The Watcher

The Sands Of Berlin

August Steuer ran as fast as he could. He had reached the age of 55 in April of that year and after forty one years of labour only interrupted by the Great War his legs were not of the finest of athletic quality, hence the reason now for his placement as a foreman. Just moments before he had been in the basement in the south east corner of the Gillesbau on Sachsenplatz with Wilhelm Rich, Paul Ganzkow and Vollack when in a soft patch of ground amongst a brick circle where outside of which the other earth was solid, something soft and grey had been uncovered and now he was sprinting as best his legs would carry him.

From the gate onto Sachsenplatz he sprang, the other workers attention suddenly drawn to their foreman and materials manager fleeing the building site, his face sullen and white. The lines of unloaders taking material from the flat beads of delivery trucks paused, as if frozen in time, tools held in hands hung in air, arms out stretched waiting for the world to resume, only the eyes of the men followed the running figure of Steuer, whose work shoes beat heavily on the cobbles of the street, the sound echoing and drawing even more attention. The workers up high looked down to see the figure fo their foreman sprint down the steep steps to Nietschke’s Kolonialwarenhandlung.

He burst through the door surprising Frau Nietschke. “Phone,” he panted, I “need to use the phone.” He was shaking erratically. His limbs felt as if they were not under his power anymore and he steadied himself on the counter of the Warenhandlung. Frau Nietschke looked on with a certain amount of horror. She was used to the workers coming into her shop in droves, laughing, sometimes, almost fighting others, but she never had had a worker run into her shop and look the way August Steuer did before her now. She did as August Steuer asked and brought the phone from where it was neatly stowed away. August Steuer’s gaze was one of hurry and as soon as the phone was resting on the counter before him he reached for the receiver, but his hands trembled so much he could not hold it steady to his ear. “Help, please,” he said to Frau Nietschke through broken breaths. Frau Nietschke took the receiver from him.
“Who am I to call?” She asked of the man who wore a look of freight upon his face.
“Police, the police,” he iterated.
“And what am I to say?” She asked of him. “Operator, Wilhelm 5081-87 please,” she said into the receiver recalling the code and number for the Charlottenburg police headquarters from memory.
“We found the girl, we found Hilde Zäpernick,” August Steuer said to a Frau Nietschke who needed not to ask if she were alive or dead, the look that Steuer wore upon his face told of all she needed to know.

The call came into the station and was distributed accordingly ultimately arriving with Kriminal Kommissar Quoß. Not much time had passed since he had been stood on the sandy ground of the Gillesbau with Dr. Kopp as it had not been long since he had returned to his desk to continue to type up the reports he was able to make, the reports that, until this moment, had only been able to inform those who read them that they had nothing. Except for the statements, that said she would not have run away, she was happy, there was no arguments and by all accounts it was a happy and loving home and nothing said the otherwise which had told the investigators almost precisely nothing in terms of the direction to which they should have focused their efforts. The papers had kept running the headlines that it suggested it only could have been a stranger, and one from outside of Berlin at that, which also did little for the police as it had meant that suspicion had been cast on everyone, from those whose eyes did not match, to a screeching tyre near a child, but a gut feeling had consistently led them back to the Gillesbau, and now the note that was on his desk from an office runner told him that they had been correct. However, it would also draw criticism from his superiors as to how he and his investigators had happened not to notice what ever these workers had apparently found. With no time to waste, Quoß took his overcoat from its peg and gathered the investigators he required to confirm what these workers had found and departed for Westendallee once again.

Outside Nietschke a crowd of workers had gathered. To the Kriminal Kommissar and his investigators there was a mixture of anxiety and excitement. Quoß stepped from the police automobile to be almost immediately swamped by the crowd of dusty and dirty employees of the Gillesbau all vying for their voices to be heard over the next and to relay the information of the grim discovery. With desperation Quoß attempted to bring calm and to find out who was in fact the person he should be speaking to. It seemed that half of those gathered did not know, in fact, why they had even gathered so it came as a shock to them when finally a voice was heard over the crowd that a body had been discovered in the basement.
“Alright, alright,” Quoß quelled the crowd, “what’s going on?” Granzkow, one of the foremen stepped forward and the crowd went quiet as they turned their ear to hear what was to be said.
“We, myself and some other workers, we found something suspicious in the basement, a circle of bricks with soft earth at the centre.” He explained. “I, we, we organised excavations and dug in, it wasn’t hard, it must have been recently dug up, only the top layer was dry. We dug down, created a pit, and we saw a gray shred, amongst the earth it was light, a different colour, we,” he paused, feeling a sense of embarrassment, “we prodded it, it felt so strange, really as if it did not belong, it scared us when we thought, when we thought that it might be the kid.”
“You think you dug up the missing Hildegard?” Quoß asked to hear Ganzkow’s reiteration, Ganzkow nodded, and it was all Quoß needed.

