Hitler's Last Day Out | Schloß Harnekop

Podcast Transcript & Media

The call came in finally in late morning. There had been much debate for the previous few hours as Generals and members of the inner circle tired to persuade him not to venture out, that it was far to dangerous as the American planes reigned supreme over the skies when the sun was high, and if they were caught out at after the sun had set the British and their RAF ruled the night.

He had not far to travel to his work, if indeed he ever was not working. His villa had been constructed in the gardens of the most powerful person in the land, although that in itself may not quite be true. He did rule over a land destroyed, a land where soldiers of the army moved with uncertainty as to their orders as fronts collapsed, army groups were reorganised and those at the very top vied to put themselves in a position that would, they hoped, render them necessary to rebuilding the ruins that now surrounded them.

Six years in, and the days when the Wilhelmstraße was clear of rubble, when funerary processions of Heydrich or Werner Mölders, in 1942 and 1941 respectively, had travelled unimpeded along streets where only the clouds cast shadows upon the smooth tarmac, the Reich’s borders were at their greatest extent and it wasn’t quite fitting to call Göring Meier. Those days seemed long ago. Now the buildings were predominantly smouldering ruins. The dining hall of the Old Reichskanzlei, Bismarcks palace in which the great old iron man had over seen the gathering of Austria-Hungary, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Ottoman Empire and Russia, many of which were now Germany’s enemies, in settling the crisis in the Balkans in 1878, had been destroyed the night before last. Much of the old city of Berlin, the area before the Marienkirche had been destroyed. Roland Freisler had been killed in the bombing raid of February 3rd, exactly a month prior and the amount of time that residents of the city spent in their basements was beginning to outweigh the time they could spend in their apartments themselves. On this last point, as he stood in the gardens, gardens that had more water features than intended due to the wide craters left by the bombs, reflecting, he could relate.

His villa, a villa that, amongst the staff and people of the Chancellery, had come to be called after him, had not been spared the destruction of the war. It too, like so many other buildings, had been damaged and more time was spent underground. The moments he could spend in the open air were often interrupted by the air raid sirens which signalled all those around to stump out their precious cigarettes, a highly sort after commodity after the destruction of the Yenidze and the city that surrounded it, Dresden, not even three weeks prior, and return to the under ground domain of shouting officers, hurrying adjutants and those who felt already that most, if not all was lost.

From what he had heard it was very much like this at the moment, although he had retreated into the fresh air, if you can call the winds that carried the dust of a ruined Berlin, fresh anymore, but there always was a constant rotation of people wanting to escape the underground delusions for the above ground reality. It seemed as if everyone knew it was over, apart from one person, but no one dared say it for the fear of becoming another one of Himmler’s henchman’s victims hung from lamp posts throughout the city with placards around their necks. Only Hitler still believed that their was a way out of the mess he had taken Germany into.

An aerial photo taken over Hitler's Reichkanzlei in March 1945. The Kempka Villa is at the right-hand end of the horizontal pathway through the garden.

He, Erich Kempka, began working for Hitler as his primary driver in 1934. During the now almost eleven years since he was first tasked with being the chauffeur to the Führer he had witnessed the arrest of Ernst Röhm, the disgraced head of the SA who was executed for a treasonous plot on the life of Hitler, he had driven Hitler into Poland as he surveyed the recently defeated nation in September 1939 and been with him on numerous rallies and field tours through his years in service for the dictator. It was upon the request of the Führer that he had divorced his wife in October of the previous year due to the persistent rumours that she was formerly of the halbseidenen Gewerbe, but also her erratic and loose mouth, which he always had liked as it matched his own. Even though he had divorced her, he still kept her in apartment on Berlin’s formerly luxurious, now somewhat destroyed, boulevard of the Kurfürstendamm.

Stumping out the remains of his, almost, burnt to the tip cigarette he returned under ground. The fleet of cars that he was entrusted with maintaining now numbered almost forty, but not all were in Berlin, some cars were still in Berchtesgarten, others in Munich, but there was a significant fleet of the Mercedes W-152s which they simply called the typ G. But with fuel running short, and the little fuel that had been available was slowly being squirrelled away by those who called themselves the most devoted to the Führer but were ready to flee the moment the Russians got to where their breath could rustle the leaves of city, the pompous Göring, softfaced Speer, or the inept Himmler. Even with guards placed watching the precious fuel it still seemed to be slowly seeping into the fuel tanks of the elite. But there were a few cars that could not be touched even by the greedy hands of Göring. And those were the ones reserved for the Führer, always prepared and ready to be put into mobilisation with the ringing of the telephone, that relayed the command, that on this morning, the 3rd of March 1945 came through, the Führer wants to leave the Reichskanzlei compound and investigate for himself the Eastern Front. But this was not 1942 when the Wehrmacht was almost knocking on Stalin’s door in Moscow, rather it was 1945 and the Russians were at the Oder, just 100 kilometres from Berlin. Kempka received his orders, the commander was to see General der Infanterie Busse and his staff at the headquarters of the röm 101 armee corps under the command of the 9th Army, at Schloß Harnekop.

Schloß Harnekop

Schloß Harnekopfrom Sammlung Duncker

In idyllic surroundings the palace rests. The waters of the lake flow at its footings. The trees of the Mark Brandenburg shade its windows or so they once did.

It was as part of a dowry that the Schloß was built. The land on which the small village of Harnekop rested was tied to another local town Prötzel which had come into the possession of Prussian Minister of State Paul Anton von Kameke, member of the first King of Prussia’s, Freidrich der Erste’s, bodyguard and general within the military, in the year 1711. It was in Prötzel where Paul Anton settled, building himself a baroque palace designed by the Berlin and the King’s own architect Andreas Schluter. But it was to be his granddaughter who was to have an impact on Harnekop.

Friedericke von Kameke was to marry. Her proposed spouse, the son of the former Chancellor of the Russian Empire Gabriel Iwanowitsch Golowkin, Peter Friedrich Christian von Golowkin, who just so happened to also be her first cousin. The land on the shores of the lake at Harnekop was her dowry, and with permission of the Prussian government and King, her husband Peter Firedrich Christian was allowed to acquire landed property. In 1772 construction began. Slowly from the earth a long palace began to rise. A double tiered roof, crowned a simple baroque residence. But it was only simple in terms of its exterior decoration, its proportions still were grand. For ease of access with the village that lay on the opposite shore the lake was damned, creating the upper and aptly named Großer See, and the lower equally justifiable named Schloß See, on which the Schloß Harnekop, completed in 1776 rested amongst gardens styled after the English fashion, with flowing lawns of tall grass and trees of oak preferred over the French baraoque style that had been popular at the beginning of the century.

It would only remain in the hands of the Glowkin’s for a short time, for just eleven years after the palaces completion Peter Friedrich Christian von Golowkin died followed a year later by his wife. The palace and Harenkop defaulted back to the von Kameke. The Kameke, however, in 1801 sold the Schloss at Harnekop to the great trader Ernst Jacob Freiherr von Eckardstein.

Eckardstein had made a considerable fortune in the glass business, manufacturing, particularly, mirrored glass in Amelith, in today’s Lower Saxony. But a large portion of his wealth had come from the contract to supply England’s Duke of York the provisions he required for his army whilst on campaign. In 1799 Eckardstein had relocated to Berlin, purchased a palace on Berlin’s prestigious Dönhoffplatz, and invested 500,000 Thaler in the Preußischen Seehandlung. With his vast wealth he purchased much of what the von Kameke family had left, including Prötzel, Reichenow, Grunow, Prädikow and Harnekop.

However, Harnekop was amongst the most unloved of the estates, and whilst the other estates, especially Reichenow, flourished under Eckardstein and his successors with new methods of agriculture being developed Harnekop was all but forgotten. The unloved estate left the posession of Eckardstein just nine years after Eckardstein’s purchase. The Schloß changed hands numerous times as it became leased by families wishing for a stylish country life near Prussia’s capital, but few stayed for long, and all were merely renters of the property. That was until August Alexis Eduard von Haeseler.

Von Haeseler purchased the property for 64,000 Thaler in 1837 and became invested in the area becoming in 1844 the Landräte, or County Councillor, for the Oberbarnim district to which Prötzel and Harnekop belonged, (a position later occupied by Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, who served as Reichskanzler from 1909 to 1917).

As his tasks as Landräte took him away from Harnekop more and more often, von Haeseler, took the decision to pass the ownership of Schloß Harnekop to his son Gottlieb von Haeseler.

Gottlieb greatly enjoyed both Schloß Harnekop and the village from which it took its name that lay across the dam between the lakes. But it was more often than not a retreat for himself. Where his father had been a major within the Prussian Army, Gottlieb would rise to rank as the Chief quartermaster of the General Staff and eventually being granted the title of Generalfeldmarschall.

In 1905 he retired from the service of the Army, but he came into the service of the people as a member of the Preußiches Herrenhaus, (Prussian House of Lords) he became a strong advocate for vocational training, to further the education of the children of Prussia within more specified disciplines whilst also taking inspiration from Britain’s Robert Baden-Powell in his founding of the scout movement, something to which, Gottlieb von Haeseler believed was necessary as the bridge between the youth and the army as the gap was too broad.

von Haeseler died at his home Schloß Harnekop in 1919. Yet he left behind no heirs. The estate fell to the decedents of his mothers family, the Schoenermarck family.

It was also in 1919 that a land reform was introduced by the new German government of the Weimar Republik. Article 155 of the new Reichs Constitution read; The cultivation of the land is a duty of the landowner to the community. As such, eventually, Schloß Harnekop was merged with the community of Harnekop and held in trust.

In 1932 the situation in Germany was changing rapidly. The economic crisis that had persisted since the Wall Street crash of October 1929 had created many problems for the people of Germany especially combined with the ever changing revolving door of the office of Chancellor many people of Germany started to look toward the exaggerated promises and pointed blame of Hitler and his National Socialist Party.

