Gary Kidney author of adult and young adult novels
Berlin's Tiergarten

From American Spy in the Reich by Gary Kidney

The Tiergarten Scene

The morning in Berlin was bright and warm, hinting at spring. When I want to think, I run. Finding my picture in an old Nazi magazine, listening to Vinny lie, and worrying about Stengler offered plenty to consider. “Vinny, let’s run the Tiergarten.”

We ran beneath Brandenburg gate and turned right at Hindenburg Platz. In Königsplatz, I recognized the Reichstag from newsreels of the famous fire. We ran the Spree’s banks on Kronprinzenufer. Across the river was a small boat harbor, the Lehrter train station, and a flight Museum. At Schloss Bellevue, we turned onto Spreeweg and left people behind us. Following a path beside a thawing stream to a lake took us deep into the empty park. We caught our breath on a bench.

We were alone—nobody walking nearby, no cover in which to hide, only a wide glassy lake before us. I could use English. “Vinny, why did you lie?”

“Lie? What lie?”

Even in winter, the Tiergarten was beautiful—cold, stark, and barren, but promise of renewal and rebirth hid within.

The jumble of facts made little sense. How could my picture appear on the cover of a Nazi magazine two years before? When the major gave me forged papers, he said, ‘These papers would work for any blond-haired, blue-eyed boy when we put in the right picture.’ Ma gathered the Rexall sack full of pictures too fast—as if she’d been saving them for a purpose. Had she expected the request? Had she given the Army my Court of Honor picture years before? How deep does this conspiracy go? Stunned, I realized there was only one conclusion. They’d manipulated me.

The puppet master sits beside you, looking so innocent and says, ‘Lie? What lie?’

“I figure at least one lie, possibly more. You said you didn’t know me in 1938. That was a lie, wasn’t it?”

His expression confirmed my conclusion.

I felt juiced like a lemon peel and wanted to beat him to a pulp. Tears wouldn’t be far behind. I couldn’t let him see them. “Fuck you!” I ran.

My scoutmaster takes a picture for my Eagle Court of Honor. It goes to Berlin. An International Conspiracy of Jews? The conspiracy is more than Jews.

The timing’s inexplicable. You’re fifteen in the picture. Two years before they recruited you.

Are Ma and Da in conspiracy? Was I conceived for this mission?

You can’t trust anyone. There’s no truth. Your questions will linger, frozen forever.

“Wait! Wait!” Vinny ran after me. “Nothing changes. You can’t go home.”

I kept his footfalls behind me. I wanted to hurt him, get revenge, and make him feel my anguish. An idea popped into my mind. “I’ll run to the Gestapo and report you. Tell them you’re recruiting me to spy. I’ll disappear into the city. You’ll see me next at your execution. I’ll join the SS. One day, that lying fuck of a major will show up in my rifle’s crosshairs. I’ll blow him away.”

I turned toward Hermann Göring Strasse’s exit—the route to the Gestapo. A statue stood where I cornered, King Friedrich Wilhelm III. I crossed a nearby bridge. Vinny hadn’t gained on me. He wouldn’t follow me into Gestapo headquarters.

Vinny yelled. “I never thought you’d be a quitter.”

The tears hit like a thunderstorm. “I don’t quit. No matter how tough it is. And I don’t lie.” What about lock-picking the diplomatic pouch?

I passed the statue of a beautiful queen named Luise. When the statue appeared again, I realized I’d circled a small island. When I reached the bridge, Vinny appeared on the other side. “Stop there!” I shouted. “Cross and I’ll break your neck, just like Bart!”

We stared into each other’s eyes. Panic and fear filled his. I sensed his fear of crossing, afraid of what I might do.

His voice broke as he said, “I’m sorry for the lies, for the things that make little sense. But, for six thousand miles, I’m the only one who cares. Don’t run from that!”

My stare froze like the water beneath the bridge.

I remembered the story of the statues. The artist intended King Friedrich Wilhelm III and Queen Luise to stand side-by-side, sharing a panorama. Instead, the city placed them on opposite sides, gazing across the bridge at each other. Their view, now, never shared but forever linked—an unplanned perspective.

Does truth exist or is everything perspective?

I plopped onto a bench. Across the bridge, Vinny’s eyes still projected fear and panic. Mine revealed wild anger, and I softened them. “Don’t force me to choose between the truth and a friend. I deserve both.”

“OK, but it may be hard to take. I don’t know everything.”

I nodded.

“You’ve guessed at some. This mission wasn’t optional. People groomed you for it. I knew about it in 1938, but it may have started earlier. After Kristallnacht, the American Ambassador to Germany left. Journalists sent back unbelievable stories of horror. An exodus of Germans, like Bob and Carl, painted a gloomier picture. Planting a mole was a way to get unfiltered information. They chose you for your language fluency, whiz-kid electronics, and maybe more. Your scoutmaster, teachers, and coaches prepared you for it. The major lied about any blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. It was always you.”

“Was I born to do this? Were my parents in on it?”

Vinny laughed. “You aren’t the center of everything? Aren’t you what you pretend to be?”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“Aren’t you at home in Berlin? I’ve seen it in your eyes and bearing. You admitted it a few minutes ago when you said you could disappear into the city.”

How can he peer so deep into my soul?

You’re at home in Germany. Almost like you’ve lived here.

“I can’t do terrible things like the Germans.” I thought of the innocent Jewish baby and the splatters on my boot and clothes.

Sure, you can.

“I don’t know how much your parents knew. When I interviewed your friends, I’m sure they guessed.” Vinny sighed. “We thought we could wait until you turned eighteen. But the blitzkrieg changed it. No one expected Hitler to have such success. Dunkirk put us out of time.”

“What if I refused?”

“Could you have?”

They primed me for adventure. How could I refuse?

Fella, you were ready to go before they even asked!

“The work building your background—the documents in files, the family you’ll meet in a few days, that picture in the magazine—took a long time to prepare.”

“What if I’d failed the tests?”

“There weren’t tests—part of the story to reel you along.”

Could I have flopped in the fight with Bart?

No. You wanted to finish him.

“Vinny, how did you get involved?”

“I enlisted in 1938—an Italian with passable German, been to Italy and had family there. It triggered someone’s imagination. They planned to send me to Germany, but I’d never mesh into society. I could only observe. They needed you.”

During our conversation, he’d crossed the bridge and joined me on the bench.

“I’m such a sucker.”

He slid his arm around my shoulders. “No, you’re braver, stronger, and more resourceful than we ever dreamed.”

“That magazine picture. My scoutmaster took it on a camping trip in February 1938. He handed me a black neckerchief and sliding knot to wear. He said they were special, only for Eagles, but I’d never seen an Eagle wear one.”

You wanted to be special, didn’t you?

I wanted to do my best.

‘On my honor, I will do my best…’ and you believed.

“Come on, let’s finish this run,” Vinny urged. “I’m cold.”