The Watcher

The Trailer

Alfred Lauch lived on Köpenickerstraße. He enjoyed a simple life in an area of Berlin that had been lucky enough to receive one of the first Hochbahn trains, but the area itself had become one of the poorer districts of the city. Close to the Osthafen there was a fluctuation of the hardy river boat men who spent much of their time on the boats that carried the coal, iron and other essential materials to keep a metropolis in operation from across the Reich, and it also had become a centre for some of the hardier criminal activities in Berlin. However, Alfred, kept his head down, he felt himself to be more on the responsible side of society, besides if he ever did wish to join the Ringverein he would have had to serve 2 years in prison to do so.

The Ringverein, Immertreu, under Muscle Adolf, real name Adolf Leib, dominated the area and just toward the end of the year prior the dominance of the Ringverein over the district was displayed in a street battle between its members and the Hamburg Carpenters who were building the new Underground lines in Berlin, from Linestraße to Gesundbrunnen. Street battles had raged, and shocked the residents like Alfred Lauch, who were used to the extortion and criminal activity of the organisations but not to the street battles that erupted from the restaurant Naubur at the Scheleisches Bahnhof and spread across the river into Kreuzberg.

Alfred, like most residents, turned a blind eye to anything that he witnessed on the streets that was an act of the Ringverein, but he still held a strong morale compass.

On the morning of the 14th of August Alfred left for his work. He was lucky. Berlin was expanding, and the city government struggled to keep pace even with the increased speed in the building of new public transit lines. Many who could not afford the luxurious Adler, N.A.G or Mercedes Benz automobiles, most still could not afford the HANOMAG kommissbrot, the car officially called 2/10 but bore a resemblances to a loaf of bread and was to all eyes terrible and they, the people, were coming to rely more and more on longer journeys on the various transit forms. However, Alfred was an operator on the Berlin Straßenbahn, the trams, on the networks which, until recently, had been overly complicated by different owners, but as of the beginning of this year of 1929 they had been merged together to form the Berlin Verkehrs Aktiengesellschaft, or BVG for short, and today, the morning of the 14th of August, he was to work the tram line 91 that just so happened to drive the street on which he lived, Köpenickerstraße. Through the arched front door of 190 he walked into the sunshine of the August morn, collected a copy of the Berlin local paper and waited.

He did not need to wait long. The tram line, often ran just with one carriage, ran often. It was a long line. One of the longest and served many of the great centres of a city that had not one centralised local but many. Soon there was the ringing of the bell that signalled the trams approach. He, like the others waiting on its arrival, stepped from the curb and to the tram as it came a halt. There were friendly waves to the driver from some before they ascended the steep steps into the cabin.

He had to ride the tram to its beginning at Oberspree before he took over from the conductor that was currently operating this particular tram so he settled into his wooden bench seat and began scanning the newspaper headlines. Meetings continued in the Hague over trying to solve the issues of the Treaty of Versailles and the advertising conference held at the Central Hotel at Friedrichstraße, but there was nothing on the little girl Zäpernick who had been reported missing the night previous in the Volks-Zeitung along with her description.

At Oberspree he exited the tram and from the foreman found his placement for the day. He ascended the stairs of his own number 91, the tram driver promptly rang the bell and with a clatter of the steel wheels in the tracks set amongst the cobblestone streets his working day began.

The line followed Treptower Chausee and ran past the old Great Industrial Exhibition of 1896 grounds, a moment still remembered fondly by many who walked in the park, that but for the large telescope pertruding from a building bares no trace of the exhibition held 3 years before his own birth.

Soon he was passing his home once again, he walked up and down the carriage and asked for tickets, charged 20 pfennigs to those that did not have one and chatted with those members of the public who were not of the stoically Prussian nature. Before long the tram was becoming busier and busier, especially after it crossed from Köpenicker Straße, onto the tiny Insel Straße and then onto the great East West axis of Leipziger Straße, and skirted the old city of Berlin as it approached the cross roads of Europe at Potsdamer Platz. The great buildings of which, as monumental in the daytime in their construction as spectacular as they were in the evening under their lights.

Further on the tram trundled, the bell ringing more often as the streets became busier with the intersecting traffic of cars, trams and omnibuses and soon the number 91 was in the western half of Berlin. The city looked so different. Gone were the squalid apartment buildings whose once richly decorated exteriors were crumbling with neglect and did little to hide the cramped, dark conditions of the interior, now the buildings were larger, better proportioned and most had the small windows by the door that alluded to the building having its own concierge. A city which truly lived in two halves.

