Hitler’s wife ate the most extravagant meals imaginable while the Nazis starved millions of innocent people to death
Champagne. That basically sums up the diet of Adolf Hitler’s mistress and last-minute wife, Eva Braun. ‘Passive, faithful, and decorative,’ she lived in a world of ‘make-believe morality,’ says Laura Shapiro, the writer of What She Ate, a collection of the gastronomic lives of six significant women in contemporary history.
Among the ladies Shapiro has chosen, the profile of Eva Braun instantly stands out. Her love affair with Hitler started and finished in her stomach. The couple met when Eva was working at the studio of a devout Nazi photographer, who one day received a visit from Hitler. Braun was sent out to get leberkäse, a Bavarian meat loaf, to serve to the dictator. Her ending is better known: cyanide was the poison she chose to end her own life.
When she became first lady, Hitler arranged for her to live an isolated life in Berghof, his Alpine retreat, where she had salo delivered, fresh bacon typical of Ukraine. And the cellar was never without its stock of Moët et Chandon champagne. In Shapiro’s own words, champagne ‘was the social fuel of the Reich’.
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Braun drank champagne wherever she was, every day, the bubbles from the glass fueling the bubble in which she lived, right up to the day before she died. Shapiro puts it like this: ‘What emerges most vividly in Eva’s relationship to food is her powerful commitment to fantasy. She was swathed in it, eating and drinking at Hitler’s table in a perpetual enactment of her own daydreams.’
All this luxury had the purpose of compensating for something essential: the absence of her beloved Hitler. The dictator did not want to be seen with Braun at his side as he wanted to be portrayed as married only to the German cause. Braun was only allowed to appear with the Führer at occasions involving his inner circle, at the Berghof in Obersalzberg. There she was able to perform her role as ‘the mistress of Germany’s and the world’s greatest man,’ as Shapiro notes from her diaries.
A chef would cook at the retreat with no expense spared: there was butter for everyone, fresh salads, different kinds of sausages, white bread, roast pork, grilled beef, omelettes, apple strüdel and imported oranges.
But to kick off the banquet, the dictator had to appear, and this would not happen until several hours after the guests had arrived. Meanwhile, the cognac, vermouth, soda and fruit juices flowed into the glasses of those in attendance, and, like the nearby Königsee, the ‘King’s Lake’, Eva Braun’s glass was never empty and was always filled with champagne.
As for the food, Braun would obsess over her weight. ‘She treated food as a kind of servant whose most important job was to keep her thin.’ And she found Hitler’s ‘heavy vegetarian diet’ truly repulsive, which consisted of plates of mashed potato and linseed oil. She also detested the dictator’s sweet tooth: Hitler was well-known for being able to eat almost a kilo of praline in a single sitting in an effort to calm his nerves.
Shapiro does not overlook the outrageous contrast between the luxurious spreads that the bigwigs of the Third Reich would help themselves to, and the millions of people who were deliberately starved to death in the Holocaust.