translated by Ida Cerne
The death of the black swans – their necks had been brutally slashed by an unknown perpetrator during the night of May 24-25 – caused greater unrest among the Bayreuth public than the murder, three days later, of Dr. Siegfried Sörgel, Director of the Richard Wagner National Archive. Staunch Wagnerians suspected that the heinous deed was a symbolic attack on the work of Richard Wagner. Not much later it would turn out that they weren’t totally mistaken. The black swans had been introduced to the lake in the Hofgarten by the Municipal Parks Department only two days before, on May 22nd, at the special request of the director of the Festival, Dr. Karl Friedrich Wertheim. They were supposed to commemorate King Ludwig II’s gift to Richard Wagner on the occasion of the composer’s 69th birthday on that very day.
Richard Wagner and his wife had been very happy with the king’s meaningful gift: “The thrushes gladden our hearts and the swans add an utterly poetic charm,” Cosima Wagner wrote in her diary, recording the event for eternity. Richard Wagner was working on Parsifal. He would complete the opera a few months later on January 13, 1882. So it was appropriate that he should baptize the two splendid swan specimens, “Parsifal” and “Kundry.” Sensitive Wagner fans had always been convinced that the mad king had a premonition of his friend’s impending death and that with this gift he wanted to encourage a speedy completion of the Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage that he was anxiously awaiting. On February 13th of the following year Richard Wagner did indeed die of heart failure at the Palazzo Vendramin in Venice.
In their Monday editions all the newspapers of course reminded their readers of this interesting historical connection. But in addition to the temporal connection, was there perhaps also a causative one? There had been widespread speculation about this in the press, but so far these were only suspicions. After all there were no concrete clues. Nor could the police, who had immediately begun investigating the two cases, establish any inherent relationship between the two events. Besides, it was still too early for that, according to a press release hastily issued on the following Tuesday. Police Chief Eichelsdörfer however promised a speedy resolution. The same day Helen Bürkel, the Festival press officer, denied any connection and spoke about the totally coincidental nature of the two events. That was not surprising. Perhaps Bürkel intended from the outset to counter any rumors that might emerge. In the next few days such rumors did indeed pop up. True, they were not related to the question of whether there was any sort of link between the two incidents, but they claimed that the same killer (or killers) who had murdered the black swans was (or were) also responsible for the death of Director Sörgel. These rumors refused to die down in the following weeks; on the contrary, they got louder and more persistent. Beyreuth was full of unrest.
The prompt resolution that had been promised was not forthcoming.
Instead, something else came to light, something quite remarkable, something that only those intimately familiar with Bayreuth could comprehend. Black feathers that had without a doubt come from the two dead swans turned up in the city. At Sörgel’s funeral one week later, several ladies had worn them attached to their suits and dresses as signs of mourning. The journalist André Beck reported this in his column “Festspiele aktuell” (Festival News) in the Nordbayerischer Kurier (North Bavarian Courier). The article caused a minor scandal.
Beck had discovered that several employees of the Municipal Parks Authority who had been assigned to remove the cadavers of the swans had first pulled out their feathers so that they could later sell them to relic collectors – at a remarkably good price. However, that’s not what caused the scandal. It was only a tasteless arabesque; there are always many of these in Bayreuth at Festival time. People in the city don’t get upset about such things. But what did upset them very much was that certain facts had been intentionally suppressed in the police report on Sörgel’s death. Beck found out from an informant in the Bayreuth police department that a black swan feather was found in the dead Sörgel’s hand, and that the laboratory tests showed the feather had definitely come from one of the two dead birds. This fact had at first been included in the police report but had later been deleted. The public immediately wanted to know: Who put the feather in the hand of the dead man? Who could have done something so disrespectful? Was it the killer or killers? Were third parties involved? Who had access to the Archive vault in the cellar of Wahnfried House where the dead man was found? Who ordered the police report to be altered? Questions, but no answers. The police were silent. The government official in charge was silent. The Festival Administration was silent.
The “Sörgel-Wahnfried” case not only threatened to cause a good deal of damage to the international reputation of the Bayreuth Festival but also to get out of hand politically, and the Bavarian State government wanted to prevent this at all cost. True, Bayreuth had a scandal every year – for which those in charge of the Festival were always grateful – but this year everything was quite different. This time there was no secret rejoicing over the free publicity.
Many people were wondering just exactly what André Beck knew. Because in addition to the rumors of police department sloppiness, there was now the suspicion that the suicide theory immediately circulated by the authorities was incorrect and that instead one ought to be speaking of a murder at the Villa Wahnfried. Incredible! Was it Beck who had sown this suspicion?
Suddenly many things came to a head. On Monday, June 26, the day after his appearance at a press conference at Wahnfried, the car of the young Italian opera director, Enrico Giraldi, parked in the lot behind the Festival Theater, was smeared with swastikas. He had also received an anonymous letter threatening him with death. Giraldi had presented his concept for this year’s Parsifal at the press conference and had met with strong criticism from conservative Wagner circles. In his column, Beck had written about this in detail. Giraldi was planning a new interpretation of the great “Music drama for the Consecration of the Festival Stage.” In his version the Jewish Kundry’s profound love for the German hero Parsifal would not be doomed. That’s as much as he wanted to say about it at this time. Giraldi’s announcement had caused a lot of agitation in the Wagner community. Many were wondering why Wertheim, the strong man of the Festival management, should have brought an artist to Bayreuth who would provoke Wagnerians this way. No one really could understand this.
