A man runs for his life through the back streets of Munich, Germany. Behind him, a gun battle is still raging. He's lucky to be alive. As the police opened fire. He fell to the floor. A bullet barely missed his head. He's dislocated shoulder, but he still manages to make it to a waiting vehicle. He clambers in and it speeds away. It's November the 9th, 1923. And this man has just committed treason, he knows that if he's caught, he'll face at best a lengthy jail sentence, more likely the hangman's noose.
He's just attempted to lead a violent insurrection in the city of Munich. Late last night, he abducted the state prime minister at gunpoint and dispatched paramilitaries to seize government buildings and strategic positions across the city. His aim was to grab power in this state of area, then march north with his supporters to Berlin, the German capital, but his attempted coup has ended in abject defeat. The police and the army did not join the cause. Instead, they opened fire on the plotters, 14 Nazis and four policemen have lost their lives.
The leaders of the revolt are all either on the run or in custody.
The Munich putsch has failed. Now, Adolf Hitler, the ringleader, is on the run with a dislocated shoulder, an extraordinary game of cat and mouse will unfold as the authorities pursue him through the South German countryside. At this point, it's virtually impossible to grasp that in just 10 years, Hitler will be elected and sworn in as the German chancellor. Not only that, but he'll also go on to become the nation's dictator, the Führer. He will commit crimes that are so heinous he'll be remembered quite simply as one of the most evil and twisted human beings ever to walk the earth.
My name is Paul McGann and welcome to Real Dictators, the series that explores the hidden lives of tyrants. You'll be right there in their meeting rooms and private quarters, on the battlefields and in their bunkers, up close and personal with some of history's most evil leaders. We'll take you behind the curtain, beyond the propaganda and the myth making to hear the real stories of their totalitarian regimes. In season two, we'll be bringing you the stories of dictators including Francisco Franco and Moammar Gadhafi.
But we start with a series of episodes on Adolf Hitler's early years. We'll trace the story from his birth in 1889 to his attempted coup in 1923. We're traveling back in time to follow one man's journey from total obscurity to treason. Some dictators you might never have heard of, but Hitler is different. We've all heard of Adolf Hitler. How could you not? He holds a unique place in our collective memory and in the popular imagination. He is one of the most recognizable historical figures ever.
But while you may know something of the Hitler story, there's a decent chance you don't know the half of it. How did Hitler begin his journey to terrible power, and why was no one able or willing to stand in his way before he became unstoppable? How did a man born in Austria end up in Germany at the crest of a wave of violent populism, and how did he develop history's most noxious ideology?
Naziism from Noisette podcast.
This is the story of Hitler's early years, and this is real dictators. Adolf Hitler was a man with a unique talent for myth making, Hitler told a story about his life even as it was unfolding. He twisted the truth of events even as they happened. Hitler wrote about himself, he penned an autobiography called Mein Kampf. But this wasn't his only foray into storytelling, it's a constantly contorted the truth of his own life in order to serve his political career.
He built the most comprehensive cult of personality the world has ever seen. Parts of his life remain shrouded in mystery, with few reliable sources to illuminate them. This has allowed Hitler's own myths about himself to survive. Mein Kampf, Hitler's propaganda piece, continues to shape how many people see him. Hitler told a story about his own rise to power. He painted himself as a great historical figure, a messiah who emerged from the rubble of World War One to restore Germany to its former glory.
The reality was very, very different. The challenge as we travel back in time is to untangle the reality from domestic propaganda. The truth is often far more disturbing. We start at the beginning at birth, the man who will become the German dictator, the all powerful Führer isn't born in Germany, is born next door in the neighboring land of Austria, Hungary. He comes into the world on April the 20th, 1889. His birthplace is brownnose in a town right on the border with the German Empire.
Professor Thomas Veber from the University of Aberdeen is an expert on Hitler's early years and author of Becoming Hitler The Making of a Nazi. He was born in 1889 in Brown. Now I'm in on the border of Austria and Germany or Austria into the area. He grew up on the Austrian side. His father was an Austrian customs official, that his father was posted various places. And it was really because of his job that Hitler moved around a lot during his childhood along with Adolf and his father, Alawi's.
The family consists of mother Klara, a brother, a sister, a half brother and a half sister. In future years, Adolf Hitler will describe a childhood of poverty bordering on vagrancy. But that's something of an exaggeration.
