Zerky in Germany

Map of Germany

We finally made it to Europe but your mother and I still don’t quite believe it—we keep thinking it’s time to go down and open the theatre. It’s hard to get used to not having to go to work, not having to do much of anything really, besides going to places we have dreamed about. However, poor Tarzan just about didn’t make it. When our plane touched down in Cologne, before proceeding on to Munich, a German customs official dressed like a World War II Luftwaffe officer came on board and got all upset at seeing “der hund.” I smiled and told him we “nein sprecken zie deutsch,” at which point he stiffened up, wheeled around, stomped down the aisle in his black leather boots and disappeared down the gangway in a huff. Your mother said he was going to get the Gestapo. While Tarzan and I were debating whether to make a break for it, our storm trooper marched back onto the plane with the gorgeous blonde stewardess who had served us drinks on the plane earlier, and who proceeded to act as our interpreter.

“No, we don’t have any paper from the German government authorizing importation of “der hund.” The storm troopers’ His face remained cold and unresponsive, a trace of sneer curling up over his upper lip. So I decided it best throw myself upon the mercy of our lovely stewardess. “But of course we will be more than happy to obtain such a paper, once we are on the ground in Munich,” I told her. There followed a debate in German after which my lovely stewardess gave me the loveliest of smiles, telling me they would wire Munich and have a veterinarian meet us when we got off the plane. The vet would examine Tarzan and give us the necessary paper.

An hour later, we landed in Munich where no one knew anything about any veterinarian. All they knew was that Tarzan was supposed to have some kind of a paper. So an inspector at the gate called in his superior and the two of them discussed this horrendous turn of events. “Der hund must hob der paper,” he announced officiously, after which he called in the customs inspector who agreed with him, no doubt on penalty of being shot. Then came the pilot and more arguments in German until they called in some big wheel official who acted as if he owned the entire airport. Here was a grand Teutonic specimen in full military uniform, complete with medals, stripes and German Officer’s hat with the traditional upswept brim. “Vee moost hob der paber vor der hund,” he told us in his incomparable English. A crowd of similarly costumed aviators soon began to gather, all of them jabbering away in German about “der hund.” Here was the German General Staff mapping strategy to defend the fatherland against the invasion of a ten-pound dog.

Suddenly it came to me: “Eina dachshund, eina dachshund!” I interrupted them excitedly, jabbering away in my God only knows what. “Eina Dachshund iss una German hund! Una German hund iss German citizen,” but they didn’t seem to think this was funny. Gradually it became clear to all of us that the regulations did indeed require some sort of a paper that could only be obtained at a German consulate outside Germany. Then, and only then, did it become clear to them that, regardless of what their regulations might say, as a matter of demonstrable fact, Tarzan was already on the soil of the fatherland. At this point, the pilot made it clear to the assembled throng that, after having already flown us eight thousand miles, he was not about to turn around and fly us back to San Francisco. People say history repeats itself in times of crisis. People say all kinds of dumb things. However, as might have been the case at Stalingrad, the immovable object had finally met the irresistible force. As we braced for the impending cataclysm, my beautiful blonde stewardess walked by us by accident, looking a little jet-lagged after a hard day’s work fending off lecherous male passengers asking for this and for that and the other thing in order to bask in her luminous glow. Now she smiled at me again, telling me she had spotted Tarzan in the crowd, and that she simply could not resist coming over to say goodbye to our “darling little dog.” Crestfallen, I was happy to see her anyway. Noticing the consternation on the faces of the assemblage, she cheerfully offered up that Tarzan wasn’t really a very big dog now was he? And since we were leaving Germany as soon as we picked up our car, well then, “this darling little German dog is only in transit now, isn’t he?” In transit,” two words that shook the world. A collective sigh of relief began settling over the Wehrmacht as the great storm began to subside. Flickers of smiles curled ramrod lips that grew broader. My lovely blonde stewardess was right: Tarzan was indeed a very little dog and soon he would be no dog at all, gone forever from the sacred soil of the Fatherland. He will never have existed. Well then, why should not everyone concerned do everything possible to help get this adorable nonexistent little dog out of the country?

Now everyone was happy, the logic was overwhelming. We must enjoy our stay, one of the officers insisted, “are you aware that Bavarian beer is the best in the world?” We were. “Then you must visit a Bavarian beer haus before you leave Munich!”

Such was our sweet welcome to Germany. By the time we finally found a hotel, we were exhausted. After a beer and a breakfast we crashed. All those time zones really did a number on you, Zerky. You slept like the dead. Tomorrow we shall be in Austria.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

Zerky in the Bath Tub in Germany

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