As scholars of the French Revolution (and almost every revolution since) have noted, national identity and ideological convictions can be expressed in the smallest items of dress, interior decoration, and domestic habits; such manifestations usually trumpet their owners’ values. In Hitler at Home, Despina Stratikagos examines how Hitler collaborated with architects and interior designers, in a more subtle fashion, to produce a private life that could be marketed to the public. The goal was to create the desired impression on visitors, both German and foreign, building on widely shared notions of German domesticity and respectability. Stratigakos asserts that “scholars of architecture and fascist aesthetics have focused on monumental building projects and mass spectacle, overlooking the domestic and the minute” (p. 3). Illuminating, meticulously researched, and beautifully illustrated, her study underscores the importance of including the domestic, and ostensibly private, side of fascism in our scholarly field of vision.
The book examines three residences renovated by Hitler: his private apartment in Munich, purchased and furnished using the affluence that sales of Mein Kampf brought him, during a period when his public respectability had been called into [End Page 223] question by a lurid scandal; his alpine retreat in the Obersalzburg, which connected Hitler to German tropes of nature and the essential Germanness of mountain landscapes; and the Old Chancellery in Berlin, the official residence of the German Chancellor. The first half of the book explores how Hitler and his favourite interior decorator, Gerdy Troost, worked to renovate and decorate all three venues, while the second half draws upon visitors’ memoirs and photojournalism of the period to examine how the “private” Hitler was then marketed and seen by the German and international public (including photo spreads and positive descriptions of Hitler at home in Home and Gardens and The New York Times Magazine), along with the eventual fates of these properties after 1945.
Stratigakos was able to gain access to Troost’s archive, which she uses to uncover Troost’s role in the renovation and expansion of an alpine chalet that Hitler first rented and then purchased (compelling its original owner to sell, probably against his will), which became known as the Berghof. Here, Hitler could play the role of “the mountain king” (pp. 168–169). German photojournalists celebrated Hitler against this backdrop in many popular coffee table books, connecting him to traditional peasant life in the mountains and also linking him to popular legends about “slumbering kings” interred beneath the mountains (Frederick Barbarossa and Charlemagne) who would awaken to defend Germany when the nation needed them. Stratigakos argues that domestic architecture became a powerful propaganda tool for Hitler during the 1930s. The Berghof in particular became the primary setting within which Hitler publicized a carefully curated performance of German domesticity that was marketed internationally.
As Stratigakos notes, Hitler badly needed to rehabilitate his domestic life. He had lived alone (renting a single room) for years, disdaining norms of bourgeois respectability. His living situation took a more affluent and domestic turn after 1929 when, using the royalties from Mein Kampf, he rented a spacious apartment in Munich and moved his beautiful 21-year-old niece in with him. When she committed suicide in 1931, Hitler’s private life was exposed to ugly speculation and publicity. Hitler chose not to conform to familial norms that his regime demanded of ordinary Germans, however. He remained a bachelor in a regime that promoted marriage and childrearing as a duty for all ethnic German citizens and only married his long-term lover, Eva Braun, a few hours before their joint suicide in 1945. He never had children. His actual private life thus stood in contradiction to the idyll of happy, large families with stay-at-home housewives that the regime promoted for other Germans. He and Troost worked to promote his domestic respectability not with his family life, but rather through architecture and interior design, carefully showcased in popular culture. Soon after his niece’s suicide, Hitler purchased the Alpine property that became the Berghof and began to create a more respectable (and certainly more photogenic) domestic...