With still an hour to kill, Speer lit a cigarette and went over to the couch and sat down.
You know what your friend will do if he finds out? They always referred to Hitler that way. Speer had always hated that.
Hitler wasn’t his friend. Perhaps Speer was Hitler’s friend,
perhaps even his only friend. But that wasn’t the same thing, was
it? Besides, Speer knew what Hitler would do when he found out.
Reasonably speaking, all they could hope for now was to keep as much of
Germany’s industrial base together so that some level of civilized
life could continue after it was all over. He’d carefully broached
that matter with Hitler during the winter, but Hitler dismissed it.
“There is no need to preserve anything for the survivors, Speer,”
he told him. “They will have proven themselves unworthy.”
Speer went over to the window and stared out. By now the bombing had taken
out most of the city’s landmarks, leaving him without his usual
points of reference. Locating Alexanderplatz had always been a matter
of simply finding the old Town Hall’s clock tower and then going a
little bit left. But now the tower was gone. So was the Karstadt
department store, the Columbus building on Potsdamerplatz, the twin
steeples of Saint Nicholas church. He tried to remember what they
looked like, but they were already excised from his memory.
Instead what blazed unforgettably was the skyline of a city which had only
existed on paper and tabletop scale models. He saw the dome,
stretched out before him, larger than a sunrise, with its dozens of
gigantic columns and a massive bronze eagle perched ominously atop
And he heard Hitler’s voice reciting the numbers to onlookers, Sixteen
times the size of Saint Peter’s in Rome! And he saw the rest of the imaginary city, the broad avenues, the
monuments, the palaces and plazas, the gigantic ministry buildings,
cinemas, concert halls, hotels and storefronts, miles and miles of
it. The two of them had spent years dreaming it up; a city greater
than Rome, a light among nations, a capital fit to rule the world for
a thousand years; Germania!
Speer had actually believed in it back when Germany’s future still loomed
bright, enough so that he went ahead with demolition orders for whole
neighborhoods in order to make way for it. Berlin’s destruction
hadn’t started with the first British bombing raids, but with the
bulldozing he had himself engineered.
Once the war had started the whole thing should have been shelved, but the
war only stoked Hitler’s enthusiasm. And when the enemy bombing did
come, Hitler acted gleeful.
“They’re only doing our work for us, Speer,” he’d say. And Speer accepted it without question. Even after things
went bad in Russia, Hitler insisted it be kept on as a top priority,
summoning Speer to the studio in the middle of the night so they
could discuss the changes which still kept occurring to him on a
daily basis. They’d spend endless hours bent down at eyelevel to
the miniature streets and buildings, peering under archways,
discussing each gallery and staircase.
Even now, with the enemy at their door, Hitler still wouldn’t let it go.
In his mind, Germania was still every bit as real as the miracle
weapons, Inevitable Victory and all the other shabby fantasies which
he insisted everyone believe in. And it was all Speer’s fault for
wanting a thousand years of glory.
Going to pick up his bags, he paused for a moment to look at himself in the
mirror. Was this the face of a future world leader? Except for some
rings under his eyes and a receding hairline, there was still far too
much boyishness in it. He was neither handsome nor ugly, his face was
round, his chin soft. It was only the face of a technocrat. No,
that’s not completely true, he told himself. His eyes had it. Dark,
brooding, even without a night’s sleep, they had a sharpness to
them, inquisitiveness, too, and sardonic humor. The face of a man who
could put things into perspectice.
Speer went downstairs to the garage where Colonel von Poser was waiting
beside a supercharged, six-wheeled Mercedes. They drove out after
nightfall, heading west.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, Kindle version available for download here).