It was quiet in barracks 2. Most of the men huddled on their bunks, rereading letters from home, reading some book from the camp-library, and some were talking. Quietly.

Spirits were dejected today. For it was Christmas Eve. Another Christmas away from home. Yet another Christmas without peace on earth. And the atmosphere hadn't changed for the better after the fierce argument Newkirk and LeBeau had had this morning about what food to prepare for their Christmas dinner tomorrow.

Kinch sat at the table, fidgeting with a walkie-talkie that didn't quite work as it should. Newkirk and LeBeau were on either side of him, each pretending to be engrossed in their private game of solitaire, but occasionally glaring at the other across the table. Obviously they were still sulking.

Young Carter, who hated arguments of any kind, had quietly retreated to his bunk with Hasenpfeffer in his arms. And Hogan silently paced between the door and the opposite bunk, pondering a double problem.

The first problem was the emergency tunnel. It had collapsed for at least a few meters right near the end. And not only had he to think of an excuse to dispose of the sand before they could even begin to excavate, but it also prevented them from coming and going as they pleased.

Which was the cause of the other problem he had to solve: how to pick up a microfilm with vitally important military information from town. London was sending a plane tomorrow evening to pick it up, together with Captain Metcalfe, a downed flier who had been hiding in their downstairs apartment for a few days now. But what was the use of sending a plane, when there was no microfilm?

"Boy, I wish I could go home. If only for Christmas," Carter sighed aloud to no one in particular – perhaps he even said it to Hasenpfeffer.

Newkirk looked up from his cards. "Yeah. That'd be neat."

"My Dad and I used to go out into the woods on Christmas Eve, and come back with the biggest Christmas-tree we could find," Carter mused, now more directed towards Newkirk. "He always had to cut off quite a bit before it even fitted into the living-room. And then we'd decorate it of course. And my Dad always made sure he had two buckets full of water at hand when my Mum finally lighted the candles. 'Just in case the tree'd catch fire,' he'd say. When I got older, I more and more got the impression he was left a bit disappointed every year that it never did catch fire. I suppose he dreamt of being a hero and saving his family." He smiled at the memory.

"Perhaps we can have a Christmas-tree here," LeBeau suggested.

Newkirk ignored him, lost as he was in his own memories. "Me mates and I used to go out caroling every year. You know, go around town singing Christmas carols. And people would open their window and shower us with candy and money." He sighed. "We liked the money best of course."

Hogan suddenly turned around to him and snapped his fingers. "That's it! We'll go caroling! Start practising, guys; I'll go talk to Klink."

He was out of the door before anyone had a chance to ask what he meant.

xxx

"Kommandant," Hogan popped in his head in the office after a quick rapping on the door, "can I see you for a minute?"

"Go away, Hogan. Can't you see that I'm busy?"

"Yes sir, but this won't take a moment. If you agree, that is."

Klink looked up from his paperwork. "Agree? Probably not. Dismissed!"

Instead, Hogan came in. "But sir, it's Christmas!"

"Not yet."

"Allright, so tomorrow it's Christmas. But that's what I want to talk to you about."

"About Christmas?"

"Yes sir." Hogan pulled a pathetic face. "It's the most difficult time of the year for any prisoner, Kommandant. Thoughts of home, a festive Christmas-tree, a delicious home-cooked meal, stockings full of presents..." He let his voice trail off for a moment, before continuing: "I've noticed several of my men suffering from a severe case of homesickness these days, sir. And you know what that means, don't you?"

Klink arched an eyebrow. "You mean they will try to escape? Nonsense. No one escapes from Stalag 13."

Hogan let out a deep sigh. "They know that, sir. And besides, if they'd escape now, they wouldn't make it home for Christmas anyway." He cleared his throat, as if his emotions were almost getting the better of him. "But you have such a big heart, Kommandant" – Klink managed to look flattered and suspicious at the same time – "that I dare to ask you for a huge Christmas-favour. Sir, let the boys celebrate Christmas the way they are used to at home? Please, kind sir?"

Klink finally put down his pencil and folded his arms over his chest. "The way they are used to, eh? A delicious home-cooked meal, a Christmas-tree, presents..." He threw up his arms in the air. "Why not let Schultz play Father Christmas?"

"That would be great, too, sir! But what I actually wanted to ask was..."

"... if I would be so good to organize a flying sleigh with silver bells. Forget it, Hogan. Dismissed."

