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Two Soldiers at War's End

By Claus W. Sellier / May 3, 1995

I PUSHED a thick layer of hay away and crawled from my hiding place to a knothole in the barn wall to get a glimpse of the outside. Beautiful Lake Chiemsee and the Bavarian King Ludwig's castle were just a few miles away.

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I couldn't sleep.

The hay had kept me warm. It was freezing cold without a cover and only my crumpled German uniform to protect me. And the moist, month-old underwear didn't help. It felt like cold wet sheets glued to my skin.

''Is the war over?'' I wondered. A week earlier, the German Army headquarters had been disbanded in Lofer near Berchtesgaden on the day Fritz and I arrived there. We had brought messages from the encircled German Army in Czechoslovakia, and had guarded them with our lives on the way. But nobody read them anymore. The generals left in a hurry. ''Was there still anything left for us to do in this war?''

I wanted to make sure nobody had seen us coming into the barn.

Fritz and I had waited till dusk. Then we crawled through an apple orchard and quickly ran to the big hay barn; we opened the squeaky door enough to sneak in. The darkness inside felt safe.

''Did you see the farmer?'' I heard Fritz ask at my side. ''He was in the cow stable. I saw a bunch of American jeeps lined up in front.''

''Nobody will find us in the hay!'' I said. The Ami-soldiers think the war is over. Why should they care about the two of us? They don't even post guards anymore.''

We climbed the wooden ladder to the second floor. From there, we waddled in the soft hay to the farthest end where the small knothole in the board was the only source of light.

Fritz lay down in the hay and fell asleep. Water was dripping from the leaky roof. That's why I couldn't sleep, and I was hungry! My 20-year-old constitution demanded food.

''Two days without food! How can he sleep?'' I wondered. Fritz was older by at least seven years and was more experienced; he had made it through the whole war and was used to it.

Why had I ever imagined a soldier's life was glamorous? Showing off my bravery medals would be exciting, I had thought then.

The barn door below squeaked. Light flickered. Someone came in.

''Hey, where are you?'' a faint voice called. The voice had a Bavarian accent.

''Here!'' I called back, regretting it immediately; I crawled back into the hay. Someone climbed up the ladder. The dark figure was thin and held a lantern. It was an old man. I stood up and the lantern's light discovered me. Without saying a word, the old man wobbled the long way through the hay in my direction, holding the lantern up. When he was 10 inches away from my face, he inspected me carefully.

Fritz pushed the hay off, and the lantern went to illuminate his face.

''I like it.'' The old man giggled. I saw him shaking his head. That was the end of the investigation. I noticed he had a basket at his side.

He placed the lamp carefully on a checkered cloth that had previously covered the basket. After spreading the hay, he silently began to unpack.

''Mountain troops? I knew it,'' he said, briefly looking up and fingering the edelweiss flower embroidered on my right sleeve. A warm glance flickered in his eyes.

''This stuff comes from the American soldiers in my kitchen,'' he chuckled, pointing to the basket.

''I've never seen stuff like that. Egg powder! Just mix water with the yellow powder and you get scrambled eggs. They showed the wife how to do it. It works! Have you seen egg powder before?'' He slowly sat down while balancing the lantern.

''And this stuff here, they called 'Spam.' Looks like ham.''

We inspected it together. The fried meat slices made my mouth water. ''Used my own bread, because their bread is awful!'' He waved his left arm in disgust. ''You can roll the bread and get rubber balls.''

''Fourteen American soldiers are in my kitchen ... young fellows ... nice guys.''

A broad grin covered his wrinkled face. ''I like it,'' he said again.

''You are here and they are there.''

But more came from the basket. ''Chocolate and candies! One of them speaks German, I can hardly understand. 'We can't use it all,' I think he said and gave it to me.''