by Michael Stone
On the 18th of December, 1918,
a young Austrian by the name of Adolf Hitler disembarked from a train
in Munich. Snow was falling from darkling skies, curling like ashes
in bitter wintry draughts. It coated the stark framework of the steam
sheds, glistened like sweat on the engine's black iron flanks.
stepped onto the platform, his nostrils flaring as he savoured the commingled
scents of coal, dung and oil-laden steam. He thumbed the moustache that
grew thickly on his cheeks. I thought he appeared calm and appraising,
if a little dishevelled after his train journey.
sauntered past me, the snow squeaking under his boots. He gave no indication
of noticing that the snow at my feet was ugly with bloodstained phlegm.
fell into step behind my quarry.
he stopped outside a gasthaus, squares of sallow light leaking
from its windows onto the slushy road. Das Schwarz Wildschwein.
The Black Boar: a drinking hole popular with servicemen. Adolf hitched
the rucksack higher on his shoulders, straightened his bonnet cap and
ran his fingers through the close-cropped hair above his ears.
shoved open the door and let the babble of deep male voices wash over
him. A badly scarred pine counter ran the length of the opposite wall.
Pewter steins hung by their handles from brass hooks. Yellow candlelight
flickered on brown bottles. The smell of beer, stale sweat and fresh
sawdust commingled with the blue-grey miasma of pipe-smoke. A single
oil lamp struggled to penetrate the fug. Adolf Hitler placed a coin
on the counter then selected a table near the fireplace.
stood on the pavement outside and watched through fern-frosted glass
and condensation as he struggled to remove his wet rucksack and greatcoat.
A Christmas tree stood in one corner, decorated with spent cartridges
and silver paper, the role of the fairy taken by a crude imitation of
Wilhelm II, cruelly complete with a withered left arm.
his cap on the table, Adolf sat down with his back to the fire and stretched
his legs. He wasn't made to wait long; a wide-hipped serving-girl threaded
skilfully through the clamour carrying a stein and a jug of beer.
couldn't see what was said, but she laughed at some witticism he made.
He took a sip at the cold beer and smacked his lips in appreciation.
own mouth was a mass of painful sores. My feet were dead from the cold.
entered the gasthaus and ordered myself a drink, although I knew
I would be unable to taste it. I stood well back from the fire.
you join us?” a man at an adjacent table asked Adolf.
gave the speaker a cursory glance, registering the man's round florid
face and gleaming high forehead.