Hogan looked genuinely hurt. "You misjudge me, sir. All I wanted to ask was your permission for us to go caroling!"

"Caroling?"

Hogan wasn't quite sure whether Klink was just astounded by the request, or that he wasn't familiar with the concept of caroling. He decided for the latter. "Yes sir, caroling. Go around from house to house singing Christmas-songs. To bring the peace of Christmas in every house in the neighbourhood. Back home it's the highlight of Christmas."

Eh... In England, that is. But Klink probably didn't know the difference between England and the U.S. anyway.

Klink sighed. "Colonel Hogan, you don't need my permission to go around the camp singing Christmas-songs. Go ahead; be my guest."

"Oh, not just the camp, sir! I was hoping you'd let us go into town, to bring the peace of Christmas to the good people of Hamelburg as well!"

Klink slapped his desk. "Hogan, are you out of your mind?! You don't readily believe that I'd let a bunch of prisoners go to town to sing Christmas-songs, do you? It's just another desperate attempt to escape!"

Hogan straightened with indignation. "You have my word as an officer and a gentleman, Kommandant: no escape!"

"Hmpf. Then it's monkey business you're up to."

"No monkey business either. Face it, Kommandant." Hogan leaned over the desk. "Sooner or later this war is going to end, right?"

Klink nodded. "I hope so, yes."

"Right. And no matter who wins, we'll all have to be friends again one day. So why not stretch out that hand of friendship between the Allies and the Germans now? It might make things easier after the war. They used to call a temporary truce on Christmas Eve during earlier wars. Can't we have a little truce here in Hamelburg – if only for tonight? After all, it is Christmas..."

Klink hesitated. "A truce? And then you want to go... 'caroling'?"

"Not just us, sir! We were hoping some of the guards might join us. And you, perhaps. Wouldn't that be the ultimate sign of peace in our days: Germans and Allies singing Christmas carols together?"

Klink scowled. "You didn't really think that I was going to let you go 'caroling' in town without sending any guards with you, did you?"

"Then you approve, sir?"

"Yes, yes, I approve. But only because it's Christmas! I'll have Schultz pick a couple of guards to accompany you."

"But they can't just accompany us; they'll have to sing along, too! How about 'Silent Night' in German?"

"If you go around caroling in town tonight, it won't be much of a 'silent night'," Klink muttered.

Hogan grinned, but ignored the probably truthful remark. "So – if you could have those guards report to barracks 2 to come and practise for tonight?"

Klink glared at him. "Now who is running this camp here: you or me? Don't push your luck, Colonel Hogan. Now out! I have work to do. And if there is any attempt to escape connected with that ´caroling´ of yours, I'll order those guards to shoot. To kill!"

A grin from Hogan. "Right, sir. That's the Christmas spirit."

He was already out of the office before he heard an outraged Klink yelling: "Hogannnn!!"

xxx

It was about half an hour later when Schultz, followed by Langenscheidt and Mittendorfer, entered the barracks. Without knocking. And just in time to see Kinch's bunk lowering over the tunnel's trapdoor, after the black sergeant had finished sending the caroling plan to Little Red Ridinghood in Hamelburg.

Astonished, Schultz began to point at the incriminating bunk. "What what what...?"

"What, Schultz?" Kinch asked placidly as he sat down at the table with the others.

"I... I thought I saw..." He gulped. "Nothing!"

Langenscheidt peeped around Schultz's bulky figure. "I didn't see anything, sergeant. Was there something to see?"

"Nothing, corporal," Hogan said quickly.

"Nothing!" Schultz repeated with emphasis.

Now Mittendorfer's head appeared on Schultz's other side. "Did I miss something?"

"Nothing!" everybody answered with a laugh underneath.

"Colonel Hogan," Schultz then began to explain, "Colonel Klink told us to come and practise Christmas-songs with you."

"Ah, good. Take a seat, gentlemen! We were just discussing what we were going to sing."

"I would like it if we could sing 'Stille Nacht'. That is my favourite Christmas-song," Schultz puffed as he lowered himself on one of the stools by the table.

"One of mine, too," Kinch said. "Perhaps we could sing it in three different languages? That is: Louis, do they have a 'Stille Nacht' in France as well?"

LeBeau nodded. "But I'd prefer some of the more traditional French ones. Like 'Les anges dans nos campagnes', or 'Il est né le divine enfant'."

