Flying had been cancelled due to weather, and Ernst had gone into town for a haircut and just to get off the Station for a bit. Christian and Dieter were doing something with their French girlfriends, because now Dieter had one, too, so Ernst was on his own.
Ever since the encounter the day before with Klaudia v. Richthofen, Ernst’s interest in the French girls had declined. Klaudia was the kind of girl he wanted – pretty without being sexy, modest, well-mannered, loyal, German….
He’d wanted to approach her, but he knew what he looked like from his mirror. Besides, she was an aristocrat from a famous family. No, he couldn’t expect her to take an interest in him, but his interest in her made it hard for him to look at other girls.
Listlessly he window-shopped in the provincial town. He had coffee and cake at a café, and then went to a film. It was in French and he didn’t understand it. When he came out it was drizzling rain, and he had nothing better to do than return to the Mess, so he drove back to the Station.
The Mess was nearly empty. Most of the others appeared to have gone to a local night-club. Ernst knew there was one not all that far away, with live music and a very alluring French singer. He supposed Christian and Dieter and the others would be there – or out dancing with their girls. Ernst wished he could enjoy things like that, but for some reason he found smoke- filled rooms with a lot of drunk men making lewd remarks to the “hostesses” mildly disgusting. He supposed there was something wrong with him – especially after tagging along once or twice and seeing the number of senior officers who frequented these places. Still, he never enjoyed himself, so there seemed no point in wasting all that money.
He went up to his room and tried to read Clausewitz’ On War. During training, he had been advised that he must read this, but it didn’t really interest him. He put it aside and decided to write to his mother instead. Not that there was much to report since his last letter, but he could answer the news from home and assure her that he was fine – getting enough to eat and all that. (She always worried about that, though he couldn’t understand why, given his figure.)
He had been writing for quite a while when he became aware that noises were coming from the next room. That was Dieter’s room. So Dieter, and Christian, were probably back, although when he checked his watch and saw that it was only just after 9 pm. That was early for them, but they had been put on alert for tomorrow morning, so it was just as well. He thought of knocking and seeing if they wanted to have a beer together downstairs but decided to finish his letter first.
A moment later he heard what sounded like a radio being switched on, static, and then a slightly distorted voice calling “Achtung! Achtung! Der Führer spricht direkt von der Reichskanzlei!” Ernst lifted his head. The Führer was giving a speech? Why hadn’t they been warned? Usually the entire base was informed that the Führer would be addressing the nation, and it was broadcast in the lounge and the bar. Frowning, he turned towards the wall through which the sound came. It certainly sounded like the Führer, although he couldn’t quite catch the words.
He got up and switched on his own radio, but all he got was static and then music. How could that be? A Führer speech was carried on all the German channels. He snapped off the radio. Still the speech came from the other side of the wall. It seemed to be coming to a crescendo. He could clearly catch phrases like “deutsches Blut und deutsches Boden.” Maybe it was a recording of an older speech? But Dieter didn’t seem like the type to keep records of the Führer’s old speeches – Hans, perhaps, but not Dieter.
Baffled, Ernst decided to find out for himself. He went out into the hall and paused before Dieter’s room. The speech was easier to hear through the door than the wall; now he could hear Hitler saying: “Today and only today this great German nation, this nation filled with millions of Germans in whose veins German blood flows, Germans raised on German soil, German potatoes, German cabbage, and German coffee – also known as Ersatz—” and then there were guffaws of male laughter, and Ernst knew something very strange was going on. He knocked on the door.
Stunned silence answered, and then Dieter called out, “Yes?”
“It’s me, Ernst.”
A pause, then “Come in.”
Christian was sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, and Dieter and Busso were lounging on the bed, with their ties loosened and passing a bottle of schnapps between them. A shot glass was on the floor beside Christian, too. They were all looking at little dazed from too much alcohol, but both Busso and Dieter looked alarmed, too. Not Christian, of course. Christian staggered to his feet and drew Ernst into the room. “My dear wingman! We have been missing you. Come and join us for a little schnapps.”
“I thought I heard the Führer giving a speech,” Ernst found himself saying, feeling very foolish, since it was obvious that they had been making fun of the Führer and he didn’t approve of that.
“Ah, did it really sound that way?” Christian asked as if flattered. “I must be getting better,” he bowed to the others. They still looked wary. “Dieter, you must have another glass for my beloved wingman,” Christian ordered.
Dieter produced the glass, handing it to Ernst with a probing look.
“Do you want to hear more?” Christian asked, hiccupping.
“Of what?” Ernst asked.
“No!” Dieter cut it off. “We’ve had enough. Sorry we disturbed you, Ernst. We just had rather a bad night. First M. St. Pierre grounded both Gabrielle and Yvonne for some silly thing or other, and then the café we wanted to go to had a leaking roof and was closed for repairs, and worst of all, Christian’s car stalled on us and we had to push it home the last two or three kilometres in the rain. So, we warmed ourselves up with rather too much schnapps and got silly. That’s all. I’m sorry.”
Ernst was torn. He didn’t think they should have been making fun of the Führer – but then again, these were his closest friends, and if they were going to have a little fun together, he wanted to be included. He supposed there really wasn’t any harm in making a parody of a Führer speech. They could be quite tedious sometimes – at least on the radio. Once he’d had the privilege of seeing the Führer speak in person. He’d been mesmerized and caught up in all the enthusiasm. He’d joined in screaming “Heil!” like mad, and it had been intoxicating and exhilarating. But on the radio, sometimes, the Führer seemed to talk on and on without ever coming to the point. So, Ernst shrugged and clicked his glass against Dieter’s. “Why didn’t you come and get me when you got back?” he asked a little plaintively.
“We assumed you were out enjoying the evening, my dear wingman,” Christian assured him, an arm over his shoulders. “Having a good time.” He waved the air vaguely, “But since you are here, have some more schnapps to make up for starting late. You can clear any hangover with a whiff of oxygen!” And Christian refilled Ernst’s glass.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish