Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hungover Speer After the Gun Battle at Glucksburg

Albert Speer woke up on the floor that morning with a splitting headache and a hangover and a sneaking suspicion that he’d been talking to Himmler during the night. Baumbach was asleep on the couch. He tried waking him up, but he didn’t budge. Seeing that it was already after nine he got dressed, ate something and tried calling below for his driver to get the car ready to take him to Flensburg. But to his surprise, the driver wasn’t around. No one was. It was as if they’d all disappeared during the night. Walking through the halls he noticed that some of the furniture was askew and a number of the lower wall panels had been smashed in. He went over to examine one and saw that instead of being stone, as he’d assumed, it was actually made of light wood, disguised to look like a carved slab. Groggily Speer shook his head, disappointed that cheap materials like this would be used for such a grand interior.

When he crossed the bridge to the forecourt he noticed that his Mercedes was missing. Could his driver have taken it and fled somewhere? It was possible. In the square outside, there were two shot-up, burned Navy kubelwagens which he knew with a hazy certainty could not have been there when he’d come in the night before.

It was a grey, cold, overcast morning that felt as if the spring had at the last minute relented and let the winter have the last say. Not knowing what else to do, he started walking towards Flensburg, glad he was wearing his trench coat to ward off the chill. After walking a few minutes in the fresh air, he felt almost alert. Then a British military police jeep stopped and, recognizing him, they gave him a ride into town.

When he got to Doenitz’s offices, the morning government meeting was already an hour underway. Speer shuffled into his chair, ignoring Doenitz’s glower as he did. The meeting was like every other he’d sat through during the last two weeks. The topic at hand was the banks and how they didn’t have enough currency on hand and what they should suggest the Allies let them do about it. It went on for another hour, during which time Speer did little besides stare numbly at the table’s surface. When it finally let up, Doenitz and the others ignored him, which was fine by Speer.

He met with his staff after that, listening to them discuss industrial matters. He noticed some of them were missing; they’d probably gone the same route as the driver with Speer’s Mercedes. Even if he hadn’t been so hung over, he wouldn’t have cared much. This whole thing was a farce anyway. Even if they could come up with constructive ideas for getting Germany back on its feet, the Allies weren’t going to listen.

He was disappointed, however, that Manni Loerber wasn’t around. He would have been the perfect companion for Speer’s currently much-diminished state of grace. Even Manni’s more vicious little barbs would have been welcome. This place lacked any kind of spirit, any kind of tension. At least when Hitler was alive, there was plenty of sarcasm to go around. He’d never imagined Doenitz was so humorless.

The afternoon trudged by with almost unbearable slowness. Speer finally got to hide himself in his office, staring at reports and trying to write some letters. At one time work had been a refuge for him, but now it was just empty drudgery. There was no challenge, nothing interesting enough to seize and absorb his intellect. None of it mattered. He was now nothing more than custodian to the memory of a no-longer-existent industrial power. He knew he should at least feel some pride at having saved as much of the Ruhr’s infrastructure as he did, but at the moment, it didn’t look like any of it made any difference. Nobody on the allied side seemed even remotely interested in getting any of it back up and running. He’d even heard that the Western Allies were considering turning Germany into a completely non-industrial agricultural nation.

Then at around four o’clock, one of his assistants came in looking very excited. He’d been with the others up at Schloss Glucksburg when a jeep full of American soldiers drove up and asked about Speer’s whereabouts. They said they’d been looking for him for more than a week and wanted to interview him about industrial issues. Would he be interested in cooperating with them?

Would he? Speer grabbed his raincoat and briefcase and hurried downstairs, where to his delight, his Mercedes was waiting for him along with the driver ready to take him back to the Schloss.

(This is part of a chapter that got cut during the edits of my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

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