Hogan refilled his coffee cup. "How about we each pick a favourite, preferably one that most of us know? I'd say we'd need about ten songs, so..."

"More like twenty, twenty-five, sir," Newkirk corrected him. "Back in London we..."

"I'm sorry, Newkirk, but we're not in London. And besides, we only got a couple of hours to practise."

That was right. And if they had to master songs in three different languages, they'd better get started.

"How about 'Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer'?" Carter suggested.

xxx

At seven o'clock the three guards escorted the five prisoners to the truck waiting near the gates. Even Kommandant Klink hurried over when he saw the little procession march across the compound.

"Schultz!"

"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant?"

"Make sure to bring back the prisoners no later than nine o'clock. Understood?"

"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant."

Hogan turned and asked innocently: "A.m. or p.m., sir?"

Klink fumed. "P.m. of course. Tonight! And where is your gun? Schultz!"

"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant?"

"Where is your gun? Dummkopf! How do you intend to keep the prisoners in line if you don't even have a gun?!"

Schultz looked apologetic. "I left it in the guard's quarters, Kommandant. I thought, since we are going on a mission of peace..."

"Peace or no peace, there is still a war on, sergeant. Langenscheidt, go and get three rifles. And make sure they are loaded!"

Langenscheidt jumped to a salute and stammered: "J... jawohl, Herr Kommandant!"

"It's going to be a bloody case of ´sing or I'll shoot!´" Newkirk commented as Langenscheidt stumbled hurriedly away.

But finally, they were ready to leave for town.

"When we'll come back, we'll come and sing for you," Hogan promised the Kommandant.

Klink scowled, and shook his fist. "You'd better come back! Or else...!"

xxx

Corporal Mittendorfer parked the camp truck just off the Wilhelmsplatz, in the centre of Hamelburg.

A light, wet snow had started to fall, turning the town into one of those charming winter-wonderland scenes one sees on Christmas-cards all over the world.

"Okay, let's go 'caroling'," Schultz announced. "But please, Colonel Hogan: no monkey business this time. It would be worth my life...!"

"No monkey business, Schultz. It's Christmas," Hogan agreed.

"So where do we start?" Carter asked. "Here at the Wilhelmsplatz?"

"Seems like a good idea," Newkirk agreed. "There's lots of people around. No use performing without a public."

They walked to the centre of the square, with the people nervously making way for those men in their worn out foreign uniforms. But the little choir assembled, and with Hogan conducting they started off with the comforting and well-known ´Silent Night´.

People stood still and listened. And watched. And some daring ones hesitantly joined in with the German text.

Hogan watched the men as he conducted them into The Little Drummerboy. LeBeau, solemn and grave. Schultz, happy as a giant larker. Carter, with his eyes shining with excitement. Kinch, imperturbable as ever. Langenscheidt, with cheeks blushing with embarrassment. Newkirk, faking indifference but with a definite glitter in his eyes. And Mittendorfer with so much devotion that he resembled a retired Vienna Choirboy.

'Oh Come All Ye Faithful', 'Les anges dans nos campagnes', 'Good King Wenceslas', 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'... The people started applauding after every new song, and more and more Hamelburghians joined in when they sang 'O Tannenbaum'. And when they finally finished their little concert with 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', lots of people dug in their purse or their shopping-bags and showered them with some candy, or a few coins.

"Danke. Vielen Dank," Hogan smiled. "Frohe Weihnachten to all of you!" And turning to his men: "Come on, guys. On to our next stop."

Newkirk picked up the last pfennig and said: "This wasn't bad at all. Perhaps the Germans are a civilized people after all."

Hogan led the way into the Hauptstraße, and in front of the church they held another little concert. He then continued to pick their route and the places for their concerts apparently at random. But in fact he knew exactly where he was going: Richterstraße 18.

Or so he thought...

"Halt! Was ist hier los? A secret gazzering?"

Major Hochstetter.

The creepy Gestapo-major approached the little singing-group, and the dozen or so people from Hamelburg who had joined their little choir since they left the Wilhelmsplatz stealthily moved away. Even Langenscheidt and Mittendorfer seemed to try and hide behind Schultz's broad back.

"Good evening, major," Hogan greeted him in his usual friendly tone bordering on insolence. "Would you care to join us for a little Christmas-singing? Are you tenor or bass?"

Hochstetter merely glared at him before turning to a trembling Schultz. "Sergeant, was is zis man doing hier?"

