For his part, Mussolini planned to be a perfect host. He had the confidence of a man who, after declaring himself minister of war, the navy and the air force, then learned to swim and fly, and to ride a horse so that he could review his troops. Neither he nor Hitler had risen above the rank of corporal in the last war, but there was no need to bring that up. It was the fate of Austria that Mussolini wished to discuss. To that end, he conducted his guest by car to Stra, near Padua, where they secluded themselves in the drawing room of the royal palace.
At that point all formality - and civility - ceased. Opposition brought out the maniacal in Hitler. "It is my will, and the indomitable will of the German people," screeched the Fuhrer, "that Austria become an integral part of the Reich!" Il Duce blasted back with Italy's equally indomitable resolve that Austria remain independent. Anxious attendants heard fists thumping, and increasingly frenzied rantings. Finally the door flew open and both men tramped through. They did not look at each other. They acknowledged the cheering crowd and returned to Venice in separate cars.
Yet to be endured were formal dinners, a concert of Wagner, the obligatory military review. Goodbyes were frigid. What was his impression? Mussolini was asked afterwards. "A mad little clown," he saidReuse content