago,” Hitler said. “I always kept them because I knew that some day I would build them. And now we are going to do precisely that.”159Speer, who had already followed Hitler’s specifications in the expansion of the Nuremberg rally grounds, eagerly accepted his suggestions for triumphal monuments in Berlin. “With the Führer looking at plans for the reconstruction of Berlin with him and Speer,” Goebbels noted in mid-December 1936. “A marvellous arrangement. Very large and monumental. Calculated for 20 years. With a gigantic street from south to north. The splendid new buildings will go there. With that Berlin elevated to the leading city in the world. The Führer thinks big and boldly. He’s 100 years ahead of his time.”160 Goebbels was attributing work largely done by Speer to Hitler. There is considerable evidence that the privileged architect believed he could best fulfil the architectural obsessions of his patron by designing buildings that were even more overwhelming and super-dimensional than Hitler himself envisioned.161

On 30 January 1937, Hitler officially named Speer “general building inspector of the Reich capital,” and the architect was given a new office in the Academy of Fine Arts on Pariser Platz, right in the city centre. Hitler could access it, away from the public eye, via the ministerial gardens.162 Sometimes he arrived with his lunch guests in tow, but more often he showed up after lunch or late at night in the former academy exhibition space, where the model city was gradually taking shape. Hitler was particularly enamoured with the 1:10,000 scale model of the North-South Axis that could be separated into individual components and pulled on tables with wheels. Never, Speer recalled, did he experience Hitler “so lively, so spontaneous, so carefree” as in the hours the two of them spent bent over the blueprints, intoxicated by the colossal size of the buildings.163 Speer’s father had a different reaction one day when his famous son proudly showed him the models, exclaiming: “You two have gone completely mad!”164

And in fact the “gigantomania” of these plans exceeded everything previously built in history. The North-South Axis, intended as the jewel of the new Berlin, was supposed to be 120 metres wide and 7 kilometres long—far wider and longer than the Champs Elysées.165 The main train station at the southern end of this boulevard was to contain four storeys connected by lifts and escalators and be considerably larger than New York’s Grand Central Station. People exiting the station were supposed to be overwhelmed by the massive Victory Arch—170 metres wide, 119 metres deep and 117 metres high—compared to which the Arc de Triomphe would have looked like a toy.166 The 80-metre-high arch would have magically directed the viewer’s gaze to the 5-kilometre-distant People’s or Great Hall, which was the most vivid example of the sheer insanity of the plans. It was designed to accommodate 150,000 to 180,000 people. With a height of 226 metres and a circumference of 250 metres, the interior would have been seven times the size of St. Peter’s Basilica. On Hitler’s forty-eighth birthday on 20 April 1937, Speer gave him a model of the structure. “We stayed up until 2 a.m. with the blueprints, giving free rein to our imaginations,” noted Goebbels.167

Along with the Victory Arch and the People’s Hall, a series of other prestige buildings were to line the boulevard: a Soldiers’ Hall with a crypt housing the sarcophagi of famous German military leaders from the past and future; a Reich Marshal’s Office for Göring, whose baroque stairwell, conceived as the largest in the world, was designed to match its future resident’s predilection for luxury; and last but certainly not least, a Führer Palace for Hitler, a fortress-like building with bullet-proof shutters and a steel entrance portal. “It cannot be ruled out that I may be compelled some day to take unpopular measures,” Hitler told Speer. “Perhaps there will be an uprising. This eventuality has to be planned for…We must be able to defend the centre of the Reich like a fortress.”168 Such statements suggest the basic fears concealed behind Hitler’s pomposity and self-deification. The oversized buildings were to be decorated with similarly monumental sculptures fashioned by Arno Breker, whose 1936 work Decathlete for the Reich Sport Field had found Hitler’s favour and who quickly gained access to the inner circles of power.169

