007 Model Dušan Popov: The Real James Bond was a Freiburg Student

Author:  | Friday, December 18th, 2015 | 

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Women worshiped the ground he walked on, and he made the allied landing in Normandy possible as a double agent: Dušan Popov. The self-styled “super spy” is thought to have been the model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. He studied in Freiburg.

Dušan Popov with his wife Janine

Dušan Popov and his future wife, in the summer of 1945. [Foto: Privat, fudder.de]

It is the summer of 1936. A law student lounges at a Freiburg swimming pool and sunbathes next to a pretty girl. His name is Popov, Dušan Popov. Suddenly a fellow student, Karl Laub, shows up and starts blatantly flirting with the girl. Popov, who is lying on his stomach, mutters: “Go away, Karl. You’re blocking the sun. Excuse yourself and stop making shade!”
One word leads to another, and in the end Popov challenges Laub to a duel, with pistols. The shoot-out never happens – a student court prevents it from taking place – but the story shows how the student solved his problems in those days: in the same way James Bond would have solved them.
Dušan “Duško” Popov, born on 10 July 1912 on the territory of present-day Serbia, was not just a Freiburg law student and a playboy. He was also a model for the world’s most famous secret agent: James Bond. And when Spectre premieres in Freiburg this Thursday, viewers should know that the real Bond walked the streets of their town 80 years ago, presumably holding hands with a girl.
To research the story of this real-life Bond, one needs to go to the Freiburg University Archive. The keeper of the files is Dieter Speck. Although he himself has only a dim recollection of Dušan Popov’s story, it’s there to be discovered in his files.

House of Dušan Popov

Gartenstraße 1: This is where James Bond – alias Dušan Popov – lived in Freiburg.

Popov came to Freiburg in November 1935. In the beginning he lived at Talstraße 54, then he moved to Gartenstraße 18, and finally, shortly before he was forced to leave Freiburg, to Gartenstraße 1.
He had studied law in Belgrade and now wanted to earn his doctorate in Freiburg. However, a never-ending correspondence with the examination office preserved at the archive suggests that Popov was not a particularly diligent student: He requested extensions for assignments, tried to avoid studying certain topics altogether, and was asked to resubmit papers. And when he finally submitted his doctoral dissertation, it was so late that he wasn’t even admitted to the examination.
Dušan Popov had other strengths. He brought them to bear in places like the clubhouse of the German-International Society at Schwimmbadstraße 8. This stately building in Wiehre was where the parties “with the prettiest girls” took place, as Popov would later write in his memoirs.
The German-International Society was dedicated to helping international students learn German and familiarizing them with German culture. It held weekly dances and organized skiing trips to Schauinland. It was within the context of these events that Popov met his friend Johnny Jebsen from Hamburg.

The clubhouse of the German-International Society at Schwimmbadstraße 8

The clubhouse of the German-International Society at Schwimmbadstraße 8 is now a Montessori Preschool. [Photo: Marius Buhl, Fudder.de]

Jebsen is a man like Popov, only wealthier. When he arrives in Freiburg to study with his Mercedes 540 K, the first thing he does is pay a visit to the police commissioner. He lays two envelopes filled with money on the table before the commissioner and tells him: “It will save time if I pay my traffic tickets in advance.”
Some time later, the duo Jebsen and Popov are joined by a third friend: Alfred “Freddy” Graf von Kageneck, the uncle of Freiburg’s current CDU party leader Wendelin Graf von Kageneck. The politician has vague memories of his uncle’s friends. “I think they roamed around Freiburg annoying the Nazis.” His uncle only spoke seldom “about the old times” later on, although he had, as Kageneck says, “saved a number of Jews from being deported.”
Kageneck, Jebsen, and Popov paint the town red, driving fast cars and taunting Nazis – for instance in their favorite cafe, Café Birlinger, now run in the third generation by Michael Birlinger and located in Littenweiler. Back then the cafe was on Bertoldstraße.
The cafe is owned by master baker Albert Birlinger and his wife. She is responsible for the fact that the cafe is watched around the clock by two SS men. But when the Nazis try to force Mrs. Birlinger to hang up a sign reading “No Jews or dogs allowed,” she refuses, saying: “Their money is as good as anyone else’s.”

Mr. Birlinger

Michael Birlinger, third-generation owner of Café Birlinger. His grandparents refused to hang up a sign reading “No Jews or dogs allowed.”
[Photo: Marius Buhl, Fudder.de]

As a result, the Nazis ask everyone to say their name at the entrance. When it’s Kageneck’s turn, he says: “Graf von Kageneck,” but since you don’t know how that’s written, I’ll spell it for you: G – R – A – F – von … V …”
Popov relates these anecdotes in his autobiography Spy/Counterspy, published in 1974. Some evidence for the truth of the stories can be found in the files of the University Archive, the Freiburg Municipal Archive, and the personal accounts of Michael Birlinger and Wendelin Graf von Kageneck, but others can’t be verified at all.
Johannes Samlenski wanted to find out for sure. The Freiburger has spent the last three years trying to confirm Popov’s stories. He says: “Popov was a playboy and a braggart. He liked to embellish his stories.”
There is one story he finds particularly astonishing. It goes like this: Popov claims that he debated passionately against the Nazis at the International Club. At the end of these debates, the audience decided who had won.
In the beginning, the Nazis dominated the debates. At some point, however, Popov noticed that they always suggested the topics themselves and therefore prepared their arguments in advance. He asked his friend Jebsen whether he could find out the topics for him beforehand. He managed to do so, and for the next one and a half years the Nazis never won another debate.
This went well for a long time, but one morning in the year 1937 he was arrested by the Gestapo. He only managed to get out of jail because his own father called the Yugoslavian premier, who then called Hermann Göring.
According to Samlenski, there is no concrete evidence for this arrest but “only indications.” Files that could verify it are probably now buried in French archives, but the expert considers the story of his release as “greatly exaggerated.” He knows another version of the story, which he plans to publish soon in an article.

Dušan Popov

Dušan Popov: first a Freiburg law student, then the double agent “Tricycle.” [Photo: Imperial War Museum]

But there’s one thing Samlenski does know: “After his Freiburg years, Popov became one of the most important figures of the Second World War.” As a double agent with the codename “Tricycle,” he received crucial information and passed it on to the British.
For example, we have Popov to thank that the allies were able to land in Normandy. He had sent the Germans to Calais. Popov could have even prevented Pearl Harbor, or at least so he claims, if only the Americans, namely FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, had heeded his reports.
Along with his success with the opposite sex, telling stories was one of Popov’s greatest strengths. It thus comes as little surprise that an episode from his own life was taken as inspiration for a story. The author of this story, Ian Fleming, met Popov during the Second World War at a casino in Lisbon. Popov was playing the card game baccarat against a Lithuanian – and gambled with 50,000 dollars he was actually supposed to deposit in the USA. The story has been made into a movie. It’s called Casino Royale.


Dieser Artikel erschien bereits am 04.11.2015 auf www.fudder.de.

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