The mood in Bayreuth was very tense. At this point the Governor of Bavaria felt that he had to take a hand in the matter. As a member of the Festival board of trustees he had a special responsibility. Too much was at stake. He assigned his Secretary of the Interior, Aloys Mayr, to look into the matter. That same Monday Mayr telephoned Dr. Firmian von Dall’Armi, asking the criminal psychologist who was renowned far beyond the borders of Bavaria to assist the Bayreuth police in the Sörgel matter.
Dall’Armi did not immediately agree to do so. He wanted a day to think it over. Was he the right man for this job? Yes, yes, said the Secretary of the Interior, he was the right man. He knew no one who could do it better. It was flattery. Balm for the ego. But Dall’Armi still hesitated. The Secretary’s confidence in him was based on Dall’Armi’s well-earned reputation as an expert in criminal behavioral research and the psychology of crime in the field of forensic psychology. His scientific work dealing with the solution of sex crimes was widely recognized, even outside professional circles. But the problem in Bayreuth was new for him. Even if murder were involved in the Sörgel case, it would involve completely different motivational structures than the cases he had been accustomed to analyzing. Still, the assignment fascinated him. Perhaps because it was so different and for once had nothing to do with the ugliness of sex crimes.
Dall’Armi had two other reasons for hesitating. For one thing, he didn’t want to leave his students in the lurch by breaking off his lectures at the university in the middle of the semester. For another, he didn’t care much for Wagner, as he readily admitted. He had never been much interested in the subject of Bayreuth.
The name “Wagner” was associated with unpleasant memories. Also, there was something resembling a bad conscience. When he was young he had never heard his parents say anything critical about Bayreuth. Discussions on the subject almost always ended with his father saying, “Stop all that intellectual talk. You don’t understand German history.” Once when he contradicted his father he was even slapped in the face. His father then turned to his mother and with a reproachful expression on his face said, “Where did he get that from? Certainly not from me.”
At some point there was no more talk about controversial subjects in the Dall’Armi household. “What’s the use?” Nor were there any more slaps in the face.
Wagner was as much a part of his parents’ middle class life as Beethoven, Bismarck, and the Pope. The Pope and Parsifal. Rome and Montsalvat. Those were his father’s favorite subjects. “Parsifal. The great Christian opera of compassion!” Year after year, during the Festival months, Dall’Armi had lived through the ritual attempts to rescue “the German composer Wagner.” With time, it pretty much got on his nerves. He had felt something close to shame for his parents. But he didn’t become aware of that until much later. His mother used to go into happy raptures about the spiritual magic of music. But to avoid an argument she never said which music she meant. In any case, it was not the music of Parsifal. She was probably thinking of Mozart. His father was less sentimental. For him music was not a heavenly force. He had absolutely refused to let himself be seduced and intoxicated by music. Dall’Armi could still hear his father say: “For me music is something thoroughly intellectual.” Or, “Music is the universal language of the world.” To this his father had added, with a note of satisfaction in his voice, “The language of music is German.”
There had been no latitude to talk about the anti-Semitic poisons that had lodged like larvae in the language of Wagner’s music. Even today. Nothing could have shaken his father’s belief in Wagner. Absolutely nothing: The sentence, “The Bayreuth of Wagner and Hitler is an unlucky coincidence of history” was neutralized by the question, “Could Wagner help it if a man like Hitler was crazy about his music?” Of course he couldn’t. Always the same word games. Wagner’s anti-Semitism was not unique. Didn’t everyone feel that way in those days? Surely this was nothing but the quirks of a genius? Can’t a genius have quirks too? Mother had remained silent as father went on his excursions into history. She probably didn’t have any objections to raise. Both his parents were convinced of the innocence of Wagner’s music.
That same Tuesday, after his conversation with Interior Secretary Mayr, Dall’Armi phoned André Beck at the editorial offices of the Kurier. Beck was an old friend from his university days, and Dall’Armi hoped to get some help from him. Without Beck’s insight into the inner workings of the city he wouldn’t be able to get very far in this affair. Of that he was sure.
Beck’s voice on the phone. He hadn’t heard it in a long time. – How long has it been since we saw each other? Five years? Yup, it’s been about five years. A long time. –His voice was still the same, light and as always good natured. The same Franconian dialect. Dall’Armi liked to recall the old days. The dialect made his friend’s voice sound gemütlich, easy-going too at times. Beck was a native Nuremberger. His voiced matched his stocky physique. But his speech and outer appearance belied his true temperament.
