A Tramp in Vienna

Well, that’s not what would have immediately come to your mind if you were to think of Adolf Hitler. Seventy years since his death, the very word Hitler continues to remain synonymous with uncontrolled tyranny, unwarranted violence and unjustified racism. But before all the hatred and bitterness in him was invading other nations and wrecking havoc on Jews, there was a time in his life when he struggled to become a different man. Had that struggle culminated any differently, would Hitler have grown to have a different face? Whether or not the picturesque town of Vienna could have resulted in a different history, is purely a matter of speculation now. But it is fascinating, if such a word can ever be associated with Hitler, to know a bit about the man he was in the streets of Vienna.

Vienna in 1908

Vienna is beautiful in any year. In 1908, if the black and white photographs of the city are any evidence, it was much the same bewitching city as it is today. The likes of Mozart and Beethoven had been here, arts and music were the daily pastimes and all sorts of people came to Vienna to soak in its culture.

When the young 18-year-old Hitler arrived in the city, his head must have been full of dreams and ambitions of becoming an artist. But the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts didn’t see anything of that sort in him. Twice Hitler applied to study there, and twice he was rejected.

Desolate and Disgruntled

Hitler had already dropped out of school and after the Fine Arts Academy squashed his dreams, there was not much for him to occupy his time. Roaming the streets by day and passionately arguing about social reform by night, Hitler whiled away his time in Vienna. He wouldn’t hold a regular job, considering it beneath him. Painting postcards and selling them gave him something to do, but didn’t fill up his wallet enough or fill his heart to content. He was desperately lost in Vienna, straying day in and day out, soaking in the people, the buildings, their conversations and getting increasingly short of temper and angry about the world he was living in. In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler says,

“I owe it to that period that I grew hard and am still capable of being hard.”

Odd, Temporary Jobs

Hitler may have had other talents but he never tried putting them to use to find regular employment. To make ends meet, he would take up laborer jobs, carry bags at the train station and even shovel snow off the streets, but nothing inspired him to get a permanent responsibility. He had despised his father and his job and he could never envision himself sitting behind a desk to earn his living.

A Passion for Reading

One thing that Hitler did enjoy, was immersing himself in books and newspapers. He read everything from political pamphlets to German history to mythology during this time. His curiosity grew and he soon took to reading philosophical works that hard-coded his beliefs and ideology, a nationalist, anti-Semitic philosophy, that grew to epic proportions.

The seeds of anti-Semitism

As the years progressed, Hitler began to get interested in politics. In his own strange way he began to observe his surroundings in a manner that convinced him that whatever was wrong with Germany was brought about only by a certain people. Hitler had always known Jews, had dealings with them, but something about what he read daily and the way people spoke of Jews, kindled a spark of racism in him. If you’ve read Mein Kampf you will recall the lines,

“Once, as I was strolling through the inner city, I suddenly encountered an apparition in a black caftan and black hair locks. Is this a Jew? was my first thought. For, to be sure, they had not looked like that in Linz. I observed the man furtively and cautiously, but the longer I stared at this foreign face, scrutinizing feature for feature, the more my first question assumed a new form: is this a German?”

The War Rescues Hitler

Well, in a way it did. The First World War spelt misery for millions but for Hitler it came as a chance to leave behind the streets that had humiliated him and he rose up in defense of the German Fatherland he had become sentimental and patriotic about. His chance to fight gave vent to his frustration and gave his idle youth a sense of purpose.

The tramp of Vienna was left far behind, only to return twenty-four later to the same streets as a tyrant.

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