Christoph Schindler is 83 years old. He has five children, and eight grandchildren. His wife has been dead for two years and he knows he will follow her soon. He is still healthy. He lives alone in the house they bought together in 1956, and every evening he walks the streets of Stuttgart and marvels at how much his country has changed.
He is old enough to remember the neat lines of soldiers in their crisp uniforms and shining boots. He is old enough to remember the Hitler Youth groups and mass rallies with the Fuhrer standing above them all and telling them he would lead the German people to greatness. He is old enough to remember his mother’s haggard face and his father’s dead eyes. He is old enough to remember his neighbors vanishing. He is old enough to remember six-pointed stars on the doors and windows of empty shop fronts and crowds of people being herded on to trains like cattle.
He is old enough to remember seeing his father come home one night from the camps. He remembers the tears and his mother pleading while his father pressed a gun to his own temple and told her that he was a monster. His father did not pull the trigger that night. Or the next. But his eyes grew darker, his face grew thinner, and he never said a word to Christoph after that. He would look at his son with empty eyes and step out of reach when the little boy went to embrace him. Christoph does not remember his father ever touching him again.
Christoph Schindler is shocked to his knees when the tall man in a horned helmet appears, corralling the panicked crowd with images of himself, and commands them to kneel.
The man’s voice is calm and charismatic. “Is this not simpler? Is this not your natural state?” he asks the crowd, with a smile on his lips.
Christoph remembers regiments of soldiers and vanishing neighbors. He remembers the rallies and the man who stood above them all and promised them the world. He remembers his mother’s tears and his father’s dead eyes. He remembers his father, four years after the Allied forces marched into Berlin, with a revolver in his hand and his brains splattered on the floor of their apartment. He remembers being too young to understand, too young to protest.
“The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”
He pushes himself to his feet, arthritic knees aching, and looks over at the tall man in the horned helmet. He is no longer young, and he understands more than he ever wanted to.
“Not to men like you.”
The tall man smiles, condescending, as though addressing a small child, not a man old enough to be his grandfather. “There are no men like me,” he says.
Christoph stands straighter. “There are always men like you.”