The Watch Thief – Chapter 22

Berlin–Lehrte Railway, 15 September, 1919.

Alfred Anderson in suit, sweeping bronze overcoat and fedora, kept his broadsheet firm but low to permit an eye line. He moved to turn the pages of his paper or when the train shook Trebitsch’s shiny walking stick onto the floor. Trebitsch wore grey spats over ankles, a black cape, suit with bowtie and black bowler hat.
“I said, when Mr. Wulle introduced us on Unter den Linden, yes, there’s a man who I will get on with. Do you know at that cafe I met the Captain of Koepenick? Mr. Wulle said he’d introduce me to a Herr Neumann. Neumann, hmmm? Do you know him? It doesn’t matter. We shall give your employer Mr. Hearst some incredible story. All of America will hear of it. Oh, you and I shall have an adventure, Anderson!”
The window to Castle Wolfsburg passes gorse walls quick. Bridges black out country. Microscopic slides, faraway stamps of mountain green, a water speckle of town-bridge through filter of hanging wires.
“They are particularly cruel, the British. They transferred me to where they executed my cell-mate, Roger Casement. Then they delayed my release, but made sure to dangle it before me first! I was expressly told not to return to Budapest. I think it was because of the revolution. The Bela Kun regime? Oh, they feared my involvement. My brother, Lajos, was very big in Socialist circles but he was not even in Hungary then! My mother would have been pleased to see me. Although there were men there, greedy fat oil-men, who wanted me thrown in prison!”
Anderson was heavy set, his lips rarely moving his waxed moustache. The livestock threaten to gridlock Lehrte’s city streets and the trains similarly pack its station. There were dots of trees and telegraph poles in dots and a fly buzzing around the curve of the window glass. Then Hannover, three hundred thousand people in a free trading modern suburb.
“I was saying earlier, the British tried to stop me going home. I intended to! Ah, Hannover! When I got to here I decided, no, I shan’t. Why give them what they expect? I shall see Germany. I had no ticket and they became awkward; and then they remembered who I am and let me ride free. People gave out free food and sang with great sentiment. Your people are the best people in the world!”
Then they are pushed into a new shuddering. Petershagen: sparse lakes and buildings, like an archaeological dig. Anderson was quiet still. Salzebergen: smoking oil refineries and for a time all he saw was trees, like a jigsaw puzzle. Buds tapped telegraph signals: bored, bored, and bored. Then over the border to the Netherlands and Oldenzaal, bigger than his last visit with buses, trains, but the familiar brick water tower. The train honked over inclines of public paths, Pothoek and the Lek River, Gelderland’s lakes painting sunset. More than a few times he thought he glimpsed farms surveyed for Rowntree. There was a woman opposite them in the carriage and her reflection passed over a farm spectral-like.
“I expect you think it strange to be making the same journey Kaiser Wilhelm made? I do too. I was at his own grandmother’s jubilee celebrations you know? She would turn in her grave if she knew what we know now. I am excited to hear what the Kaiser has to say to all of this, are you not Mr. Anderson?”
The last of the window reflections disintegrated in overcast skies. Anderson was sleeping, or pretending. Trebitsch gazed out at the dark ridge valley of paper mills, hunting lodges and the vicarage of Kootwijkerbroek. Anderson woke on cue at Utrecht where they disembarked and breakfasted. They walked where the Rhine flowed in canal and wharfs, by St. Martin’s and the churches of Dom Square. They asked directions of several people on the way to the automobile trader. Once it was purchased, Trebitsch donned his black leather gloves and jumped behind the wheel.
“Ford Model T,” he exclaimed, “T for Trebitsch!”
There were projected flashes of dawn rays on the gatehouse and courtyard estate At Doorn. Amerongen was signposted as they took Dutch country winds, hard gusts in their heads. Trebitsch incessantly shouted over it all. Anderson didn’t even nod.
“This is beautiful, is it not?? The Dutch chose well to stay out of the war!! As did the Kaiser!! If you could call avoiding execution a choice!! The arrogance of the British!!”
Landscape rose over flat water meadow, the late thirteenth century castle, the wooden clock tower motored to them. The car slowed over the entrance bridge and drew to a stop at the gate. They looked to the house of ivy and the stables, when the guard returned, walking between four parked cars. With him was a General, and Trebitsch walked ahead and shook his hand. He was a lean man, but broad and with a fat white beard.
“This is Alfred Anderson, an employee of Randolph Hearst he represents 320 papers! And I am Trebitsch Lincoln, perhaps you have heard of me.”
“Yes, yes I have. I am General Dommers. You were seeking an interview. What is it about?”
“There is much talk in Berlin of a putsch,” said Trebitsch. “It would not fail, I am told, if the Kaiser made an official statement not to interfere and allow his son to take the throne. In any case it would be most valuable to talk with him.”
“I am afraid he is seeing no-one today and of course, I cannot speak on the Kaiser’s behalf. Perhaps you might come back tomorrow?”
“Wonderful wonderful, yes we will,” said Trebitsch.
The village of Amerongen village had a derelict cream butter plant and rusted tobacco factory. However, tulips grew in their masses and they drank and ate by a brewery yard covered in machinery.
“What they did to Germany at Versailles was barbaric and humiliating. Even some British papers regarded the reparations as too substantial. If I had gotten to the conference…well, I would have reminded them how the British and French helped start that war! In your column you should reflect that. Germany acted out of the same sense of alliance that Wilson now champions.”
“Yes,” said Anderson, and supped his beer.