Schultz gulped. "I b-b-beg your p-p-pardon, Herr m-major..."

"We're singing," Hogan helped him out.

"Singing? Paah! Spying!" He spat in the snow. "Sergeant, take zis man back to ze camp and zrow him in ze cooler! And his accomplices, too!"

"But major!" Hogan intervened. "Why don't you come and join us for our last little concert? To see with your own eyes that we're just singing; no funny business at all! We have to head back to camp soon anyway. Colonel Klink wants us back by nine p.m., and if we are late, it sure is going to be a very nasty Christmas for us."

"Yeah, come on, major. One more concert won't hurt," Carter chimed in.

"If zat fool Klink wants you back by nine o'clock, zen you better leave now! He should never have let you leave ze camp in ze first place!"

"Eh... major Hochstetter?" came a timid voice from behind Schultz's back.

"What!" the Gestapo-major growled as everyone turned to look at the source of the intervention.

Young Corporal Langenscheidt now blushed to the roots of his hair, evidently shocked by his own bravery. Clearly he hardly dared to lift his eyes to face anyone now – least of all the seething Gestapo major. "I eh... I was... I was hoping we c... could do one more c-co... concert. Y... you s-see, my eh... my g-girl-friend lives here. J-just d-d-down this str... street." He pointed down the Richterstraße. "It would b... be nice to... to bring her a s-s-serenade..."

"Paah! Girl-friends, love... Foolishness!"

But Schultz turned to his subordinate and asked with friendly curiosity: "I didn't know you had a girl-friend in town, Karl?"

Langenscheidt smiled bashfully. "Well, she is... she is not really m... my girl-friend. Not yet. But I eh... I like her a lot. She is... very pretty."

"Okay, one more concert for the corporal's girl-friend then," Hogan decided. At least it was in the right street; hopefully not too far from nr. 18. "And after that we'll go back to camp. Major, will you join us?"

"Paah!"

"Fine. Then you can come along if you like, to convince yourself that we are just singing. Corporal, where do we go?"

Langenscheidt hesitantly stepped up beside the enemy officer. "In here. Richterstraße 18."

Hogan could only just keep himself from casting a surprised glance at the young guard. Was it coincidence? Could their underground contact Little Red Ridinghood be the same girl as the one this clumsy corporal was interested in? He wondered if the girl was aware of Langenscheidt's interest...

"Right, let's go then," he said. "Before the good major changes his mind."

Hochstetter fumed. "I did not change my mind! It was he who...!" He pointed at a suddenly paling Langenscheidt.

"Yeah, yeah," Hogan soothed. "One more concert, and we'll go back to camp. Are you coming along, major? Or...?"

Major Hochstetter growled. "I'd better. Wiz you around, zere is always trouble."

So they marched down the street to nr. 18, where they regrouped their little choir. Hogan placed himself in front of them, and started conducting them in 'O Tannenbaum'. But they had only gotten about three lines down the song when major Hochstetter shrieked: "Stop!!"

The choir was quiet in a flash.

"Now what, major?" Hogan asked annoyed as major Hochstetter stormed up to him.

"I hereby arrest you, Colonel Hogan! You are passing on a secret message wiz zose handsigns of yours!"

Hogan sighed. "Major Hochstetter, I'm conducting the choir. Have you ever seen a choir without a director?"

"I don't usually watch choirs," major Hochstetter confessed suspiciously. "So zis waving of yours has somezing to do wiz ze singing?"

"Yes. I'm glad your understanding of music is developing so quickly. Now can we please carry on?"

A grunt from Hochstetter, and they started again with 'O Tannenbaum'.

Soon a window on the first floor opened and a pretty young lady leaned out. "Bitte, singen Sie weiter!" she asked when the song was finished. "Ich mag Weihnachtsmusik so gern!"

So they continued with their repertoire, getting applause after every song, not only from the young lady, but also from her neighbours.

"I have a request to make," she said in the end. "I have made toffee this afternoon. If I reward you with some home-made toffee, could you sing 'Stille Nacht' for me, bitte?"

Stille Nacht. The password. So Langenscheidt was indeed in love with their contact Little Red Ridinghood, Hogan mused. Well, he had to give the clumsy corporal credit for one thing: he sure had taste. The Little Blond Ridinghood was a real looker!

"Of course, Fräulein," he told her in the meantime. "We'd be delighted!" And immediately he signalled for the men to start singing 'Stille Nacht'.