Dall’Armi began to recall things about his friend. The round head of crinkly hair, the magnificent beard, the humorous, concerned eyes, the knobby nose. Beck had studied modern history and journalism. He had always been able write well. Almost single-handedly, he had edited and written Universitas, the student newspaper, and even before graduation he had taken a job as a free-lance reporter for the Munich Abendzeitung. Two years later he returned to his Franconian homeland to work for the Nordbayerischer Kurier in Bayreuth.
Beck wanted to know what had happened to Dall’Armi in all those years. – Was he still living with Helga. What about the children, the job. – And Beck? – Was he still with Hanni? Had they gotten married in the meantime? Did he still play snooker pool? –Beck inquired about Dall’Armi’s father, did he still enjoy the special patronage of the Munich cardinal?
There was a lot to catch up on.
Dall’Armi had gone on to study medicine and later psychology despite his father’s displeasure. Actually he’d wanted to be an actor. His father, Kajetan von Dall’Armi, would have preferred his son to study law and go into government service, as he had done, in the Bavarian State. As a member of the “Cardinal Faulhaber Circle” he still had good contacts all the way to the top of the Bavarian political machine. He kept telling his son, “You should use my connections. They certainly wouldn’t hurt your career.” Dall’Armi did not use his father’s connections. Much to the family’s chagrin. Compared to his family’s illustrious past, he was a failure; furthermore, he had not fulfilled the “obligations to his ancestors, obligations that had evolved historically” (a favorite phrase of his father’s.) Those ancestors had been generals in the army of His Majesty, the Bavarian king. After the war was lost, there were no more Bavarian kings. A hard blow for the family. Their prestige and privileges vanished along with the kings. The Dall’Armis turned into a rather normal middle class family who liked to reminisce at the dinner table about times gone by. Beck had always poked fun at the monarchist leanings of his friend’s family.
They didn’t talk about Sörgel on the phone. There was time enough for that once Dall’Armi got to Bayreuth, Beck said. But they did talk at length about Wagner and Bayreuth. Beck had always been far less reluctant to deal with this subject than Dall’Armi. For him it was just one aspect of German history among many others. Dall’Armi, on the other hand, had always felt guilt when the conversation turned to Wagner. And shame too. Why? He had never really been able to explain it.
At seven o’clock in the morning on Thursday, June 29th, Dall’Armi was sitting in his old Peugeot station wagon – his bicycle stored in the back. He was driving to Bayreuth, had already passed Nuremberg. Heavy traffic on the highway. Cumulus clouds on the horizon. The radio predicted showers in the afternoon. When would summer finally get here? His daughter Luna wanted a bikini, absolutely. But the weather was still much too cold to go swimming. Luna didn’t care whether the weather was good or bad. Another hour to Bayreuth. Dall’Armi could still hear the Secretary’s excited voice; it had sounded noticeably agitated, even insecure. That’s not the way he knew him to be. Why was he so upset? Aloys Mayr was an old political pro. Fearless in dealing with the powerful. Cool. Calculating. Decisive. Why this insecurity now? There was talk about death threats against the Italian director Enrico Giraldi and against an American journalist named Alma Rosen. And talk about a serious breach of state secrets. Not particularly unusual events for someone overseeing the state’s police forces. But phone calls from the Israeli ambassador? That certainly didn’t happen every day. Alma Rosen was Jewish. She must have known Sörgel quite well. She was working with him in the Wagner Archive. Death threats against a Jewish woman! In Bayreuth! At Festival time! This was all a bit too much. Dall’Armi could easily understand the Secretary’s agitation. If things turned out badly he would be kicked out of office.
“I would like to stick with the suicide theory as long as we can,” the Secretary had said on the phone. “And please find out as quickly as possible who threatened Alma Rosen. We can’t afford another scandal in Bayreuth. I’m sure you’ll handle all this properly. And give some thought to Ms. Rosen. We must protect her from any unpleasantness, no matter what it takes.”
“Are you Dr. von Dall’Armi?” asked Police Chief Eichelsdorfer’s secretary, Ms. Hesse. She gave him a searching authoritative look. Dall’Armi had arrived at Bayreuth Police headquarters at exactly eleven o’clock.
“That’s correct, I’m Dr. Dall’Armi.”
“Come in. We were alerted about your arrival by the Higher Ups.”
Ms. Hesse looked her visitor up and down. She hadn’t expected him to be so casually dressed – a light-colored jacket, an open-necked shirt, baggy jeans, and sneakers.
“Police Chief Eichelsdörfer is expecting you,” she said, sounding a bit irritated.
Just then the door opened. A man of considerable girth stood in the doorway. He approached his guest with a firm step, took hold of Dall’Armi’s right hand in both of his hands and shook it vigorously.
“Come into my office.” His voice was charged with energy. “I hope you had a good trip. You’re not exactly bringing good weather with you. What’s delaying summer this year? It would allow our problems to be seen in a warmer light,” he quipped. “A lot has changed here in the last few weeks.”
Dall’Armi was trying to guess Eichelsdörfer’s age. Fifty-five? Maybe sixty? You could see that the years had been hard on him, leaving him with sagging features and bald.