Ganzkow and the other workers led the inspectors from Nietschke’s Kolonialwarenhandlung in front of which they had gathered and along the street between the Sachsenplatz park and the Gillesbau. Quoß and the investigators walked with an air of curiosity whilst the worker Ganzkow moved sombrely having seen already what awaited. In to a side passage of the new construction they turned that stood opposite the Sachsenplatz park, and through a gate into the building itself. Down the stars and into a semi-darkness they walked. The Investigators with Quoß took note of their movements as they walked through numerous cellars until they finally reached the one in question that lay deep with in the bowls of the building. The investigators noted that entrance to the cellar room in question was possible through two door like entrances, perhaps, they pondered, the space was to be divided up with temporary wooden boards to form two cellars once the building work was complete. But they stopped in the door.

The workers, it was evident to their eyes had been busy. Around three meters from the doorway there was a pit. On the left side was a pile of earth and on the right another. Quoß, who knew if indeed the girl was found in this hole then the Mordkommission would have to be called, and they would not be pleased with the mess that had been made. Quoß cast his gaze around the room and narrated the journey that his eyes made, an investigator behind him, Criminal Kommissar Ludwig Werneburg, wrote in shorthand as he spoke.
“In the cellar, there are a few small pieces of board. On the northwestern edge two neatly stacked piles of bricks, a few sandstone blocks and a few wooden blocks. There’s a red brick on the ground,” he squinted as he calculated a distance in his mind’s eye, “at a distance of 40 cm from the northwestern corner of the hole and another one at 60 cm.” His details arbitrary in nature to the workers who had found something suspicious and jumped in with shovels were quite the opposite. The Prussian Police force was reforming, and was amongst the most advanced in the world, which meant that every detail had to be noted, for one never knew if it might be significant or not. There was now as much science in police work as there was the logical determinations of the Sherlock Holmes character that filled the imaginations of young boys when they thought of a detective, and he, Quoß would have to explain the room as exactly as he found it to whomever took the case from him, he knew it, so it was best to be as detailed now as possible to save face later. “The wood, stone and bricks all appear to have come in contact with masonry work,” he spoke, noting the remnants of other materials that coated them. On the opposite edge to the pit that the workers have dug, the northern edge, there are five smaller and larger stones, the smallest of which is around 3x3x3 cm and the largest, roughly double those dimensions. Did you use a shovel to uncover what you have?” Quoß asked of the workers.
“We did,” Ganzkow replied.
“Was it already in the room, or did you bring it with you?”
“Steuer, August Steuer, the other foreman he brought it with him.”
“Was there a shovel in the room?” Ganzkow looked to his colleagues who all shook their heads.
“No.” Quoß nodded acknowledgment.
“In the room there is no piece of equipment that could have been used to dig the hole. The floor, into which the pit was dug, is trodden sand, the top layer of which shimmers a grey white, the earth, freshly thrown from the pit, is quite different, it is of a deep dark brown colour.” Quoß looked to the two small rectangular windows that were set just below the roof line, not high for the space within the cellar was not a room of what one would consider a normal height for a room when compared with the height of rooms that were meant to be occupied. “The light,” he continued, “has a green hue, and the visibility in the cellar is moderate. The windows are closed. Outside one can see two piles of bricks that stand between the buildings wall and that of the fence that separates the building from the street.”
“We also saw,” Otto Rich who had joined in the basement spoke up, “the imprint of a heel of a shoe and some traces of a dog or dogs.” Quoß nodded to his investigator who took note.
“The pit dug, the pit in question is about 75 cm deep,” Quoß took some steps further into the room, closer to the pit, in order to examine it in more detail. “Yes 75 cm in the east northerly corner and about 60 cm deep at the north, northwest corner. The edges to the pit are roughly 2 meters from the wall to the north east, 3 from the north west, 4 from the south east and a good 5 meters from the south west wall. What are the dimensions of the cellar?”
“Bout 8 from the street wall back, and 6 across,” answered Ganzkow, again Quoß nodded and the words of the foreman were noted.
“And this wing, this is the north westerly wing?”
“It is.”
“The entire wing,” Quoß reiterated for the notes, “lies facing the north westerly direction, parallel to the street between the new building and Sachsenpark.” He looked back to the hole, “the walls of the pit have been cut sharp. The light is such in the room that the bottom of the pit is dark. Have you got any extra lights?” Asked Quoß.
“I haven’t” answered Ganzkow, he looked to the employees who also shook their heads.
“Well, do you smoke.”
“I do,” now the other workers nodded.
