'He was genuinely convinced that he had an infallible musical ear. Heinz Lorenz suggested, 'My Führer, you ought to give a concert in the Great Hall. After all, you could afford to invite the best German musicians, Gieseking, Kempff, Furtwängler and so on. You don't go to the opera or the theatre any more, but you could listen to music. It wouldn't strain your eyes either'. Hitler rejected the idea. 'No, I don't want to trouble such artists just for me personally, but we could play a few records.'
A thick book listed all the records that the Führer owned. There must have been hundreds of them. The wooden panelling of the wall turned out to be a cupboard holding records, with a built-in gramophone that was invisible till the cupboard doors were opened. The black discs stood in long rows, labelled with numbers. Bormann operated the gramophone. Hitler nearly always had the same repertory played: Léhars operettas, songs by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf and Richard Wagner. The only pop music he would let us play was the 'Donkey serenade'. It usually formed the conclusion of the concert.
Hitler's colleagues enjoyed the musical evenings with the records even less than those conversations around the hearth. One after another they would leave the Hall. You could hear them laughing and giggling and talking in the living room, where the deserters assembled to amuse themselves in their own way, leaving their boss alone with the sleeping Morell and the faithful Eva, the duty adjutant and the von Below and Brandt ladies. I must admit that I sometimes slipped quietly away myself, until the valet came in to say, 'The Führer misses his company, and back there in the Hall he can hear your noise.' Then the 'faithful' reluctantly went back on duty again.
'No, my entourage isn't very musical,' Hitler said, resigned. 'When I was still going to official festival performances of opera I usually had to keep an eye on the men with me to see they didn't go to sleep. Hoffman (he meant the press photographer Heinrich Hoffman) once almost fell over the balustrade of the box during Tristan und Isolde, and I had to rouse Schaub and tell him to go over and shake Hoffman awake. Brückner was sitting behind me snoring, it was terrible. (Pliable - this is Wilhelm Brückner, one-time adjutant to Hitler.) But no one went to sleep during the Merry Widow because there was a ballet in it.'
I asked Hitler why he only ever went to hear Die Meistersinger or other Wagnerian opearas. 'It's just my luck that I can never say I like something without finding I'm stuck listening exclusively to one piece of music or hearing one particular opera. I once said that Meistersinger is really one of Richard Wagner's finest operas, so since then it's supposed to be my favourite opera and I don't get to hear anything else.''
From Traudl Junge's 'Until the Final Hour - Hitler's Last Secretary' (Weidenfield & Nicholson ISBN 0297847201). Traudl Junge was Hitler's private secretary from 1942 to his death, and she typed his last private and political will and testament in the Berlin bunker. Her journal was written in 1947, and the extract above describes the musical soirées at Hitler's Berghof retreat in the Obersalzberg. Oliver Hirschbieger's excellent film Downfall draws heavily on Traudl Jung's account of the last days of Hitler.
The photographs in this article are from the remarkable Siegfried Lauterwasser Collection. Follow these links for the extraordinary story of this archive, and to view more stunning photos:- * Downfall - and the mystery of Karajan's personal photographer * The mystery of the Siegfried Lauterwasser Collection solved via the internet * How photo archive was salvaged from a trash can *
Also relevant are * The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour * Furtwängler and the forgotten new music * Dresden Requiem for eleven young victims * Holocaust opera's rare performance *