...or how I almost got killed by a bunch of drunk Germans.

While stationed in Germany in the early 80's I spent a lot of time on top of a certain mountain near the East-West German border performing the electronic equivalent of observing at the enemy with a pair of binoculars. It was a small detachment, and we noted the activities of Soviet and East German troops conducting maneuvers. I was one of the guys there that provided color and analysis.

One of the advantages to being at the border was that the small towns and villages there were so damn cute. During the Cold War, the border area was kind of a cultural backwater. This meant that the people lived a little closer to their skin than Germans in the bigger cities with lots of access to Americans and other foreigners. There were positives and negatives to this, as in everything. The negative part was that they were a lot less polite when telling you to go screw yourself, but on the positive side, they were a lot more open-hearted.

There was no time when this was more apparent than during Oktoberfest. Held from the end of September to the beginning of Oktober, the harvest festival season brought celebrations to every town near us. The fests were staggered through the season, so with a little planning(and a strong liver), it was possible to go to one every weekend.

Since these were small towns, the fest usually had one big tent that held everyone. Sometimes there was a little parade with kids in costumes and the local Beauty Queen before everyone went inside, sometimes the people just marched around inside the tent before sitting down, and sometimes they just dove right in. I wound up falling in love with thick slabs of cubed swiss cheese sprinkled with paprika and spices (don't knock it until you try it) accompanied by pretzels as big as your head, washed down with liter mugs of local beer.

I usually rode down the mountain on my motorcycle (a Yamaha 850 Special) with my buddy Jerry riding pillion. I'd try and see how fast I could make it down the hill (hey, I was 20 at the time.) At the end of the evening, the one that was least drunk got to drive home (again, I was young and stupid.)

At the end of one of these fests, when I reached under the table to retrieve my helmet, it wasn't there. I had placed my keys and gloves in it, and when further searching did not uncover it, I started to get worried. We went outside and looked to see if someone had stolen the bike, but it was still there. I pulled the distributor cable, and we went back inside to search some more. We didn't find the helmet. Luckily, there were a couple of guys from the detachment there with a car, and they gave us a lift back up the mountain.

The next day, I asked my commander after PT if I could take a jeep and go back to see if I could find my helmet and keys. He wouldn't let me at first, but after a bit of begging, he said I could have my Sergeant take me if he wanted to. Luckily, my Sergeant was bored that day and decided a little drive was a good way to kill the morning.

About halfway down the mountain, we saw a car coming up the road towards us in the early morning light. Once we got a little closer, we could see that it was a gold Camaro. Since we knew that nobody in our detachment had one, my Sergeant and I commented to one another that it had to be a German, and one with dough. To a German (especially a provincial one), a Camaro is an expensive imported sports car, even more prestigious because of the incredible cost of upkeep there.

The driver must have recognized us at the same time, because he started to flash his headlights and honk his horn. We pulled over to the side of the road to see what he wanted, and he overshot us by about 100 feet. We were about to make a U-turn when we saw that he had started to back down the road towards us.

He lost control and rammed us, rear end to rear end. The jeep, with its thick sheet steel bumpers, had only a bent tailpipe. The Camaro's rear end was destroyed so thoughoughly that I was worried that the occupants were injured.

We jumped out of the jeep, and as we walked up to the car, four drunk Germans piled out, and one of them had my helmet! I kept one of my dogtags on my key ring, and when they found it, they had realized that it belonged to an American soldier from the (not so) secret military base on top of the mountain! It was obvious that they had only recently stopped drinking, probably because the sun had come up.

I felt terrible that they crashed their car trying to return my stuff to me, and all I could do was thank them. We couldn't even file a report so they could get an insurance reibursement, since they were obviously so drunk that they'd get in serious trouble. So we shook hands all around, and turned around and drove back to our respective homes. It was good that my commander insisted on my Sergeant accompanying me, otherwise he would never have believed that I had a rear-end to rear-end collision at speed with a gold (the bumper wasn't dented, but there was a good amount of gold paint on it) Camaro that morning.

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