Elbows come-in handy in Germany, particularly when shopping. I discovered this on my first visit to a corner grocery in preparation for my maiden, all-night duty shift.
I stood with a small sack of cookies and a large Coke patiently waiting for a kindly looking old lady to complete her purchase. When she turned to leave, I stepped toward the the cash register, but before I knew it nother kindly looking old lady slipped in front of me as fast as cat burglar!
A bit nonplussed (after all, in California, we were taught to respect both old ladies and queues), I figured she must be late for something, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. As I waited patiently behind her I started to wonder if maybe queues didn’t work the same way in Germany as they did back home.
By the time the third kindly looking old lady tried to wedge herself between me and the clerk (who acted as if nothing unusual was happening) I discovered that elbows were more than just fulcrums for throwing baseballs from third to first!
“To hell with these kindly-looking old ladies!” I thought as I learned the art of shopping in Koblenz. I found elbows to be a particularly useful weapon at bratwurst stands late nights. You’d approach, survey the crowd, pick a point of entry and elbow your way to the serving counter, always allowing a bit of space for the bigger, meaner looking German elbows!
Naturally I felt sorry for the less fit, the elderly and the children, but they weren’t out then … and anyway it seemed to be kind of a cultural echo from an earlier time, from uncertain centuries filled with cycles of famine, plague, war and God know what!
But as good a practitioner in the art of the elbow, nothing prepared me for the huge crowd that greeted Queen Elizabeth of England when she and Prince Phillip came to town.
As with countless other tourists, the Queen and her husband came to cruise from Koblen through the Rhein Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage site that stretches downriver to Bingen. It’s a truly beautiful, must-see stretch of nearly vertical, terraced and vine-covered cliffs dotted by the ruins of medieval castles at all strategic points along the river.
But the Queen came for more than sight-seeing. Her visit signaled a reconciliation between Great Britain and Germany intended to heal the deep wounds of WWII and normalize relations between these two great powers.
All this was not lost on the Germans. They’d suffered disastrously too and were more than just a little eager to begin a new chapter in their history … and this was that beginning!
Jasko and I arrived in the vicinity of the royal’s vessel just as the royals themselves arrived. People started jumping, yelling and waving so many tiny flags it looked like a paper shredder prior to an IRS audit.
That’s when I witnessed some true masters of the elbow at work! Everyone wanted to see the queen. Thousands upon thousands of hysterically, deliriously cheering Germans surged forward en masse … order, decorum and manners be damned! I’d never seen so many elbows flying … in my ribs, in my back, in my neck! Chaos! Panic! Pain!
The crowd’s surge pushed Jasko against an old gal carrying a strolling umbrella with a long, pointed end. She was probably frustrated with the whole thing as no one could get much of a look at anything (though I did have a good view of Prince Phillip’s royal ear) and took it all out on poor Jasko!
She wielded the thing with the dexterity and proficiency of an Olympic champion giving a master class in fencing! Jasko backed off, feinted left, broke right and ran free towards the nearest bar as the Queen and her Prince boarded their grand river cruiser.
We had a few beers to calm our jagged nerves, and then a few more for added calm until the Club Continental, an upscale dinner and dance joint, opened for business. While their dress code mandated that gentlemen wear suits or sports coats, we figured if we kept our 0ver-coats on nobody would be the wiser.
Nor would they have been, had it not been for an alluring young lady I found especially alluring. I just had to dance with her! And dance I did, throwing all caution to the wind, including my over-coat!
My terpsichorean euphoria didn’t last long. As I was jumping around on the dance floor like a Pinocchio come alive when suddenly from behind, without warning, someone grabbed both of my arms in a full nelson. Army training, street fighting and adrenaline pulled my arms apart violently. I spun and saw the strangest sight … a waiter sliding on his butt across the dance floor! That’s when it dawned on me, even in my calm, transcendental state, this spelled trouble … and plenty of it!
“Jasko!” I yelled and all hell broke lose! Waiters, along with a score of German patrons jumped and pounded on us like madmen.
We were surrounded! We were outnumbered! We were doomed! But somehow we made our way out of that forest of fists, feet and elbows, escaping through some french doors into a large patio … but the melee followed us!
Jasko and I fought valiantly standing back to back, holding our own like a couple of cowboys in a Old West bar brawl … until Jasko went down! I swung round and saw him there lying flat on his back with blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth.
Rage, adrenaline and alcohol raced through my veins like water through a fire hose. “They killed Jasko! They killed Jasko!” my inner voice screamed over and over.
That’s when I looked up and saw a large metal table flying directly at me! A split-second later it hit me flush in the face. I rolled over backwards a couple of full somersaults before I realized that a couple of the waiters had used the thing as a battering ram!
I rose, fists clenched, furious, ready to avenge Jasko’s death! I was seething with alcohol fueled rage … but I could find no one to fight. They all kept running away from me! I chased one fellow who tripped over a hidden parking lot chain and did a complete flip in mid-air like an acrobat in Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth! I felt like a bull in a bullring filled with matadors who threw their capes and ran for it!
Finally Jasko moved! He propped himself up on his elbows! He wasn’t dead after all. He was just knocked out cold. A chipped tooth that had punctured his lip. And that was about all … so we decided to beat a hasty retreat and lick our wounds in back in the kaserne.
The next day we decided we’d pay a visit to Club Continental if we didn’t want to get blacklisted … which would have been a real, royal tragedy! As soon as we entered the placea posse of waiters surrounded us and escorted us to the club manager, to whom we apologized
The manager, a pleasant and wise fellow, apologized to us in return, citing his waiter’s foolish attempt to forcefully eject me … not to mention his staff’s overly enthusiastic, pugilistic response. He then returned our overcoats and cameras and informed us that one of his waiters was still in the hospital … seems he suffered a rather nasty back injury resulting from a mid-air somersault.
We retrieved our belongings and left filled with goodwill towards our fellow man … which made me wonder if maybe ripples from the royal visit of reconciliation hadn’t started to spread throughout Koblenz? After all, I had my overcoat and camera to prove it … and photos too!
Unfortunately when the photos were developed my only shot of the royal entourage was of Prince Phillip’s ear just under a hand that looked as if it were ready to give his royal personage a mean karate chop.
I guess that’s somehow appropriate … after all, it takes a good elbow to give a good chop!
Coming next! How I Won The Cold War, Part 21 … BARNEY FALLS IN LOVE
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