Once again the bell rang, this time for the stop at Sächsische Straße, the stop before the named, bus as of yet to be built on, Fehrbelliner Platz. Here, Alfred watched as, two girls quickly jumped up the steps at the front of the wagon, they turned quickly and settled in the unoccupied bay at the front. One was slim with dark straight hair and wore a white dress, the other, that caught Alfred’s and the other passenger’s attention, had light blonde wavy hair that had such volume that it stuck out from her head, full cheeks, she also wore a white dress and had a slim figure, upon her feet was a pair of brown shoes. The blonde took the first bench seat, which meant that she had her back to the driver and the dark haired girl sat opposite her facing the driver who promptly, in order to keep to the timetable, rang the bell to depart. The wheels spun on the track and the tram moved forward again, the electric motors whirring beneath the wagons floor. Suddenly, as the tram gained speed a man jumped onto the running board outside of the door that was behind the blond girls head. Alfred watched the young girls, who he placed in his mind at twelve years of age turn to look at the man, who had broad shoulders and was well built and was wearing a matching blue suit with a hat, Alfred guessed at thirty-eight for his age.

Alfred made his way to the front of the wagon, and checked the tickets as he went. He asked of the dark hair girl who was facing the driver to see her ticket, to which she showed him a student ticket. It was at this moment, that the blue suited gentleman suddenly opened the door to the cabin and entered. “You little one,” he spoke to the blonde girl, “have you, well, a ticket?” Alfred was taken a back, why was this man suddenly questioning the girl, why was he trying to take on his own job? Alfred looked to the little girl, and could not help but see the article in the newspaper the previous evening in his minds eye, the article that wrote of the 11 year old girl, who with blonde hair, full cheeks, and wearing a white dress had suddenly disappeared from a neighbourhood not so far from Fehrbelliner platz through which they were currently travelling. The girl took 20 pfennigs from her purse and handed it to Alfred who gave her a student ticket and returned a little ways down the central passage of the wagon. A lady stopped him as he passed and asked him if he thought it was strange, another passenger ask him something similar. Turning he looked back at the man who was sternly beckoning the blonde hair girl to join him. On the platform beyond the doors to the tram. At the behest of the other passengers Alfred approached the darker hair girl who was left sitting on her own. Through the glass of the door he heard fragments of the man in the blue suit speaking with the blond hair child, “at home” he heard him say followed by “If I hadn’t met you!” but the noise of the tram drowned out any hopes of hearing anything further of their conversation.
“Do you know that man?” Asked Alfred of the dark haired girl.
“No,” she curtly replied.
“Not at all?” Albert pressed.
“I think he is her father, and she his daughter,” the girl replied. Alfred pushed for more information but the girl could give him no more, not even the name of the blonde hair girl.

He left the dark hair girl in peace, but more passengers of the tram were relaying their suspicions onto him. The news of the disappeared girl Hilde Zäpernick was troubling the minds of many of the Hauptstadt and it was whilst talking to one of the passengers, the lady who had also initially found the man in the blue suit suspicious, that Alfred once again cast his gaze toward where he had last seen the young girl and the older man on the running board of the tram but they were gone. He could not say where they had got off but he suspected at the open square of Hochmeisterplatz, a square dominated by its Evangelical church built of red brick on stone laid to resemble the feldstein churches that first emerged in the region at the very first foundations of the city of Berlin. Alfred peered through the windows but could not see the girl and the man.

In the early afternoon, at 13:06 to be precise, the tram came to its final stop at Halensee. Alfred stepped from the tram, but whilst the tram may have reached the end of the job that it had hand, Alfred was not at the end of his, he still had to shunt the tram on the tracks as to make it available for the journey in reverse. The lady, who had shared her suspicions with Alfred had remained with the tram until the end of its track on the electric lines, stepped from the wagon and once again raised her concerns, Alfred however, busy with the task of preparing to shunt the tram wagon in order to keep to the strict timetable, let the matter slip from his mind. It was only with the return journey on the 91 to Oberspree, and time it allowed to let his mind rest on the matter did he realise his mistake in not taking the woman’s name and not reporting what had come to pass between the girl and older man, he resolved himself to enact and upon his return to Oberspree report the matter to the police.

