The Berlin Doctrine by Anton Rose


the berlin doctrine  copy


Anton Rose

September, 1916

Several hundred miles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, a man appeared in space. For a fleeting moment, he opened his eyes and looked down. The world glowed with a blue hue, illuminated by the brilliant light of the sun. From that distance, the man could not make out any features. No continents took shape before him, and no man-made structures rose up to his gaze. Instead he saw faint forms, patterns, slowly moving spectres across the surface of the globe. In the brief moments before his bodily functions ceased, before he began his final, silent drift through the blackness of space, the horror on his face turned into a smile. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.


March, 1922

By the time Walter Schillerman arrived at the scene, a small crowd of locals had already gathered. When they saw him, they waved him over.

“Officer Schillerman, here!”

They stood in the middle of one of Mr. Schneider’s fields. Mrs. Schneider had turned away, holding a handkerchief over her mouth. Her eyes met Walter’s, and he saw that they were red and sore.

The scene in the field was unlike anything he had ever seen. The body – if it could still be called a body – had been shattered, splintered, ripped into a thousand different pieces. Blood and gore were strewn across a radius of about thirty feet. As Walter explored the area, straining to suppress the desire to vomit, he found bits and pieces he recognised. A shiny white canine here, a thin intestinal tube there.

There was clothing, too. Shreds of a white shirt, now crimson, and a brown jacket with matching trousers. Walter picked up a shoe, battered and ripped. With a cloth from his pocket, he wiped it clean.

He interviewed each person in turn. None of them had anything of significance to tell him, other than Mr. Schneider, who was the first on the scene.

“Did you see what happened?” he asked.

Mr Schneider nodded.

Walter produced a notebook and pencil from his inside jacket pocket.

“Please explain to me what you saw. Be as detailed as possible.”

Mr. Schneider paused, and looked away. After a few seconds, he spoke. “I’m not sure if I can.”

“Why not?”

“You’ll think I’m crazy.”

“I’m not here to make judgments, Mr. Schneider. And I’m asking you as a witness, not as a suspect. Please, go on.”

Mr. Schneider shifted back and forth, transferring his weight from one foot to the other, and back. He looked at his wife, who still held holding the handkerchief over her mouth. She nodded at him.

“I was a hundred yards away when it happened,” he began, almost at a whisper. “I was walking through the field on my rounds when I heard a noise from above me, a kind of whistling. When I looked up, I saw—”

He paused, looked around in a circle, and then looked up.

“I saw a man. I think it was a man, anyway. I didn’t see where he came from, but he was falling. And then he hit the ground. He made the most awful sound. I mean, he fell out of the sky. You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”

Walter didn’t answer. Instead, he gazed upwards. The sky was mostly covered in clouds, but every few seconds the sun broke through in slats of light. It was almost silent, apart from the gentle sound of the grass, rustling in the breeze. He opened the notebook, and began to write.


August, 1896

Surrounded and protected by dense shrubbery, a man watched the house. In one hand he held a small pair of binoculars, pressed up against his eyes. In the other, he held a knife.

The house sat at the top of a hillock, one of several perched in the undulating valley, lush green, spotted with patches of bright ferns and small yellow flowers, their petals like tiny dots of paint.

The man sat waiting at the point where the open meadows gave way to woodland, where sparser foliage became dense bunches of deciduous trees. He had been watching the house for six hours. Since dawn he had seen one man leave the building, only to return a quarter of an hour later.

At around eight o’clock – or so he estimated – a woman walked out of the house accompanied by a little boy. They were talking, but they were too far away for the man to hear their conversation. The woman patted the boy on the head, and he skipped away as she returned inside. The boy ran down the hillock, moving parallel with the line of the trees, and jogged across the grass until he reached a larger hill. His pace slowed as he climbed. The man watched him all the way.

The boy reached the top of the hill and dipped down over the other side, out of view of the house. The man stayed hidden for another few minutes, glancing back and forth between the boy and the house. There was no more movement.

Sliding the binoculars into his pocket, he tightened his grip on the knife, but held it behind his back. He swept back his hair and steadied his breathing. Finally, he left cover and approached the hill.

The boy sat on the grass. He held one of the yellow flowers in one hand, and with the other he plucked the petals, one by one, releasing them into the air and watching them flutter on the breeze.

The man walked as quietly as he could, but the boy heard him, and turned.

“Good morning,” he said. The boy’s German was soft and melodic.

“Hello,” the man replied.

