January 31st 1933 is a Tuesday, which means that Gustav Wächter’s youngest son, Walter, is at the home for “difficult” children where he is working as a trainee. He has been on duty all night, and will end his shift at midday. At exactly twelve o’clock Walter is relieved by a colleague, and hurries to his room to eat, have a wash and get changed. One of the boys has already collected his lunch from the kitchen and set it out on the table, This is a much sought-after task, as it is tacitly understood that the volunteer will be permitted to share the meal, and also has access to the trainee’s room when the trainee is not there. Walter eats quickly, has a wash, puts on a sports jacket and walks out on to Averhoffstrasse. It is one of those cold, clear winter days which is so typical of his home town. The air smells fresh and the sun is pleasantly warm, giving a sense of the approaching spring. Walter is in an excellent mood; he is on his way to see Liesbeth, his girlfriend. He is humming a tune, and whistles parts of the chorus as he turns into a side street leading to Mühlenkamp, which will take him to Liesbeth more quickly. There, at the crossroads, someone bellows ‘Heil Hitler!’ raising his arm challengingly in Walter’s direction. In return Walter makes a gesture, tapping his index finger at his temple to show what he thinks of that particular greeting. Then he continues on his way towards Krohnskamp, seemingly untroubled by the incident. The loudmouth, a young man about the same age as Walter, yells something that Walter can’t quite make out, although the meaning is very clear to him. This kind of thing happens from time to time; he is harassed on the street. But Walter does not regard it as his problem. He knows that many people think of him as a foreign element, a person who does not belong in Germany. And what does that mean? Who among all these people knows more than Walter about German history, who speaks the German language better than him, who has a deeper understanding of German culture? Goethe, Schiller, Weimar classicism and German Romanticism were Walter’s favourite subjects at grammar school. What does it matter if these people who call themselves as “German nationalists” do not regard him as one of them? He is not one of them. He is part of the radical intelligentsia, and aligns himself with the German worker. This gives him an impenetrable defence against anti-Semitic attacks. They have no effect on him. Prejudice is not his problem; it is the problem of the person harbouring those feelings.
By the time Walter arrives at Liesbeth’s apartment, he has already forgotten the incident with the young Nazi. Liesbeth waves from the window and Walter runs up the stairs. She opens the door and quickly kisses him, which means that there are no members of the family in the immediate vicinity.
‘Have you heard?’ she asks.
He says he doesn’t know what she is talking about, and she tells him that President Paul von Hindenburg has appointed Adolf Hitler as his Chancellor; Walter responds with a shrug. The last Chancellor, Kurt von Schleicher, lasted just over a month, and his predecessor, the nobleman and dilettante Franz von Papen, occupied the post for only five months. Why should Hitler last any longer than Schleicher or Papen? Liesbeth informs him that Papen is in fact Hitler’s vice-chancellor.
‘That’s the end of the brown uniform jokes then,’ Walter says quietly before poking his head around the kitchen door to say hello to Liesbeth’s father, who is in a festive mood as he puts on his brown uniform, ready to meet his friends in the brass band in which he plays the trombone.