At the police stations across Berlin the switchboards were busy with the pulling and placing of chords to direct calls. The disappearance of the girl, although initially just a small article within the previous evenings paper with a description, had sent the city somewhat mad with anxiety. Every action performed whilst in the presence of a child was being scrutinised by the public. For the Kriminal secretaries of Sonderkommission Zäpernick who, in the previous days investigation, had so far come to nought in their investigation other than finding no trace of the missing girl Hilde in the Sachsenpark, or for that matter, in the surrounding area of Neu Westend, were having to act upon every call that came through the switch board. Kriminal Kommissar Quoß and Kriminal Inspektor Rosse were having to sort through ever increasing papers of reports that were passing over their desks.

At Biesdorf, in the east of the city, in an area which, housed older families that still tended to the serf like patches of ground that stretched long and thin behind single story homes in a world that seemed entirely separate to that of the city that sat beneath the rising smoke of industry, not only in distance but also in century, a woman sat in the garden of the restaurant ‘Neumann.’

Her name was Alma Rusicke, she came from a small village that lay half way between Danzig and Kolberg, but now lived in the capital, at Blenkenburgstraße in the district of Niederschönhausen in the north of the city. It was common for many people from across Berlin to take a journey to Biesdorf, to visit its beautiful but small palace and its grounds and importantly to escape the city itself, replacing it with the open fields to which developments for housing and industry were yet to reach.

Many frequented the restaurant Neumann, that had taken many names in its history but now took the surname of the current tenant Michael Neumann, at the Bahnhof, it had the monopoly on trade as it was the only one there. The garden area was laid out with the long benches and tables common in the lower and middle class establishments, not ordered with singular tables for one group of guests like the higher establishments of the western part of the city. It was an establishment that tailored to all, as long as you didn’t mind sharing a table, which many did not, the Berliners at least were famous for their rubbernecking, often sighted at open windows they kept a keen ear open for the gossip and events unfolding on the streets whilst operating under the illusion of basking in the rays of the sun, bier and restaurant gardens were also a place of particular favour amongst the rubberneckers.

It had reached half past four in the afternoon at Alma opting for a pleasant end to a day of refreshment in the fresher air, entered the restaurant’s garden which was busy with others taking doing the similar. Crossing the garden she reached a table where there was still some space next to a woman and a child.
“May I take a seat?” Alma asked of the lady, but she was ignored, no answer came from the woman’s mouth, not even a grunt of acknowledgment. Alma stood awkwardly debating what was best to do in such a situation, does one be polite and find another table to sit at, or does she uphold her right to take the seat regardless of the woman’s lack of acknowledgment to the availability of the space. She did however take a moment to look at the young girl that was sat across from the woman. However, something within the woman triggered, she turned sharply to look on at Alma, who felt the black piercing eyes of the woman that were sunken within a narrow face half hidden in the shade of a modern tight fitting grey cap, burn through her. She chose to sit somewhere else.

With the strange reaction and the seemingly strange relationship between the woman and the girl Alma, sitting close, began to monitor the pair. She noted that the girl, in contrast to the woman, did not have the gaunt face and black piercing eyes of jet, but rather quite the opposite having opulent opal blue. Alma continued to watch and observe the pair.

The girl, Alma noted, was disturbed, anxious and relatively apathetic, bringing more scrutiny of the relationship between the pair to her mind. She looked closer at the girl. She noted the white dress, she was wearing and her light coloured hair upon her head. Her teeth protruded, that was easily noticeable for due to the protrusion her upper lip arched. The more she watched the more she felt that the child was disturbed and turned her ear closer to hear the conversation between the two.
“I want coffee,” the child spoke.
“Dear, you have already had coffee,” the black eyed lady responded cooly, “it will be too much for you!”
Alma continued to listen, and noted that through all of the conversation between the disturbed child and the woman not once did the child refer to the woman as ‘Mother.’

When the clock struck 5, Alma left the restaurant Neumann, giving one final glance over her shoulder of the disturbed child who she had come to firmly believe did not belong to the black eyed woman. Alma went to the station, boarded the train, and thinking over the situation, decided not to act on it.

Acts historical also were coming to the attention of the police. With the residents of Berlin reporting the suspicious behaviour of people historically.

Herta Heinz, from Breslauerstraße in Charlottenburg, went to the local police station to file a report of an event that had happened the year prior. With the Kriminal Inspektors all busy with the investigation she was taken to a room where a Kriminal Secretary took her statement.

“In the summer of last year, we, that is to say, my husband and I,” she told the Kriminal Secretary, “stood near an ice cream truck on the Reichstraße, at the corner of Kastanienallee. We watched a man there for a long time who was chasing after children who came from the nearby school. One day, it might be a year now, he was chasing after the children again. My husband, informed an official of the school. The man fled, but the official was able to chase and track him down to an apartment where he arrested him. Together they took the man now detained, to the responsible district, which is now on Soorstraße, where my husband and the children in question were als questioned. I don’t know what happened then,” Herta Heinz admitted “but he made a morbid impression on me and my husband. After all, there is a possibility that this man may be connected to Zäpernick. However, I would like to mention that this libertine was targeting well-developed children.”