Hitler’s megalomaniacal plans for Berlin can only be understood in conjunction with his hegemonic aspirations abroad. In a sense they anticipated architecturally what had yet to be conquered by martial expansion. “Do you understand now why we plan so big?” he asked Speer one day and provided the answer himself: “The capital of the Germanic Empire.”170 Nor did the dictator conceal his ambitions from Goebbels. Late one night in mid-March 1937, a few weeks after Speer’s appointment as general building inspector, Hitler told his propaganda minister that he intended to incorporate Austria and Czechoslovakia into the Reich. “We need both to round off our territory,” Goebbels reported Hitler saying. “And we’ll get them…When their citizens come to Germany, they’ll be crushed by the greatness and power of the Reich…Hence the Führer’s gigantic construction plans. He’ll never give them up.”171 In the early summer of 1939, after Hitler had concluded the first phase of this territorial expansion and was preparing the next one, he stood once again lost in thought before the architectural model and pointed to the swastika-bearing eagle that was to adorn the dome of the People’s Hall. “We’ll change that,” he said. “The eagle won’t be clutching a swastika. It will be clutching the globe!”172 Speer was not surprised, still less horrified, by the megalomania of such imperialistic statements. On the contrary, it was the “whole point” of his buildings, as Speer told the British journalist Gitta Sereny in the late 1970s: “All I wanted was for this great man to dominate the globe.”173

The new Berlin would be the capital of a future global empire—dictator and architect were in complete agreement about that. In his later monologues in his headquarters, Hitler repeatedly returned to their mutual flights of fancy. Anyone entering the Führer’s Palace, he said, “should feel as though he were approaching the ruler of the world.” Berlin, which as the capital of the world would be renamed Germania, would be comparable only with Babylon or Ancient Rome. “What is London, and what is Paris in comparison?” Hitler sneered.174 Of course, it was advisable not to go public with such plans, and well into the late 1930s Hitler continued to present himself as a man of peace. The German public received only snippets of information about the massive planned transformation of Berlin. In January 1938, Speer told the German News Agency about the basic idea of a North-South Axis, which Hitler had agreed with local politicians as early as 1933, but he merely hinted at the colossal size of the construction projects. The same was true of the articles that appeared in various newspapers in 1938 and 1939. For instance in June 1938, Hitler insisted that Goebbels rewrite his speech marking the beginning of construction on the House of Tourism: “For the sake of caution, he doesn’t want me talking too much about the monumentality of our architectural transformation.”175

Speer set himself a deadline of 1950 for the completion of all construction projects. Hitler was in a hurry. “You have to do everything to get it all done while I’m still alive,” Hitler told Speer during a picnic in the summer of 1936. “Only if I myself have spoken and ruled in them, will they be consecrated in the way my successors will need.”176 In June 1938, work on what Goebbels called “the greatest construction project of all time” commenced simultaneously at twelve sites. And it was no accident that the propaganda minister wrote in the same diary entry of his own goal: “expulsion of all Jews from Berlin.”177 The space occupied by the train tracks between Postdam and Anhalt train stations did not suffice to build the North-South Axis. Apartment blocks would have to be torn down, and replacement quarters found for tenants. In September 1938, Speer went on record at a meeting with city administrators about how he thought this should be done, suggesting that “the large apartments necessary should be freed up by compulsorily evicting Jews.” Speer asked for the suggestion to be treated confidentially since he first wanted to “determine the Führer’s view.”178 After the Kristallnacht pogrom on 9 November 1938, Speer took one important step towards achieving this goal. On 26 November, in his capacity as special agent for the Four Year Plan, Göring stipulated that the general building inspector had a “right of first purchase” after the “removal of Jews from apartments, stores and warehouses.”179 Thanks to his Führer mandate, Speer succeeded in pushing aside all competing claims.