Professor Frank McDonagh is author of multiple books on Nazi Germany, including a major and critically acclaimed two volume history of the Third Reich, the Hitler Youth in Mein Kampf, he sort of says that he was the lower middle class and that his father was a clerk.
And this was completely incorrect. His father was he was a grand person and being a tax collector, he had huge powers. You know, he can summon people in and ask them what the income is and expenditure and all the rest of it. So his father was a little bit of a local dictator and he wore a grand uniform of the Hapsburg Empire. And they lived in a in a detached house, large, detached house with a garden. His father was a beekeeper as a hobby.
He went to the local tavern every day and a half a bottle of wine. And they had servants. They had two or three servants as well. Hitler comes from a border region between two great empires. Austria, Hungary is a huge dual monarchy stretching all the way from the Alps in the west, right across to modern day Romania and Ukraine in the east. It's ruled by the House of Hapsburg. Germany, meanwhile, is a patchwork quilt of crowns, free cities and imperial territories unified under the Kaiser, the German emperor.
Just 25 years before Hitler's birth, neither Germany nor Austria, Hungary existed in their present form. The Austro Hungarian empire was created in 1867. Germany was only unified in 1871. For those in the border region between the two which state you live in isn't necessarily that relevant to your sense of identity? Both these states are young. What matters more, perhaps, is which people you feel you belong to. Which country you feel reflects your heritage. So despite his Austrian citizenship, Hitler owes his allegiance firmly to Germany.
Hitler moved around a lot. He even left for a while on the German side, and it was really this experience growing up in the borderlands of Germany and Austria that made that formed him. In fact, he starts from Mein Kampf with this kind of very fact that he is being born on the borderlands of those two countries.
Hitler was brought up to love germaneness. The language he speaks is a southern dialect of German. When the family moves for a time over the other side of the border into the German state of Bavaria, that's where Hitler picks up his distinctive accent. It sounds like a Bavarian, not an Austrian, and he's happy about that.
The young boys gaze is fixed northwards from a young age, he's convinced that so-called ethnic Germans like himself should be part of the German nation of the Austrian one from his childhood onwards.
He really thought that was weird, that German or ethnic Germans, people who speak the same language and have the same culture would live in different states. And Hitler's original politicization. When he goes back to that, this kind of desire to bring all German speakers together under one roof. And again, that really goes back to his childhood, even though I should stress that it was not inevitable that this experience would be channeled into this direction, Hitler's sense of identity clashes with the citizenship on his papers.
In years to come, he'll make much of his loathing of Austria and his love of all things German, but where Hitler grows up, lots of people feel more German and Austrian and no one else goes on to have his maniacal, genocidal career. We know surprisingly little about Hitler's early years because we really only know what either Hitler himself or his friends later claimed about him, and most of the evidence really told to kind of invent a story about Hitler and his childhood, how this unknown boy from the borderlands of Germany and Austria came out of nothing in order to to ultimately save Germany.
And how is through the hardship endured as a child and as a teenager, he had all these revelations about Germany and he quite ruthlessly reinvented his past.
In later writings, Hitler will draw a straight line from his childhood in the borderlands to his political career. But really, there's nothing much in his upbringing that hints at what he will become. In fact, hitless parents were politically quite different from the way he would eventually emerge, his father as a Austrian, Hungarian or Hapsburg customs official. He was quite loyal to the House. More broadly, Hitler also described him as relatively liberal and liberal. In the context of the time, there's little about this family that suggest it will produce the Führer, the man who will build a state fueled by an intense hatred of Jewish people.
He was not just a typical product office, family or of the environment. He was a possible outcome of that because, again, there were, of course, a lot of people living in Germany, Austria at the time, particularly in the borderlands, who, like him, wanted to bring all the Germans under one roof. There were also, of course, a lot of antisemite, but it was not inevitable that he would move into this direction. Support for this podcast comes from beautiful home services for Home Improvement Trust, award winning, locally owned and operated provider who has served the DMV area for over 15 years.
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I don't think it will become obsessed with ideas of heritage and racial purity. But he grows up in a family whose own origins are something of a mystery. In fact, his father, Lewis, wasn't born with the surname Hitler.
