In the pages of history, there have always been those defining days that designed our perspective of the past.
For example, when Mary of Magdala first witnessed the Lord Jesus walking near the tomb, or when Columbus the navigator sighted the “New World,” or when Neil Armstrong supposedly placed his heavy boots on the Moon’s uneven rock surface.
Walter’s own introduction to the coming hour that would change his early life was committed in the sitting room of Doctor Auer’s Munich house long ago. This occurred that fateful afternoon when his charming and curious daughter Karin offered him an egg and cress sandwich. Again the first he had ever sampled but definitely not the last.
This for him was a learning moment in culinary comfort. She enquired about his background and more importantly, had he any ambition yet to be fulfilled in the police force as regards promotion? But as his eyes were drawn to her distinctive swastika brooch emblem, he somehow thought back to a conversation he had been part of some months ago in the station cafeteria.
In those days the Kripo or criminal branch detectives fraternized with the lower ranks in the canteen. It was all very egalitarian then he supposed. Now he believed that the custom is that workers would break bread at their working desks. All very unhygienic he thought.
Inspector Lehmann, an old soldier, was holding forth on one of his usual topics at the dinner table. The subject was university education. He puffed on his curved Bavarian pipe claiming that: “I can tell you this: when a suspect is brought in for questioning, straight away I can tell if he or she is innocent or guilty.”
He tapped his forehead saying: “It’s all in here you know. You’re born with this instinct or you ain’t. No university education can give it to you…oh no. It’s just instinct, that’s all.”
Sitting next to him from the criminal investigation department was Sgt. Bruno Schmidt. He then encroached into the conversation claiming that: “I’ve attended two universities … one was the university of life and the other…” he laughed, “the school of hard knocks.”
Lehman listened then smiled kindly at him saying: “It’s a funny thing young Kyper, but I think you have the talent to join the criminal department. Have you ever thought about taking your detective exams?” He waited for an answer as he relit his pipe. Walter shook his head saying softly: “I’d like to, but…I don’t know? Maybe next year? Who knows?
What he had not informed any of them was that he lacked confidence and conviction to make this choice concerning his career in the police. Both had been beaten out of him by his drunken father.
Then as he watched Lehmann relight his dying pipe, he witnessed engraved on the side of his heavy metal lighter, the swastika and another symbol.
He was not unaware that the party was progressing. But what would be his role in Germany’s relationship with its population or in the Munich police force? Then, however, seeing him observing her brooch, Karin said with a smile as if answering his question: “Both Carin and myself are members of the party you know and proud to be so … It means so much to both of us. In fact we visited your office some months ago and talked to dear Heinrich as to how we could perhaps offer our services.”
She saw him raise an eyebrow in surprise: “No, Walter, you weren’t there but we both had decided that we wanted to do something constructive for the party.”
Heinrich asked each of us if we could type and we both laughed and replied: “Yes, but only with two fingers.” Yet shining through her piercing blue eyes as she recounted this news to him, he perceived a passion for her political party and something else that seemed to be reaching out to lure him into her lair?
He was not sure of what happened next to his senses? Maybe it was the scent of her perfume in the air all around him? Or maybe the aggressive aroma from her imposing garden? Or maybe just simply feasting on the flavourful food which he was unused to? He now wanted to speculate that it was effect of encountering a woman like Karin Auer. But he was now starting to feel faint and light headed and foolishly tried to straighten up. Quickly she arose somehow sensing his suffering and with concern on her face she then led him gently by the arm into her shaded garden enclosure. Once there they sat on a bench as he sampled the cool reviving air. Then later began to recover his composure.
From somewhere in the garden he noticed two dogs had ambled over and joined them. The first animal he was aware of was an arthritic German mastiff, awarded the name Aticuss (Gus), followed by a pug called Olga. Karin them introduced them to him. They then finally fell into a fitful asleep at her feet. He, it seems, would be ignored from their inspection from then on. Oh, and mention should be made of a centurion tortoise from Madagascar and inhabitant of the garden simply referred to as Fritz, who seemed to wander where he wished.
Incidentally, this chosen country was to feature favourably by the Nazis, when considering deporting Jewish families forcibly to its shores, pre the war.
Soon after several deep breaths he felt better whispering, “thank you.”