“Then surely you have matches,” the workers scrambled in their pockets and brought out their small boxes of matches and slid the compartment carrying the tiny wooden sticks with their phosphorus and potassium chlorate tips. “Good, hold them close over the pit. It’s difficult to see, impossible almost without the matches. I see something whitish, it’s about 20 cm from the edge.” Quoß took a moment and scanned the edges, “the pit is about 50 cm across from north west to the south east, and 1 meter from northwest to northeast.” Kriminal Kommissar Werneburg approached the hole and knelt down. He reached an arm out into the pit and touched the white object hidden at the bottom. His face upon contact turned to a strained look of contemplation, as if trying to place its texture, comparing it to other textures he had felt in life and in his line of work.
“It feels weird, as if I’m touching cold meat.”
“What would you say it is?” Asked Quoß. Werneburg looked to him and caught his gaze.
“From a purely external point of view, I’d say, that it appears as if it’s the part of a dead person’s body.”
Quoß and Werneburg called a halt there and then. With suspicion confirmed of a body having been found the Sonderkommission Zäpernick would be finally assigned to a division of Abteilung 4 and in this case it would be Inspektion A, Mord und Körperverletzung. Which meant that the great man himself, world renowned and revered would be taking an interest in the case, Dr. Ernst Gennat.
Ernst Gennat, the Buddha of the Rote Burg, the Police Präsidum at Alexanderplatz, known for his hefty weight, and love for the Stachelbeeren, or Gooseberry, Cake rarely ever left the Rote burg for anything other than returning to his home at Schloß Straße 35, a location that was not, in the least, a great distance from the scene that the builders and now the Sonderkommission Zäpernick had uncovered at the Gillesbau. However, through his distancing from the crime scene he required his detectives to be as detailed as possible in their collection of information and evidence from a scene, the information then, typed up, at least in duplicate, would be presented before him to be mulled over, with an objective eye that was not tainted by the contamination of emotions. To enable the most detailed of searches to take place a large black limousine had been acquired by the Murder commission and equipped with all the tools that the Kriminal Kommissars might require to best document the scene and it was in the early afternoon that this car, dubbed the Murder wagon arrived on the scene.
Its great engine pulled slowly the large bodied black automobile through the gate. The driver, cautiously peering in his mirrors so not to scratch the pain before he, with great effort, turned the wheel to a sharp right, heaving the wood through his fingers he brought the Murder wagon to roll in parallel to the wooden slatted fence of the construction site, and slowly he traversed the space between the building and the fence. Once at the right position as indicated by one of the inspectors he angled the murder wagon towards the building and with the flick of a switch the great Bosch manufactured lights that were afixed to the forward grill.
“Finally some light.” Came the comments of the men inside the cellar room in which both members of Quoß’s and Werneburg’s team had gathered with the officers of the Murder Commission. They were stood back and away from the scene whilst a photographer, whose equipment was carried in one of the many trays of tools and equipment needed for the investigation that were stored within the car that was now providing illumination for the room, documented the scene before them. As soon as the photographer had nodded and left the room, confirming that he was finished and taken the photographs that were required for Gennat to peruse over once they were developed the members of Quoß’s team and those of the murder team, acting under the murder teams orders began to widen and deepen the pit with the help of some of the workers of the Gillesbau. Slowly the earth was removed. No great heaves of shovels laden with dirt were made, but hands slowly dragged the sandy soil away so as not to miss any tiny detail that maybe hidden within and the pit grew in depth until it average a depth of 80cm. Now even greater care was made. Handfull by handfull the soil was excavated and extracted from the hole by arms belonging to bodies that lay flat on the earth. There was considerable tension mixed with a need to show respect for a body they were almost certain must be of the young girl missing since Monday.
Werneburg, a sharp dresser and well groomed man with slicked back hair a mixture of jet black and grey, stood watch, his eyes taking in the handfulls of soil and the slowly revealed morbid discovery of the form of smaller human body.
With the body revealed, the men stood and took a step back to peer down from above at the form before them. Covered still in the fine dusting of sand the body lay. The head lay on the left ear at a strongly twisted angle to the northwest, knees to the southeast, inclined on its left shoulder, a forearm inclined towards the body. Hair fell over the face but between the blond hair they could see that the child’s eyes were closed, as if sleeping she lay there. A white cloth covered her, which they eventually realised, after a quick check of the notes made on the day the young girl disappeared, was the shirt she had been wearing. On her feet were still a pair of brownish shoes, but just above the ankle of the left leg was a further piece of whitish material, that were found to be the panties, it was noted an indication of a moral crime had taken place.
