I once had a run-in with Nazis. Not, like, WWII Nazis in uniforms or anything. But it was on the Autobahn so it’s indirectly related to those Nazis. We were coming back from my in-laws and had stopped to get gas and food, a combination that sounds logical – fueling up both the car and ourselves – but, when you think about it, seems more like a giant cancer risk.
We were in Saxony Anhalt, which is now my least-favorite German state. Berlin is my favorite. Hamburg No. 2. Saarland is somewhere in the middle on my list, because it’s actually somewhere in the middle.
It occurs to me that we weren’t just there to fuel up, we were also there to wring out, as my grandmother used to say – to go to the bathroom. And at this particular combination gas station, convenience store and restaurant, the bathrooms were down a long hallway that led to a parking lot. I was standing in that hallway waiting outside the restrooms when I had my run-in with the Nazis. Waiting outside restrooms is something you spend a lot of time doing as a parent and it’s something they never warn you about, just like how no one mentions the very bad music recitals you’ll have to sit through or all the crowing over crappy crayon drawings of you that more closely resemble obese lobsters.
Dudes in black hoodies
Anyway, I’m waiting outside the restrooms and look down the hallway and out to the parking lot and notice a bus that seems to be bleeding young men in black hoodies like parasites abandoning a dead host. I thought to myself, “Fuck, that’s just what I need right now, Nazis coming back from a soccer match,” which implies that there is some point in my life that I need Nazis coming back from a soccer match. I assure you, there has never been and will never be a moment where I require Nazis, with or without a soccer match. But I also thought, “Jesus man, they’re just dudes in black hoodies. Stop being so god damn judgmental all the time.”
And I agreed with myself. I needed to stop being so god damn judgmental all the time.
They all entered the long hallway and started to file past me when the fourth Nazi stopped right in front of me and stretched his right arm out at a 45-degree angle and started to belt out a song I now know was written in 1932 for Nazis about how Germany now belongs to the Germans and tomorrow the world will too. I’m not going to link or name the song because fuck that song. Fuck the guy that wrote it. And also fuck Nazis. Also, we’re all adults here. We can google.
And, as it turned out, being god damn judgemental was fine.
But even though I didn’t recognize the tune at the time, I recognized the situation and was confident that I would be exiting in an ambulance, if not a hearse. I had no way out. There were at least 8 million of them and I hadn’t been in a fight since me and Mark Robohm duked it out on the last day of fourth grade (he won).
At that moment I thought two things. First, I was hoping my wife and children would remain in the bathroom until after the beating was finished or even until my limp body had been carted away and, secondly, that if I had a moment to speak with these fine gentlemen, I would act like a British football fan who was really into Worcestershire United or the Guinness Hotspurs, or something. I figured their English wouldn’t be good enough to see through my clever ruse.
Nazis like British football hooligans, right?
I wonder how many lives have ended just as someone was concocting a very bad plan that wouldn’t have saved their lives anyway. Probably lots. And most from my family.
As the song entered its second chorus, I saw a glimmer of hope. The guy immediately behind the Nazi crooner was looking at his buddy with a very confused look. He would then look at me with the same confused look and then back to his friend. He seemed much less confident than I that he and his buddies were about to open a can of Nazi whoop ass on me. He seemed to be wondering why his buddy had picked me for a mid-afternoon serenade of fascism.
Right then my son, who was probably four, maybe five, emerged from the men’s room and looked at me. I bent over slightly and invited him to jump into my arms. These Nazis, I thought, would never punch a father holding his child.
Looking back, leveraging my son’s innocence for my own well-being seems foolhardy, if not downright dangerous, but I’ve never claimed to be a perfect father. I often doubt whether or not I’m even a good father. Let’s just go with: “father”.
Then my wife emerged with my daughter and rushed over to stand next to me. I was wondering what was going to happen next, especially since a veritable Stau (traffic jam) of Nazis had piled up behind all of this activity.
What happened next was that Nazi No. 5 pushed Nazi No. 4, aka the singing Nazi, and Nazi No. 4 ended his serenade and they all headed down the hallway and into the combination gas station, convenience store and restaurant. I stood there shaking. I didn’t want to head out the back door to our car because I feared being jumped there with no one to hear my screams so we meekly followed the black hoodies into the combination gas station, convenience store and restaurant. At least there would be witnesses who could testify at the Nazi’s murder trial after killing me near the potato chips, M&Ms and Erdnussflips.
Then one of the hooligans tried to order a Brötchen at the bakery counter.
“Wenn ihr euch so dämlich verhaltet kannst du das vergessen. Von mir kriegst du nichts!“ (“If you’re going to behave like that, forget it. You’re not getting anything from me!”) I still wonder at the woman’s clarity and strength. I was just trying to escape and she was making a statement. The Nazi ordering the bread then complained to Nazi No. 4 that he had once again screwed things up.
I had apparently been serenaded by a serial fuck-up, as if that wasn’t clear already. As we sped through the convenience store, gas station and restaurant, we watched several Nazis shovel cans of beer into their jackets and I wondered if anyone in the place would try to stop the shoplifting.
We then rushed out to our car and I had that sensation in so many of my nightmares where I fumble for my keys and can’t get the key in the lock fast enough before something awful happens. Luckily, my Volvo had electric door locks so a simple push of a button opened everything – and locked them again as soon we got in.
“Should we call the cops?” my wife asked. I wasn’t sure, I just wanted to leave. And, anyway, my interactions with German police officers have been … frustrating. Once, at Alexanderplatz, I called to get some help for a man and his girlfriend who were being assaulted by a much larger dude. The cop told me it wasn’t really their job and the charges would have to be filed by those being attacked anyway.
Which seemed odd.
Another time two dogs were having a particularly vicious, bloody fight next to a playground, in large part because one of the owners was illegally walking his mastiff in the park without a leash. “Animal fights aren’t our problem,” the cop on the phone said. Nice. Some other people had reached a different precinct when they called – and that precinct was willing to send a few officers by for some help (they ended up going after the mastiff owner).
So I figured if I did call the cops that day they would just show up and laugh that Frank the Nazi was causing problems again – and just add it to all the charges he was already facing, which wouldn’t result in much punishment anyway.
Now every time I see a bunch of black hoodies spilling out of a bus I don’t hesitate to be pretty god damn judgemental all the time (and also leave).