From 12 seats in 1928, the year before the financial crisis, the national socialist party of Adolf Hitler rose to become the second largest party in the Reichstag in 1930 with 107 seats before continuing on this trend and becoming the largest party just two years later in July 1932 with 230 seats. It was evident that the Nazi party was exerting its influence on more and more states, and local districts across the German lands. But with the rapid expansion, that came potentially to Hitler and the Nazis even as a surprise, a vacuum of people needed to exert National Socialist practices and ideology on the local landkries, existed. There simply was not enough people, considered to be good national socialists, i.e. people trained to be able to dish out the tough decisions that were needed to bring a population that still understood democracy and the authority of Weimar Law, into line with the brutality of the National Socialist ideology that soon would install a totalitarian regime. It was in this vein that the Reichsführerschule to train the Sturmabteilung or SA was founded.

The SA, also known as the Brownshirts for their use of surplus brown shirts bought cheap after the end of World War 1, began as a small group in 1920 before being organised and name Sturmabteilung in 1921. It was founded as a gymnastics and sports department of the party but it served really to fight with political conviction against the Kommunists and members of other parties in poltical bar brawls. But through organisation the SA changed into a more ordered arm of the party that would instigate political clashes with left wing parties that led to street fighting where-ever there was an office of the SA. This became the main task of the SA, to instigate attacks against political opponents.

The purpose of the Reichsführerschule was, initially, to train members of the SA into becoming strong and politically correct (in the vein of NSDAP thinking) members, to turn them from bar brawlers into leaders, to posses the qualities needed to govern with an iron fist and to ensure that when Hitler did become Chancellor and National Socialist doctrine was exerted across the Germany without opposition that the people of Germany would fall into line and support Hitler and his regime but to do this the task was first to convert the ruffians of the SA into the very people that could persuade the non-Nazis to the cause, or as historian Claudia Koonz put it “Nazi ruffians required intellectual retrofitting in order to debate with critics to inspire confidence amongst non-Nazis.”

Hitler had had some foresight to his rise, and on the 15th of June 1931 had opened the first Reichsführerschule in Munich, to provide the systematic training for members of the SA to govern under the leadership of the highly decorated yet treacherous to the Weimar Republic Kurt Kühme who had participated in the failed Kapp Putsch of 1920.

The courses were to typically last four weeks with many of the teachers being early members and the most staunchly political of the NSDAP. The indoctrination was to be total.

With the expansion of the NSDAP more schools was needed and there just happened to be a palace in need of a use not far from Berlin.

Reichsführerschule Schloß Harnekop

Planning for the conversion of Schloß Harnekop into a SA Reichsführerschule began even before the election of 1932. On the 3rd of February 1932 Herbert Merker an SA member, party spokesman and succesful agitator for the NSDAP was appointed to the task of heading up the Reichsführerschule that would be located within Schloß Harnekop. The first classes were scheduled to begin in the summer with the hopes that through a longer seven week course the new politically minded members of the Berlin-Brandenburg SA would be ready to take up posts across the Reich by mid autumn.

Even Chancellor Brüning’s banning of the Kommunist Rotfrontkämpferbund and Hitler’s Sturmabteilung did little to stop the Sturmabteilung in their setting up of the Reichsführerschule and by September 1932 they publicly showed their brand new school to the National Socialist supporters in the Hermann Esser edited Illustrierter Beobachter.

Amongst pictures of planes flying over flag poles bearing the Swastika flag of the National Socialist party, men dressed from head to toe in the brown of the SA uniforms marching in the sandy ground of Brandenburg, comes pictures of Merker at his desk, men gathered around the National Socialist Gauleiter of Brandenburg Dr. Schlange, and pictures of bare chested men sucking in the beer bellies that are ready to fall like boulders from a cliff once the photographer had depressed the shutter button. Accompanying the pictures comes this article, that begins with a poem beneath a SA man looking sternly forward.

Und wenn auch der Glaube ans Recht zerbrach,
das sich nun selber gerichtet,
er opfert und kämpft trotz Schande und Schmach,
bis die Feinde des Volkes vernichtet!

And even though the belief in justice was shattered,
which now judges itself,
he sacrifices and fights despite shame and dishonour,
until the enemies of the people are destroyed!

If you come on a hike through the Oderbruch and steer your steps from the old town of Wriezen to Harnekop, you will be amazed to find such an idyllic spot, whose lovely beauty seems to be in stark contrast to the common views of the Mark Brandenburg, the “gritting sandbox of the German Empire”.

Close to the shores of two lakes, in the middle of an ancient park, lies a proud castle trusty and simple in its construction. Once the seat of the Graden Haeseler, today a National Socialist leaders’s school. S.A. men and party comrades have worked tirelessly to make the premises fit for the purpose. Together with the S.A.Führers who attend courses here lasting several weeks, they have created a home that could not be more beautiful.

An open staircase leads up to a spacious hallway, from which you can access the large reception rooms. On the upper floor there are also wide corridors and high, bright rooms, which are used as team rooms, and which have been whirling through all the rooms of this house since the early hours of the morning.

Oberführer von Wechmar, Stabsführer von Arnim, Standartenführer Schäfer, Gauleiter Dr. Schlange and others want to visit the course, which has been here for two weeks. The rooms are being scrubbed and polished, the paths and footbridges are being raked and cleaned – in short, everything is flashing and flashing. Three airplanes and several cars finally announce their arrival.

“Attention! Judge! You!” The leaders walk away from the front. And then the students show what they have already learned, the teachers how you have taught them, until finally a gracious criticism concludes the military and sports demonstrations.

Comradeship and discipline, obedience and performance of duty, these are the virtues which are inherent in every National Socialist and which are promoted in service and community life in the Führer School.

Soon the S.A. leaders will leave the school again and return to their storms to teach them what they have learned, to implore them in the spirit which distinguishes National Socialism above all others and which makes all internal and external hostilities against it ineffective.

The training of SA future leaders

Amongst the first students of the Reichsführerschule to graduate was Werner Koeppen, SA-führer who would later become the adjutant to Alfred Rosenberg, a chief perpetrator in the starvation caused amongst the Russian people after Operation Barbarossa of June 1941 and as Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories in which he actively pursued the systematic elimination of the Jewish people, both crimes against humanity for which he, Rosenberg, was found guilty of in 1946 at the Nuremberg trials and hung.

Merker did not remain in command of the Reichsführerschule at Schloß Harnekop for long however and shortly after the publication of the September issue of Illustrierte Beobachter Merker was replaced by Karl Moritz.

The SA was going from strength to strength as Hitler grew in power. The National Socialist movement was sweeping the nation and many young men were keen to join the Sturmabteilung, either with friends or on their own.

For many it was away out of the impoverished lives many had. Many of the SA members came from the lower working classes and unemployed whilst the SS was made up more of the middle class. But, many also bitterly resented the work they had to take on after they had graduated from the Reichsführerschule. Claudia Koonz writes “spreading the communual spirit also meant intensive community organising, – which included many tasks that had been labelled in the 1920s kleinarbeit, or little work. Instead of the prerequisites of enjoying their new offices, old fighters were encouraged to organise neighbourhoods, which entailed door-to-door canvassing, fundraising, and publicising rallies, tasks that Nazi women had done before 1933.”

Nevertheless membership of the SA was on the rise. From 60,000 members in 1930 the organisation had grown to count 471,384 by August 1932, 700,000 by the end of 1932 beginning of 1933 and by June 1934 the SA organisation of Ernst Röhm numbered 4.5 million. To Hitler and the Nazi governmental elite however, the power that the SA gave Röhm was becoming a concern. It is reported that Röhm, apparently jokingly, said on numerous occasions Bedenkt, fast vier Millionen Rabauken stehen hinter mir! Remember, four million bullies stand behind me.

Ernst Röhm was a notoriously embittered man. He had a deep seeded loathing for the old Prussian officers class and wished for a merger of the Reichswehr into the Sturmabteilung whilst purging the officers and creating a new heirarchy, which potentially would have reverted the standard of the army into pre Prussian days. Coupled with this, he and the SA leaned more the socialist aspect of National Socialism and was not pleased with where he felt the National Socialist movement had come to rest politically, that the entire society needed a revolution, and it appeared he was prepared to carry out his revolution with or without Hitler.

On the night of the 30th of June 1934, however, Hitler and other members of the NSDAP Elite put an end to the threat of Röhm and the SA, when Röhm and the SA leaders were lured under false pretences to Tegernsee and either arrested or murdered. Röhm himself was arrested and the next day he was shot.

Quickly, with the demises of Röhm came the demise of the SA. Numbers started to fall. Between July and September membership fell by two million and by October 1935 it was down to 1.6 million. Falling membership, a lack of distrust of the NSDAP elite toward the SA meant that its functions were limited, and when a space was needed to be filled in a ministry or in government, those of the ever expanding SS under Heinrich Himmler were given priority over the SA. Therefore by 1936 Schloß Harnekop was no longer a SA Reichsführerschule, the rune that was to be worn upon the left sleeve as a badge of honour, the tyr rune, a black arrow with white and red borders point up was rarely to be seen, as graduates were no more, and the school found a new purpose as an Evangelical Frauenhilfsheim, a womans home.

It remained this way for the years when Hitler was master of Europe, when the German anschlussed Austria, when the British Prime Minister said yes Herr Hitler to the German Führers demands on Czechoslovakia, when Poland was invaded and divided by the great evils of the 20th century and Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France fell to the armies of the Wehrmacht which had absolved 80% of the SA members and eventually Hitler turned on his ally and invaded the Soviet Union.

But those days when the Wehrmacht seemed unstoppable, when little stood in their way were over.

Hitler's Last Day Out

The morning out look looked bleak to the ceremonial commander of the Volkssturm. The eastern front was collapsing. The Army Group Vistula had been placed under Heinrich Himmler, who with no military experience had proved a disaster. Operation Solstice, an operation to relieve the old fortified city and now Festung of Küstrin had failed. The situation was bleak. Taking the time in the morning of the 3rd to evaluate the situation he sat down in his villa to write in his diary.

“Within the East activity is still centred on Pomerania, where the enemy is attempting to come together to break our Northern flank and dive in. Between Köslin and Schlawe, the enemy has reached the road that is the crossing of the Grabow. Rummelsburg has been recaptured by a German counterattack from the south west and then pushed on south for 10km, however the resistance then proved too strong and the army could penetrate no further. Our lines now run some 10km north west from Rummelsburg and then East towards Heiderode to the Vistual. The left flank of the enemy attack in the Neustettin-Bublitz-Köslin area runs north some 30 km west of Neustettin. Here again our initial gains from counter attacks could gather no more further ground. A second focal point of the enemy’s attack is north of Reetz. With armour the enemy has attacked northwards towards Stargard-Köslin road, with the advance armour reaching this and the railway south of Labes. More enemy forces swung north of Reetz moving west towards Stargard. At the same time the Soviets attacked Northwards towards Arnswalde before crossing the Stargard-Reetz railway at Zachan. In the Pyritz area and west the enemy has attacked towards Stettin, penetrating to a depth of 8 to 10 kilometers. Pyritz is now in enemy hands.

” The Soviet advance in eastern Pomerania has again forced a critical situation upon us. We should have expected it, but we did not, because we are too weak on all sectors of the front. The Soviets are finding great ease in concentrating their forces on a point and then breaking through our lines. Like a fire brigade we are moving our forces around to plug the holes that are leaking as best we can, but we suffer severely in the process.

The enemy air terror has once again raged over the territory of the Reich. Dresden, Chemnitz, Magdeburg, and Linz have all been attacked. 70, or at least up to 70 aircraft have been reported to have been shot down. This is obviously nothing like enough to put a stop to these flights, yet it is better than nothing.

I have been discussing with my staff a problem concerning the initiation of total war, this will be of decisive importance for bringing replacements into the Wehrmacht.

He also, like Erich Kempka was situated not far from the bunker in which the Führer had resigned himself to more as the air raids had gotten heavier. He had access to the military maps that adorned the tables and the walls of the Führer bunker and saw the red and blue lines and arrows moving day by day as the maps showed how quickly the eastern front was collapsing. To think that the eastern front was once at Stalingrad and now it was in Küstrin, where Friedrich der Große had been imprisoned by his father whilst he was still Friedrich Kronprinz, just 100 kilometres from the capital of the Reich that was proclaimed to last a thousand years.

Erich Kempka made haste. He had five Mercedes W. 152 typ G automobiles prepared to leave at a moments notice and the Führers body guard was now swarming over them ready to escort a man who had, in his sitting in the dark, become blind to the reality of the war.

Even as they were leaving the officers of the bunker expressed their destain for Hitler’s decision to leave the Führer bunker. The risk was certainly high. And for many it came strange now, that even after the pleadings of many amongst the Nazi high circles to visit troops, make more public appearances to boost moral, that as the Soviets came crashing through the lines of the German armies, as the Volksturm young boys and antiquated men with their Italian rifles, single Panzerschrecks, bicycles and armbands as uniform were quashed under the tracks of the numerous T-34 tanks of the Red Army that the Führer wished to witness the lines now.

Perhaps, however, it was not to boost moral or to give advice but rather to witness how close Germany was to catastrophic defeat so that as the war progressed his decision on how he would end his war could come easier.

The motorcade left the underground garage that was managed by Kempka. Five drab olive green bizarre looking vehicles. Neither did they look light, nor did they look heavy, short and stocky, high and low all at the same time. They had been built between 1937 and 1941 and were a far cry from the luxiourous armour plated limousine by the same manufacturer that Kampke had ordered especially for the Führer. The seats were not rich leather and sprung but, padded wooden boxes the appeared to be salvaged from the wooden pews of the long since closed churches of the Reich, the floor was flat, and the roof, retractable though it was provided little enclosure when the sides of the vehicles were open to the elements.

Kempka turned the motorcade on to Wilhelmstraße, the Führer sat next to himself in the front passenger seat of the Mercedes Typ 5. Wilhelmstraße had once been the centre of German government since 1871 and now the grand old palaces, the offices of the Reichsverkehrsministerium, Finanzministerium, showed the effects of the British aerial campaign over Germany. The propaganda ministerium extension still stood amongst the rubble, its modern construction of concrete and steel providing better protection agains the blockbuster and firebombs dropped from above, but the 18th century Palace of Prince Karl, also known as the Ordnungs Palais now lay in ruins, its baroque panelling and parquet floors kindling for fires that had destroyed so much.

As they drove on Hitler’s gaze remained sternly forward. To look upon the ruins was to come to terms with defeat. Onto Unter den Linden they turned, where little over 12 years before thousands of SA men had paraded with burning torches in hand past the luxurious hotels of the world. They drove past the Hotel Bristol where only half of the building remained. The few people in the streets looked on the motorcade in disbelief, questioning if their eyes deceived them, was it indeed the Führer who had seldom been seen in public since the turning of the tide of the war that was now driving in the small motorcade through a predominantly deserted Berlin.

