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A Tale of Two Castles
In contrast to Koblenz soldiers relatively small in numbers did not overcrowd the medieval city of Marburg. The only barracks was relatively small and like Maxhof in Bavaria served as a technical training center. To go to the city center I had to descend from the hilltop where the Tannenberg barracks was located on steep roads or if I wanted to take a shortcut on even steeper stone staircases. In the narrow streets below there was hardly enough room for cars to pass each other. It was not uncommon to see vehicles parked right on the sidewalks as not to impede the traffic flow. On my free late afternoons and evenings I often strolled by the many quaint shops. Sometimes I dropped in at one of the numerous bookstores, which always have exerted a special attraction for me. With shelves upon shelves reaching all the way to the ceiling these stores looked more like libraries, which is not surprising, if one considers that Marburg is a well- known university town. Here I discovered and bought a copy of the New Testament in Latin. The young saleslady might have thought that I was a first year student enrolled in the faculty of theology rather than a common soldier from the local barracks.
In the downtown area there were also many cozy pubs. In one that was catering to the students of the nearby university my friend Hans and I frequently got together for a chat and a refreshing local beer from the tap. Naturally in such congenial place we did not limit ourselves to just one drink. After the third beer I felt ready to give my old friend a progress report on my relationship with Biene. Through our correspondence Hans was well aware of the trials and tribulations, but also had also been very skeptical about my love to her. He shook his head in disbelief when I told him that I had met her only two times earlier in the spring. Having gone through several love affairs, all of which have ended in disaster, he could not believe that I was still on my first.
“We are planning to meet again in November,” I said noticing the same doubtful expression that I had seen so often in Dieter’s face.
Ignoring my statement, Hans bluntly asked with a sardonic grin, “Have you kissed her yet?”
“Yes, I have,” I answered curtly getting quite a bit uncomfortable with the direction our conversation was taking.
Making use of his own peculiar metaphor, which he had used in his letters before, he ventured another question. “Have you conquered the castle or has she voluntarily open the castle gate to you?”
I felt quite annoyed with the embarrassing questions, which so glibly popped out of his mouth. With a hint of rising anger I managed to reply firmly, “Whether it is open or whether it is locked is none of your business! But to satisfy your juvenile curiosity, I will wait to marry her if and when she is ready.”
“Ede,” using my nickname and almost shouting now, “you must be kidding me …” He stopped in mid-sentence, when he glanced at my angry and determined face. Whatever was his opinion on this delicate topic, I did not care to hear anymore from someone so disillusioned as my friend was through all his failed relationships. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to change topics, before the matter would escalate into a real fight. I told Hans that I still had the set of walkie-talkies, which I had bought from a roommate and had occasionally used in Koblenz to transmit music within the short range of the barracks environment.
“ Wouldn’t it be exciting if we tried them out over a longer distance between the castle and the barracks?” I suggested to him. He happily agreed. And so we turned our attention away from the contentious issue of a few moments ago and focused on the number one common interest in electronics that had once formed the foundation of our friendship. Opposite to the Tannenberg barracks was an even higher hill, on which the Marburg castle and the Museum for Armory were located. Three kilometers or perhaps even four separated the two hills with a direct line of sight high above any obstruction, which might have impeded the radio signals. We agreed to test the radios at five o’clock on the very next day. To add an air of adventure, we recalled from the time before we joined the European scout movement our old code words we had used in our twosome secret society ‘The Black Hand’. However, what we in our excitement did not consider was that the fantasy world of our boyhood adventures was not so far removed from the reality of the Cold War era, where spies and agents from East Germany were roaming about looking for valuable information of military significance in West Germany. Precisely at 1700 hours Hans and I established a communication link with our walkie-talkies between the two hills. An exchange of short and snappy statements ensued taking on a distinctly clandestine character and went approximately like this.
“XU73 calling Ede Wolf. Over.”
“Ede Wolf acknowledging call from XU73. Over.”
“XU73 to Ede Wolf. Confirm validity of call by providing code word between XU73 and Ede Wolf. Over.”
“Code word is: ‘The Black Hand’. Over.”
“Roger from XU73. What is today’s message? Over.”
Now came the moment when our game reached its climax. Even though we had rehearsed the script in the pub the day before, I felt just as excited as if the whole scenario was for real. “The message for XU73 from Ede Wolf is: Five black umbrellas in Italian ice cream parlour. I repeat …”
I could not repeat the sentence. In the twilight of the early November evening hours I saw a police car with a directional antenna on top racing up the winding hillside road. Almost in panic I pressed the send button one more time and warned my friend, “Danger! Turn off your radio at once. I explain later.”
While the police car navigated a few more switchbacks, I had barely enough time to jump off the road and hide in the dense brush below. A minute later I heard a car passing by at high-speed no doubt in search for that elusive radio signal carrying those mysterious messages. If I had been caught, Hans and I would have been in a real pickle as to how to explain that the conversation between a student of the local university and a member of the Armed Forces was just a juvenile game apart from the disturbing fact that we had been using a communication device without a license.