“Interior Secretary Mayr personally informed me only yesterday of your impending arrival. So that went pretty fast.” His arms suddenly flew up excitedly. “Have you been told what happened here? Very well. So I can save myself a long preamble. One thing I want to tell you right at the start of our collaboration: We won’t be led astray. It’s a case of suicide. That’s quite clear. There’s absolutely no reason to doubt the results of our investigation thus far. Sörgel had gotten himself into a hopeless situation in the last few weeks and months.”
Dall’Armi warily raised some objections, mentioning the altered police report and the black swan feather in the hand of the corpse. Eichelsdörfer grimaced.
“You’re already quite well informed.”
“I’ve spoken with Beck, the city editor at the Kurier. We know each other from our student days.”
“Is that so?” Eichelsdörfer seemed surprised. “You were asking about the black feather. I say let the dead man rest in peace. Why wake sleeping dogs?”
“It would interest me to know who might have done that,” Dall’Armi said.
“Me too. But I don’t know the answer,” Eichelsdörfer added crossly. “Why not ask your friend Beck. Maybe he can tell you. In any case, these are trivial matters compared to the problems we’re facing.”
Eichelsdörfer retreated behind his desk, which had no files on it. His massive body dropped like a rock into the springy chair. He wiped the perspiration from his reddened face. A veil descended over his eyes. Dall’Armi wondered whether he’d been drinking.
“I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” Eichelsdörfer said. “The leak in our organization really worries me.”
Dall’Armi could well understand.
“In spite of that we have things under control.”
Eichelsdörfer raised his voice to its full volume. The conversation was getting very loud. Ms. Hesse closed the door.
“You will forgive me for being so explicit. As for Sörgel? The man was a psychopath. We have well-founded suspicions that he killed the black swans himself.”
“Killed them with his own hands? I can’t believe that.”
“When she was questioned Ms. Wittmund, his secretary, spoke of Sörgel having had a nervous breakdown three days before his death.”
Dall’Armi frowned, “Couldn’t there have been other, more plausible reasons for such a breakdown than the killing of the swans?”
“Yes, there were. Three weeks ago Wertheim, the Festival Director, decided to fire Sörgel.”
“Why? You don’t throw people out of their jobs so precipitously.”
Eichelsdörfer paced nervously around his desk and came to a stop in front of Dall’Armi.
“Things happened in the Wagner Archive that should never have happened.”
“Letters that for historical reasons would be of an enormously explosive nature were taken from the vault. They were either stolen or Sörgel himself gave them to someone.” Eichelsdorfer gestured wildly. “Do you have any idea what goes on here during the Festival season? No? Well. Not to worry, we have it all under control.
Picking up a fountain pen, he began rolling it nervously between his fingers, unscrewed the cap, then closed it again. There was a light knock at the door. Ms. Hesse came in with the signature folder. Eichelsdorfer signed one document after another.
“Mind if I smoke?” Dall’Armi asked while this was going on.
“Of course not,” the police chief said without looking up. Ms. Hesse gave Dall’Armi a disapproving look.
He walked over to the open window and lit a cigarette. There was hectic activity in the courtyard below. Patrol cars, personnel buses, armored cars coming and going. Dall’Armi took short, quick puffs on his cigarette. Eichelsdorfer returned the folder to Ms. Hesse and slowly screwed the cap back on his fountain pen.
“That’s done. Thank you. And now, for some coffee. You too?”
Dall’Armi nodded. He offered Eichelsdorfer his pack of cigarettes.
“No thanks,” he replied. “I prefer one of these.”
Eichelsdorfer took a cigar out of a leather case lying on his desk, moistened one end with the tip of his tongue and bit it off.
“A Havana. My preference.”
Dall’Armi extended a flickering match. After Eichelsdorfer had taken several appreciative puffs on his cigar, he said with the self-assurance of authority, “Very well. We have no choice. We have to face up to our problems, Dr. von Dall’Armi. – Von Dall’Armi? Nice name, but it’s not Bavarian.”
He laughed out loud, took another pull on his cigar and blew the smoke toward the ceiling. Suddenly Eichelsdorfer was at ease.
“My ancestors came from the vicinity of Verona. They served the Bavarian kings in the 18th and 19th century. One of my great great-grandfathers founded the Octoberfest.”
“Is that a fact!”
“So our family history would have it.”
“The Wittelsbacher dynasty and Italy. Once upon a time. Too bad. Hats off to your ancestors, Mr. von Dall’Armi.”
“Just call me Dall’Armi, Mr. Police Chief.”
“And you, Dall’Armi, please don’t bother with my title.”
On the whole, Eichelsdorfer said, he would welcome the assistance of a police psychologist in a critical suicide case if some doubt existed. But only then. – What he really wanted to say to Dall’Armi was that a psychologist was superfluous here since the facts of the present case were clear. – Instead, he said the Interior Secretary had assured him that Dall’Armi’s assignment to advise the police in psychological matters, was purely a precautionary measure. In dealing with the press, Eichelsdorfer admitted, they hadn’t been very skillful. In that respect psychological assistance could be quite helpful. He himself was a man of facts and – he hoped Dall’Armi would excuse the expression – not a “plumber of the soul.”