With the start of the Second World War, work was suspended on all the construction sites. But on 25 June 1940, after the defeat of France, Hitler issued a decree reading: “Berlin must very soon, as the capital of a strong, new Reich, be reconfigured architecturally to express the magnitude of our victory.”180 With that, Speer’s claims on “Jewish apartments” were reactivated. Hitler’s star architect preferred to forget this after 1945, and he concealed it from Joachim Fest in their conversations. But since the 1980s, historians have uncovered the truth. Speer’s ministry played a pioneering role in the identification of Berlin Jews and their deportation to the death camps.181

On numerous occasions between the late autumn of 1940 and the spring of 1941, Hitler had the model of the new Berlin exhibited in the Academy of Fine Arts. “You sensed him warming and he repeatedly said: ‘Very nice, very nice,’ ” one of Speer’s colleagues wrote about a Führer visit in mid-March 1941. “ ‘Now everyone is surely convinced. In the face of such works are there any grumblers who are against the configuration of Berlin?’ Speer answered in the negative.” Hitler slapped his knees in joy at the model of the People’s Hall, which Speer had made several metres taller. “The Führer asked: ‘How high is the hall?’ Speer: ‘More than 300 metres. It’s a question of honour that it’s no smaller.’ The Führer laughed and said that that was the right attitude. That was the way to think. 300 metres was the elevation of the Obersalzberg above Berchtesgaden.”182 At this point, when he was preparing what he believed would be a Blitzkrieg of destruction against the Soviet Union, Hitler felt like a certain victor. But Germany’s unexpected military defeats in the autumn and winter of 1941 would fundamentally change the situation. Work on the construction sites was suspended until March 1943. As was the case in Nuremberg, none of the monumental structures in Berlin was ever completed.

Another building, the New Reich Chancellery on Vossstrasse, was completed before the start of the Second World War. If we were to credit Speer’s account, Hitler commissioned the building in late January 1938. “In the times to come, I need to hold important conversations,” Speer quoted Hitler as saying.

For that I need large halls and ballrooms, with which I can impress minor potentates in particular…How long do you need? For the blueprints, the demolitions, and everything else? A year and a half or two years would be too long for me. Can you be finished by 10 January 1939? I’d like to hold the next diplomats’ reception in the new Chancellery.183

But this account, like much of what Speer wrote in his memoirs, does not completely conform to reality. Hitler had already conducted discussions with city representatives in 1934 about the building of a new “residence” in keeping with his prestige. The property on Vossstrasse had been purchased in 1935, and the buildings on it demolished, including the Gau headquarters, which Speer had redesigned as recently as 1932. Plans for the New Chancellery were finished by mid-1937, and construction commenced in April 1938.184

Nonetheless, although much of the preliminary work had been done, the extremely tight deadline tested Speer’s talent for improvisation and created special challenges for architects Karl Piepenburg and Walter Kühnell, who managed the building site. Four and a half thousand construction workers laboured around the clock in two shifts. “This is now…no longer an American tempo—it’s a German tempo,” Hitler praised the work at the roofing ceremony on 2 August 1938.185 On 7 January 1939, Speer gave Hitler a tour of the nearly finished interior, and two days later, after the official handover, at a ceremony in front of 8,000 workers at the Sportpalast, the dictator celebrated the New Chancellery “as the first monument of the new, great German Reich.”186

The 422-metre-long building took up the entire northern side of Vossstrasse. Visitors entered through the main entranceway on Wilhelmplatz into the “courtyard of honour” and from there via an external set of steps, flanked by two super-dimensional Arno Breker sculptures, into the building proper. Before they reached the reception hall, they had to pass through a series of spaces: an entrance hall, a mosaic-covered ballroom, a domed hall and, finally, a 146-metre marble gallery that was twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, upon which it was modelled. Hitler liked the fact that foreign dignitaries had to walk such a long way, which he thought “gave them a sense of the power and dimensions of the German Reich.”187 Hitler’s office, which was more the size of a throne room—27 metres long by 14.5 metres wide by 9.75 metres tall—was also designed to intimidate. He particularly loved an inlay depicting a half-drawn sword in his gigantic desk. “Very good,” Hitler said. “When the diplomats who sit before me at this desk see that, it will put fear into them.”188 Less than six years later, the New Chancellery lay in ruins. Hitler’s monstrous dream of a global Aryan empire and a “world capital Germania” had burst like the balloon in Charlie Chaplin’s brilliant, prescient anti-Hitler satire The Great Dictator.