Carefully the body was lifted from the pit and laid on the ground revealing a brightly coloured green band around the waist. Now there was no doubt, the body found had to be that of Hildegard Zäpernick, age 11, of Westend Allee 89, her home where her mother, father, brothers and sister awaited still news.
Quoß nodded, not to anyone in particular, but more to himself, reaffirming that now he had the unpleasant and unenviable task of telling the loved ones of the now confirmed deceased girl that he would not be able to bring her home alive. As long as the girl was still missing there had always been that hope, even remote as it was, that she might have come home, but now it was certain she could not. Quoß left the cellar, and meandered through the maze of corridors and elevator shafts, and exited the building. Members of the press had already gathered much to his disdain. The problem with having a recognisable automobile, such as the murder wagon, was that as soon as its roaring great engine pulled its hulking mass from the garage at the Alex, phones starting to ring on the desks of the press reporters across the city, and especially on the streets around Linden and Jerusalem Straße where many of the major press publishers were based. Some were even forewarned before the murder wagon had turned a wheel by young and old officers alike eager to earn some extra ‘Asche’ Berlinische for that thing that makes the world go round. With the murder wagon parked outside, albeit behind a fence, and Kriminal Kommissar Quoß striding across the street, the press did not need much more brain power to put the clues evident before them and determine that a body had been found in the case of Hildegard Zäpernick. With the time ticking past three, the evening deadline for the stories to be filed and drawn up had passed, but the sooner they had their stories now, the more time they would have to prepare the columns for the morning editions. Like blood hounds they chased after Quoß, but they were to be sorely disappointed, the dejected man had no intention of speaking to any of them. Instead he ignored their presence, not even uttering a word, and strode to the door of number 89 Westendallee and went toward the apartment on the ground floor right.
Ludwig Werneburg waited inside the Gillesbau. With the discovery and the causal confirmation that the body was that of the missing girl Hildegard Zäpernick a forensics doctor had been called upon and had arrived in the form of Dr. Waldemar Weimann.
Dr. Weimann, a physician of the forensic institute of the Charité was a round faced man, slicked back stylish hair, and distinguishable easily by his standout feature, large ears of which the tips flicked outwards sharply from his head. He was only 36 but studying and operating within the forensic institute under the more experienced Professor Dr. Fritz Strassmann who was widely regarded in the field of forensics especially when it came to the study of the state decomposition of bodies as a result of the environment in which they were found. With a morbose sobriety he entered the cellar guided by inspectors and quickly, solemnly set about his work.
For many minutes he worked in silence around the body, as an archeologists would an ancient find, gently brushing sand away and moving the body if only absolutely necessary. He peered at patches of the skin, inching closer to discern discolouration from events not regular with those of death. Dr. Weimann was still peering at the body when Quoß’s resigned figure reentered the cellar having told Frau Zäpernick her daughter was dead. Still as chief of the investigation Dr. Weimann directed his question to Kriminal Kommissar Quoß.
“May I cut the dress?” Dr. Weimann asked. Quoß nodded and took a knife out from his pocket, walked across the floor to the kneeling figure of Dr. Weimann and slit the dress where Dr. Weimann pointed.
Dr. Weimann pulled the dress from around the corpse of the young Hilde and spread it flat on the ground, looking closer for any clues that may have lay hidden.
“What do you see Herr Doctor?”
“See, Herr Kommissar? With the sandy ground I find it hard to see anything, its coated and settled over much of the body and silted it up, to be certain of anything is practically impossible. If I am to say anything of worth that a note is to be made of, I would point out that it does appear that there are strangling marks upon the neck but otherwise, to say what the cause of death might have been, or to say if a crime of morality was carried out I am afraid I cannot say for certain here. However, I will conclude that, from a medical point of view, the cause of death is apparently suffocation from a third hand. This I draw also from these rags,” he pointed to strips of cloth that were laid on the ground, “that I note carry considerable blood. Here, I can do no more, I am afraid the sand has caused too many problems.”
“Thank you Herr Doctor.” Quoß said to the forensic doctor, not disappointed for the case had from its very beginnings presented many hurdles that needed to be jumped over, every step of the investigation had been of difficulty, and now, now they were sure they had a crime the sands of Berlin were hindering progress. “Secure the clothes and have them taken away, and have the body taken to the morgue for pathology.”

