Hans was waiting patiently at the Cologne airport, chain smoking, his black leather collar turned up against the chill wind. I was first down the stairs of the Luftwaffe 707. He took my bag, bypassing customs and immigration, led me to an armored Opel Senator limousine that would be my ride into Bonn. Airport police carried submachine guns at the ready position, not slung over their shoulders.
I squinted through two inch thick glass as we rocketed down the Autobahn toward Bad Godesberg and the US Embassy. It was a blur of jumpy images, shades of gray. Hans had family in the “East” and was happy to be here, the West, with a responsible job. His English was good, better than my German. Hans was assigned to me for as long as I was in the Federal Republic of Germany.
We arrived at the checkpoint. Two huge German Shepards strained hard; breathing smoke in the cold, wet air. On command one jumped in the just-opened trunk, then jumped out just as quickly. A soldier pushed a rolling mirror on a long pole under the chassis. Gate up, we drove in.
This trip was a short one, 4 days including flights over and back. I was an unacknowledged guest, no orders, 2 passports, plausible denial. The German Military Representative at Dulles Airport put me on last, even held the plane for me, reserved three rows of seats, and allowed me to pay for my own beer. Our pilot was a Luftwaffe captain. The stewards were enlisted men, and, except for me, the passengers were all Germans.
No movies, no headsets, sleep might work, especially after three good German beers and an airline dinner. The pilot was solicitous—he made a few announcements in English, after longer ones in his language. Five hours into the flight he made one announcement that made most of the others laugh. When no English followed I asked the steward. The pilot, he said, told the passengers that he might drop down to under a thousand feet over London, “for old time’s sake.” I smiled.
Hans walked me into the Embassy Guest House. My trips were getting so frequent that I knew the housekeeping staff by name, and the members of their family.
“Guten tag, Herr Denk, welcome back,” said the clerk, bowing. “We have given you a larger room on the front so you can look at the Rhine.”
“Vielen Dank,” I said, “Thank you very much.”
Hans walked ahead of me to the room. I noticed a large bulge on the left side of his leather jacket.
“See you tomorrow, Hans,” I said, “about 9?”
“Yes Sir!” he said and turned smartly.
Unpacking, I looked through the metal bomb blast curtains at the leaden sky that hangs over Central Europe most of the year. Outside, Hans was sitting in the armored Opel, motor running, blocking the walkway to the Guest House. Later I walked to dinner at a little place down the road, just across the street from the Polish Consulate. Hans appeared at the door to watch me eat, scanning the other patrons. I walked back, Hans was again parked outside the Guest House.
Morning came, Hans was still there. I decided to go for a walk on the path that parallels the Rhine. Hans followed in the Opel about 15 yards behind, making fresh, deep ruts in the icy ground. A light dusting of snow turned the landscape white and gray.
I stopped along the river, about a mile down from the start. I yelled to Hans I wanted to get back in the car so we could make my first appointment. He looked relieved.
From the back seat I could see a small cottage nestled in the woods, just off the path, wooden window boxes on both sides of a modest front door. New spring flowers poked through the snow. My hot breath fogged the car window; I brushed it clean with my gloved hand, they were gone.