It was the first official admission theyd made that

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Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony). It was the first official admission they’d made that the war wasn’t going perfectly, and for the first time people openly asked one another on the streets what would happen if the war were lost. Hitler himself was devastated. It was soon after the disaster at Stalingrad that his entourage began noticing odd physical symptoms: a slight tremor in his hands, a dull look in his eyes, a general air of apathy — and unending complaints about insomnia. In his table talk he dwelled less and less on his vision of the Greater Reich and was more and more given to ranting about who — industrialists, bankers, generals — was sabotaging him the most. By 1944 he was visibly falling apart: he was perpetually stooped, he dragged his feet, his cheeks were sunken, his hands constantly shook; he was unable to walk a few hundred feet without stopping to rest. Everyone who saw him could tell what was going on: the war was consuming him along with the Reich. He had spent most of the war at a succession of temporary military headquarters deep in the mosquito-infested forests of eastern Europe and the limitless fields of the Ukraine, but as the disasters on the Russian front accumulated, he was forced to return to Berlin. The city had grown dreary and shabby while he’d been away. Nothing had been painted or repaired for years, and the big public works of the Greater Reich amounted to no more than a scattering of abandoned excavations. And yet the architects and draftsmen in Speer’s offices were still busily working on new plans, on surreal neoclassical cityscapes and monuments for future wars, on the swirling interchanges of the new autobahns and the grand stadia where the victory rallies would be held — as though the propaganda was all correct and the war was just about to be won. It seemed insane, but it was the most sensible course they could follow; the importance of their work had led Hitler to exempt them from the draft, and they had to go on looking busy to keep from being sent out to fight on the approaching front. But Hitler no longer cared. The tabletop model of Berlin was put in storage; the new renderings Speer’s teams sent over went unexamined. He could barely bring himself to listen to the daily briefings from the military on the current situation in the field. Now and
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then he would rouse himself long enough to order long-destroyed divisions to rally behind nonexistent lines; but mostly he wandered despondently through his underground quarters, waiting for it to be over. He sadly told his entourage that the German people had not been equal to the great task he’d set them. At other times he would have fits of despairing rage and issue orders for the retreating German troops to burn and destroy everything behind them, so the Allies would conquer nothing but ashes — much like Wotan at the end of the Ring, who locks himself in Valhalla and orders it piled with kindling, so that a spark from Siegfried’s funeral pyre will set it all alight. It was a last gesture of renunciation, a Wagnerian finale enacted across the wreckage of Europe. Maybe too it was a kind of
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