Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Fifty-One
4th July 1972
Münsingen Proving Grounds, Württemberg
A few weeks earlier, they had been told that the students from the third year up had been told that they traveling to Württemberg for the remainder of the term a few weeks earlier. Apparently, there were several other institutions involved and they had been told that distinctions between classes would no longer apply once they got to Münsingen because it would be their school against all others. Cadet ranks were out as well because as far as the High Command was concerned, they were all mere Soldaten until they returned to their school. It was a surprising turn of events and even those who had been their upperclassmen had taken their loss of privilege in stride because this was the real deal. The kit that they had been issued while still at the school was what actual soldiers would get as they were leaving for the train station.
The excitement had faded in a hurry the instant they arrived and discovered the state of the barracks they would be living in were probably of original construction from 1895 when the Proving Grounds had been established. The barracks looked like they had not seen a bit of paint or had a real cleaning in that entire time so the first thing that they had been assigned to do was put the buildings into something that was within screaming distance of order. That had occupied their first week.
Now, everyone was hoping that they would do something exciting now that had been done. They saw the forest surrounding the barracks and clearly wanted to go exploring. Bas had a sinking suspicion that the powers-that-be had something else in mind. There was plenty of brush needing to be cleared, ditches to be dug, and any number of a thousand other things. He recalled what his father had told him about what life was like in the Marine Infantry. How the reward for hard work was often more work and they were never allowed to be idle for long. When it came right down to it, the Prussian Institution they attended worked in a very similar manner.
Niko was indifferent to the whole thing. He figured that at some point the other foot would fall the way it always did and was said they should look forward to the upcoming Summer Holiday because whatever they were currently doing, it was not going to be a holiday by any means.
“Isn’t this an American Holiday today?” One of the other students who was much older, probably a sixth year, asked Bas as they were standing in line for lunch in the mess hall.
“What makes you think I would know?” Bas replied.
“I heard you’re an American?” Another student asked.
“My mother is from Washington State” Bas replied guardedly, “That’s all.” It was something that he had been told enough times. That the State had felt obliged to help ethnic Germans who wanted to return to the home of their ancestors and that had been a major complication in the post-war years. Bas’ mother had a Danish-German background and had been blacklisted by the US Government who suspected her loyalty. She had had the options of going to Germany or trying to scrape by while being basically unemployable.
“Oh” The other student said, as if he were expecting more than that. What followed was more waiting in line, this time with an extra helping of awkward silence.
Eventually, Bas made it to the front of the line. That was where he had a generous dollop of a gelatinous mix of potatoes, beans, onions, peas, and mysterious meat, or at least that was what he thought it was, ladled onto his tray. This was followed by a chunk of ryebread and another ladle of tinned fruit cocktail. He finally got a glass of citrus juice that was one of his two options, the other being coffee. Walking over to where Niko was already seated, Bas sat down and saw that his friend was already picking at the “entrée” with a quizzical look on his face.
“I think this is turkey today” Niko said.
“After it has sat in a tin can long enough, who can tell” Bas replied.
Niko just shrugged and he resumed eating once Bas sat down. A few days earlier, Niko had made it clear that he did not want to listen to Bas complain endlessly about the food. They were all in the same boat here. Yes, the food was terrible and monotonous but in case he hadn’t noticed this was what was fed to Enlisted Men in the Army. Oatmeal with tinned fruit, sausage, and ryebread for breakfast. Mystery stew for lunch. And finally, yet more ryebread with cheese for supper. There were only slight variations from day to day. If Bas had a problem with that, he had other options, the Navy, or if he really applied himself, he could shock everyone and go to University. Until Niko said that it had not occurred to Bas that this was a taste of his most likely future.
“What do you think they will have us do now that the barracks is up to scratch?” Niko asked.
“I don’t know” Bas replied, “The others think they’ll have us do something fun.”
“Then seeing how disappointed they will be will have to be our fun” Niko said with a slight smile.
If there had been one good thing that had come of sending them to Württemberg, it had been that Niko had been freed from the pressures of the school and his family’s expectations. For Bas, it was nice to get back the closest thing he had to a brother, even if it was only for a few weeks.