He was born Alaoui Shickel Gruber. Shickel Gruber was the maiden name of Allah with his mother, Alawi's was born illegitimate. He grew up without ever knowing his biological father. Professor Claudia Kuntz from Duke University explains his father was born and declared illegitimate at birth. No father's name on the birth certificate. The other thing he did that was world change history changing is he changed his name from Shickel Gruber to Hitler. Think of it. How would that sound? Zik Shickel goober.
That means victory. Shickel Gruber doesn't ring, but Heil Hitler does have a certain resonance. And so these aspects about Hitler's father were interesting. Alawi's took the surname Hitler from his stepfather, a man called Yohann Hitler. Adolf Hitler will force millions of German citizens to prove their bloodlines on the pain of death. He himself grows up with no idea who is paternal grandfather his. The Führer will hold himself to a rather different standard from his subjects. The Nazi party will gloss over their own leader's family history.
When awkward questions opposed, they will declare Johann Hitler always a step further as Hitler's official ancestor. Until recently, historians believe there could be a chance that Hitler had partly Jewish heritage. More recent research shows this is a claim without evidence. But it is a rumor, albeit a baseless one that continues to capture the imagination of some of the rumor first emerges right out of Hitler's inner circle. After the Second World War, senior Nazi officials were rounded up and brought before a court.
At the Nuremberg trials, a man called Hans Frank is one of those found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death by hanging. SAT in his cell anticipating the noose, Frank has time on his hands. He decides to put pen to paper and write his memoirs. These writings make headlines around the world. Frank claims to have intimate knowledge about Hitler's background, having worked as Hitler's own attorney, he claims to have been tasked with a delicate mission, delving into the future, his own family origins.
Frank claims that Hitler wanted to get to the truth before the newspapers. Frank alleges that Hitler's grandmother, Laria Shickel Gruber, had worked for a time as a housekeeper for a Jewish family. It was the son of this Jewish family, according to Frank, who was the true paternal grandfather of Adolf Hitler. Clearly, in the aftermath of World War Two, this is a bombshell claim. It's highly unlikely to be true. At the time, Hitler's grandmother supposedly had this affair with a Jewish man, Jews were officially banned from residing in that part of Austria where the anti-Semitic authorities and there is no archival evidence for this particular family living anywhere near Maria at this time.
Where Handspring gets this idea from is unclear. Perhaps it's just an attempt to grab the headlines or a parting shot at his former boss. What's interesting about the group is what it reveals about Hitler's own insecurities, clearly even in power, his family past is a topic of speculation, even at the heart of his own government. And further back, these doubts about his parentage may play some role in the young Hitler's personal development.
Normally, we wouldn't go into too much background about a leader's grandparents and his ancestors. But in Hitler's case, it's probably worth it to think about a little bit because Hitler, all his life, was tormented by the nagging doubt that maybe his grandfather may have been partly Jewish. Now, there are two other possibilities for Hitler's father's possible father. Both of them seem much more likely. But the point is that Hitler was always worried about the possibility that he could have a Jewish grandfather.
The fact that Hitler is so pained by the notion of a Jewish ancestor is clearly highly disturbing. If the idea upsets Hitler that much, then that tells us a lot about the twisted anti-Semitic values it comes to hold. Alawi's hitless father is rather less worried about his family. Whatever his own background, the patriarch has a fractious relationship with his children. Alawi's is emotionally distant and a strict disciplinarian. His father was rather violent and he talks about beatings that his father delivered here.
His father was a very demanding, very rigid, typical Austrian bureaucrat, proud of what he's achieved and wanted his son to grow up to be like him and Hitler because his mother had miscarriages and a couple of children who died in infancy. Hitler, by the time he was in grade school and high school, was the only surviving male heir of Alawi's. So that increased the pressure on him. The Hitler family continue to crisscross the border. They live for a while in the German town of Passau, then it's back to Austria.
As he begins his formal education and off proves to be a fairly unremarkable student, he has little time for schoolwork. He's more interested in the classic histories. The boys in this part of the world devour adventure stories and the old tales of Germanic greatness. And Hitler was a very mediocre student.
He loved to read adventure stories about the Wild West, and Hitler just devoured the Cowboys and Indians stories, the pioneers. And he lived in his own kind of fantasy world, even as a child. Nineteen hundred. A change came to Hitler's life and it was time for him to go to secondary school.
