Christian Short Stories

The Shoals of Norway
By Web Ruble

Web Ruble writes: "At the time of this story, I was a newspaper reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, OR, and my experience with military intelligence in Germany years earlier helped me as I interviewed this mysterious former U-boat captain and left me wondering."

Smoke was slowly rising. It curled around his stoic face like a question mark.

I had seen him several times before and in several places, but mainly in this hall of semi-artificiality of buckaroo motif in Parkrose, a well-known east Portland suburb. ‘Twas a trough for watering thirsty work-a-day throats on Sandy Boulevard, an arterial of restaurant, bar and used car lots that rips like a salient across the north end of Portland’s east side.

To be sure, booze-and-sports halls of escape exist throughout Portland and its burbs, but this one was special. Even though I was a football, basketball, and rugby enthusiast, it was homey to me despite that it obviously was a mecca for auto racing.

No. I’m not an auto-racing fan. I liked this iniquitous den because it did not draw the irrational madcap denizens of wacko thinking that now is so common, whether the swingin’ doors lead to an old fogie bar or a young mod’s game room.

Spike’s had a modicum of credibility.

Actually, I’d adjust my attitude there while talking to the barmaid, Alice, in German. It gave me practice in the language I once knew reasonably well.

Alice was from Germany -- Magdeburg. She survived the conflagration that was World War II and was r there when the Soviet soldiers (Russians) arrived in 1945. Although a comely teenager, she was able to avoid assault by Soviet soldiers. Nevertheless, she was terrified and vowed to bolt.

She eventually made it to what became West Germany and began working for occupying American forces. She met a GI, fell in love, married, and came with him to the USA -- Portland, Ore. They eventually divorced, but by this time she was a U.S. citizen and working at Spike’s.

Not only did I come in mainly to talk to her in German, but I discovered later so did our mysterious man. He was so quiet that he was almost invisible, despite being fair sized. He was shy. Seldom talked to anyone. He dwelled in self-imposed isolation.

Lots of “bar creatures” adopted alcohol-fueled insulation. But eventually -- after adequate consumption -- they’d open some with crackpot reasoning. But this cosmic fellow really didn’t consume quantities of booze. Rather he’d remain unfathomable, nursing a drink and dreaming off in ancient memory or Shangri-lan adventure.

Nevertheless, he would talk to Alice. Not only did she respond in German but she understood him. At least she thought she did.

On this particular evening, Alice approached me at the bar’s north curve and said, “Will you do me a favor? See that gentleman over there. He is from Germany and doesn’t fit in America very well. Would you go over and talk with him in German. I think he would enjoy it.

“He is very lonely. He comes in to talk to me in German but often I get too busy to talk to him much. He doesn’t like American women very well. He says they’re too mouthy. And he thinks American men are wimpy because they tolerate it. It’s a cultural thing. So he just sits in silence . . . by the hour and by himself.

“You speak German well enough. So would you?”

After several minutes of question and answer, I agreed to it.

- - - -

I pulled up a stool and introduced myself in German. His eyes widened a bit and appeared slightly flabbergasted. I told him that I once lived in Germany and still speak the language a little.

My lack of fluency didn’t seem to bother him.

Before long we launched into personal discussions. He verified his dislike for American women. For that matter, he didn’t think much of American men either. America, he said, was a loser.

He said that the world’s next dominant power was to be the Soviet Union (Russia). He gave all kinds of reasons why. When I brought up China, he shrugged. He finally said that China was marginally prominent because of the Soviet Union and its support for communists everywhere. Beyond that, he said, China wasn’t worth much.

He said he was potentially a communist. But that was difficult in America. American liberals -- those with serious socialist or communist leanings -- made him ill. They’re wimps. Not so communist. They‘re milquetoasty. Naïve. Phonys. Not with it.

I had a burning desire to ask him, that in view of the above, why was he still in the United States? But I held off and let him talk. Alice watched and smiled. Somebody, you see, finally was engaging Werner in conversation. Moreover, he seemed to be enjoying it.

Even though his views disturbed me a little, I was intrigued to get a different perspective . . . from a foreigner.

