The Schwabing Alp

PROFESSOR HERMANN HENSEL is Reichs-Leader of Sculpture in the National Socialist Institute of German Culture. A man somewhat past middle years, Professor Hensel might well be the model artist of the Third Reich. Not for him the aloof attitude, the dreamy eyes, the ivory tower; he is a man of extraordinary political diligence and activity, a Nazi so ardent that one may take for granted the approval and favor of his superiors. So politically energetic, in fact, is this high priest of National Socialist sculpture that in the years since the party’s rise to power he has permitted himself time for only the briefest flirtations with art. It is dubious if the visitor to the House of National Socialist German Art would find in that appalling display even the smallest statuette to prove that the rich vein of artistic inspiration in the Reichs-Leader of Sculpture had not run dry.

Yet to question Hermann Hensel’s sculptural ability is blasphemy. That has been proved for all time. Here is a man who has worked so heroically in plaster that, since the year 1914, it has been necessary for him to give to the world, and to Germany in particular, no more than one work. Into this one work has been poured every ounce of Professor Hensel’s astounding strength, fertility, and ingenuity. True, he has not toiled on it uninterruptedly. His labors have been divided into four periods of furious artistic energy.

The story of those four periods has not been told before, and it would give no pleasure to Reichs-Leader Hensel to see it here recounted. The sole hope of the narrator in committing it to paper is that it may speed the day when Hermann Hensel will engage in a fifth period of labor on the great work of his life.

In Munich, in 1914, Hensel was one of the poorest and most artistic residents of the Schwabing — or Greenwich Village — section of that city. He was picturesquely Bohemian in appearance, and perhaps this fact was responsible for the hope with which certain art critics spoke of him For, although he was known as a sculptor, if he had created anything to prove it he kept it a secret.

But in a late summer month of this year 1914, Hermann Hensel, hearing and reading of the glorious victories of the armies of Germany and AustriaHungary, found himself pregnant with an idea. He cherished it for several days and then confided it to his friend Dr. Nusic, art editor of a Munich paper.

Hensel had decided that he would carve a medal. Modest in size about the size of a penny, say — but mighty in conception. The medal would symbolize the unity of Germany and Austria in arms. On one side there would be a figure to represent ’Unity’; on the other, simply the year, 1914. Stark but effective. If well done, perhaps the government would purchase it for mass production.

Dr. Nusic thought the idea excellent. He was so enthusiastic that he said he would throw all his weight behind it and secure a studio for the young man. He knew Hensel’s humble circumstances. The proposed medal might be modest in size, but nevertheless its creator must have room for the free play of his inspiration.

Two days later, Hensel was delighted to receive at his boardinghouse a letter from the Mayor himself, speaking for the Council of the Royal City of Munich. The esteemed citizen and art critic Dr. Nusic, the Mayor wrote, had drawn to his attention the project of Mr. Hensel. He begged to inform Mr. Hensel of the City Council’s deep admiration for his patriotic purpose and their decision, in order to help the execution thereof, to provide for Mr. Hensel’s use as a studio the assembly hall of the Municipal Commercial School for Girls. Mr. Hensel could occupy the assembly hall free of charge for the duration of the summer vacation.

Hensel repaired to the school and entered the assembly hall. It startled him; he had never been inside the building before. All the chairs had been cleared out and it was as if he stood alone in a hangar calculated to accommodate a Zeppelin. The place was gigantic. He peered in awe at the huge windows, the lofty ceiling, the vast sweep of the walls.

We may imagine the young sculptor, a tiny figure, standing there lost in meditation. Undoubtedly he thought of his medal, and irresistibly there was pictured in his mind a comparison between the size of the medal and the size of the assembly-hall studio. Whatever his mental processes, the result was inevitable. Hermann Hensel was not one to resist such a challenge and such an opportunity. The flame of patriotism mounted higher in his thin breast, a flush rose to his cheeks, and his eyes swam with inspiration.

He would create as sculptor never before had created.

He composed a letter to the Mayor. He was deeply grateful, he said, for the city’s generosity. However, more was needed. He asked for unlimited credit in certain necessary materials.

The Mayor, considering this request, naturally dismissed it as a trifle. The materials for a penny-size medal would hardly bankrupt the city. Of course, he replied; Mr. Hensel could have full credit at whatever firm he selected.

Hensel plunged into his dream, and the Mayor forgot the matter.

In such curious circumstances was started and slowly moulded that colossal work of art, later to be called the Schwabing Alp, which was to experience the strangest vicissitudes that ever befell the creation of a bemused sculptor’s hands. The records of the number of truckloads of plaster that were poured into its composition have been lost, and the records of the number of assistants and workmen employed by Hermann Hensel in his epochal labor. The next thing that is known positively is the scene that took place on the expiration of the summer vacation, when the students of the Municipal Commercial School for Girls returned to gather for preliminary exercises in their assembly hall.

An emergency call was put in for police, City Council, and Mayor. These dignitaries, entering the hall, beheld a horrifying spectacle.

Before them loomed the framework of a creation fit to be mentioned in the same breath with the pyramids, the colossus of Rhodes, the Eiffel Tower. It was far from completion, but the sculptor’s titanic conception could be glimpsed.