Hitler also went to a private school and it was a prestigious school. In the same school was the famous philosopher Ludwig Lichtenstein was in the same school. So this was not a minor school that he went to. But of course, he liked to project himself. Know the lowly man went to a whole school who lived in a poor town. He didn't live in a poor town. He had a very good upbringing. He wasn't quite a loner at that point.
He had quite a lot of friends in school. But he still seems to have had, even at that point, the somewhat uneasy relationship with others. In a way, I think we see here is something that Hitler throughout his life found a difficult to have relationships on an equal level where he would just accept people on the same level. This is not to say that Hitler always wanted to diminish.
In fact, there were times in his life during the First World War where he was perfectly happy to follow others.
Hitler could always function well within hierarchies, but not accepting people as equals.
At school, the boy has a talent for painting and drawing. It doesn't belong in a stuffy classroom, he's drawn to art far more than traditional school subjects. One thing becomes more and more into focus. Adolf Hitler really doesn't want to turn out like his dad. His father was leaning on him heavily to achieve good grades. Hitler, who had never been disciplined, never wanted to be a customs official, didn't do well in school. He had to repeat his first year because he flunked.
His father decided that he would inspire his son to become like him. So he took him to work one day and that did it for him. He then he saw the desks. He saw the paper. He saw the regimentation.
And he hated the idea. And that's when he said are know. Children always know what it is to say their to their parents. It'll drive them nuts.
Hitler said, I want to become an artist who is extremely close to his mother, whom he loved dearly, but not so of his father.
He always had a very difficult relationship with his father, who was a kind of very domineering figure. He wanted Hitler to become a kind of figure like him. But Hitler dreaded the idea of just becoming a kind of official somewhere. He wanted to be his own person. He wanted to pursue art. And this was all something that caused a lot of tension between father and son.
Clashes between father and teenager become more frequent kicks back against the strict disciplinary regime of his high school.
His father tries to beat him into submission. As Hitler approaches maturity, the scene is set for a showdown between the wannabe artist and the government official. But Hitler is saved from these confrontations with Ann-Louise. When he's 14 years old, his father suddenly dies.
In 1983, his father went down to the tavern on his way to work, as always, and he was having his morning drink on his way to work. And he fell over dead. And Hitler was therefore liberated from his father.
He was a bit of a mummy's boy. His mother was like an angel and he didn't like his father. That was really the dynamic of his growing up, really.
He said, I lost my mother, but I respected my father. The Hitlers have lost Alawi's as well as several children during infancy, the family now revolves around mother and son, Klara and Adolph.
Years later, he describes those years after his father died and when he lived with his mother, his mother moved to an apartment and lives as the happiest years of his life.
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Ella's father was a man who had little time for religion. He was agnostic, if not an atheist. It was mother, on the other hand, is a devout Catholic, as many people are in the southern German borderlands, the young adult who regularly attends church with Klara imbibes the rituals, the sights, sounds and smells of church, as well as the profound imagery of the Bible. The precise impact of this Christian upbringing is impossible to know. But clearly, in one way or another, religion leaves an indelible mark on the young boy.
Hitler's religious background was extremely important once he had grown up. It's quite clear that Hitler was at best, agnostic. He didn't believe in Christianity in that sense. He was very much shaped probably by his father rather than by his mother. At the same time, there's something more to his religious upbringing than whether or not he was a believer or a disbeliever when he kind of invented or reinvented his past. He very much used Christian ideas of deliverance, of sacrifice, the way he was thinking about ordering the world.
We see all very strong echoes of his Christianity and of his Catholic upbringing. By now, Hitler has had more than enough of high school. With his father departed, there's no one stopping him from dropping out and throwing himself wholeheartedly into his painting. In Mein Kampf, you'll describe years of scratching out a living as a starving artist, first in the city of Lintz, then in Vienna. The truth is slightly different. His fledgling career in the arts is actually subsidized by his doting mother, and gradually he failed as a student.
It was just no hope he drifted away, but his adoring mother subsidized him in loans. He could go to the theater. He went to hear Bugner offers so he wasn't impoverished. He had enough to live on, but not enough to prosper without his mother's help. It's at the theater in Lintz one night that Hitler meets his first great friend. His name is Acoustic Cubism. Cusack's diaries will prove highly useful for historians seeking to piece together Hitler's early years.
