It was October of 1939, and accordion player Otto Klausen and his seven year old son Fritz were touring Germany performing music in various places. It was during their visit in Heidelberg where they stayed at the Hotel Die Hirschgasse Heidelberg so Otto could perform at the Town Hall in the Old Town, where our tale began.
Young Fritz was playing in the hotel lobby, decked out in his lederhosen when a German officer asked the clerk for the phone. A typical child Fritz was curious, and asked the officer what he was doing.
“I’m sorry young man, but I have important business. I must call the Fuhrer.” the officer explained producing a note pad with a number on it.
“Oh paper. I would like to draw.” Fritz said, excited.
“Here. I’ll give you a pencil and the rest of the pad, if you give me some peace while I make this call.” the officer said, tearing the sheet with the number on it off.
“Thank you sir.” Fritz said taking the pad and pencil, and going away.
Fritz began by rubbing the pencil on the next sheet to darken it, suddenly noticing the number indented on the page. Right there was the Fuhrer’s phone number at the Reichskanzler. He could call Hitler himself, and he bet that no other boys his age could do that. He copied the number onto another sheet and then put it in his pocket. After that he drew castles like the one there in Heidelberg. But in his pocket was Hitler’s phone number, 116191.
Later that night as Otto performed at the Town Hall, Fritz got a little bored. So the little blue eyed, blond haired, German boy explored, and it wasn’t long before he found a phone. He put the receiver to his ear, and as soon as the operator came on the line he requested 116191. The operator put the call through, and it wasn’t long before Adolph Hitler himself answered the phone.
“Hello.” Hitler said.
“Why was six afraid of seven?” Fritz asked, thinking that the Fuhrer might like to hear a joke.
“Why was what? Is this some new code I haven’t been informed of? I don’t know the proper response.” Hitler answered.
“Because seven ate nine.” Fritz answered, and dropped the phone while he laughed. He picked it up, hung it up, and went back to watch his father.
He had so much fun; he would have to think of another joke for the Fuhrer. He could imagine the Fuhrer sharing the joke with his friends. Oh what a wonderful way to have fun. If he and the Fuhrer became friends, maybe he would get invited to see him, and eat sausages and pastries while the Fuhrer gave orders to his men.
After Heidelberg it was off to Munich by car. Otto owned a Mercedes-Benz 170 VA convertible, which he drove northward to Munich. Along the way they passed Neuschwanstein Castle with its tall towers and majestic beauty.
When they reached Munich, they had time to see some of the sights like Nymphenburg Palace, the Glockenspiel am Rathausturm, and Karlstor or Karl’s Gate. Then they went to the Bayerischer Hof Hotel, and checked in for the night. That night Otto played at the Opera House, and Fritz found another phone, and another helpful operator to connect him to 116191.
“Hello.” Hitler answered, having put the first call from Fritz out of his mind.
“What do elves learn in school?” Fritz asked.
“What? What is going on here? Do you know who you are calling? I am Adolph Hitler, your Fuhrer!” Hitler yelled, angry that another strange call had reached him.
“Oh yes my Fuhrer, but the answer is the elf-abet.” Fritz said, not understanding why the Fuhrer was so upset. Maybe running the country was a really hard job, and he had a bad day. Perhaps he didn’t get the joke, or maybe he would figure it out later, and it would make him happy.
Fritz finished his phone call in time to return and hear his father perform Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai. That night they went back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep, while Hitler was still upset that this second call to tell him a joke. And although it took him a while to figure it out, he finally thought that it was a woman or child that called him. It didn’t make him any less mad.
The next day they were headed East to Berchtesgaden, but due to military construction they had to detour and approach past Koenigssee, so Otto and Fritz got to see the beautiful lake on their way, and from a distance they even saw Obersalzberg and the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat. But eventually they arrived at Hotel Garni Wittelsbach.
Otto was performing at the hotel itself that night. As they were close to the Austrian city of Salzburg, Otto opened his act with Eidleweiss. Fritz of course slipped away to find a telephone. He found that the phone at the front desk had been left unattended, so he used it to make his call.
“Herman, is that you? I’ve been waiting for you to call. What was the delay?” Hitler said when he answered.
“Knock, knock.” Fritz said.
“Who’s there?” Hitler said. A natural reaction, even on the phone.
“Interrupting, squawking parrot.” Fritz replied.
“Interrupting, squawking parr-“Hitler started to reply.
“SQUAWKKKKKKKKKKK!” Fritz interrupted, causing Hitler to hang up the phone.
Fritz thought that he must have scared his Fuhrer, and went back to listen to his father perform with his accordion. Fritz was beginning to think that Herr Hitler wasn’t enjoying his jokes, but he thought that he would find out the next night in Nuremberg.
