(This is a short extract from chapter 1 of my novel “Geli Hitler,” available here)
Munich was a quietly-deranged city, a manic, provincial whore with her face smeared in paint, trying to look as petit-bourgeois as she possibly could. Maier disliked the place intensely, and he was reminded of that feeling every time he had to drive across the falsely colorful streets with their beer halls and their prim Bavarian couples walking side by side, their packs of children on the way to school, the secretaries and the insurance salesmen and the dentists striding purposefully, straight to their destiny.
Maier had been born in a little town just outside Munich, but his parents had moved in the city itself by the time he was six. Munich was much, if not all, that he had ever known as a civilian. He was nineteen, in his first year in college, when the war had broken, and–save for a little journey when he was around ten, when he had spent two days in Berlin–that had been his first trip ever outside of Bavaria or northern Austria: all the way to Prussia and then Poland, the Masurian lakes, the Belorussian front.
Throughout those years, he had nursed big plans for the mythical time after the war was over. Then, soon after he returned to Munich, he had met a girl. And this girl was special; and she got pregnant, and they married. He had been stuck in Munich ever since, over a decade now, a time during which Maier had built a solid police career without even noticing it, all the while thinking of something grander like getting out of Munich.
He was fast approaching forty, and he harbored he suspicion that, given his limited patience for political plays and posturing, the day he had had made detective, two years prior, would be the pinnacle of his career. He was convinced that his lungs were too delicate for the rarefied atmosphere close to the top, where only properly adapted monsters and the occasional sturdy climber, such as Diehl, could survive for long. The thought had always made him proud.
“That’s the place, right there,” Hans Waiglein said, pointing his finger towards a vaguely-distinguished gray building, dotted with large balconies facing a quiet, wide square–Prinz Regent Square.
Waiglein had driven, and he climbed down first. He was a bulky, solid street police type, the kind who happily strolls around whistling an old tune while waving his truncheon, barely pausing to tip his fingers on his cap in salute as he comes across good-citizen types, and knows how to frown menacingly so potentially-misbehaving kids think twice before doing what they planned to do.
He had just been assigned to help Maier out in the Raubal case; and he didn’t open Maier’s door for him.
“It’s a good neighborhood,” Waiglein said as they walked inside the building.
“Nothing bad ever happens in this kind of place,” Maier responded.
A frail-looking maid in her sixties opened the apartment’s door. Mrs. Lugen. In a thick northern accent, which Maier took to be from Hamburg or whereabouts, she explained that Mr. Hitler was away on business. Her eyes opened wide when Maier showed his police card, and she swiftly stood aside, no paperwork needed.
Mrs. Lugen kept the place tidy. A highly bourgeois corridor with a large mirror, spotless floors, a spacious dining-room with properly-arranged plants; a color picture of Mr. Hitler, in a light brown tunic, wearing a Nazi armband, speaking to the unseen masses, his full face taut and intense, body drawn forward, thin dark hair almost-but-not-quite hiding his left eye. The frame was silver, probably, finely worked. Surely it was an occasion that demanded expensive signs of remembrance.
In a corner in a vast, almost empty adjacent room, Mrs. Lugen was making a hurried phone call.
“Two police gentlemen are here,” she informed somebody at the other end of the line, in an audible whisper.
There were routine paintings in the wall; next door, the kitchen, a tad seedier than the rest of the apartment but still solidly within approved bourgeois standards of cleanliness, and big enough to cook for sizable gatherings; and Mrs. Lugen’s tiny bedroom, and bathroom. On the other side of the apartment, two bedrooms that were obviously kept ready for guests, and then Mr. Hitler’s study, with a large desk that didn’t appear to have been used for long. No stray documents, no folded newspapers, no half-read letters from random admirers.
“This room is new, isn’t it?” Maier asked.
“It was refurbished not long ago,” Mrs. Lugen said. “About three months ago.”
“How long has Mr. Hitler lived here?”
“About a year.”
“And you’ve been working for him the whole time, Mrs. Lugen?”
“Does he strike you as a violent man?”
“Why are you asking me that?”
She looked scared. Maier thought the question was probably put at the wrong time. Still, it didn’t really matter—it wouldn’t take Mr. Hitler and his associates more than a few seconds to realize that the police visit implied that somebody was interested in looking into Ms. Raubal’s death.
“It’s just a general question, Mrs. Lugen.”
Waiglein shot a disapproving glance at Maier, from behind Mrs. Lugen. He probably reckoned it immoral to ask the domestic service that sort of question, in whatever circumstance. He had also stood close to Maier the whole time, as if his job was keeping an eye on the detective, rather than helping him out in a police investigation.
Mrs. Lugen hadn’t responded.
“Please answer the question, Mrs. Lugen,” Maier said.
The old fear of police among the low classes and the aged finally showed. Mrs. Lugen looked away, swallowed, spoke:
“Mr. Hitler is a wonderful man. I never saw him angry.”
“He does look angry very often, when in public,” Maier said.
Waiglein coughed. He did cough; and he met an icy stare from Maier.
“Are you sick, officer? Would you rather be relieved of this duty?”
“Very well, then—Mrs. Lugen?”
“Mr. Hitler is only angry with the enemies of Germany. He’s never angry with me, or with his staff, or with anyone else here in this apartment.”
Followed by the maid and the reluctant Waiglein, Maier wandered to Mr. Hitler’s bedroom–large, nondescript, lacking personal touches to the point that it looked more like a hotel room–and then, past a second, larger bathroom, to another dining-room, smaller, a little less distinguished than the previous one, featuring a big radio and even bigger cupboards, more forgettable paintings on the walls.
Ms. Raubal’s bedroom was at the very end of the apartment, next to a storage room. It was bigger than her uncle’s, with a wide bed and a small desk with two chairs, a fine cupboard with a mirror, and a larger one without. It was the cleanest room in a very clean apartment.
“I congratulate you, Mrs. Lugen,” Maier said. “They tell me the room was really messy after the events of three days ago.”
The door had been busted open. The inside lock was missing, and there was the not-so-faint print of two, perhaps three kicks from the same, or similar boots.
“Ms. Raubal had locked herself inside, I take it.”
“But you weren’t here.”
“I was with my cousin Gabby, it was my night off.”
“So when was the door opened?”
“I–I came back early in the morning, and after a while I noticed that Ms. Raubal was very quiet. I knocked on the door, because Mr. Hitler had forbidden her from locking herself inside, and she didn’t respond. I kept knocking for some time, then I called–and they came and opened the door.”
“They? Who? Who opened the door?”
Mrs. Lugen might have said something. But at that time somebody opened the apartment’s outside door and strode into the apartment, then all the way to Ms. Raubal’s room. It was a smallish man with big ears, a bookish face and glasses. He looked flushed, and had sweated as he rushed to the apartment.
“My name is Henninger, I’m Mr. Hitler’s personal secretary,” he said stiffly, as if expecting proper deference, like a well-trained civil servant.
“That’s great. We would like to talk to you,” Maier said.
“What is this about?”
“Were you here three nights ago, when Ms. Raubal killed herself?”
Henninger paused for a second.
“I was with Mr. Hitler. We spent the night in Nuremberg. Came back as soon as we heard the news.”
“Mr. Hitler was there on business, I believe?”
“A party event–”
“Who opened the door?”
“First of all, I want to know what this is about.”
Henninger stood straight, conjuring all his size against Maier’s larger presence. Maier hadn’t seen many pictures of Hitler, and had never witnessed one of his famous speech-performances, but he found in Henninger something of what he imagined to be Hitler’s small-man defiance—not necessarily related with size, but with one’s station. Henninger was a Munich man in full, an accountant in revolt, it might be said.
“We’re looking into Ms. Raubal’s suicide,” he wearily informed Henninger. “It’s a routine thing, part of a process we always undertake when the person who committed suicide was young and there is no obvious reason for the act.”
That was a barefaced lie. But Henninger had no way of knowing; not even Waiglein knew.
“Listen, Henninger,” Maier went on. “We don’t want to cause anybody any trouble. We just want to have a look around, make a couple of questions we always make in these cases, and then go home and file a tidy report that will close this file forever. Do you think you can help us with that?”
