On Monday January 30th 1933, Gustav Wächter is sitting at his desk in the Income Tax Section of the Tax Office at Baumeisterstrasse 8. He has just signed a number of documents, and he looks up and glances out of the window at the statue of a woman which crowns the seventeen-metre high monument in Hansaplatz. The statue does not depict Hammonia, Hamburg’s patron goddess, as many people believe; in fact it is an allegorical representation of Hansa in female form, a North German Marianne. Her right hand is raised in a protective gesture above the square, and in her left hand she holds a trident, at the base of which there is a Hansa cog carved out of the stone. The stern of the ship bears the coat of arms of the city of Hamburg in gold. The monument itself is made of Belgian granite and sandstone; it stands on a circular stepped plinth which leads up to the square pool, half-filled with water spurting from the mouths of four lions into shell-shaped receptacles. Above these lion heads there is an eclectic collection of statues, one in each niche: the Roman Emperor Constantine, Charlemagne, Archbishop Ansgar, and Adolf III of Schauenburg. The coats of arms of the North German Hansa towns of Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck, along with the coat of arms of the German Reich, adorn each side of the monument above these statues. It is not particularly easy to work out why these figures and symbols have been gathered around the fountain in Hansaplatz, but one senses that the monument is meant to bear witness to the power of the Hanseatic league, and to the fact that Hamburg is an integral part of the German Reich; at the same time, the four statues have something to say about the introduction of Christianity into Europe, and above all into North Germany.
The market traders around the fountain are beginning to pack up for the day. Some of the barrow boys are already on the move, and Gustav is listening to the characteristic sound of the metal-clad wheels of their stalls rattling over the cobbles when a junior member of staff suddenly rushes into his office without knocking. This has never happened before. Once inside this colleague informs Gustav, with a mixture of euphoria and ill-concealed malicious pleasure, that Adolf Hitler is now Chancellor. The colleague, whose name is Georg Herrel, immediately realises that he has done something unacceptable; he apologises and explains that it is his birthday. ‘I’m forty-five today,’ he says with some embarrassment; it is clear that he sees this an omen.
Another man who has a birthday today is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the newly-elected President of the United States. His inauguration has not yet taken place, but he will be a formidable opponent of Hitler, and will eventually be instrumental in defeating the Führer. Georg Herrel is happily unaware of this coincidence as he withdraws to celebrate his birthday, leaving his boss to his solitary contemplation of the square.
Gustav Wächter has always regarded Hansaplatz as one of the most beautiful places in the city, and he has often rounded off his working day by buying something from one of the market traders or in one of the small shops in the square. He wonders whether he should call in at Herr Simmon’s chemist’s shop on the corner, at Hansaplatz 7, to buy some invigorating chest lozenges before he makes his way to the station to catch the train home to his apartment on Eppendorfer Weg. Then it suddenly strikes him that the statue symbolising Hansa has turned her back on him. It has never occurred to him before, but she is looking towards the south-east, towards Steindamm and on to the Holy Land. And for the first time Gustav Wächter sees that her right hand is not in fact raised in a protective gesture over the city, but extends from her body in a Nazi salute.
Reportage from Reichskanzlei in Simulated Real Time (German)