As they drove north to Nuremburg they passed through Regensberg, and made it in good time, so they took a look around. They saw the outside of Kaiserburg Castle, and then went to St. Lorez Church to see the Tugendbrunnen, the elaborate and highly decorative Fountain of Virtue on the northern side of the church. With its octagonal basin, statues representing the seven virtues and the figure of justice, the fountain itself features many dramatic trickles of water, which surround the central round column structure.
Otto and his son checked into Le Méridien Grand Hotel Nürnberg. Otto was performing at that hotel as well, and took a nap while Fritz drew pictures. Fritz would rather make his phone call, but he could wait. Fritz drew a picture of Adolph Hitler on the phone and laughing at his jokes. He was sure the Fuhrer thought that his jokes were funny, even if he didn’t get them right away.
That night Otto performed Ein Kleine Nachtmusik before a small crowd at the hotel, and of course Fritz managed to slip away and find a phone to call the Fuhrer. The leader of the German people was waiting this time, and was not happy when he answered.
“I don’t know who you are, but this has to stop. I am Adolph Hitler, and I am very busy leading my people. If you do not stop now I will have you found and punished.” Hitler yelled.
“Knock, knock.” Fritz continued anyway.
“Who’s there?” Hitler asked, more trying to get Fritz’s name than playing along.
“Little old lady.” Fritz answered.
“Little old lady who?” Hitler asked, not thinking clearly and assuming this might be a clue to the caller’s identity. The line wasn’t very clear.
“Wow, I didn’t know you could yodel!” Fritz answered.
Hitler was not amused and began yelling even more over the phone. It was then that Fritz realized that the Fuhrer didn’t like his jokes or his calls and was not really a nice person. Fritz hung up the phone and began to cry, knowing now that the leader of his country was mean, and not his friend at all. Fritz wiped away his tears and went back to his father’s performance.
That night the boy had trouble sleeping, but devised a plan that would be fun and get back at that mean old Herr Hitler. He would continue to call and tell jokes to Hitler, but now if Hitler got mad, let him be mad. If being mad ruined his day, he deserved it for being mean.
The next morning at breakfast his father was reading the newspaper and there was an article about something Hitler was doing. It was about the occupation of Poland. Fritz was curious about this and waited until his father was done reading, not wanting to interrupt him.
“Father, why does the Fuhrer want to occupy Poland?” Fritz asked Otto.
“Why are you so curious about this all of a sudden? Is my little man growing up?” Otto asked in return.
“I don’t think he is a nice man, papa.” Fritz answered with the audacity of youth.
“Well, between you and me, he is not a nice man. But you mustn’t say these things aloud in public Fritz.” Otto told him looking over his shoulders to be sure that no one was listening. “We will talk about this in the car.”
“Yes papa.” Fritz answered, thinking that he was in trouble.
That day, on the way to Frankfurt, Otto explained that Hitler was a very bad man. He tried to keep it simple, so that Fritz would understand. He didn’t know what his son’s sudden interest in Hitler was all about, but he wanted to be honest with the boy, instead of feeding him the propaganda that most people passed to their children.
“Hitler is not a good person Fritz, and has taken over Poland because like most evil men, he has a desire to have more. It is usually land that evil greedy men desire. But his evil goes far beyond that. Do you remember the people that used to stay in the basement of our house, the Weiss family?” Otto asked Fritz.
“Yes papa. Where did they go?” Fritz asked.
“They left instead of endangering us. If Hitler and the Nazi Party had found out that we had been hiding them, we would have been in trouble. Hitler has had their people the Jews arrested and sent away camps since 1933. He hates the Jews for some reason, and has them put in these camps, where rumor has it that they are put to death in a number of horrific ways.” Otto explained.
“That is terrible papa. Why doesn’t someone beat him up for being mean?” Fritz asked, clearly getting it, but coming up with a solution that showed the innocence of the boy.
“Right now there isn’t much that can be done. That is why we sold our house, and why I am taking you on tour with me as I play my music. I am earning us money to get us aboard a ship to America, so that we can leave the Fatherland until much better times return.” Otto said to his son.
“OK papa. They aren’t mean in America are they?” Fritz asked.
“I hear that they are wonderful people Fritz. But we should wait until we get there, and see for ourselves.” Otto told him.
The route they took to Frankfurt took them through Wurzburg, and along the northern shore of the Rhine River. Eventually they reached Frankfurt and checked into a small gasthaus on Kaiserstrasse in Bahnhofsviertel, just a ten minute walk from the Frankfurt Opera House where Otto would be performing in an early version of an Open Mic Night. Although not a paid performance, it would at least provide a meal that night.
This time Fritz was determined to call the Fuhrer again, but with the intent on purposely disturbing the evil man. He knew that was supposed to respect his elders, and that one shouldn’t cross the leader of their country, especially when they were bad men. But he didn’t like the Fuhrer anymore, and if calling him every night upset him, then that was what Fritz would do. He found another phone at the opera house.
“Hello.” Hitler answered, waiting for his annoying caller.