So he left his memoirs. And they are the key souls from a third party about why Hitler was like in his life. In his teenage years, things are looking up for Hitler. But then tragedy strikes. His beloved mother falls ill and the outlook is not good. Suddenly, then, his mother was diagnosed in 1996 with breast cancer. She was treated very competently by a doctor who happened to be Jewish, named Dr. Block. Hitler, from all reports, cared for her at her bedside.
Clara falling ill was not in the script. It's a curveball to Hitler's plans. He wants to try and make it in Vienna, the Austrian capital. Whatever his reservations about the Austrians, they are the ones leading the way when it comes to the arts.
And while he clearly hated Austria, Hungary is a political entity. He still turned to Vienna, or Vienna is the home of music, of art and so much else. He hoped that he would be accepted at the academy before she died from cancer.
Clara, hitless parting gift to her son, is money to travel to Vienna so that he can take the entrance exam to a prestigious art school.
He really wanted to become an artist and so he asked his mother for money to go to Vienna in 1997, which he did. He took the exam. He failed the exam. His mother died in September 97. So Hitler was lost.
His father, of course, died very much prematurely, but Hitler never seems to have missed him. If anything, he seems to have felt liberated after his father had died. But when a few years later, his mother died as well, it really blew him. The doctor who had treated the mother, he would stay late term. Instead, he had rarely, if ever, seen someone as devoted to their mother and as heartbroken in the wake of her death as out of Hitler.
Eighteen years old and orphaned Adolf Hitler now finds himself rejected not once, but twice from Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts.
And he was totally devastated. It came as a total blow to him that he was being turned down. And as a result of that, he tried to scrape a living drawing postcards that he was selling. He was selling at part through to his business partners, by the way.
And those next five years in Vienna were the years when he painted watercolors and sold them on the street. Incidentally, he teamed up with a friend of his who also painted and Hitler did the buildings and the friends did the human figures in watercolors, and he sold them as postcards. They lived in a flophouse sometimes in the summer. He slept on the park bench. He read, he read, he read everything he could get his hands on in the way of nationalist literature.
He read about survival of the fittest. He read German myths, but he had a life without much of an anchor.
At this time in 19th and 1910s, Vienna is the height of metropolitan sophistication, architects like out of loose artists like Gustav Klimt, Schoenberg, the composer Sigmund Freud, Vienna is home to plenty of major artists and thinkers. Public squares are ringed by coffeehouses, where people gather to discuss the issues of the day after Platz is alive with the chatter of all the voices of the Austro Hungarian empire German, Hungarian, Croatian, Czech, Italian, Bosnian, Polish, Yiddish, Romanian, Serbian, and more.
Besides, Vienna is a multicultural hub. It's rather an odd place for Adolf Hitler, of all people, to find himself. But this is the place to be if you wish to become an artist.
Pitler is joined in Vienna by his friend from Lintz acoustic music Kubasik, the funny thing is that when you think about that, you think about him as very much a military man. Don't you know a man who wants to dominate the world by force? But in actual fact, when you look at the drawings, drawings that he did himself, he looks like a rather artsy teenager. And I mean, if you'd met him in a cafe, a trendy cafe in Vienna and he said to you, what do you want to be?
And he said, I want to be an artist. You want amazing. No, you don't. You want to be a rabble rousing dictator. So really, he was quite nasty. He says himself that he was a cosmopolitan bohemian is what he says when he arrives in Vienna.
And Kubasik says, you know, there there's no sort of idea that he wants to be a politician at that stage.
Kubasik was a pianist and a talented musician, and he got into the Vienna School of Music, no less. After that, Hitler disappears from the life of Cuba, I think, because they shared a flat together when he failed the second time. I don't think he could face up to the fact of telling his friend it failed again. So he kind of disappears for a bit. And he ends up in a lodging house called a middling. It's a homeless person's lodging house, but not the homeless person's lodging house of of a really poor person.
What happens is you pay the money to stay there. And inside was like a dump. You know, it would have a library, it would have shower facilities, it would have a canteen. We don't know much about his life in that period because there's not much is the occasional person who comes across him. We know some of the people who were in the lodging house, talked about them later, talked about him sitting in the window, drawing all day.