The Kriminal Secretary asked Herta Heinz to wait as the stenographer finished typing up her statement. Once it had been typed from the shorthand to long, the paper was placed before Herta Heinz who read her statement back and signed it.

Soon all of the police, with little evidence to go on at Sachsenpark were involved in taking statements and interviewing members of the public who had become suspicious of someone.

Ernst Dickert, a plumber, telephoned in a report to a Kriminal Kommissar from his apartment in Spandau that his daughter, Gertrude, had witnessed something out of the ordinary and had made her quite scared whilst stood at the public clock at Pichelsdorf. The normaluhr, was a clock that showed the standardised time as set in 1893, which was commonly used as a meeting place by the young and old alike. Gertrude, Ernst explained, was just ten and half years old, and had been waiting at the normaluhr when a gentleman in a green cap approached her. The man, asked young Gertrude where Heerstraße was, to which Gertrude responded that he was already on Heerstraße. It was at this moment that Gertrude noted a car slowing down to a crawl and coming up alongside her. The intersection of Heerstraße and Gatowerstraße was yet to be built up, and there was no reason for a car to slow, but it did and it drew up alongside her. The doors opened and inside she noticed four men. The car and the men within along with the man and his bicycle who approached her scared her and she had suddenly decided to run away. She ran until she found a woman walking with her own child and then told her what had happened.

When she returned home, she told her father what had happened, her father Ernst, had thought about the situation, but there was little information to go on, what could he tell the police of this event that had happened on the 5th of the month. It was only when he read in the newspapers and heard the talk on the streets of Berlin of the missing Hilde of Neu Westend which was a district over from the Pichelsberg, separated by the Deutsches Stadion and a large forested area, did he decide to telephone the police on the 15th.

Felix Paetz, of Wielandstraße 36, Charlottenburg, a business man also made a report of the strange behaviours of a man on the Preußen Park, a park that Alfred Lauch’s tram 91 passed on its route between Halensee and Oberspree, situated above the patch of land that awaited buildings at Fehrbelliner Platz.

He reported to the police his concerns of a man around forty years of age, with a medium build, who sported a small moustache upon his face. Wearing a dark grey suit, dark brown shoes, grey hat and a long coat he walked the oval gravel path that circled the park. Felix Paetz had followed him with his gaze as he walked suspiciously. What was it about this man that initially caught Felix Paetz’s attention he couldn’t say, the long coat and hat was normal attire for many in Berlin, even on a day when the skies looked clear and a brilliant blue one could not gurantee a stiff cool breeze to make its presence in Berlin known or even for rain as heavy as those in the deepest of summer thunderstorms that broke over the city, when lightening struck down danced with the tip of the Funkturm, to fall from skies as blue as the Adriatic.

There certainly was something strange about this gentleman that had Felix Paetz’s gaze fixed upon him, and to Felix it seemed justified, when the gentleman in the long coat walked around and began to attempt to peer up the dresses of the young girls on the park who were laying on the grass enjoying the summer weather. Felix informed the Schupo, the Schutzpolizei and a daily chase began. On the days that the Schupo were present in an attempt to apprehend the man, the man would not make an appearance, whether he was watching, biding his time in waiting for his trappings, Felix could not say, but it he would appear again on the days when the Schupo had given up on their chase. However, Paetz, reported to the police that the man had not been seen since the 7th, but he emphasised that this man could be the man to have done something foul to little Hildegard Zäpernick.

Into the evening the police were kept busy, a real fear was felt amongst the residents not only of the quiet and formerly safe district of Neu Westend but across Berlin. Eyes everywhere were looking onto each other with suspicion. Those that travelled through the districts either spread fear or news. The postal workers, the delivery drivers, even police officers were becoming the subject of scrutiny amongst their peers as no evidence to how or to where Hilde disappeared those who could traverse the city with ease were the ones who were bearing the brunt of a glare of a city that was desperate for answers. An agreed but unspoken sentiment was that it must have been a stranger, how could someone known commit a deed, to steal an eleven year old girl from in front of her home away, it could not have been someone of Berlin, surely. The issue Berlin was facing, how does one single out a stranger in a city full of strangers.