Friedrich der Große stood entombed in brick at the centre of the boulevard, a man that he, the Führer admired greatly, whose portrait by Anton Graf hung over the desk in the study beneath the gardens of the Reichkanzlei. Could he hope for a miracle of house Brandenburg like that had happened to Friedrich der Große when Tsarina Elisabeth of Russia died and her alliance fell to pieces the last time that the Russians were trying to break into Brandenburg during the Seven Years War. Opern platz was on his right, where Göbbels had burned the books of those the NSDAP considered inferior, the Staatsoper that had been damaged on 10th April 1941 but had reopened in December 1942 with Wagner’s Meistersingern von Nürnberg, was once again destroyed with the aerial bombings of exactly a month earlier.

Berlin, it was evident to all those who passed through on that morning, was a skeleton of its former self. But even as the buildings collapsed under their own weight still the structures of the National Socialist society remained in place. Defeatism was a crime punishable by the hangman’s noose, and the brutes of Himmler and Kaltenbrunner still stalked the streets of a city that in 1932 had been dealt a blow by the Reichsregierung of Franz von Papen whose emergency powers had deprived Prussia and Berlin of their democratically elected government that had been opposed to Hitler and his brown shirts. A blow to Prussia that had allowed the brown shirts to once again roam the streets of Berlin freely and had put the instruments of the Prussian Polizei based at the Roteburg on Alexanderplatz in the hands of those who leaned more to the teachings of the far right than the democracy on which Prussia had been built. It was past these buildings, past the Roteburg that now the motorcade and turned onto the Große Frankfurter Allee leaving the historic limits of Berlin and driving through the once high density living quarters of a city that had grown in economic power and size with such rapidity at the turn of the century but with the war was now a wasteland, the British and Americans allowed to rule freely over the city with only the occasional burst of flak to deter. The Berliners had grown accustomed to the failures of Göring and in their dry humour began the whispered humour “when a silver aeroplane flies over, it’s American, when there is a green plane, that’s the British, when there are no aircraft, that’s the Luftwaffe.”

With the Große Frankfurter Allee it was a straight shot through Friedrichshain and Lichtenberg and the countryside of the Mark Brandenburg that lay beyond.

The city gave way to fields. The small houses of the people of Brandenburg who still tendered to small allotments of land that produced the only real food that could be accessed as more and more food became replaced with Ersatz, or replacement versions, facsimiles of the real thing. Driving North East the motorcade passed through Hohenshönhausen then arrived in Ahrensfelde where as the car came to a halt the people, who were on the streets doing their best to go about a normality unfamiliar, began to recognise the forlorn figure in the deep green figure, whose gaunt face spoke of the ailments that he was suffering internally, ailments that he refused to have addressed by anyone other than his personal physician the questionable Doctor Dr. Morrell.

Dr. Morrell, for many years, had been creating increasing doses of concoctions of drugs, formed of morphine, cocaine, amphetamines and other substances that masked the problems to which the Führer was reluctant for various reasons to truly address. As Hitler had left the bunker earlier that day Morrell had offered his services, but Hitler had turned his request to join him on the journey to the east down. Stating that he required Dr. Morrell to be awaiting him when he returned and that the journey would be too dangerous he flatly refused the request, to which Dr. Morrell put little struggle to.

Now sat in the automobile the whispers spread and more faces began to appear from behind doors normally kept securely closed. Slowly they began to approach the motorcade to witness the man whose voice had once rained over the airwaves and now was seldom heard, the man who had once presented himself at all kinds of events, from the digging of a new autobahn, to speaking before the workers of factories large and small, but now, as his war raged on the German people and sulked to a protective bunker whilst those he had subjected to the war were left to feel the full force of the enemies he had made. Yet still he commanded a presence that Erich Kempka saw turned the desperation of the people into hope. Perhaps some hoped he would meet his end sooner rather than later and this god forsaken war could come to a close.

Forwards the motorcade moved leaving the small gatherings of people behind as it passed from outlying towns to villages along roads lined by trees starting to show the buds of spring upon their branches. Ahrensfelde became Blumberg, which became Seefeld then Werneuchen all the while eyes within the cars looked above searching the skies for any sign of an enemy aircraft that might just strafe the motorcade.

After the village of Wertpfuhl there was some easing of the tension as the motorcade turned off of the road that would have taken them to the Spa town of Bad Freienwald beyond which the Oderbruch lay. Instead they turned east along a road that lead them through the dense forrest, a mixture of the deciduous and evergreen. For 13 kilometres repetitive rows of trees passed by the motorcade, and for those few minutes, if it were not for the Mercedes typ G and the uniforms of worn by all those in the automobiles, as they drove, the it was if the war was a thousand kilometres away rather than 50.

It was a harsh contrast from the serenity of the forrest. Schloß Harnekop was frantic with activity. The officers and adjutants who had been informed by those of the high command representatives within the Führer bunker had hurriedly gathered at Schloß Harnekop which had become the Generalkommandos CI. Armeekorps (roman 101st army corps) under the command of Wilhelm Berlin.

Wilhelm Berlin a highly decorated officer of World War One had a year prior received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes now was playing host to his direct superior General der Infanterie Theodor Busse commander of the 9th Army to which the CI corps was attached, Generaloberst Robert Ritter von Greim of the Luftwaffe, Franz Reuß commander of Luftlotte 6, which had been attempting to destroy the bridges across the Oder to put a halt to the advancement of the Soviet troops, but lack of fuel had led to much of the strength of the division being grounded and General der Flakartillerie Job Odebrecht, Kommandierender General des II. Flak-Korps. All anxiously awaited the Führer, not knowing what mood he might be in, whether he was going to meddle in the affairs of the army or quietly sit and listen. General der Infantrie Busse like many amongst the upper echelons of the Wehrmacht had been concerned with the appointment of the militarily inept Himmler as commander of Army group Vistula and the decisions of the Führer that had proved successful earlier in the war were now proving to be disastrous and made out of loyalty rather than military sense.

The motorcade drove along Hauptstraße and turned left to cross the dam that separated the old lake into two before the Schloß. The drive from Berlin had taken ninety minutes and now the wheels of the Mercedes typ G were rolling on the gravel of a palace that had remained pristine in its simplistic baroque design since the 18th century.

The troops of the CI. Corps gathered around to catch a glimpse of the Führer as he exited from the front seat of the car to stand to attention and return the straight arm salute that the soldiers now raised for him. Officers gathered around the Führer, who wobbled side to side as he walked between the uniforms of Generals and staff officers, even managing to laugh as he spoke with them. But despite the smiles his figure did not command the presence as it once had when he stood before the thousands at the Nuremberg Party Rallies. His head no longer held high but drooped down as his shoulders hunched. He entered the Schloß as a crew of Die Deutsche Wochenschau hastily arrived, having been sent by the minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment Joseph Göbbels, to exploit the event to show the people Hitler was still taking an active role in the defence of Germany.

Hitler meeting with Generals
Im Hauptquartier der Heeresgruppe Weichsel Personen hinter Hitler von links: General Berlin; General der Artillerie im OKW General Ritter v. Greim; Kommandeur d. Luftflotte 6 Gneral-Major Reuß, Franz; Kommandeur einer Flieger-Div. General Odebrecht, Job , Kommandierender Gen.d. II.Flak-Korps (mot) General-Oberst Busse, Theodor; Kommandeut 9. Armee

Inside the Schloß, even after changing hands so many times through out its history, it still retained the baroque frescos, wall hangings, and furniture, even though many of the bullies of Röhm had passed through its doors along with the women who had stayed their when it was the Evangelical Frauenhilfsheim. In the main reception room, dominated by a row of tables pushed together and covered with a white sheet to form one great table the adjutants of the CI Corps were lined up along the wall. Hitler walked before them, holding out his hand to shake those of the officers, who after releasing their grip, they gave the Hitler salute which he returned with his casual flick from the elbow, but no longer did his hand stretch out straight, rather it resembled a claw, whilst his left hand, hung limply at his side twitching widely, either as result of the damage it received after Stauffenberg’s failed assassination, disease or withdrawals from the medicine that Dr. Morrell would normally be pushing into his veins which he could not do from afar.

Taking the singular chair that had been placed on the long edge of the makeshift map table Hitler sat as Berlin, Reuß, Ritter von Greim, Odebrecht and Busse gathered around him. Berlin placing the operational maps of the Oderbruch before the Führer who perused briefly over the markings that had been drawn in the colour pencils of the operational staff. Taking in the situation he drew his conclusions and began to lecture the silent party that surrounded him as the Die Deutsche Wochenschau cameras roll. Hitler looked to Busse, then turned to look away from reality, as his gaze got lost in a distance, his right hand hammering up and down as he made a point, his eyes glazed and blinking every time that his hand rose and fell as he scolded those around him for the failures. And yet, despite the failing health of the man sat in front of them, no one could bring themselves to question his leadership or the decisions that he had made in placing Himmler as head of the Army Group.

As Hitler continued to berate those inside, outside more troops had gathered around the stone doorway of the Schloß hoping to catch a glimpse of the Führer. If they were expecting one of Hitler’s long rambling diatribes they could count themselves lucky, as within thirty minutes of arriving Hitler had seen all that he needed to see. As an adjutant helped to put his great coat on once more, the cameras began to roll again. Hands by the door raised as Hitler, holding his body as high as he could muster walked out quickly, flicking his arm up and down recognising again the outstretched arms of the Hitler salute.

Hitler leaving Schloß Harenkop on March 3rd 1945

Speedily he returned to the automobile where Erich Kempka had already started the motor and slid into the uncomfortable seat, as soon as the SS guard had closed the door Kempka pressed the accelerator and the motorcade left the Schloß. The entire visit had last just thirty minutes. Hitler knew the Oder, the ancient former marsh land of the Oderbruch and the natural defensive position of the Seelow heights were all that now stood in the way of the Red Army.

