True Story No6


Things that go Roomph in the night!

In the mid-70s I used to visit Munich every couple of weeks when my employer was helping a Big German Company in a project to design and build a satellite ground station associated with weather forecasting.

Usually I got there the night before, stayed in the City, and turned up at the factory the next morning for the meeting.

One time near the start of the project when we were agreeing the specifications with our customer, there was some sort of panic and I travelled the same day as the meeting.

I arrived at the airport, which I recall had two aeroplanes sitting on the flat roof of its terminal building. I think one was a Heinkel 111 and the other a Messerschmitt Me109. I wonder if they are still there?

Usually I was collected, but this time I had to get a taxi. The driver didn't know the place I asked him to go to, but as I had been there a couple of times before I was able to direct him from memory.

That day started and ended with funny things happening.

After travelling a fair few miles, I saw the huge factory some distance away across an enormous car park.

We must have missed the main road and the taxi driver started making his way through a maze of little roadways towards the front gate, which I could see was getting nearer.

As he was unsure of the general direction to go I resorted to my phrase book.

I found the correct page for directing taxi drivers approaching large factory entrances, and tried to work out the required instructions.

I looked out and saw what was required.

I found the appropriate word.

"LINKS!" I called out from the back.

There was a screeching of wheels as full left lock was applied, and I fell sideways in my seat as we came to a sudden stop.

I sat up and looked out.

We'd come to rest in a bike shed.

The factory entrance was still quarter of a mile away.

"Nein!" I said, rapidly exhausting my knowledge of German.

We backed up and stopped again.

This time I leaned forwards and pointed out the window, and with my phrase book managed, "Gerarderaus, Links, Rechts, Gerarderaus, Links" and so on until we arrived at the front door.

The meeting started, and the Project Manager, Von P…. who spoke American because he had signed up as a GI after the war to get out of the East, said that as it was likely to go on all day, and as we all had to go and see the customer tomorrow anyway, I should stay overnight.

I wanted to go home so I said I hadn't got a clean shirt.

He said he'd buy me one.

I said I hadn't got any money.

He said he'd lend me some.

I realised he wouldn't let me go, whatever I said, so I agreed.

Arrangements were made.

Mid-way through the meeting there was a sudden commotion outside, and the office door opened and a thin gaunt-looking chap with white hair came in.

We all turned round to look.

Lots of German was spoken and arms were waved, and eventually the thin man went off.

Von P. said to us, in English for my benefit, "That chap used to work here and he's just turned up asking for his job back. He's been locked up in Siberia by the Russians for 30 years and he's just been released."

The first thing he'd done was to come back to work as if he'd never been away.

"This used to be his office!"

I used to notice him around after that because he attached himself to our project, but as he couldn't speak English I never spoke to him.

Anyway, the day drew on and sandwiches were brought in.

Soon it was getting late and it began to get dark outside.

About 9 o'clock, it happened.

There was an ear-splitting roar coming through the window.

It went on for about 5 seconds or so, then, it stopped as suddenly as it had started.

I looked round at the assembled meeting.

No-one seemed to have noticed.

"What was that roaring noise?" I exclaimed.

"What roaring noise?" said Von P., getting up and closing the window.

Everyone turned to me with blank looks.

"That roaring noise that came from outside," I said.

There was a moment's silence and someone said, "We didn't hear anything did we?"

They all shook their heads.

The next time we met in that office I looked out the window, and there, some distance away, running along the grass, was a railway track. It was several hundred yards long and looked like some sort of test facility.

When I made discreet enquiries it turned out that the Big Company was developing rocket engines for a missile, and as this wasn't allowed officially, since exploits during WWII, a lot of the work was carried out when everyone had gone home.

That day, someone had forgotten to tell them there was a visitor.


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