The next day Trebitsch drove them through to the inner steel gates alongside the moat in front of the castle. They looked to the gardeners re-planting bushes and bricking a wall.
“The abdication was signed here,” said Trebitsch.
General Dommers marched towards them and Trebitsch waved.
“Staff only are permitted this far,” he said.
“General, it is us! We have called to see the Kaiser!”
“Oh yes. I am afraid I could not get you an audience or his thoughts on the putsch.”
“I see. You know if Germany had four years of peace instead of war foisted on us by the British, Germany would have been the economic master of Europe without challenge. What are your own thoughts, General, on the matter of this potential putsch?”
Trebitsch saw dig with right hand a man who could have been the Kaiser. Dommers was blocking his view to the garden and Trebitsch stood up on his tip-toes.
“I could not give my opinion on the matter. Perhaps you might be willing to call back?”

The next day they found an empty car at the front gate and General Dommers already out by the guard post. He was with a man in a bowler hat and eye-glasses and pointed to Trebitsch.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” said Dommers. “His Majesty has been and is otherwise occupied. I may try again later.”
“We should be back in Berlin soon,” said Anderson.
“Trebitsch Lincoln? Lorne Linham, London Daily Graphic. We heard about your visits here and I was sent to cover it.”
General Dommers went back inside and locked the gate behind him. Anderson was already returning to the car.

“Have you any words for the British people?” asked Linham.
“Personally, I told the British authorities in writing, that I would devote my life to working against England. I lost no time when I regained my liberty, and last week in Berlin I made a good start.”
“What were you doing in Berlin?” said Linham.
“I have been writing for Reinhold Wulle’s paper, Deutsche Zeitung. He opposed the war and is one of those seeking to rebuild Germany after the indignities heaped upon it.”
“What are you here to talk about with Kaiser Wilhelm?”
“I cannot say, though we would have no more than a few pleasant chats of a purely personal and private nature.”

