Arrived in Peking today

Albert Speer in his cell during the Nuremberg trials, 24 Nov 1945
Photo: Harvard Law School Library

As Adolf Hitler’s chief architect and later his Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer was a key instrument in the murderous machine of the Third Reich, a role for which he was rightly convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. During his twenty-year confinement at Spandau Prison in Berlin, Speer indulged in a peculiar mental exercise: an imaginary journey around the globe. Every step he took in the prison yard was diligently counted and recorded, and each day he would use those distances to “advance” on his mental map of the world and record the tour in his diary. With every calculated stride, he “crossed” borders, “navigated” terrains, and “visited” far-off lands—a regular escape from a deplorable past that he never fully acknowledged.

The Diary Entry

July 13, 1959

Arrived in Peking today. As I came to the Imperial Palace, some kind of demonstration was taking place in the great square outside it. Two, three, four hundred thousand people-who can say how many? In that constantly surging crowd I quickly lost all sense of direction; the uniformity of the people also frightened me. I left the city as quickly as I could.

In recent weeks the gardening has left me little time for my long hike. It took 415 days for the 2,280 kilometers from Kunming to Peking, but that still makes a daily average of 5.4 kilometers a day. Since the beginning of my pilgrimage to the continent of Asia four years and ten months ago I have covered 14,260 kilometers. If anyone had told me, at the beginning of my walk to Heidelberg, that my way would lead me into the Far East, I would have thought him crazy, or that I was going to be. Now I have the distance from Peking to Vladivostok before me, and have requested books on that route.

Further Reading

Albert Speer’s diaries were originally published in German in 1975, titled Spandauer Tagebücher. A year later they were published in English by Macmillan, translated by Richard and Clara Winston and with the title Spandau: The Secret Diaries.


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