For months he had studied old tapes and recordings, memorising the lifts and the lulls, the cadences and rhythms, the regional variations and dialects. In a well-practiced lower Bavarian accent – with just a hint of Austrian – he spoke to the boy. ‘What is your name?’ he asked.

“Ady,” the boy said.

“Is that your full name, or your nickname?”

“My nickname.”

Ady reached into his pocket and pulled out half a pretzel. It had a rich brown crust, with thick grains of salt embedded in the surface of the dough. He tore it in half again, and held one of the pieces out to the man. “Do you want some?” he said.

The man still held the knife behind his back, but now his grip was loosened, lubricated by sweat. He smiled at the boy, but his heart thumped in his chest. He eased the blade of the knife into the top of his trousers, and passed the bottom of his shirt over the handle. He wiped his hand against the fabric of his shirt, and took the pretzel. It was delicious, but chewing it was difficult; all the moisture had left his mouth.

“Thank you,” he said.

“What’s your name?” Ady asked.

The man stopped chewing. He clawed at his memory, trying to piece a sentence together. Mein name ist….

Ady continued to watch him.

The man stared at the boy’s face. His cheeks were plump, with a red sheen like a freshly-picked apple. His eyes were blue and his hair was thick and dark, strands rising up when caught in the breeze.

He tried to think. Words came into his head, but they were the wrong ones. He tried to reassure himself, repeating the familiar phrases. 2: A person is at all times the totality of their past, present and future.

The boy continued to smile at him. The skin on his neck was pale and thin.

Mein name ist….

Open-mouthed, the man dropped the pretzel into the grass. He turned and ran, down the hill and into the trees, until the boy could no longer see him.


December, 1924

A man sat in the darkness of a prison cell. The cold was manageable, and the discomfort of solid, harsh corners was bearable. But the dampness of the cell crept inside him, worming through his clothes and into his skin, seeping into the marrow of his bones.

The plan he had was risky, but it had worked. Right prison, right time. And if the operation up to this point had been about accuracy, he knew that the next stage would be about patience. So he waited.

After a couple of days of being alone, he was thrown into a larger cell, with more people. This exposed him to new dangers, but by keeping to himself he was able to avoid all but the most minor incidents.

In the first few weeks, he saw the mark a number of times. On each occasion, it was only in passing. A sight across the food hall, or walking past each other out in the yard. Always, the mark was accompanied by his loyal associates. He looked slightly different to most of the pictures, but he was still recognisable. The moustache was slightly longer, but it held the same rigid shape. His hair, too, was longer, less slick, but parted in the same way.

Preparation was important. He first procured some cigarettes, and with them he was able to get his hands on a razor blade. It was small, and not as sharp as the ones he had at home, but it would still slice through the skin of a man’s neck if applied with the correct pressure.

He decided to do it in the evening, after dinner, when the other men would be lethargic. He wouldn’t be able to escape, of course, but that was never an option. Even if he could escape, there was no way of getting home. The only thing that mattered was the job.

He loitered near the mark’s cell. He saw him walking down the corridor, flanked by two of his minders. He held the blade concealed in his palm. He avoided eye contact, and when they passed him he took his chance. He leapt forward, aiming to grab him from behind, and to slice through his carotid artery. But as he pushed forward, his foot slipped in a moist spot on the floor; spilt water or drops of sweat. By slipping, he lost the small advantage he had, and seconds later he was being man-handled into one of the cells. They shut the door behind them.

After prying the blade from his fingers, they beat him. They demanded to know where he was from, who had sent him. He refused to answer them. The mark did not partake in the beating. Instead he sat watching, licking his dry lips.

The men stripped off his clothes and pushed him up against the wall.

“Look,” said one of them, gesturing at his naked groin. “Jewish.”

While they continued to beat him, the man with the moustache sat in the corner of the room, slowly shaking his head.


September, 1934

A man walked through the dark streets of Nuremberg. He had been there for a week. In that time he had led a kind of shadow existence, doing everything possible to avoid the attention of anyone who could cause a problem, anyone who might scupper his plans.

He had considered a number of different approaches. Of course, it would have been much easier if he had been able to bring equipment with him. A carbon rifle with a 32x magnifier would have made short work of the job. A remote-controlled drone would make it all but trivial. But he knew the doctrine as well as anyone. 6: No material anachronisms

He considered using conventional weaponry, but there were a number of problems. First, he would have to procure the weapon without arousing suspicion. Second, he would have to find a suitable vantage point. Third, he would have to rely on the accuracy of an old-fashioned, unfamiliar weapon.