On top, firmly planted in masses of plaster clearly designed to represent thunderclouds, stood the God of War, an idealized version of the Emperor, complete with Prussian moustache, eagle helmet, and lowering brow. Next to him, slightly smaller but still vast in scale, towered a figure wearing the feathered hat of an Austrian general, unmistakably the Emperor Francis Joseph. The God of War, or Wilhelm, held outflung from one hand an enormous banner; with the other he led in chains a group of ignominious and much smaller figures, the chiefs of the Allied staffs. Around these humbled officers stood, in various attitudes of heroic scorn, defiance, and anger, such generals of the Prussian forces as Moltke, Conrad, Hindenburg, Ludendorff. Below all this, serving as the mountain’s base, was a host of figures clad in the bucket helmets and field-gray uniforms of the German army.

After gathering his wits, the Mayor ordered Hermann Hensel to evacuate the assembly hall.

This was clearly ridiculous. Hensel could evacuate it easily enough; as for the Alp, the mountain might as well have come to Mahomet. Hensel invited the Mayor with all the municipal forces to evacuate the hall. The Mayor declared that it was Hensel’s responsibility. A passionate argument ensued and raged over a period of several weeks. By that time various forces had rallied to Hensel’s support. There were half-adozen patriotic societies and also the Union of German Artists. The Mayor found himself abused in the press. He was called a poltroon, a turncoat, a renegade unable to appreciate this mightiest of all memorials to the glory of German arms. Unable to withstand the storm, he gave ground; and permission was granted to Hensel to occupy the assembly hall until the expiration of the next year’s summer vacation.

Work proceeded in peace, and the Schwabing Alp mounted to its full grandeur. Students gathered in the assembly hall, but solely to regard in wonder the thing that grew there.

With the new year, a new situation overtook the sculptor; the Municipal Commercial School for Girls was commandeered by a bureau of the Bavarian Army Corps. A curt letter ordered Hensel to get out with all his works within twenty-four hours. Hensel again appealed to public opinion. The patriotic societies, the Union of German Artists, the Society for the Preservation of War Memorials, the Board of Education, the Municipal Council of the Royal City of Munich, the War Ministry, and the firm that had been supplying plaster for the Alp threw their separate interests into the fray. Hensel held his ground for the Alp. By now he would have shed blood for it. It had become his life. He was adding constantly to it in a ferment of art run riot, and new figures joined the mass each week.

He held the fortress for three years. In the early fall of 1918, a final warning arrived from army headquarters: a company of engineers had been detailed to blast the Alp out of the assembly hall.

Hensel replied with a stroke of pure genius. He presented the Alp to the Royal Family of Bavaria.

He received promptly in reply a Royal letter graciously accepting the gift and appointing him to the rank of Professor of Sculpture in the Royal Academy of Art in recognition of his great artistic and patriotic services.

The Alp rested in peace for a few weeks.

On the eighth of November, 1918, the revolution broke out. In the confusion that followed, the Schwabing Alp was for a time forgotten. But Hensel, a perceptive man, was not idle. He was as a mother with her only child. It was his career and his life; at all odds it must be protected. He was working more busily than ever, while outside the tumult raged.

The victorious republic needed room for mass meetings, and inevitably a people’s commissar bethought himself of the assembly hall of the Municipal Commercial School for Girls and remembered at the same time the monstrosity that lived there, a heroic statue glorifying the old regime, clearly counter-revolutionary. The commissar summoned a squad of the new revolutionary police, and with fire in his eye made for the hall. He entered. Once more the work of Hermann Hensel struck the onlooker dumb with amazement.

The helmets of the war lords were gone. The Prussian moustaches had lost their spiked tips. Where once, on helmets and uniforms and outflung banners, had bloomed the insignia of the Imperial armies, now the magic emblem of hammer and sickle met the eye. It was obvious even to a backward child that here were mighty sons of the soil, workers and peasants striding forward to the new day of socialism.

Hensel explained the transformation to the staggered commissar. His true sympathies, he declared, of necessity had been kept undercover. All these years, this was really what he had had in mind. His original conception could now be revealed — ‘The Triumph of the Proletariat.’

The commissar was deeply affected and shook with profound emotion the hand of Comrade Hermann Hensel. The Schwabing Alp, riding higher than ever in glory, was dedicated a few days later in a beautiful ceremony with speeches and the singing of the ‘Internationale.’ It was dedicated by the Soviets of the city of Munich to the great and triumphant working class of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics as a small token of the esteem of the Soviet Republic of Bavaria.

But Soviet Bavaria’s life was short, and the Weimar Republic swept the field. The Whites marched into Munich. Once more avenging hands reached out for Hermann Hensel, and, incidentally, for the clearly subversive ‘Triumph of the Proletariat.’

Behold: another rich change has taken place. The God of War, more lately the Conquering Worker, now stands supreme as Frau Germania, surrounded by President Ebert and the officials of his cabinet.

The events of 1933 were, of course, child’s play for Hensel. Frau Germania stripped off her robes and saluted the world as Adolf Hitler — a simple matter of reduction of bulk and a small moustache. To transform the lank figure of Chancellor Brüning — himself a recent addition — into Goring was a more considerable task and one that almost broke Hensel in achieving, but it was done, and certainly no criticism would be raised by the Field Marshal if on the Alp he appeared clothed in more lissome garments of flesh. Imperial eagles, hammer and sickle, seal of the Weimar Republic — these melted magically into swastikas. The Führer led the faithful in ‘The Triumph of National Socialism.’

And Hermann Hensel, whose true political sympathies, he easily explained, had all this time of necessity reposed undercover, was able in recognition of his services to refer to himself as ReichsLeader of Sculpture Hermann Hensel — not the most important dignitary of the Third Reich, but, as creator of perhaps the greatest glory of modern German art, certainly one of the most respected.