Wolfram Pobanz, a cartographer, by a globe with a Russian bullet hole through Germany. He says it was not Hitler's.
By Michael Kimmelman
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
BERLIN: Hitler's globe is missing. Wolfram Pobanz, a 68-year-old retired cartographer, is positive that it's not the one in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, with the Russian bullet hole through Germany, and he can prove it.
Neither is it the one in the Märkisches Museum, the Berlin history museum nearby, nor the one in a geographical institute across town, which first caught Pobanz's eye 40-odd years ago when he was a student.
"We called it the Führer globe," he remembered. It planted the seed of his fascination with the Columbus Globe for State and Industry Leaders, as this enormous model was called - a far cry from the inflatable version that Charlie Chaplin bounced around in "The Great Dictator," which mocked Hitler's megalomania and created the indelible vision of a fascist tyrant doing a pas de deux with the planet.
Manufactured in two limited editions in Berlin during the mid-1930s (the second edition changed Abyssinia to Italian East Africa), the real Columbus globe was nearly the size of a Volkswagen and, at the time, more expensive. A standard wood base was designed to support it, but custom furniture stands were made for Hitler and other Nazi leaders. Pobanz has been methodically tracking them down.
White-haired, large, jowly and bespectacled, an unstoppable St. Bernard of enthusiasm for all things globe-related, he came the other day to the Deutsches Historisches Museum with a stack of books and photocopied evidence in his satchel, happy to lay it all out.
"He's a very serious man with a passion for this particular type of globe," said the museum's director, Hans Ottomeyer. Ottomeyer had mentioned Pobanz in passing during a conversation about Berliners with remarkable obsessions.
Pobanz's full story turns out to be a mystery. Besides the globes in Berlin, he said, there are two Columbus globes in public collections in Munich. Fellow globe hunters, put on the scent by word of his pursuit, have turned up several more in private hands and elsewhere, outside Germany. None, however, is from Hitler's office in the New Reich Chancellery, the globe that inspired Chaplin.
In Chaplin's satiric film the globe is a balloon, an emblem of megalomania, which suddenly bursts in the fictional tyrant's face. The image became a cinematic touchstone: art transformed into political symbol, shaping history.
Hitler, more than any modern tyrant, grasped the power of visual signs. He cooked up the Nazi Party uniform and the flag and hired Albert Speer to design the New Chancellery, where the giant Columbus globe, with a sharp-cornered, stepped wood base, was parked in Hitler's quarters. Newsreels and still photographs from the time the building opened, in 1939, show visitors trekking down marbled passageways more than four football fields long to reach the Führer.
It was Chaplin's genius, in 1940, to exploit the symbolism of the globe.
"It has been a trait of megalomaniacs throughout history to use the arts to control thought, gain respectability, bolster their power and memorialize themselves," Frederic Spotts, a historian of modern Germany, observes in his book "Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics." But Hitler went "beyond the others," he writes, and "defined and legitimized his rule in cultural terms."
Chaplin's sight gag, you might say, gained weight precisely by playing off Hitler's use of visual symbols.
Funny thing is, "Hitler probably didn't think anything about the globe," Pobanz said. "There's no picture of Hitler beside the globe.
He controlled all photographs of himself. If the globe had actually meant anything special to Hitler, there would surely be a photograph.
"For me this is not about Hitler, it's about the correctness of the situation," he insisted. When a Berlin newspaper last year called the Deutsches Historisches Museum's globe "the Globe of the Mass Murderer," he simply felt, as a scholar, that the record should be set straight. Whether he would be going to the same lengths to uncover the pedigree of a globe attributed to Konrad Adenauer or John Foster Dulles, he didn't say.
Instead, he said, "I don't know how many of these globes were made because the Columbus factory was destroyed in 1943, along with its archives." Pobanz pulled out a photocopy of a drawing he had unearthed for a custom base, designed by the Munich studio of Paul Ludwig Troost. Troost was Hitler's favorite architect during the early 1930s. "This base was made for Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry," he said.
It was identical to the one for the globe at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. "So this globe could only have been made for Ribbentrop," he said.
He did not pause to contemplate if the provenance made much difference, morally speaking. "The globes designed for the New Reich Chancellery had a more angular base," he said, then unveiled a different photocopy.
About the two globes in Munich, he explained, one came from Hitler's offices there (also with a bullet hole in it, American). So that is a Hitler globe, but it's still not the model ordered by Speer for the New Reich Chancellery, which Chaplin immortalized. The second globe in Munich came from a Nazi administrative building. Both pedigrees are documented, Pobanz said.
He then leapt into a list of international globe organizations. Pobanz belongs, he explained, to the International Coronelli Society for the Study of Globes, through which "I've heard about a globe in Breslau, and another in Warsaw."
Meanwhile Globusfreund (Friend of the Globe) magazine, based in Vienna, he said, has been pressing him to publish his research. The unmistakable anxiety of a man contemplating a prospective deadline suddenly flashed across his face.
"I can't," he said. "I'm still collecting evidence."
First interested in maps and globes because of their artistry and technical complexity, as a boy he made field trips in Germany and long bicycle tours across Europe. "Maps contain the imagination of the world," he said. "You can't go to all the places, but you can travel in your mind."
He lives alone, he said. He has no family. Before tackling this Hitler globe mystery, he specialized in maps from the Soviet Union and former East Germany, tracking down errors planted to throw off enemies from military sites. The suggestion that he's a map detective seems to offend his sensibility.
He opened a blue folder of papers to a photocopy showing a group of Russian soldiers in the New Reich Chancellery in May 1945, crowded around Hitler's globe. "I don't know where it is," he said, studying the image for a second.
"Maybe it's in Moscow."