Instead, he had settled on explosives. The downside was that it would cause collateral damage, but this was deemed to be an acceptable cost. 1: The end will justify the means.

He knew how to make fourteen different types of improvised devices, all with materials he could expect to find on his arrival. During the week leading up to the rally, he gathered materials and scouted out the lay of the land, matching up the sights and smells of the city with the old maps and blueprints he memorised before the mission.

When the morning of the rally arrived, he woke early, feeling remarkably calm. He had set up his base of operations in an old gothic church, presently abandoned while repairs were done to the roof.

With plenty of time to spare, he went to the bakery for breakfast. Taking a bite of bread, it struck him that it was probably the last meal he would ever eat. He ate slowly. Walking back to the church, he saw signs of preparation for the rally. Flags hung in the windows of several houses. They were crimson red with white circles in the centre, finished with thick black angular lines. A girl skipped past him down the pavement, red and black ribbons flowing from her pigtails.

When he arrived back at the church, he walked around the outside of the building. The grass in the graveyard was overgrown, many of the gravestones covered with a thin layer of moss. A roofing tile, which had been getting increasingly loose over the past few weeks, finally dislodged. It dropped through the air and struck the man on the head, killing him instantly.


December, 2032

Dr. Phillips checked the readings from the blood test one last time. She turned to the man sitting across from her, who was watching her calmly.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“Yes. Everything looks in order. You’re ready. Put your uniform on and meet us by the chamber.”

The man stood, saluted, and left the room. Dr. Phillips made her way to the chamber, where Dr. Stein greeted her.

A few minutes later, the man joined them. He wore rough brown trousers held up by braces over a thick blue shirt rolled up to the elbows. On his head he wore a flat cap.

“How do I look?” he asked.

Dr Phillips smiled. “Positively Germanic,” she said.

The man shook her hand, and then Dr. Stein’s.

“How are you feeling?” Dr. Stein asked.

He paused for a moment. “I feel like I’m ready,” he said.

A lab assistant led the man through a glass door, and then into what looked like an airlock chamber. The man went alone. Gas filtered into the chamber, almost invisible. After a few minutes, the door on the other side opened.

The man walked through the door and across a walkway, suspended in the middle of a huge room with curved walls, almost perfectly spherical. When he arrived in the centre he sat in a chair.

He closed his eyes. There was a faint whirring sound, and then he was gone.

Dr. Phillips returned to the main corridor. Dr. Stein followed her.

“Fancy a drink?” he asked.

They walked to Dr. Stein’s office. He opened the door, and Dr. Phillips sat down. Dr. Stein pulled the stopper out of a carafe of brandy and filled two crystal glasses. He sat down and passed one of the glasses to his partner.

For a few minutes, they sat in silence, until Dr. Stein spoke. “Do you ever doubt what we’re doing here?” he asked.

Dr. Phillips took a large gulp of her drink. It shot straight down her throat, burning pleasantly.


“What if we’re just sending these boys to their deaths?”

“I know we’re sending them to their deaths.” She paused. “And I do regret that. Even with our most optimistic projections, fifty percent of them won’t make it there, or will arrive in the wrong place. We’ve probably sent some to the wrong continent, or materialised them under the earth’s crust. Hell, we’ve probably sent some hurtling through space. But we’re getting more accurate all the time. And they are all volunteers. They enter this program with their eyes wide open. You know that.”

“I do. Number four, volunteers only; number five, complete operative transparency. But what if our calculations are wrong? What if none of them are successful?”

“They will be.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because I must be.”

“None of them have been successful so far.”

“We don’t know that.”

Dr. Stein laughed. “Let’s not go down that rabbit hole again.”

There was a knock at the door. One of the lab assistants poked her head through.

“I’m clocking out,” she said.

Dr. Stein nodded. When the lab assistant left, he topped up the glasses.

“Would you do it?” he asked, sitting down again.

“Do what?”

“Stick the knife in. Pull the trigger.”

Dr. Phillips drained her glass and placed it firmly on her armrest. She looked at her partner, and he saw something in her eyes, flickering.

“I’d pull it twice,” she said. “Just to be sure.”


April, 1889

It was a light, airy evening. The man with the flat cap was walking down a dusty lane in Austria-Hungary. In his hands he held a long, thin piece of wire. As he walked, he wound the wire round his fingers and twirled it through the air.