“Knock, knock.” Fritz said to Hitler.
“Who’s there?” Hitler said, being nice this time and getting the SS to start tracing the call through the switchboard.
“Lettuce.” Fritz answered, thinking it strange that Hitler wasn’t yelling this time.
“Lettuce who?” Hitler asked, trying to buy time for the trace.
“Lettuce in, it’s freezing out here!” Fritz answered, delivering the punchline. Then he hung up again, as Hitler began to pretend to laugh. He knew it must be some sort of trap. Fritz began to worry if he had just gotten himself and papa in trouble.
The SS began tracking where the calls were made from, but at first only came up with the cities in which they were made. They dispatched officers in those areas to check the logs of the local operators. They found it a bit strange that the Fuhrer’s number could have so easily fallen into the wrong hands, and that the caller knew enough to keep moving around. Also strange was that the Fuhrer was not sure if the caller was a woman or a child.
Despite his fears, Fritz decided to be courageous and stand up against Hitler and his men. He would make another call and another after that until he had struck a blow against this evil man. The next day he would call again, from Wiesbaden.
The next day they had a short drive across the Rhine into Wiesbaden, where they checked in at the Hotel Goldener Brunnen. Otto was performing at an event featuring up and coming German musicians at the Hessisches Staatstheater, or Hessian State Theater in English.
While the other musicians performed, Fritz sat with his father, and couldn’t get away to find a phone. Unlike other shows his father did, where he performed the standard beer hall songs, and then featured one song that people don’t regularly hear done on accordion, tonight he would only be able to do one song, and for something different had chosen a classical piece, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
During the entire show, even when papa played, Fritz was unable to get away. But during the reception he was left unattended long enough to go find a phone. He made his call, and caught Hitler just as he was dismissing the men monitoring the calls, and preparing to head to his quarters.
“Hello.” Hitler answered, now hoping it was the mysterious caller, so that they might catch him or her.
“Which flower talks the most?” Fritz asked.
“What? I don’t know. Who is this?” Hitler asked.
“Tulips, of course, because they have two lips!” Fritz said, and hung up.
The SS now moved their search team from Frankfurt to Wiesbaden, and delivered the results of the investigation from the other cities. The investigation was now under the control of Major Heinrich Gruber. And they now knew that the caller was moving about the country. He may be in Wiesbaden now, but he would most likely be in another city tomorrow. He ordered the major roads watched, and vehicles searched, even oxcarts.
But although they did leave Wiesbaden the next day, they didn’t take any of the major roads out, as they only went to the neighboring city of Mainz, where they would spend the night in the army barracks there in Gonsenheim, and perform for the soldiers. Otto did just that come nightfall, playing Deutschlandlied, or The Song of the Germans in English. This moving performance of their national anthem was enough to make the soldiers happy. Fritz had to wait until after the show again, but used the phone in the barracks when the sergeant went to the water closet.
“Hello, who is this?!” Hitler yelled.
“Knock, knock.” Fritz answered.
“Who’s there?!” Hitler yelled again, his mustache nearly jumping off of his face.
“Cows go.” said Fritz.
“Very well, cows go who?” Adolph said, thinking to keep him on the line.
“No, silly. Cows go “moo!“.” Fritz said and hung up.
The next day the SS searched the barracks thinking that it might just have been a soldier behind the calls. While this happened, Otto and Fritz went to the Mainz suburb of Bad Kruesnach, and the Faust House, a small inn dedicated to the character created by Goethe. Otto played with the local oompah band playing typical Volkstumiche musik. And of course Fritz found a phone, and Hitler answered.
“What did 0 say to 8?” Fritz asked.
“What?” Hitler said.
“Nice belt!” Fritz answered.
They made it out of the area unmolested as the SS searched the barracks in Bad Kruesnach, and headed northward to Berlin. They checked into their room at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, and Otto prepared for his performance at the Deutsches Theater. Fritz used a phone in the hotel.
“Why couldn’t the pony sing himself a lullaby?” He asked Hitler.
“I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Hitler answered.
“He was a little hoarse.” Fritz said and hung up.
The next day they reached Kiel, where Otto played at the Kiel Theatre. Otto sold his car earlier that day, and purchased the passage on a ship to London, where they then would take another to America. Fritz made a final call, but told no jokes to Hitler.
“I will catch you, whoever you are.” Hitler said to him.
“I don’t think so. You have ruined Germany for me. It is not the land my papa wants me to grow up in anymore. I hope that one day someone stops you, and Germany becomes a nice place again. I’m leaving.” Fritz said, very grown up words at that time.
A few years later during the war, Fritz made a very long distance call, and to his surprise Hitler answered. Fritz couldn’t resist telling another joke.
“Knock, knock.” he said.
“You! Who is this?” Hitler said.
“Americans.” Fritz said.
“Americans who?” Hitler said without thinking.
“Americans who are going to kill you.” Fritz said, and hung up laughing.