Then assisting him to his feet, she said softly: “I think all that has happened today has been perhaps a little too much for you. So let me give you a personal tour of my garden … I’m very proud of it you know … and it may help you find your bearings.”
So, they went in search to see that sumptuous gardens’ featured foliage that she was so fond of.
As they then strolled around the raised tiers of beautiful flowerbeds, she informed him that the house had been in the Auer family for almost one hundred years. Her late uncle, the noted botanist and explorer professor Leopold Auer, had brought back many cuttings and selected exotic plants from around the world during his many sponsored expeditions for the Kaiser no less. Her late mother it seems had nourished them with dutiful devotion. Then she continued softly explaining that: “All the gardens and our outhouses are cared for by our dear gardener Alfred. He has been with our family for almost fifty years can you believe? Occasionally his son Bruno comes to help with the summer tree and hedge pruning harvest,” she informed him proudly as they continued that personal tour.
Situated on one of the clipped lawns was a verdigris Tempus Fugit Roman numeral sundial. It seemed very ancient to Walter’s eyes, but factual in its accuracy, Karin assured him.
Further down the lawn was a small island stocked with assorted marine life. What captured Walter’s wandering eye was a bronze bust of Prince Von Bismarck (the Iron Chancellor) mounted on a stone plinth. He looked very aged and sombre as he surveyed the lawn before him, as if waiting for a full military inspection to march past.
These two favoured features of the Auer Garden and landscape complimented so much of its beauty.
Walter later recalled that on the 1st January 1938 on the fifth anniversary of Hitler becoming Chancellor, some invited guests were photographed in this garden. Then situated under the Bismarck bust were Hitler and Himmler, with doctor Auer wearing his trademark Tyrolean hat and waving a possible lighted cigar.
He must have said something amusing because they are all seeming to be laughing in unison.
Walter was placed between Karin and her friend Eva Braun for the portrait.
Magda Goebbels stood at the end, smiling and clutching her little two-year-old daughter Heide, who shared a birthday with her father in fact.
Next to her is Anneliese von Ribbentrop. The two women are arm-in-arm. In fact, both Karin and Magda shared the same birthday.
Eva’s laugh was contagious he recalled. She was also a frequent and favoured guest to the house where Karin taught her how to play ‘Chopsticks’ with two fingers.
The photographer was Heinrich Hoffman of course. And Walter recalled him testing some unused Agfa colour film stock for that special occasion. For some unknown reason, Hitler presented each of them with a small snow globe depicting the Brandenburg Gate as a souvenir (see pictures).
Today nobody knows what happened to those pictures or indeed where they are now?
Walter always speculated that after the war they were sold to a Third Reich collector/dealer either in Dallas, Zurich or Rome.
Then noticing more of those distinguished copper beech trees and purple hedges standing solemnly before him, he enquired about those certain paint markings that had captivated his interest.
She replied wistfully: “They are beautiful aren’t they and so noble and proud … I just love them all and sometimes I even talk to them … silly isn’t it? Some are almost as ancient as this dear house and you know the squirrels love eating the fallen beech nuts as well.”
“Our old gardener years ago fashioned a contraption from an old hunting horn he acquired for me when I was a little girl to be used to listen to the water passing through the trunk and branches … later I would use my father’s faithful stethoscope for listening, but please don’t tell him.”
She laughed and then paused saying very seriously: “You have probably observed that the trees in the front of the house and these are numbered and wondered why?”
She was very near to him now, as if about to divulge some family secret which was exactly what she then did.
“Well I will tell you Walter. It seems it had become a century old custom to commemorate each beech tree in memory of a deceased family member or dear family friend.
Somewhere in her father’s book lined study it seems was a small Moroccan bound leather notebook that listed each trees number and the name of the dedicatee.
Karin had no curiosity nor did she need to consult that ‘memorial’ book to offer her any comfort if he enquired. She had long ago lovingly memorized each person’s name that had a dedicated tree planted in their honour reciting many of the departed one’s names with love as they passed each one. She then paused whispering with a respectful reverence: “This is the latest one,” pointing at a sturdy sapling of about five maybe six foot tall with the number 39 painted on its base.
He noticed from the anguished look appearing on her face that it meant something special to her.
He gently enquired: “Was this planted in memory of your late mother?” She turned to him with a surprised look on her face replying: “Yes how did you know? She died six years ago … I still miss her so very much.”