He walked down the thin path, along the back of a row of houses. Half way along, he came across a wheelbarrow stuffed full with vegetables. He stopped for a moment and took in his surroundings, checking to see whether he was being watched. Confident he was in the clear, he reached into the wheelbarrow and took out a marrow. It was a few inches thick, with a firm skin, but when squeezed it, it felt soft inside. As he resumed his stroll down the lane, he put on a pair of gloves, and wrapped the wire round the middle of the marrow. He pulled both ends, and the vegetable was neatly sliced in two, sending the pieces tumbling through the air.

When he arrived at the town square, he looked at the clock, raised up on the side of the church. He had time. The thought made him chuckle to himself. With a few hours to spare, he entered into the first inn he came across, and sat at a table.

A woman approached him with a beaming smile. He asked her to bring him the best food she had, and a glass of beer to go along with it.

There were several other tables in the room, but only one of them was occupied. A couple of men sat nursing tall glasses of beer. As he waited, the man studied the paintings on the wall. There was a mixture of stoic portraits and pastoral scenes, green meadows and old trees. He thought of the smell of grass, and the feeling of sunshine on skin.

When the woman returned, she placed a plate in front of him. On it were three huge sausages, along with a pile of boiled potatoes, and a generous portion of sauerkraut. Next to the food she placed a large glass of beer with an inviting amber hue.

As he lifted the first forkful of food up to his mouth, the door opened, letting an extra shaft of light into the room. The woman, who had just walked away from the man’s table, turned and moved towards the door, waving her hand and shaking her head.

“No, sorry,” she said. “We’re full.”

She closed the door. As she turned, she saw the man, looking at her quizzically. She smiled at him.

“Jews,” she said, and walked back into the kitchen.

For a second, the man considered standing up, but instead he gripped the table. He continued eating. The sausages were delicious, the sauerkraut heavenly.

His plate wiped clean, he put some money on the table and left. He asked a passerby for directions to the Gasthof zum Pommer, which, it turned out, was just nearby. He did a couple of sweeps around the area, and then waited.

In the middle of the night he picked the lock and entered. The building was quiet. A light rain tickled a gentle rhythm on the windows and the roof. He found the baby, sleeping, in a room adjacent to its parents.

Somewhere in the distance, there was a rumbling sound, like a peel of thunder. The man reached into his pocket and took out the wire. He pulled it taut, holding it between each gloved hand. As he prepared to reach forwards, the baby opened its eyes.

Food For Thought

In stories about time travel, one of the most common ways of using this technology is to go back in time and change things, in order to change the future. We see this in classic films like The Terminator and Back to the Future, where characters attempt to shape their present by changing the past.

In this story, we see a group of scientists and soldiers attempting to change the past in an organised way. As part of their training and planning, they have an established set of principles or rules, known as the Berlin Doctrine. We see a few of these, such as ‘4: Volunteers only’ and ‘6: No Material Anachronisms’. What other principles should be included in a doctrine of responsible time travel? Is such a doctrine possible or desirable?

The first and second principles mentioned in “The Berlin Doctrine” are perhaps the most controversial. The first is ‘1: The end will justify the means.’ In a consequentialist ethical philosophy, such as utilitarianism, this kind of statement can be supported. The ethical value of an action is based on its outcomes. In this story, the outcome in mind is to prevent World War Two and the Holocaust before they even begin. These, surely, are desirable outcomes. But is murder ever ethically warranted? In a deontological ethical theory such as Kantian ethics, murder is always wrong, regardless of the ultimate outcome. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a member of the resistance against Hitler, and he took part in a failed plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer stated that killing Hitler would make him guilty, but that it was the necessary thing to do, and he hoped that God would grant him grace.

Even if we agree that Bonhoeffer’s actions were ethically justifiable, it does not necessarily follow that murdering Hitler as an infant would have the same ethical value. In an early part of “The Berlin Doctrine”, one time traveller loses his nerve when face-to-face with a young “Ady”. This question is raised again at the end of the story. Should the time traveller strangle the baby or not? Can this one act of brutality be justified with reference to the future? The second statement in the doctrine claims that ‘A person is at all times the totality of their past, present and future.’ Perhaps, then, this question depends on our philosophy of personal identity. To what extent is the newborn Adolf Hitler the same person as the leader of the Third Reich?

About the Author

Anton Rose lives in Durham, U.K., with his wife, Beth, and their dog, Rosie. He writes fiction and poetry while working on a PhD in Theology. His work has appeared in a number of print and online journals, including Structo, theNewerYork, and Jersey Devil Press. He also reads for Firewords Quarterly and co-edits UnLost.For more information, see

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