“And who are you?” The large man sitting in the chair opposite asked of him. He was confused to his being here. He had only just arrived at his place of work to begin his shift, a shift that began when everyone else’s ended when the Kriminal Kommissars had approached him and asked him, or rather told him that he was to come with them. He had witnessed the movements of the police over the preceding few days, since Monday to be precise, and he had watched them enter and leave on numerous occasions. He had seen them interview many of the workers on the construction site, most of which he did not know by name, only by sight. He’d only been working for the Gillesbau for five weeks and was relatively new even in Berlin, but other’s seemed to remember him. Maybe it was his glass eye, or maybe it was easier to remember a man who held a job occupied by just two men, rather than to remember a hundred who held the same or similar role, but nevertheless, the police had not bothered to interview him on site. The site he had arrived to that once again was swarming with Inspectors but this time, it was different, they had found something, they had found the girl. “What is your name?” Asked the large man once again. “I’ll make it easy for you, my name is Ernst Gennat, director of this homicide squad. Now your name.”
“Richard Schulz,” he replied, looking uneasily at the man who seemed to be analysing him as he spoke.
“Full name?” Gennat asked.
“Richard Franz Hermann Schulz,” Gennat nodded at the stenographer who began typing.
“Date of birth?”
“16th of March, 1889,” the stenographer’s typing clicked loudly in the small room.
“Langestraße 38, by Schiemann.”
“Not under your own name?” Gennat said feigning surprise.
“My father in law.”
“Do you reside there?”
“No, I did, but I reside in the garden colony at Rummelsburg.”
“Name of the colony?”
“Blumenfreud, on Schlichtstraße.”
“One moment.” Gennat whispered to a colleague sat next to him, who promptly stood and left the room.
“And you’re war injured correct?”
“I am, bullet to the eye not long into the war, military pension of 50%, the watchman income supplements this.”
“Anything you wish to say to begin?” Asked Gennat in a friendly manner, knowing a case is solved with greater ease often by a suspect inadvertently incriminating themselves. Schulz paused.
“I deny,” Schulz began formulating his statement slowly in his mind, “that I was somehow connected to the death of Hilde Zäpernick, I did not commit a crime to the girl, and I am not to blame for her death. I do not know how death occurred and who may have caused death, or who is the one who buried the body in the basement of the new building on Westendallee.”
“Anything else?” Gennat asked. “Good, let us begin, tell me your story please Herr Schulz.” Gennat’s colleague reentered the room and resumed his place as he did so Crime Assistants Karl Rommel and Reinhold Habekuss were travelling in an automobile of the Alex to Rummelsburg and the garden colony “Blumenfreud.”
“Since age of four I lived with my parents in Griefanhagen in Pommerania,” he began. “This was also where I attended elementary school.”
“How were you in school?” Gennat interjected.
“I was average I’d say.”
“Were you a well child?”
“I was never seriously ill apart from something I had as a child, no mental illnesses, nothing.”
“And what did you do for work when you left school at the age of?”
“14. My father was a decorative painter, and I worked for him as an apprentice and later a journeyman. Until 1909 when I had to do my two years of military service where I was based with the 34th infantry regiment in Stettin.”
“Any health complaints during this time?”
“None. After my military service was over I once again worked for my father. Then in 1912 I met my now wife, whom I married that year and have had five children, living children, together, whom all live with me in the garden colony. One child died when only a few months old.”
“Did you stay in Griedfanhagen once married?”
“We moved to Brünken, a third of the way to Stettin, then we moved to Stettin six months later and in 1913 back to Brünken.