He noticed her eyes had become a vale of tears. Then he remarked: “If it’s any consolation my own dear mother passed away six years ago from Spanish flu…”
Then before he could complete his words she suddenly asked gripping his arm tightly: “In what month?” He quickly calculated the answer: “1st May 1920.” Her face turned as she clutched his arm saying slowly: “That’s the same day my own mother also died of the flu, how strange we should both lose a parent on the same day!”
“Walter, there is an invisible thread that you know will forever unite us, of that I’m sure.”
He was left dazed by this disclosure from her. She then lead him back in to the cool room where their empty cups still sat on the small occasional table.
The dogs ambled in and lay down by the unlit fireplace and promptly fell asleep. He sat down and watched her.
She then walked towards the piano asking him with an enquiring smile: “Would you like me to play something for you?”
Again this was a first time he had ever been entertained in such a manner.
He then watched her and waited for her to commence with uncertain anticipation.
The music that extended from her tapered fingers was delightful and delicate to his appreciative ears.
Then somehow Walter was conveyed to another realm from which he could never hope to escape. He simply had never experienced anything like it before or since. It would be forever etched in his memory, that musical moment in Munich.
Karin would later inform him that it was the adagio from a favourite Mahler symphony. Her favoured friend Carin Goring always requested it to be played when she visited the Auer house. Karin explained simply that: “It reminds her so much of her beloved Sweden and of the family that sadly she had to leave behind.”
They must have talked later for hours about so many subjects that afternoon, including her early ambition to become a professional cellist. But her composure and courage had deserted her because of personal reasons.
He later learned of a personal betrayal by someone at the conservatoire where she was studying music and composition. She was very clear that she did not care to confide in him then about its consequences.
Hoping to change the subject, he then mentioned his own connection to Ernst Rohm and how he had aided him when he first arrived alone in Munich.
In listening to this information a look of distaste appeared across her face rather like a rash.
He was later to hear that both she and Carin Goring had a very low opinion of Ernst Rohm as well as Julius Streicher.
All she would confirm when asked of her contempt for them both was that these men’s morals brought the party into disgrace and disrepute.
He then, changing the subject, asked about her own introduction to the Nazi party and how it had changed her life?
She, at this moment of their meeting, declined to offer too many details of her commitment to the party. She did however recall that Carin Goring, at their first encounter, was wearing a yellow silk blouse with that small Swedish flower ‘Linnaeus,’ skillfully embroidered into the cuffs and collar.
They had, it seems, both become acquainted in Sweden several seasons ago. Within weeks after that meeting, she recalled they had become inseparable friends and had continued to be so.
It was then Karin had committed herself to the fledgling party.
Carin Goring, it seems was already sympathetic to its aims and ambitions and encouraged Karin to learn more of the history of the party. Karin was now however contented, she informed him, to simply manage the house for her father, file his paperwork and arrange his appointments in the surgery in Munich, as well as aiding the party where and when she could.
Sadly, it was then time for him to depart. As he arose collecting his cap in the hallway, she said calmly and with conviction: “Walter, you must prepare for your detective exams … they are very important … I know you can do it, I really do … will you please allow me to assist you?”
He paused and then silently nodded as she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. He felt then that he had known her all of his life. Suddenly the front door opened shattering the calm, and seen entering with a key still clutched in his fingers, was small man, who later reminded Walter somehow of the late Austrian actor Oscar Homolka.
The man was aged sixty, or maybe older and was finishing a chewed cigar clutched in his liver stained right hand that he quickly dispatched into the garden with a flourish, before entering the hall. Dressed in a crumpled three-piece suit with a green bow tie and sporting a Tyrolean hat that looked far too large on his small head.
He then looked at Walter with a quizzical expression before Karin greeted him with affection saying: “Papa,” she said kissing him lovingly on both cheeks.
“This is Walter my knight in shining armour from Munich my ‘city of love on the Isar’. He has come all the way out here to reunite me with my missing bag … isn’t he wonderful?”
Her father selected a thin cigarette from his silver case. Then looking him up and down remarking with a grin: “I can’t thank you enough … Ah, the Munich police. The finest in Germany. Young man, you must visit us again.”
She laughingly interrupted her father, insisting with delight: “Oh he will papa. I’m going to see to that! And can you believe Walter’s dear mother passed away the same day as darling mutti?”
