“Good morning, Captain Honeyflower.”
“Good morning, Megla. ETA 13:00 at Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport.”
“There’s been a change of plan, we need to go to Leipzig, not Lisbon.”
“Affirmative, setting course for Leipzig/Halle Airport, ETA 11:45.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
The plane banked heavily to the right.
“Next exit on the autobahn is Leidemar. We’re booked a hotel for a month or more.” It was green, to the left green heath, to the right fields of various green plants and in the middle an army base, also green. We drove past the army base to the small town of Leidemar.
‘Booked a hotel’ of course meant that the whole hotel, the only one in the small town, had been booked. Giuseppe and I started learning German the next day with “der Oberschullehrer”, I think that he was a schoolteacher in retirement.
“Johko, I want to tell you something.”
“I’m all ears.”
“I, I...” Merrilee stared at me and cried.
“I think I know what you wanted to say.” And I held her tight.
It was a big insurance and banking project in Leipzig. The three “sisters” went there almost every workday, with two of the security team – either Enrico and Giuseppe or Enrico and me.
I had to ask “Why Enrico? You were born here, you speak the language perfectly, so why Enrico?”
“Easy, when I was born the government here told you what to say and what to think. The people used any freedom they had. One freedom they had as parents was to name their children; that’s why Enrico, a name from a land they could never visit.”
“You’ll meet them, people named André, Ilsabé, Bjarne, Fabiola, Cristiano, Ines. You can call me Heinrich, if you like.” Merrilee called him Henry.
Our Oberschullehrer took Giuseppe and me for long walks, but not to the heath because of unexploded artillery shells. We walked through the fields of green, some potato fields, but mostly spargel – big funny green stuff in long, heaped-up rows of soil – it didn’t look edible to me.
And spargel was not on the menu in the hotel; which was mostly what the English call “meat and two veg”. That is one part meat, one part non-white vegetable such as carrots and peas, and one part white such as potatoes, rice or noodles. Our Oberschullehrer said that the noodles were “al durch” and not “al dente”. I thought that they were cooked to death.
We often drove to Leipzig for dinner.
“How are we doing, Merrilee?”
“Just fine, everything going to plan, the only worrying thing is that it keeps getting bigger and bigger and longer and longer.”
“Just fine, Johko, bigger and better and deeper. I love you, Johko, and you love me.”
Summer days and the spargel plants grew red berries. A few weeks later the plants were gone, although the built-up rows of earth remained.”
“So the red spargel berries have been harvested and we’ll soon be eating them.”
The Oberschullehrer stared at me and laughed and laughed and laughed.
“It is going to take some time...”
Yes, the best part of a lifetime.”
“We all had to be in the army when we were young. I was sent here after basic training. Leidemar Army Base was a repair depot for LKWs, what you call lorries and the Americans trucks.”
“The work wasn’t hard, the broken-down trucks were sent here on the railway, we stripped them down and put them together again. Rows and rows of excrement-coloured, bear-nosed trucks. If we were lucky for every ten incoming wrecks we made six working trucks.”
The Oberschullehrer told us about his life, how he met his wife-to-be, how he started a family in Leidemar. He took us around the base, most of the buildings were empty. “Everything that could be removed was sold for scrap. The base has been leased to a small engineering company called QuikStuf; they use the small buildings along the road.”
He took us to meet the manager of QuikStuf. It was very odd – the workers were sitting about doing nothing much. “It’s the way we work – waiting for orders. But when order comes in it’s pandemonium here – we design it, we make it and we ship it out the door within 48 hours.”
“Let me tell you about last week, we got an order for 40 fuel tanks for a well-known five-door car. No, I can’t tell you the brand name, but it’s one of the biggest. Not ordinary fuel tanks, but ones with three times the capacity for a long-distance, endurance rally race in Mexico and, of course, pronto.”
“The designers worked through the night – they decided on moulded plastic, using a plastic that is very tough and burn-resistant. A prototype was ready at lunchtime. We built it into one of our cars and drove it to Berlin and back. The second night we cast the 40 tanks and pressure tested them.”
“The next day we took them to the airport for delivery in Mexico. Two of our guys went too for the installation. Big success. If you want a small quantity and high quality and fast then call us.”
Time flew past, the first of Advent. Merrilee took me somewhere special, the Christkindlesmarkt in Nürnberg. It was getting dark, it was snowing gently, it was magic. The stalls of the Christmas Market sold mostly tree decorations, one stall glass, one wood, one straw, one clear glass and so on. It was magic.
We celebrated the 24th with a big roast goose dinner in our hotel.
We were walking around the weekly Leidemar street market with the Oberschullehrer when I spotted what looked like bundles of white penises marked “Frisch von Peru” on one of the stalls. “What’s that?” I asked.
The Oberschullehrer said that they may certainly have come from Peru, but they were certainly not fresh, not like the real thing from Leidemar. He did not sound pleased. I wanted to ask, but decided not to. They certainly didn’t look interesting.
It was Valentine’s Day and I bought a bunch of red roses for Merrilee.
I met the manager of QuikStuf again in a bar in the town. “What I didn’t understand about the fuel tanks is: why did you design in one building, manufacture next door, and then take the tanks over a kilometre to the other side of the base to spray on orange stripes and travel again for the testing? You could have done it all in one building.”
“You are right, but the terms of our lease for the base is that we have to use six different buildings; I suppose to make the place look busy.”
That got me thinking.
What about a consumer centre using the old army base? I needed a business plan and a bit of help from Theresa.
“Johko, hold me real tight!”
“Here is my plan for the ‘Leidemar Superzentrum’ in less than one hundred words:”
The old army base at Leidemar LS is on the motorway exit and is highly visible from the motorway.
LS is easily reached by car from Leipzig and Halle.
Plenty of parking space, heathland available for expansion.
Competition is not high.
A holding company LSHC to be created.
LSHC buys the army base lease from QuikStuf.
LSHC builds a new building for QuikStuf at LS.
Supermarket, do-it-yourself store, furniture store and a mall of small shops and cafés.
“I have handed out the full business plan with investment plan to you all.”
It was Easter.
We had spargel (from Leidemar) with ham, hot butter and boiled potatoes.
I enjoyed it.
Our Oberschullehrer said that it was the best spargel he had ever eaten.
The big deal in Leipzig was signed and sealed.
Spargel is white asparagus – it is white because it is forced to grow up through heaped up soil without sunlight.
My business plan for the Leidemar Superzentrum was accepted by Megla.
Merrilee said that she was pregnant.
I hugged Merrilee.
We are all very happy.