His story: Werner was a U-boat captain in the German Navy during WWII. Having been in several locations in the Atlantic, Werner’s U-boat found itself in the North Sea near the shoals of Norway when early in May 1945 he received a terse message from the commander of another U-boat. The war was over. Germany had surrendered.

Terrible news. Not acceptable. But reality was reality. What to do now?

He didn’t know what to think. He contacted the other U-boat and he and its commander made arrangements for a secret rendezvous that evening. They carefully set grid coordinates near the Norwegian shore, out of the traffic zone in the North Sea. The sea, of course, was crawling with American and British subs and other well-armed allied ships.

Both captains realized that the allies would not put up with troublesome German U-boats. They assumed -- probably correctly --that if the German submarines did not surrender immediately, the allies would diligently pursue and destroy them.

The two U-boat captains set the rendezvous for midnight. Werner noted that when his boat approached the rendezvous point that the other U-boat was also prompt. Using a small light for only moments the two boats slipped alongside one another, and proceeded to pull together for tethering.

Werner and his entourage then climbed aboard the other U-boat for a desperate chat with its commander.

Werner wanted to head for Helga Light and put into either Bremerhaven or Wilhelmshaven. But the other captain opined that no sailor would want to return to Germany now, as it was totally destroyed. To make matters worse, it was occupied by American, British, perhaps a few French, and (gasp) even Soviet soldiers.

Besides, the other captain said, the port of Bremerhaven had been destroyed and homecoming craft would not be able to get in, anyway, as lots of ships were sunk at the harbor entrance. He said the situation was similar at Wilhelmshaven, and both had heard that Luebeck had been annihilated.

To make matters worse, the other commander said, American and Brit naval forces were hanging around all sides of Helga Light.

Both agreed they’d have to surrender eventually. The other commander said that he had first “to make a delivery.” However, by contrast Werner realized that his provisions aboard were low and that he had to put into port soon.

They discussed several possibilities. But it was inconclusive. They finally agreed that each U-boat should go its own way. With aufwiedersehn “Heil Hitler” salutes, Werner and his group then departed and saw to it that the two boats were untethered. Each boat went its own way.

Werner met with his own crew and said he did not want to see Germany overrun by idiot foreigners. He said he wanted to avoid imprisonment, humiliation, and being forced into slave labor – a fate that surely awaited them.

So after much discussion, they decided to put into nearby Scotland (Great Britain). He didn’t say much about their incarceration in Great Britain, except that he eventually made it to America. How he got to Portland, he also didn’t say.

However, he recognized it a mistake. He had to endure it, however, as he could not return to Germany even now. The governing forces were pursuing the Nazis of yesteryear.

By this time, Werner and I had consumed the evening, and I was feeling fuzzy from tepid alcohol. I don’t remember whether we agreed to visit again. But we never did.

As the days and weeks passed, I wondered about Werner’s story. There was just something about it that didn’t seem right.

A few weeks later I returned to Spike’s and Alice offered something similar -- that Werner’s story just didn’t seem to jell. She said that she, too, wondered.

She also said that after our tete-a-tete evening, Werner never returned. She hadn’t seen him and was a little worried. Perhaps, she said, he believed that he told me too much and that made me dangerous. And in view of that perhaps he didn’t chance returning to Spike’s.

I said that could be the case, but . . .

She interrupted with a surprise confession – that Werner once mentioned Paraguay. She said she didn’t know what to make of it.

Do you suppose, I said, that he never was in Scotland and that he may have had some escaping high-ranking Nazis on board that he was taking to some South American nook like Paraguay.

“Could be,” Alice said.

We both agreed that what ever he had been during the war and since, Werner was lonely, depressed, and had a terrible half-existence -- tired of living and terrified of dying.

“A living hell,” we agreed.

“If only he were a Christian believer, God would help him,” she said.

Within a few weeks, Spike’s new management let Alice go. Too old. They replaced her with a young chickadee, and the ambiance never was the same. I never saw Alice again. And shortly thereafter, I stopped hanging in the joints anyway.

Nevertheless, I’ve never stopped wondering about that opaque man. And when I think of him, I often say a prayer for the world’s loneliest man.

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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