He sues somebody who he says is embezzle the amount of commission. Some guy sold some of his postcards. So Hitler takes this guy's course. So we see this cold case in ninety nine us, the last we see of Hitler. Hitler is by no means rich, but his mother's death does have one silver lining. Hitler is now the recipient of his late father's pension.
This will be a lifeline during his time in Vienna because his mother died, he inherited his father's pension at a reduced rate, but it was still a decent amounts of money. Said he was like down and out in Vienna, but he wasn't really he still had this pension that came from his father. After failing to get into the academy as a painter, ITLA tries to get a place for architecture. But as a high school dropout, he lacks the required academic qualifications, it's yet more rejection.
But it does nothing to diminish Hitler's sense of himself as an artist. As a dictator, you come to view himself as the visionary architect of a new Germany, even to the day he died, he was at heart still an artist or an architect. Amongst his favorite books were books on architecture and art. And even the way he looked at politics was very much he saw himself as a kind of Baumeister, which is kind of difficult to translate into English.
It's an architect, but in a Baumeister is the kind of architect who builds a cathedral or who built something far larger than just the house, who creates entire new cities or temples. And he saw himself as the Baumeister of the new Germany.
Hitler will later claim that the experience of living in Vienna is what turns him on to anti-Semitism. Supposedly, it's here surrounded by people of different backgrounds, speaking different languages, spending money in Jewish stores and interacting with Jewish acquaintances, that Hitler first embraces anti-Semitism.
Hitler, in hindsight, often presented this as kind of years of total poverty and so on. And the reason why this matters is because this became part of the story of his making. So he explains how he barely had enough to eat, how he was extremely poor, and how this gave him insights as to how Jews are harmful to Germany and to the world and what a new and what a better Germany would look like.
Generally, historians believe Hitler's anti-Semitism actually developed over a period of time. It takes a little longer to ferment than what he himself claims.
And it seems that at least in his early years in Vienna, he had tension Freeth relations with Jews, that he even defended Jews against accusation of others. Hitler had Jewish business partners and Jewish friends. And remember that his family hasn't been anti-Semitic.
Hitler may not yet be the virulent anti-Semite of later years, but it does seem that after living in Vienna for a while, he starts to adopt some of the vile prejudices of which you become infamous.
People have in recent years, including myself, have argued that there is no evidence whatsoever that until after the First World War, Hitler had any problems as Jews. But I'm no longer so sure because about a year and a half ago, I was given access to an interview with the daughter of the family with whom Hitler had lodged. And she claims that he had talked about how his experiences Barnabas was Jews made him leave Austria, Hungary. So she claims that, after all, there is something to the story that there was a transformation towards anti-Semitism during his many years.
As Hitler drifts apart from his friend Kubasik, he also drifts away from the historical record Kubasik journals are the key sources in piecing together Hitler's life without them.
Mystery surrounds Hitler's next few years in Vienna. This mystery will allow myths and legends to emerge about what exactly Hitler does next. One such myth, a popular one, is that Hitler takes a little trip abroad to Liverpool, England.
There was a mess that he came to Liverpool and of course, he didn't go to Liverpool and there was no record of the Liverpool. But it's a kind of urban mess in Liverpool, you know, that he was inevitably in and he drank in peace, a cavernous pub, etc. But he never came to Liverpool.
More likely, Hitler spends these next two years as a drifter. Thanks to his parents and his watercolors, he has enough to get by, but he's pretty directionless right now.
There's no master plan. But far beyond Vienna, the tectonic plates of global politics are beginning to shift. They're about to cause an earthquake that would devastate the world. Events will soon come to pass 500 miles away in the city of Sarajevo, that will change everything. Putting Adolf Hitler on the path to a very different life. In the next episode of Real Dictators, Hitler's Early Years. The First World War explodes into action, Adolf Hitler relocates permanently to Germany after dodging the draft.
First, he soon embraces life as a soldier. But then while serving in Flanders on the Western Front, a traumatic injury threatens to end his rise to power before it's even begun. That's next time a real dictators. Real dictators is presented by me, Paul Morgan. The show was created by Pascal Hughes, produced by Joel Did our editing and music by Oliver Beams with Strings recorded by Dorie McCoole, sound design and mix by Tom Pink with EDIT Assembly by George to follow Noisette podcasts on Twitter for news about upcoming series.
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