“I have some additional questions,” said Dall’Armi, ignoring the rudeness.
Eichelsdorfer put his cigar down on an ashtray, leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms.
“Go ahead, ask.”
“Who was the first person on the scene?”
“The caretaker, Stretz.”
“Who was the first person he told about it?”
“Dr. Wertheim, the Director of the Festival.”
“Why did Stretz go to him first and not to the police? Why didn’t he tell his wife?”
“Why are you being so aggressive?”
“Excuse me, if you find my questions aggressive, Mr. Eichelsdorfer. I’m not being aggressive. I’m just asking a few questions the answers to which will make my analysis of the crime scene easier.”
“Well, it has something to do with the nature of the Richard Wagner National Archive.”
“I don’t understand.”
Eichelsdorfer tried to explain. The archive was one of the best-protected archives in the country. Wagner’s entire estate, his correspondence, autographs, and the original scores of his music dramas were kept there. These items were treated like sacred relics by Wagnerians.
“Wertheim and Sörgel hold the keys; they have “the power of the keys,” so to speak.
“And Sörgel is dead.”
“Yes, unfortunately. The caretaker has instructions to call Wertheim first whenever anything happens at Wahnfried, no matter what. So it’s logical that Stretz called the Festival director first.”
“When was the police informed?”
“What time, exactly?”
“That was May 25th. At what time?”
“About 7:00 p.m.”
“Then presumably more than twelve hours passed between the time of death and the time the police were informed.”
“Yes, if you assume that it occurred Saturday night.”
“Were any searches conducted? For instance, of the caretaker’s apartment and of Wertheim’s quarters?”
“House searches? No. For a suicide? Why?”
“At the time there was no way you could have known whether it was a suicide or not.”
“The cause of death was determined by Dr. Knieser, a well-known Bayreuth physician. Wertheim called him and asked him to come to Wahnfried. The death certificate is in the file. But these are all petty details.”
Eichelsdorf put the damp, smoking cigar stub in the ashtray.
The door opened and Ms. Hesse brought in the coffee. Eichelsdorfer came out from behind his desk and pointed to a round visitors’ table.
“Let’s sit down there. It’s more comfortable.”
He took off his green Loden jacket, handed it to his secretary who hung it up in the closet.
“Milk and sugar?”
Dall’Armi changed the subject.
“Do you know Ms. Rosen? Secretary Mayr talked to me about her, an American journalist – a Jewish woman – who allegedly received death threats. Why?”
“Yes, Rosen, Alma Rosen. A difficult case.” Eichelsdörfer was again sucking hard on his cigar butt to keep it from going out. “The lady is an American journalist, doing research at the Wagner Archive for a book she’s writing. She had express permission from Sörgel. There are some people in Bayreuth who don’t like to see journalists disguising themselves as researchers and rummaging in the Wahnfried cellars for dead bodies allegedly buried there.”
Eichelsdörfer’s head was now enveloped in thick cigar smoke. He tried to disperse it with a few agitated gestures.
“Dead bodies? What dead bodies?” Dall’Armi asked.
“You really do ask naïve questions. The Hitler letters. That portion of the correspondence between the Wagner family and Hitler which has not yet been made public. Quite an upsetting subject for Bayreuth. But this is all public knowledge,” Eichelsdörfer said with the superior tone of someone in the know.
“Not all of it. Some things are still being kept under lock and key.”
“We’re assuming that Sörgel made the letters available to Rosen. That’s why we think she’s in danger. The police interrogation took place at her hotel. She has categorically rejected an invitation to come to our headquarters. Not much came out of the police interrogation. She refused to answer questions. In my opinion this American woman’s behavior is quite arrogant.”
“Did you yourself speak with Ms. Rosen?”
“No. But we have advised her of the risks she is taking by refusing to cooperate, and at the Secretary’s suggestion we’ve offered her personal police protection. It didn’t work. We couldn’t convince her. She simply didn’t want it.”
“And why the death threats against Giraldi?”
“Did you go to the press conference?”
“No. I found out about it by reading the newspapers.”
“Then you know what it’s about. It was an intentional provocation!”
“But with the concurrence of Wertheim and the Festival Management. That surprises me.”
“Do you understand that?” Eichelsdörfer asked, somewhat unsure of himself.
“No, I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s a publicity gimmick to put the Festival back into the headlines again.”
“Yes, it wouldn’t be the first time,” Eichelsdörfer agreed.
“Another thing I don’t understand is, why did Ms. Rosen reject the personal protection you offered her?” Dall’Armi watched a fly walking along the gold rim of Eichelsdörfer’s coffee cup. Annoyed, Eichelsdörfer tried to shoo it away with a flick of his hand.
“Why?” Eichelsdörfer shrugged. “She rejects any collaboration with the German police,” he said impatiently. “But she doesn’t want to leave Bayreuth either. We tried to persuade her to leave. I wonder why the woman is still in Bayreuth. We can’t very well guard her around the clock if she doesn’t want us to.”