Curious for news, department store owner Herr Pintus, left his apartment at number 62 Oldenburgallee, an apartment that, situated on the corner, looked onto the building site of the Gillesbau. The people of Berlin were naturally curious, but the people of Neu-Westend were desperate for answers. Parents were keeping their children in doors, not willing to allow the children from their sight as long as the case remained unsolved. It was not for Berlin to have such horrid cases, for other cities it was known but Berlin not. The parents lectured the children on the danger of strangers, a lesson that had been taught before but now was being repeated with greater emphasis.

Herr Pintus, left his apartment and his street and ventured down to the Westendallee where the bank of houses that constituted the homes of the workers of the Reichsbank was spotted with lights, and the street was busy, not with the children who would have played on it on the days leading up to the evening of the 12th but of the adults, who were all like Herr Pintus hoping for some news.

Like a crowd gone silent watching a slow game of football at Die Plumpe, their heads watched as police inspectors paced still looking for anything that may have been missed, a shoe, a fabric lace, or a spot of blood they searched.

The crowd milled together in the dark of the night beneath the luming Gillesbau, the Sachsenpark behind them, murmured amongst them selves, spread the rumours that they had overheard in the cafes, coffee shops, cinema palasts, on the trams and omnibusses, or had overheard in the beer gardens, they talked of Hilde having been stolen away by Gypsies and held on a fairground, twenty minutes away on the banks of the river spree and other rumours that had been overheard. Then one rumour penetrated the collective minds of the people and spread a frenzy amongst the crowd. A lawyer in Pankow, a district in the north of the city, had found Hilde, but there was doubt to whether he had found her or if he was, in fact, the one to have taken her. It followed that the Kriminal Polizei were hunting the lawyer, but the collective mob, who made up of individuals, similar to Albert and Alma who had failed to act upon their own singular initiative when presented with someone of suspicion, fed on each others resolve to find who had stolen Hilde, and confident in a crowd any guilt for what might transpire would be diluted down amongst the members to almost nothing, were eager for a lynching. But the crowd ended up to be a flock of sheep pretending to be a pack of wolves and nought was to come of it but the spreading of the rumour further.

It just so happened that at that moment a worker for the parks by the name of Franz Kuhn, formerly of Peterswalde in Ostpreussen, was on his way home from work. The rumours were carried by the wind from the rising and falling voices of the members of the crowd and made their way to the ears of Franz who was walking along Reichs Straße. He didn’t know the girl but he had heard the news, of course he had, everyone had, but he wasn’t about to get caught up in a mob so he continued on his journey.

At Reichskanzler Platz, that ended the Reichs Straße, he stopped at his favourite bar for a quick tickle of beer before returning home, despite the late hour and could not resits the temptation to tell those that would listen within Sportklause the rumour that he had heard, that little Hilde had been found in the office of a lawyer on Reichs Straße and returned to her parents. For the Zäpernicks and the Kriminal Police this was news to them. Hilde had not been found, still not even a trace relating to her disappearance had materialised. And now Franz Kuhn was helping spread rumours on a theme he had overheard from a distance.

Grete Groker, couldn’t leave her five year old son at home on his own, it was not possible in normal times to be so irresponsible, but certainly not in times when an eleven year old girl had gone missing from their doorstep, so despite the late hour, the clock on the wall of the apartment that she shared with her husband reading almost quarter past ten, she pulled warm clothes onto her son and left the flat to walk her friend, who had payed her a visit, to the station at Neu-Westend. They leave the building and climb the steps to the street level, the crowd that had gathered before had dissipated somewhat and the street was returning to its usual quiet self. They follow the street of Westendallee only a short way when they see the figure stood beneath a Litfaßsäule, one of Berlin’s many advertising columns that displayed important messages and local news on its round body. The figure, half hidden by shadows is circling the columns and staring into the night. It makes Grete feel uncomfortable and holding the hand of her young son she pushes her friend along to escape the gaze of the watcher. They turn on to Schwarzburg Allee which leads the trio to the station where Grete says so long to her friend before returning the same way home.

At the Litfaßsäule, as they pass once again 15 minutes later, Grete’s son’s hand firmly within her own. The shadowed figure, he’s still there circling the column, dog at his side, she notes. Grete hurries home and locks the door. She keeps the lights off and peers through the window to see him, stood standing between the Gillesbau and Sachsenpark, watching.

Achtung! History is produced by The Berlin Tour Guide, and presented by Simon J. James, follow Achtung! History on twitter, facebook and instagram visit the website theberlintourguide.com, book a tour with Simon in Berlin and become a patreon at patreon.com/achtunghistory