In what could only have been some divine act of God, all 200 of us that had been granted day release two weeks ago made it back alive, on time and without a criminal record- a truly astonishing feat given what soldiers are capable of when let off the leash for more than even a few minutes at a time. As a reward for our “responsible behaviour” it was decreed that we all deserved the following weekend off- only in the Army could you use something that is an inherent right to most of the rest of the world as a reward for not killing anyone or ending up on the sex offenders register. Still we didn’t need to be told twice and it wasn’t long before another epic plan was formed.
As some readers have politely pointed out, our conduct in Prague bordered on ‘mildly-loutish’ (were it not for the fact that we were drinking Port and Espresso Martinis which of course passed us off simply as ‘utterly charming, if only slightly lively gentlemen), so it was decided to tone it down a notch and do an actual cultural trip now that we had a full weekend to play with. The decision rested on a little alpine town called Berchtesgaden about 3 hours away, and is, I have to say, one of my new favourite places in the world. It is every stereotype of alpine Germany all rolled into one. For a start absolutely everybody (including, in one particularly disturbing case, a small dog) was fully kitted out in their finest lederhosen. Everywhere you looked groups of slightly rotund men, overtly busty women and very blonde children were sitting in ‘Biergartens’ or outside restaurants along the windy cobbled streets, enjoying the alpine sunshine, eating bratwurst and drinking steins of Pils, yodeling to one another about the benefits of energy efficient household appliances and comparing the neatness of each others log piles. All complete with leather shorts, braces and green hats for the men and cleavage wielding, green dresses and pig tails for the women. It was incredible and coupled with the truly breathtaking scenery of rolling green hills lined with enormous pine forests and crystal clear mountain lakes, it makes the Von Trapp family’s incessant need to break into song every 5 minutes almost understandable. Almost.
It is little wonder then that when the Nazis dominated most of Europe, all of the big wigs decided to build country retreat type holiday homes here, apparently because of the scenery, but it is rumoured that it was not an uncommon sight to see numerous clog clad frauleins attending to Hitler as he supped his stein of Pils whilst indulging in some mountainside croquet with Goebbels and Himmler in their locally bought tight leather shorts. As a result, the main reason for us visiting this stereotypical wonderland was to see the Eagles Nest- Hitler’s very own isolated war time retreat, inclusive of award winning croquet lawn, situated high up in the mountains and said to be his pride and joy. Sadly for us however, having not checked the ‘opening times’ before the trip, we were met with a closed barrier and a stereotypically (obviously) grumpy-German-in-a-booth.
“Is closed.” He graciously informed us.
“Oh. Well, what time does it open?” We collectively enquired.
“Friday?! No no, today is Sunday. What time today?” We persisted.
With no attempt to curtail his annoyance he replied, “Ya is Friday. Is closed winter, dangerous snow. Open summer. On Friday.”
Fantastic. As we laboriously turned the mini bus around, in the boiling sunshine with not a glimpse of winter snow to be seen anywhere we pondered the questionable efficiency of the old German adage “rules are rules” and discussed Hitler’s similar frustration when trying to book friends and family in for Christmas drinks. With no intention of letting our cultural awakenings cease we soon discovered that the magnificent city of Salzburg, birthplace of none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (‘another famous bloke from History’, although for slightly different sorts of things to Hitler), was just a short drive across the Austrian border allowing us to tick off our third European country in 2 weeks and keep our appetite for culture whetted, if not fully satisfied.
All in all it was the cultural extravaganza we had hoped for, despite German efficiency barring our entry to the one thing we went all that way to see, but you can’t have everything I suppose. And just before the ‘Good Lad’ critics accuse us of going soft on the back of some top level banter last weekend we did have time to partake in some laddish antics too, namely some highly effective dance floor clearance by means of offensive dancing on the Friday night in Munich before being thrown out of a taxi because the only instruction I could muster was to insistently repeat the only German phrase I know in an attempt to inform Drives of where we were staying. Top tip- taxi drivers in Munich do not respond well to repeatedly being told that ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger’ nor do they like to be called Drives. We also found ourselves crashing a wedding reception in a hotel in Berchtesgaden, not entirely on purpose I might add, but decided that perhaps that was a step too far and removed ourselves before we came under attack from a group of large, sweaty men in skimpy lederhosen.
And so we have returned to camp and are now thoroughly consumed with our jobs out here, which, for me, involves chasing vehicles around while they shoot at stuff and making sure they don’t shoot the wrong stuff i.e. each other, or me, for that matter. Basically I save lives. The good news is that, because we are on an American base, we have been given ‘Hummers’ to drive around in to do the job, which is a novelty if nothing else. I also have a driver, so I get chauffeured everywhere, which is a nice touch. The idea being, that he drives our Hummer where I tell him to, while I stand up in the back saving lives and looking like a younger version of Montgomery at Alamein. The reality being, that he drives wherever he wants to because he can’t hear me while I get rained on and thrown around in the back whilst narrowly averting almost inevitable disaster. It’s all good sport though.
Speaking of which, we are about to head off on a 3 day ‘outing’ across German countryside and farmland (not shooting at stuff this time, it upsets the locals) which should be fun, although I imagine it is the first time some of the locals will have seen British forces driving across their land in nearly 70 years so we are braced for a frosty reception. Just as a back up I have given my German phrase book to my driver and tasked him with learning how to say “Good afternoon Sir. We are commandeering your barn and wine cellar. Have your wife bring some hot food and blankets for my men and a pair of your finest lederhosen for me.” We shall see how it goes.
By Rich Glover