Henninger’s stance deflated a bit, as he nodded non-noncommittally; he obviously believed the challenge he had risen against was sneaking away from him.
In truth, there wasn’t much to see in Geli’s room. The floors were scrubbed clean, the bed perfectly made, a long line of young female clothes perfectly ordered in both cupboards. Everything that was ever disturbed had been put back in its place, any possible evidence was long gone. A picture of Geli with an Alsatian dog remained on the bedside table, though. From a distance, she looked like a pretty teenage brunette, hat-less, with short hair, fashionably wavy, with no clear physical resemblance to her famous uncle, smiling for the occasion.
Maier was drawn to her teeth: she had a long mouth and perhaps the toothiest grin he had ever seen. Not every teenager had such a trait, devoid of any shyness completely.
“Was this taken long ago?” Maier asked to nobody in particular.;.
“About six months,” Mrs. Lugen said.
Maier noticed that Henninger took a deep breath when he opened up the first of three drawers in the bedside table. And there was nothing there. In the second there was a key. In the third there were a few pieces of underwear, clearly not as many as any young girl with over two dozen dresses and matching hats would need.
“Did you take anything from the drawers?”
“Some of her clothes are still in the laundry basket,” Mrs. Lugen quickly said. “I didn’t have the time to wash anything these days—not after the thing that happened.”
That was something: the first sign, the first open recognition by either she or Mr. Henninger, that something had indeed happened in that room; something that was upsetting enough to keep Mrs. Lugen, no doubt a thorough maid, from fulfilling her duties to the letter.
“It’s a pity, this kind of thing,” Waiglein said. “Such a young girl.”
“Yes, indeed,” Henninger said.
“Did you know her well, Mr. Henninger?” Maier asked.
“Not really. She mostly spent time with her family.”
“Mr. Hitler must be very distraught, I take it,” Maier continued.
“He’s truly devastated,” and he added, as if confessing that this sentence was to be taken as the full truth, unlike any other: “Believe me, he is truly devastated.”
The little group moved back towards the main door, room by room. Maier knelt down to check under beds and sofas, always making an effort to look nonchalant or bored. But Henninger wasn’t fooled, and he watched Maier’s throughout.
“Was she taking any medicine? I’m only asking because, as you know, some modern medicines may have upsetting effects on the minds of the young–”
“No, nothing like that,” Henninger said, as if he were in a position to know.
The paintings were signed by A.H., Adolf Hitler himself, Maier noticed. In a corner there was a small pile of picture magazines; before anybody could make any objection, Maier grabbed it, and tucked it under his arm.
“I’ll take this to have a quick look. It may help write the report to explain why she killed herself.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Henninger said.
“Mr. Hitler will get the magazines back as soon as the report is completed and the file closed. Let’s say a week. Just let him know.”
Henninger stiffened again, while pondering the situation. Maier, who had seen too many comrades killed in no man’s land, pushed ahead:
“Mr. Hitler must be an excellent uncle, I must say. Ms. Raubal’s parents are alive and healthy, as far as I can tell, and yet he took her under his care, and helped with her education and everything. I haven’t seen many girls her age with so many clothes in her closet. It’s not a very nice thing to say in moments such as this, but maybe he was spoiling her a little bit.”
“You’re right. It’s not the right thing to say now,” Henninger curtly responded. “And Ms. Raubal’s father died a long time ago.”
“Understood. Now, who opened the door?”
Henninger took his time to respond. Maier thought that maybe he wouldn’t. And then he did:
“Rudolf Hess and one of his assistants, Edgar. I don’t know his surname.”
Hess was one of the top Nazi leaders, seen by many as Hitler’s political poodle. It was interesting indeed that such a man as Hess was needed to check on Geli Raubal.
“Could I talk to them?”
“Why would you want to do that?”
Maier grinned and raised his hat. As they climbed back into the car, Waiglein gave him a look.
“We don’t do routine probes of teenage suicide cases,” he said.
“No, you don’t, officer Waiglein.”