After buzzing around the room twice, the fly returned to its original spot. Again Eicheldorfer waved it off.
“I’m glad you were sent to us if only because of this lady. You have to talk to her. Just imagine: What if an American Jewish woman were murdered here! That’s the last thing we need in Bayreuth.”
“Do you have a photo of Ms. Rosen? I’d like to know what she looks like.”
No, Eichelsdörfer said, he didn’t have a photo.
Just then Dall’Armi noticed the photo display on the wall. Eichelsdörfer shaking hands with the Governor of Bavaria, Eichelsdörfer conducting a police band, Eichelsdörfer with a royal personage on the balcony of the Festspielhaus, waving. That one was crooked. He straightened it with his fingertip. Eichelsdörfer watched.
“It seems you don’t like crooked things.”
“That’s merely my obsessiveness.”
Eichelsdörfer smiled sympathetically and resumed rolling the fountain pen between his fingers.
“Was anyone else, beside Ms. Rosen, in close contact with Dr. Sörgel recently?”
“Yes. There was a Dr. Senta Hahn, a historian from Munich. Ms. Hahn is the sort of person we don’t much care for here. She’s caused Bayreuth a good deal of harm with her slanderous articles. We know she’d been in close touch with Sörgel for a long time. I can’t tell you the exact nature of their relationship. One thing we do know: like the Rosen woman she wanted access to the Hitler-Wahnfried letters. She and Alma Rosen were the last people to see Sörgel alive, if we can trust his appointment calendar. Ms. Wittmund, Sörgel’s secretary, has confirmed this.”
Eichelsdörfer took another cigar out of his case. The ritual was repeated. Moisten the end, bite it off, light it.
“What are you trying to tell me?” Dall’Armi asked.
“We don’t know what their relationship was aside from the contact they had at work. Use your imagination.”
Eichelsdörfer sucked on his cigar and cryptically raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t understand. Please explain.” Dall’Armi lit a cigarette. Again the fly circled Eichelsdörfer’s coffee cup. He peevishly pushed the cup away.
“What a nuisance that fly is,” he said gruffly.
“Do you know Ms. Hahn personally?”
“Have you ever read anything of hers?”
“No. I have no time for things like that. It isn’t part of my job. If need be I have people who brief me. My sources are dependable.”
“Are you saying that Sörgel’s relations with Ms. Hahn might have been of a personal nature?”
Eichelsdörfer turned his cigar appreciatively between his lips.
“We assume so. In the last few months they were seen in public together quite often.”
Dall’Armi got up and went over to the window.
“Maybe we’ll have some summer weather after all this year. At least the sun is finally coming out.”
“And with it the flies, too, unfortunately,” said Eichelsdörfer, again waving his hand in the air.
“Should I close the window?”
“No. No. I can put up with a few flies.”
Eichelsdörfer laughed, then continued in a more serious vein, “I ought to tell you that the Grail and Spear, valuable relics used in the first performance of Parsifal and which we only recently bought back at a London auction, are no longer in the vault at Wahnfried. But you can read all that in the files.”
“Does that mean they were stolen?”
“It could mean that.”
“Do you suspect anyone in particular?”
“Relics? I can’t imagine that someone would be interested in stealing theatrical props. The Hitler-Wahnfried letters seem more likely.”
“I don’t quite agree. I can easily imagine that there are crazy Wagnerites who would love to surround themselves with sacred relics of the Master. There are quite a few people who believe they work miracles.”
“How do you define ‘relics’? Are black swan feathers relics too?”
Eichelsdörfer looked pained.
“Anything that the master ever cast his eyes upon.”
The props from the premieres of the Wagnerian music dramas were especially sought after. While Eichelsdörfer spoke, he kept looking critically at his cigar. Its end no longer glowed. Even his hefty efforts could not rekindle it. Annoyed, he squashed the soggy black butt in the ashtray.
“Do you know with whom Sörgel was in touch shortly before his death?”
“With Ms. Rosen and Ms. Hahn.” Eichelsdörfer could not help adding, “Maybe his wife too.”
“Is that particularly worth mentioning?”
“I mention it because, as far as we know, the Sörgels had something like an open marriage. But perhaps that’s not important. What is important is that Sörgel spoke with Hahn and Rosen Friday morning, May 23. That’s in his appointment book.”
“Did the two ladies have access to the vault?”
“The Rosen woman has told us that Sörgel provided her with access to the Wahnfried vault. Rosalie Wittmund, his secretary, confirmed this fact in her testimony. On the Green Hill they’re assuming that Rosen made copies of the letters for herself. I can well understand the indignation of the Wagnerians. Really, these are not just trivial matters.”
“What can you tell me about Rosalie Wittmund?”
