The world changes; the world stays the same. On a business trip long ago to meet with the Defense Ministry of West Germany, in Hardthöhe, the headquarters of the Bundesministerium der Verteidigung. Lots of meetings, some gatherings with officials, mostly military and a scattering of civilians. I was on my own.
Germany was in a perpetual state of cold and damp weather, almost bone chilling, but getting used to it took time and effort. Cold weather gear outside, overheated buildings inside. It was never comfortable.
My escort was a young man who worked in the Defense Attaché’s office in the US Embassy, Mike. We waited together for embassy cars to pick us up, for the now routine need to show our official ids, and the bomb checks of the vehicle. We got to know each other, even chatted about how we got here and where we’d been. It made the time pass more quickly. Mike was fluent in German, making my feeble attempt to speak the language irrelevant.
Mike became a good friend, and I wished I could have met him earlier, after college. He went in the Navy, got stationed in Germany, and spent time assigned to the US Embassy in Bonn.
After a day of meetings, we decided that we’d do local things: drink good German beer and perhaps eat some Rouladen. He and I walked into a local Bier Haus, and while he wore his dark dress blue woolen Navy uniform. In dim light that uniform looks black. He wore the rank of Ensign, two bars, “railroad tracks” we called them on each point of his collar. Mike’s closely cropped blonde hair finished the look—the look that made most of the middle-aged men in the German bar stop and stare. Some daubed at their eyes, offered to buy Mike a beer.
He thanked them, said no, we turned and left. Mike is a Jew, A Czech Jew who together with his parents survived the camps, and then worked through the resettlement camps, finally to this country, on their way out of the hell that was post-war Europe.
He found no pleasure in their confusion, or in his ability to be something, someone else.
He’s a hero in my eyes.