In this and subsequent orations Hitler seemed to be following the socialist line of Gregor Strasser; he even used the terminology of the leftists in attacks on capitalism and the decadent bourgeoisie. But the brunt of the battle to win urban workers over to National Socialism he left to someone more qualified. Josef Goebbels had set off for Berlin in a third-class railroad compartment with a worn satchel containing two suits, several shirts, a few books and a pile of manuscripts. He arrived to find the Berlin Gau in complete disarray and later would write that “what went as the party in Berlin in those days in no way deserved that description. It was a widely mixed collection of a few hundred people with National Socialist ideas.” Although much of his account was more fictional than his diaries, this was no exaggeration. Meetings in the capital often degenerated into shouting matches and slaps in the face were commonplace. One quarrel between Gregor Strasser and a man named Hagemann became so acrimonious that it ended in a challenge to a duel.
Goebbels was faced with an apparently impossible task. Besides being at odds with one another, the thousand party members under his jurisdiction were opposed on the streets by overwhelming numbers of Communists and Social Democrats. Gau headquarters were located in a “filthy basement” of a building in the Potsdamerstrasse. “There was complete confusion. The finances were a mess. The Berlin Gau then possessed nothing but debts.” This state of affairs inspired rather than depressed Goebbels. He moved his headquarters to a better area, set up regular office hours and established a sound accounting system under his personal control. By February 1927 the Gau owed nothing while owning almost 10,000 marks’ worth of office equipment as well as a used car.
Goebbels decided it was now time to broaden the base of membership and to do that he had to attract the attention of a jaded public. “Berlin needs its sensations as a fish needs water,” he wrote, “this city lives on it, and any political propaganda not recognizing this will miss the mark.” His speeches and articles took on a crisp, graphic style attuned to the Berliner; his SA troops deliberately sought physical combat with the Reds—preferably when the odds were in their own favor—on his theory that “He who can conquer the streets can also conquer the masses; and he who has conquered the masses has thereby conquered the state.”
He rehearsed his speeches before a full-length mirror and, according to his landlady, would practice body movements by the hour. Once on the podium he was a brilliant improviser, and soon perfected a variety of styles. Before a meeting he would ask what audience he would face. “What record must I use—the national, the social or the sentimental? Of course, I have them all in my suitcase.”
He appealed directly to the masses in graphic, aggressive language. A consummate actor, he could switch from humor to sentiment and then to invective. Often he deliberately provoked the Reds into vocal protests which he would twist to his own advantage. “Making noise,” he once said, “is an effective means of opposition.” To him propaganda was an art and he was, by all accounts, including his own, a genius at it—and he sold National Socialism with American-style showmanship as if it were the best soap in the world.
He entered the lists of battle in the working-class district of Wedding by announcing in glaring red posters that “The Bourgeois State Is Approaching Its End,” and inviting workers to a mass meeting on February 11, 1927, at the Pharus Hall, a center commonly used for Communist Party gatherings. It was an open declaration of war. No sooner did the chairman open the meeting than a Marxist worker shouted out that he wanted to clarify a point in the agenda. The chairman ignored him and when the worker repeated his request he was thrown out by storm troopers. This touched off a brawl in which eighty-three Reds were beaten up. A dozen Nazis were also injured and Goebbels showed his talent as propagandist by bringing these men on stage where their moaning was more effective. The Battle of Pharus Hall brought the party to the front pages of the newspapers, and Berliners who knew little or nothing about Hitler and his movement were made aware of a new political force in town. The publicity was meant to be derogatory but in the next few days 2600 applications for membership were received, and 500 of these applicants also wanted to join the SA.
With every meeting the size of the audience increased and by the time Hitler appeared at the Clou restaurant center there were 5000 present. The occasion was a closed celebration of the Marxist holiday, May Day, and the Führer began like a Lenin: “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”
John Toland, Adolph Hitler: The Definitive Biography (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1976), 223-225.