In a diary entry for 11 August 1936, the German writer and journalist Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen recalled his first meeting with Adolf Hitler. It was in 1920, at the Munich home of his friend, the composer and conductor Clemens von Franckenstein. Among the Gobelin tapestries and the marble panels (Franckenstein lived at the time in the Villa Lenbach) sat Hitler in a pair of gaiters and a floppy wide-brimmed hat, clutching a leather riding whip. He appeared - to Reck at least - uneasy in this opulent setting, and perched uncomfortably on the edge of a chair, oblivious to the nuances of his host's conversation, 'snatching hungrily at the words like a dog at pieces of raw meat'. Eventually he rose to his feet and launched into a long, ranting monologue, all the while thwacking his boot with the riding whip. Franckenstein's servants rushed in, thinking that their employer was being attacked. After Hitler had said his piece and left, there was a long and puzzled silence. Then Franckenstein stood up and opened one of the large windows looking onto the garden.
It was not that our grim guest had been unclean, or fouled the room in the way that so often happens in a Bavarian village. But the fresh air dispelled the sense of oppression. It was not that an unclean body had been in the room, but something else, the unclean essence of a monstrosity.
LRB 9 April 2009 | PDF Download