“About Wittmund? A remarkable person. Rosalie Wittmund was Sörgel’s secretary from the day he arrived here. He brought her with him from Munich. Before he came to Bayreuth, Siegfried Sörgel was a young professor of literature and theater studies at Ludwig Maximilian University. She was already working with him there. He won out against more than thirty other applicants for the Directorship of the Wagner Archive. Even back then he had excellent contacts in the Wagner world.” Eichelsdörfer prepared another cigar and continued. “Ms. Wittmund is considered a very capable person. Because of her determined manner, people are afraid of her. But she gets on well with Wertheim. She has some influence on the Green Hill. And she’s always well informed. Anyone sitting in the secretary’s office at the Archive knows what’s going on there.”
“And her relationship with Sörgel?”
Again that ironic Eicheldörfer grin.
“As far as we know it was very good.”
“How well does Rosalie Wittmund know Ms. Rosen?”
“She knows her. How well, that I can’t say. In the last few weeks they met on an almost daily basis in the Archive. That’s all I know about it.”
“And Ms. Hahn? Did she have access to the documents too?”
“We presume so. But we don’t know for certain.”
“Do you think that the two ladies had as much interest in the grail, the spear, and other Wagnerian relics as they did in the Hitler-Wahnfried correspondence?”
“No. Both were interested only in things they could publish,” Eichelsdörfer said disparagingly.
“From that I conclude that Ms. Hahn might also be in possession of the Hitler-Wahnfried correspondence.”
“We can’t exclude it.”
“Has Ms. Hahn been harassed by anyone?”
“Not that I know.”
“Who else has access to the Archive?”
Dall’Armi sat down again in the chair in front of the desk and put out his cigarette. He asked for a glass of water. Eichelsdörfer called Ms. Hesse. She stuck her head in at the door and came back with a bottle of mineral water and two glasses.
“The Wahnfried Archive and Library are open to the public,” Eichelsdörfer said. “The vault room, on the other hand, is closed to the general public. If someone wants to get in to do research, he needs special permission from Wertheim. I can assure you, Dall’Armi, that such permission is only given to hand-picked people.”
“To hand-picked people?”
“Yes. Only to absolutely trustworthy individuals.”
“In that case isn’t Ms. Hahn one of the hand-picked people too, not just Ms. Rosen?”
“So it would seem. I admit I’m surprised that these two women were given access.”
Eichelsdörfer glanced at the clock.
Dall’Armi stood up. “I’d like to take a look at the files.”
”You can save yourself the trouble. You won’t find much there. I’ve already told you the most important things. And you know what a death certificate looks like. But if you feel you must, then go ahead.”
Dall’Armi said goodbye to Eichelsdörfer, shaking his hand across the desk.
“Ms. Hesse has found lodgings for you in a private home. You’re in luck.” The hotels in Bayreuth, he explained, were all completely booked. After all it was Festival season! For the time being Dall’Armi could use the office of one of Eichelsdörfer’s colleagues who was out sick. Ms. Hesse would of course be at his disposal any time. So would an official car. Dall’Armi thanked Eichelsdörfer. Shook his hand again.
“I won’t need an official car. I prefer to use my bicycle for the short distances in the city.”
“As you like.”
“One last question: Where does Ms. Rosen live?”
“At the Goldene Anker (Golden Anchor) Hotel on Opern Street.”
Ms. Hesse came back with the address of the private lodgings where Dall’Armi would be staying.
“Ask for Mrs. Blum, Isabel Blum, on Monplaisir Street in St. Johannis. It’s a large estate. In a very good neighborhood, directly adjacent to Hermitage Park. You can take nice walks there. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“I don’t think I’ll have time for nice walks,” Dall’Armi replied.
After he left Eichelsdörfer, he called the Golden Anchor Hotel several times. But he could not reach Alma Rosen.[break][break][break]
Alma Rosen stayed on in Bayreuth. She stayed even after an anonymous caller demanded that she immediately return the copies of the Hitler-Wahnfried letters to the Archive. She’d be playing a deadly game if she intended to publish the letters. The call came late Monday evening, the day after Sörgel’s death was made public. This was not the only threatening phone call she received. More calls followed. But Alma wouldn’t think of giving back the letters or simply walking away. Before going to bed, she put the revolver she always had with her under her pillow. It lessened her anxiety. The German police had questioned her twice. She was still deeply shocked by what had happened three weeks ago; it pursued her in her dreams. But last night, for the first time in a week, she slept well. For the past few days the weather had been humid and stormy, and that had put a physical strain on her circulation during her daily runs. It was seven o’clock in the morning. Alma turned on the radio. “It is Thursday, June 29th. Here is the news.”
She made the bed, didn’t want to wait for the chambermaid who would not come before ten o’clock. She put her little teddy bear, Muck, in the middle of the coverlet. Muck was her constant companion. He was old. Really old. Old and damaged. He dated back to her grandmother and grandfather’s day. Both of his arms were gone. But that didn’t bother her. She loved him just the way he was. It was a very close relationship.
There hadn’t been any news on the radio about the Sörgel-Wahnfried case for quite a while, and it had completely disappeared from the headlines in the local papers. No mention of the wanton killing of the swans. Festival season had begun. Opera stars from all over the world had arrived. Their doings now fed the public curiosity. The newspapers and magazines were full of gossip. A few days earlier she had heard a rumor that Sörgel might have been murdered. No, no. She didn’t want to believe it.
Alma opened a window. She could see Stern Square. The commuter rush hour had started. Street noises floated up into the room. The young street musicians weren’t out yet this early in the morning. Showers in the afternoon, said the announcer on the radio. The next few days would be markedly cooler. Good for my circulation, she thought. Alma wondered what she should wear today and looked at herself in the mirror. She couldn’t stop thinking about Sörgel, his high forehead, large nose, the narrow lips and square chin. His eyes. What color were his eyes? She couldn’t say. Gray? Gray-blue? The eyes didn’t quite fit with the other features of his face. She had noticed that every time they met. His expression had always been reserved. Who was this man? “We have to get rid of this thing once and for all,” he had said to her once. But he had never explained just what “this thing” was. He wanted to honor the victims, he said; this had not happened in Wahnfried after the war. Alma had never really understood what he meant when he talked about the relationship between perpetrators and victims. Did he think of himself as a perpetrator? But why? Sometimes she had the impression that he believed he was a victim. Perpetrator, maybe. She could have understood that. But victim? Whose victim?
She had always felt ill at ease in Sörgel’s presence. She couldn’t say why. Maybe because she couldn’t read his facial expressions. Sörgel had been reserved and impersonal. If someone were to ask her to summarize her relationship with him in two words, she would have said: polite indifference. He was always elegantly, stylishly dressed. Everything matched: the blond hair, cut short and precisely parted, the light-colored three-piece summer suit, the white shirt; he wore only white shirts with colorful silk ties, and breast pocket handkerchiefs that he changed daily, the only spots of color in his exterior appearance. On the lapel of his jacket, a pin – a golden chalice, symbol of the Holy Grail. Also derisively called “the golden womb”; it identified him as a member of the “Wahnfried Circle.” Alma had burst out laughing when Beck told her about it during one of her visits to the offices of the Kurier. Sörgel only rarely took his jacket off. He conducted himelf like a diplomat representing the Villa Wahnfried, simultaneously both obliging and unapproachable. His age? Alma hadn’t thought about that before. And why should she have. Maybe he was in his mid-fifties? Or less? In the three weeks she had worked in the archives, before his death, she had never heard him laugh, not once. Now Siegfried Sörgel was dead. A suicide. But why? He hadn’t seemed depressed. Maybe because he had maintained such a reserve whenever she was with him. She would have liked it if his face had shown some emotion now and then. But he would not permit that.
What did she remember about him? His formal manner. It created a certain distance that she had come to value. And yet Sörgel was not without emotions. It’s just that you couldn’t read them in his face. Instead they were expressed in his voice. Alma had always paid attention to the tiniest nuances. By the time Sörgel invited her to dinner three days before his death, a sort of familiarity had already developed between them. A rather paradoxical one, perhaps. A distanced familiarity. She had become something like his confidante. After all, they did have a common goal, even if this goal was never openly discussed. “I am closer to you than you think,” he had said quite casually to her that evening. “Except that I know too little about Jewishness.”
Alma didn’t understand what he meant. Was that such a bad thing, she had asked him. Yes, he had replied, it was bad. He reproached himself for it now. Why was it so bad? “Because I know so little about myself,” he had said.
That evening, as they parted, Alma had heard Sörgel laugh for the first time. He seemed relieved after their conversation. As if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. But what burden? Four days later he was dead.
Her first meeting with Sörgel had taken place in his office in the “Siegfried House” next to the Villa Wahnfried on the day after she arrived in Bayreuth, on Friday, the 5th of May. This was where the Richard Wagner National Archive was located. And this is where she would often be working in the next few weeks. That day Sörgel had proudly told her the story of the house. Siegfried, the son of Richard and Cosima Wagner, had built it as his residence in the Contemporary Functionalist style of the nineteen-twenties.
With a sweeping gesture Sörgel said, “Look around you. In the twenties and thirties the world’s great personalities visited this house frequently. Not all of them from the world of music. The great Arturo Toscanini lived here, in this very room, during the Festival weeks. This is where Winifred Wagner, director of the Festival after the death of her husband, received her close and intimate friend, Adolf Hitler.”
Her intimate friend Adolf Hitler? Alma had perked up at this. Did Hitler also stay here? The way Sörgel had said it revealed nothing about his inner feelings. Critical? Ironic? Or empathetic after all? He had communicated this uncertainty at the start of their meeting and had made her feel uncertain too. Alma felt a sense of uneasiness in this house that she would never get rid of. When the conversation turned to her work, Sörgel again gave her the impression that he was master of an Archive containing explosive documents from the Nazi era. The Wagner family had kept these hidden from the eyes of curious historians for decades, right up to the present day. Alma would have to wait almost two more weeks before Sörgel finally opened the armored door to the Archive, Wahnfried’s sanctum sanctorum. She could recall every detail of that day. It was a Thursday. An important moment. She had reached her goal. Was it with an emotional undertone that Sörgel said, “I have decided to help you with your book project in every possible way. You can depend on me in this matter.”