From Schloß Harnekop the motorcade drives to Haselberg, onto Lüdersdorf, Kunersdorf, Metzdort, Gottesgabe and Neuhardenburg. At Neuhardenburg the divisional command of the 303. Division “Döberitz” under Generalleutnant Hübner, a “fanatical and reliable Nazi” (MacDonald, Charles B. (1973) A Bridge at Remagan) is located. Gathering around the memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Great War the officers of General Hübner’s 303 Division congregate with Hitler. Hitler speaks strongly of victory, he shakes the hands of all those gathered and talks of a spring offensive to push the Red Army back and secure Germany’s borders once again.

It is then ontowards the Seelow heights that now the motorcade drives. The Seelow heighst is a natural ridge that over looks the Oderburch and the Oder river and preparations were being made to fortify it, for it would be the last defensive barrier between the Soviets and Berlin if they were to breach the Oder. To Platkow they first drive, then Gusow before arriving in Seelow for a short visit. Women and children gathered around the car as they paused and Hitler took the time to speak with them, Erich Kempka always impressed with how quickly people were reassured by Hitler.

The villages of Freidersdorf and Dolgelin were then passed through before the next stop at the Divisional Command of the 309, the Groß Berlin division under the command of Oberst Voigtsberger. The 309, like the 303, had been divisions that had been involved in the defence of Küstrin but had managed to pull back before they were wiped out now they were both fortifying positions around Seelow, and awaiting the next advancement of the Red Army. Hitler perused the Oderbruch briefly, before once again returning to the motorcade.

Once again through Friedersdorf they drove, then Seelow before turning West to return to Berlin using Reichsstraße 1. As Erich Kempka drove the Führer slumped in his seat. His face looking to the flat floor of the Mercedes in which they travelled. Not a word did the Führer speak, and to Erich, he seemed lost in thought about the gravity of the situation that was casting a shadow over his features.

Two hours later, after once again travelling through the ruins of Berlin, racing against the onset of the twilight of evening when the British mosquito planes would once again swam in the skies over the Hauptstadt of the ever shrinking Reich, the five car motorcade wound its way through the rubble piles of collapsed buildings and to the garages beneath the gardens of the Reichskanzlei, a building of splendour for a Reich of ruins.

“The Führer has paid a visit to 1 Corps on the Eastern Front, primarily to the Döberitz and Berlin divisions. The effect of the Führers visit bot on officers and men was enormous. I think it right that the Führer should now pay more frequent visits to the front to put an end to the nauseating rumour-mongering that he does not pay sufficient attention to the front. He does so, but in a way unimaginable to the simpler military minds. Nevertheless, on psychological grounds it is essential for the Führer to show himself in person, as he is doing.” so the Ceremonial Commander of the Volkssturm and Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment Joseph Göbbels wrote that evening.

Erich Kempka had watched as Hitler stepped from the car and returned to the bunker. He then returned the automobiles to their stations and prepped them for if the Führer ever needed them again. He wouldn’t.

Göbbels wished for Hitler to show himself more despite the risks, but never again would the man who at one point had commanded from Normandy to Moscow leave the grounds of the Reichskanzlei. Nevertheless in the following days Göbbels had the footage of Hitler’s visit to Schloß Harnekop carefully edited into the Die Deutschen Wochenshau to be presented to audiences.

Almost exactly two months after Hitler’s last day out, the Red Flag, on 2nd May 1945, would be raised over the Reichstag and Berlin would be conquered and a new chapter in the city’s history would begin. The 9th German Army did hold out at the Seelow heights, but with lack of equipment, air support and weapons eventually the numerically superior and well fuelled Red Army would over run the positions.

Erich Kempka survived the war and would note down his experiences eventually form them into books.

Theodore Busse would work for the Federal Ministry of the Interior after the war and take part in the first NATO exercise Fallex 66 before dying in 1986, followed a year later by Wilhelm Berlin.

Franz Reuß, Heinrich Voightsberger and Job Odebrecht would also all survive the war.

Rudolf Hübner was transferred to the Western front very shortly after Hitler’s visit where he would hold court as judge, prosecutor and jury over the soldiers who failed to destroy the Luddendorf bridge over the Rhein, he found them all guilty and they were shot and buried where they fell. Shortly after he was put in charge of Munich as commander and was responsible for the deaths of around 200 people by shooting or hanging. He was sentenced to four years in prison in 1948 for his role in the deaths as a result of the Luddendorf Bridge trial and would die in 1965.

For Schloß Harnekop, the palace that had stood since the late 18th century in design unchanged despite its numerous uses, the Wehrmacht, in a senseless act of destruction lay waste to it as the Red Army encirclement of Berlin was completed in April 1945 and the final onslaught against a capital now only of itself began.

However, as a twist, Gottlieb von Haeseler, the Generalfeldmarschall to last inhabit the building solely, through his life, until his death in 1919, cared for the community of Harnekop. Amongst other things he donated the bell to the local church, a church in which he lays. I suspect he would be happy to know, that from the ruins of the Schloß, a village was rebuilt as the villagers used the rubble of the palace to restore their homes. The last pieces of the Schloß were removed in 1970 and now nothing remains of the palace to which Hitler visited on his final day out.

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