He then touched Walter on the face, saying almost as a prayer: “I’m so sorry young man. My dear wife was taken from us at the same time as your mother? How amazing. We are aware of her absence every day. Don’t we liebling? As I’m sure you miss your dear mother as well.”
He then turned and cradled his daughter’s face in the palm of his hand, as she closed her eyes, rather like that of a child.
Now he collected his letters which had been placed on a brass plate in the hallway and entered his study.
Watching him leave Karin turned to Walter and said: “Papa is one of the longest serving doctors in Munich.” He probably has signed more birth certificates,” and over his shoulder he heard the doctor laughingly call out, “and death certificates.”
She then leaned forward whispering with pride: “Papa visited Adolph in Landsberg Prison to treat his shoulder wound in 1923.”
She was referring of course to the failed Nazi putch in Munich that resulted in sixteen Nazis being killed as well as four Munich police officers. Hitler had been wounded in the shoulder or suffered a dislocation. Later being treated with powerful opiods maybe administered from Doctor Auer?
Karin then explained to Walter that two stray bullets had entered Herman Goring’s groin in that affray, saying almost tearfully: “Carin was so distraught with worry and it was dreadful to witness. Poor darling, she almost collapsed. It was a terrible time for her over the next few years and for Herman as well. They were rather like wandering gypsies, many times without money or an abode.”
He could then see her face silently reliving those years of the Gorings’ suffering and especially for her dear friend Carin.
It was then time for his departure and somehow he knew he had to make her acquaintance again. He summoned up some of his catabatic courage and enquired: “Could I visit you again? I’ve so enjoyed today and your wonderful company of course.”
She replied with that half concealed smile on her face answering: “Of course you can Walter, would you like to? Well here is my telephone number, please ring me. But I’m not available tomorrow, you see I may have to go to Berlin with Carin to the hospital. It seems they have a new wonder drug which an American specialist claims will help the poor darling. I do hope so. Herman is driving us there and afterwards we’re having a private lunch with Adolph and Joseph.”
That appointment was later cancelled due to the doctor being hospitalised with an unknown aliment. It seemed this was very much a family affair for the three of them as they enjoyed their meal, with maybe Walter being just an outsider looking into the world of Karin Auer and the Gorings’ and of course the Nazi party.
He reluctantly then took his leave of her. Walking slowly towards the high iron posted gates he recognised the same two falcons perched on the stone pillars on either side, still peering down suspiciously at all arriving and departing visitors.
Then as he walked along the gravel path he mentally counted sixteen beech trees. Then he was aware that standing back in the manicured front lawn was a single sycamore tree surrounded with assorted yellow roses. He speculated as to what the significance of this single tree could be and what its symbolism to the Auer family if any, could be? Only later would he understand that it had been dispatched from the delightful Provence region in France, by rail to her mother as a young bride many years ago on the morning of her wedding. It had meant a great deal to Frau Auer and on every future occasion when she would have passed that special scion on her way in and out of the family home for whatever reason, she it would see it arrayed in all of its splendour.
(Incidentally, this named spiritual tree is mentioned nine times in the Holy Bible. Look it up).
He turned to wave an awkward adieu to Karin, but she had now disappeared into the hallway.
He then allowed himself to appreciate the lingering aroma of the many plants in the Auer garden.
Then from somewhere, the silky smoke of Dr. Auer’s discarded cigar invaded his nostrils.
Walter later learned that sealed boxes of them were dispatched frequently in the diplomatic bag each month to the doctor from Havana, Cuba from someone influential in the presidential palace (maybe the Vice President himself).
As he walked slowly back to Munich he somehow felt elated. Some of the searing pain of his past had been discarded into that overflowing dustbin of his own family history. He hoped this ‘gift’ would continue from this special visit to the Auer house would continue somehow.
He then felt primed to somehow ascend Mount Everest, then descend on skis and blindfolded, if he had to, or maybe step into a boxing ring and fight ten rounds with the fighter Max Schmeling (1905-2005).
He was now ready and receptive to face the future and all that it was prepared to offer him in the unknown future and of what he could somehow attain in the Munich police force. But most of all he wanted to encounter again the enchanting existence of Karin Auer.
To be continued…..
(c) Copyright G. Patrick Battell
(All Rights Reserved)