An Army buddy, John, fancied himself as quite the ladies’ man.
Some of his attempts at striking up a conversation with the opposite sex, however, often made his friends chuckle and, at times, made him the butt of jokes. One of John’s feeblest attempts at striking up a conversation with young ladies came on a mountainside in the German Alps.
John and I had driven through the pre-dawn darkness of Bavaria, south past Munich and to a rendezvous with eight German friends, four couples. Early that Saturday morning, we began our pre-arranged climb up the mountain. Our "climb" was really a walk as a wide trail was our path the entire time. Still, it was an exhilarating experience to be walking up a mountain in the Alps, not something John or I had done in our native Midwest.
After we’d ascended for most of the day, pausing for a light lunch along the way, we reached our destination, a wooden haven for climbers. Those small wooden buildings were located along the hike route at various altitudes and were rented in advance. This would be our overnight haven. Although the building was small, it had all the things we’d need. It was divided lengthwise with half of the building filled with tables for climbers. The other half had a full service "Gasthaus," a bar/restaurant in the middle and two large sleeping bays – one for men and one for women – were on either side of the "Gasthaus."
Each sleeping area had three bunks, room for 12 guests – six men and six women. Our group consisted of John and I, plus four German couples. That meant, of course, that the men’s side of the building was full, while there were still two beds on the ladies’ side.
Although it was still early evening, the sun had set behind the western mountaintops. Outside, we could see the lights of Salzburg, Austria, to the east and the glow of Switzerland over a mountain top to the south. Inside, we sat in the large area and enjoyed a few bottles of German beer, and a dinner that consisted of Wiener Schnitzel and German potato salad. My friend, Manfred, had brought his guitar on the climb and we sat around the tables singing old German folk songs and two American tunes that were favored by our German guests – "She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain" and "Old McDonald Had a Farm."
Suddenly, the door to our mountain cabin opened and in walked two young ladies. They sat at a table just inside the door. An empty table was between our group and them.
"We should go over and say ‘hi’," I said to John. I knew, however, that was too simple for him.
"We can’t just do that," he said. "We have to have a plan."
Resigned to the fact that John was devising a scheme, I listened to what he had to say. It was so idiotic, it was funny and I briefly thought it just might work. Not that I could do anything about it – once John had a plan there was no stopping him.
To set the stage, you must envision first that all glasses of German beer were placed on coasters. In Germany, the coasters bore the logos of one of the many breweries in the country and were made out of cheap pressed cardboard. They also served as a bar tab. Each time a person ordered a beer, the proprietor would make a hash mark on the coaster; when the evening ended your bar tab was calculated by the number of hash marks on the coaster.
And, this was John’s plan:
"I’ll go sit at the table between our table and that one," John said, pointing to the table occupied by the two attractive young ladies, sitting conversing in hushed tones. "I’ll yell at you that I forgot my coaster and tell you to throw it to me. Then (and this was the great part), you throw it too hard so it lands over by them and I’ll have to go get it and that’ll be my excuse to talk to them."
I just knew the plan wouldn’t work. My German friend, Manfred, was laughing just as hard as I when John had voiced his scheme.
But, I went along with it. John went over and sat down, then, in a loud voice, told me to toss him his beer coaster. Dutifully, I flung it like a Frisbee. It sailed past John and landed on the floor very near the girls’ table.
"Entschuldigen Zie, Bitte (Excuse me please)," I heard John say. Then, in broken German he said something that sounded vaguely like "Meine freund hat ge-throwen the beer ge-coaster too ge-far."
To John, I’m sure, it sounded German. It left Manfred doubled over in laughter.
Quickly one of the young ladies responded.
"What?" I heard her say. "I don’t understand a thing you’re saying."
John was left speechless at the response. All he could do was gape. So, I went over and began a conversation. It turned out they were college students from the University of Minnesota and were in Germany on vacation. We asked them to join our table, but, alas, they were only making a brief stop on their hike farther up the mountainside to a cabin they had rented.
John didn’t really care for some of the jovial jibes tossed his way during the rest of the evening. But, I’m sure the two girls had a great story to tell their friends about the dumb soldiers they’d run into on a German mountain. John’s other Army pals also got a good laugh at him – I made sure of that after we’d returned back to base.