“Then to war was it?” Gennat enquired.
“And your injury.”
“7th October 1914.”
“Did it end your war?”
“I volunteered as a worker in the war as I could not fight, was placed as a civilian in Avrecourt. Then when the war was over I moved back to Stettin and became a master painter from 1920 until 14th of April of this year.”
“And then?”
“Then, I moved to live with my in laws in Berlin, the war wound to my eye and my physical condition wouldn’t allow for the work anymore. My parents in law had moved to Berlin 3 or four years earlier and it is with them that I registered with the police. I bought the plot of land on which I live and in late June or early July my family joined me.”
“How did you support yourself?”
“I did not get unemployment benefits as I had worked as an independent craftsman prior, but I was able to get my work I have now on a permanent basis with the help of Poststraße 16, as a victim of war damage that is.”
“Does the injury from the war present any effects?”
“I started having severe headaches soon after the wounding, and I slept terrible in the night. I can hear grenades in my sleep and I wake up in shock. When I was still in Griedfanhagen my condition worsened. I came to lye a lot.”
“Lye?” Gennat questioned.
“Lye, I couldn’t get up, I just lay there. I had an argument with a woman I worked for and I couldn’t get up the next day. I started to break, and ended up with the shits. If I did get up it was often not of my will, and I knew not of the actions that I did.” Gennats eyebrows raised and cast a glance to the stenographer to ensure she was capturing everything that Schulz was saying. “Sometimes I wandered so far that I was brought home by other people and had to be told of what had happened later. People then took me to a home in Stecklin, and they gave me disease papers.”
“What did they say, these papers, what did they say?”
“Traumatic weakness of the brain. I think they also use the term neurosis for my condition.”
“How long did you stay in hospital, how long was the treatment?”
“The hospital treatment I recall ended around August 1927, so two years since. Since then, the states in which I have done something without memory have not reappeared. But I do suffer from severe headaches today and because of a simultaneous asthma ailment I use a rememdy called “ephedrine.”
There was no window to the room of the Alex in which Gennat sat with his associate, the stenographer and the watchman Schulz, so it was with a tap of the watch by his associate that Gennat was alerted to the advanced stage of time.
“Pardon me, Herr Schulz, but due to the time we’ll have to resume this in the morning.”
“In the morning?”
“The stenographer will have this conversation typed up if you wouldn’t mind signing it and we’ll continue where we left off tomorrow.”
“In the morning?”
“Yes, in the morning.” Gennat stood and went to leave, Schulz remained sat at the table.
“Am I to remain here?”
“I think that would be best, will that be a problem?” It wasn’t really a question, “good, see you in the morning then Herr Schulz.”

Gennat and his associate left the room, waiting in the corridor for them was Kriminal Assitants Rommel and Habekuss.
“Well?” Gennat asked.
“His wife let us in.”
“And what did you find?”
“Nothing of great interest that could be used as evidence for the crime,” answered one.
“But we did find fifteen or twenty pamphlets of erotic literature. Has he said anything of interest?”
“Much.” Gennat left. Rommel and Habekuss presumed the large man, the genius detective with an incredible success rate was returning to his room within the Alex, one of the few who had a sofa and chairs within his office, where he was probably going to lay and eat a cake leaving the slice.

That evening, in the police newspaper, the reward for information on the now murder of Hildegard Zäpernick was doubled. 1000 Reichsmarks for information on the murder and the morale crimes committed against Hildegard Zäpernick.

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, book a tour with Simon in Berlin and become a patreon at