In bowler hat and cape Trebitsch made his way through Potsdamer Platz, wondering if he had found and burned every last copy in Berlin of that stupid Daily Graphic interview. The thought of his new friends seeing it made him claustrophobic. It was an embarrassment waiting to happen. He wondered if Anderson got a copy before he was recalled to New York. Half way along Königgrätzerstrasse was the Hotel Excelsior, one of Berlin’s larger venues but low-key.
The private bar was busy with finely dressed waiters pouring drinks at trolleys and girls serving ham and sauerkraut roll-ups or cheese. His editor had swept back hair but otherwise resembled Trebitsch like a brother and greeted him like one. Mrs. Margaret Lenkiet was a tall brunette similar in appearance to Trebitsch’s wife and he kissed her cheeks affectionately. Within seconds of the speaking of Trebitsch’s name those from the groups around broke off and inserted themselves into the discussion.
“Mr. Stinnes,” said Wulle, “owns Deutsche Zeitung and is a colleague of Curt Elschner, who owns the Excelsior.” Then he brought his voice to a whisper. “Otherwise we’d never have been able to afford this.”
Trebitsch said not quietly, “Well, we have a stupid government that gives into a five trillion debt with more to be added later!”
“Trebitsch, this is Mr. Stinnes,” said Mrs. Lenkiet.
Hugo Stinnes had great bushy hair above and below face. Trebitsch turned red. Stinnes laughed and patted him on the back.
“That is alright. They’re worthy of our hatred. I have seen your writings, Mr. Lincoln, and I am impressed,” said Stinnes.
Trebitsch recalled Stinnes had made his money with coal and oil exports along the barges and immediately thought of his similarity to his father, though Stinnes was only ten years older than himself.
“Kuno von Westarp, I am the editor of Kreuzzeitung. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lincoln. Is it true you met the Kaiser?”
Von Westarp was a small stout man with an angry face of bursting blood vessels. From his side came another person, asking what Trebitsch thought of the Kaiser. Did he meet Empress Augusta? Across the room a dead eyed grim and ugly man watched as he leaned against a pillar. It was Ernst Reventlow, a fifty year old nationalist provocateur journalist. Trebitsch had run into him at various newspaper offices and looked away from him, shaking his head and smirking.
“No, no, I did not meet him unfortunately.”
Wulle excused himself. There was a man he wanted to introduce and set off to fetch him. Stinnes was impressed so many people knew Trebitsch and told him he would have Wulle would commission him to write another piece. The editor returned with a kindly round faced bald man with hope in his bespectacled eyes and dapper dress. Wulle introduced him as Karl Weigand and told the others he was Anderson’s replacement as Berlin correspondent.
“When Alfred left his secretary found employment with Mr. Lincoln,” said Wulle. “The two of you will have to share Mrs. Lenkiet’s services. Something else you have in common: you have both made the trip to Amerongen.”
“Yes, I am gracious,” said Trebitsch. “It was Mr. Weigand who scooped the first interview with the Emperor.”
“Mr. Lincoln, a pleasure to meet you,” said Wulle. “I could have chased you all over New York if I wasn’t so busy getting shot at on the Eastern Front!”
“You would not have caught me and if you were getting shot at I was glad we were not near each other!”
With Weigand’s arrival more were gathering around them, even Reventlow had left his post.
“We’ll introduce these men to Max Bauer, perhaps Herr Neumann,” said Stinnes.
“Neumann? Who is he?” asked Trebitsch.
Realising they had company Stinnes asked if he and Weigand might be excused. A dozen questions on the Kaiser’s health and castle were asked of Weigand as they departed. Trebitsch noted the snub immediately and Wulle, knowing his form, changed tack.
“Yes, you really ought to meet Max Bauer,” he said.
“Mr. Wulle, why doesn’t Germany work for co-operation with Russia and China?” he asked. “They have been left in the cold as we have. Not to mention Japan, Turkey and Italy.”
“That’s a good question. I think you and Colonel Bauer might get along.”
“He was Ludendorff’s right hand man,” said Mrs. Lenkiet.
“Yes,” said Trebitsch, looking back to the people moving off in search of Weigand. “But he is not Ludendorff is he?”

c. Andy Luke.
The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
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