Little Red Ridinghood listened without moving a muscle. "Beautiful," she whispered in the end, just loud enough for the men to hear. And they all saw her brush away a tear. "Vielen Dank, meine Herren. And now if you wait just a moment..."

She was back within a minute, with a bowl filled with paper-wrapped goodies. "Vielen Dank! Und frohe Weihnachten!" she called as she showered them with the candy.

Hogan cursed under his breath as he dived down in the snow with his men to grab as many toffees as he could. Didn't Ridinghood have eyes in her head?! There were three guards with them, plus a Gestapo-major, all crawling in the snow now to get hold of as much candy as they possibly could! Chances were hardly over fifty-fifty that the microfilm would fall into the right hands! Stupid girl...

When everyone in the end stood on his feet again, Little Red Ridinghood called smiling from the window. "I have one left. In the shape of Father Christmas. I think that one should be for the director!" Hogan let out a sigh of relief as she winked and threw down the wrapped 'candy' in a nice curve towards him.

But unfortunately it was a little off course, and it went more in Carter's direction.

And what happened next, happened so quickly that not even Newkirk's trained magician's eyes could follow everything.

Peering up against the steadily falling wet snowflakes, Carter reached out to catch the special 'candy' coming at him. But before he caught it, suddenly major Hochstetter jumped at him, growling: "Give zat to me!"

A startled cry from the window as Carter missed, and whether Hochstetter did catch it or not was a mystery, for the next thing everyone knew both the major and Carter lay sprawling in the snow, with Langenscheidt on top of them. And the special 'candy' was nowhere to be seen.

Hochstetter practically spat fire as everybody struggled to help the three men to their feet. Langenscheidt kept stammering: "V-v-verzeihung, Herr Major... I j-j-just s-s-slipped! B-b-bitte, Herr Major, V-v-verzeihung!" It did little to appease the ranting major.

"I knew zere was somezing fishy going on! Now who has zis special candy!" Hochstetter roared. "You?" in Carter's face.

Carter blinked. "N... no, sir. You pushed me away before I caught it."

"I believe this is it," Langenscheidt piped up, and showed them a flattened orange paper-wrap with toffee peeping out from all sides. He pulled a sad puppy-face. "I fell on it."

Hogan closed his eyes as Hochstetter snatched it from the guard's hand. "Paah! You fool!" He glared around. "Zis toffee is property of ze Zird Reich! You will all hand it in to me at once. Now!"

"But that's not fair! You didn't sing for it; we did!" Carter protested.

"I said hand it in to me! Now!"

Slowly, one by one, they started emptying their pockets and handed the coins and the candy they had gotten to the seething Hochstetter. Hogan was the first to hand over his candy – after all, there was no chance that he'd have the special one.

But Schultz had a better idea: "Major Hochstetter, I am as much part of the Third Reich as you are. And so are my corporals. So we don't have to hand over our candy to you, right?"

"Paah! Allright, keep it to stuff your face even more zen. You are no use to ze Zird Reich anyway; wiz or wizzout toffee. But zese prisoners are not supposed to have German money! Or eat candy zat belongs to Germany!"

Kinch edged over to Hogan. "Sir, I'm pretty sure that was not the right candy Langenscheidt gave to Hochstetter. It was wrapped in dark paper – blue or green. Hard to see by the light of a lantern. But definitely not orange."

Hogan looked gratefully at his sergeant. "You mean it's...?" he whispered back.

"Someone else has it. And by the looks of it, I don't think it's Hochstetter."

Now the two of them paid close attention to everything the men willy-nilly gave to Hochstetter. And Hochstetter was thorough: after having stuffed the candy and coins in his many pockets, he searched each of the men for any candy they might have hidden on them. But nothing slightly bigger wrapped in dark paper appeared. What on earth had happened to that special 'candy' when Langenscheidt accidentally had bumped into Hochstetter and Carter?!

Or... accidentally?! If Carter didn't have it, and Hochstetter didn't have it... then there was but one choice. Could it be that Corporal Langenscheidt – for some strange reason of his own – had embezzled it?! And if so, why would he lie about it? Or... had he suspected something, and had he interfered on purpose?! Langenscheidt?!?

He saw Kinch watching Langenscheidt, too. Schultz and Mittendorfer were happily munching on their candy, but Langenscheidt was standing in the back, gazing up at the window where his lady-love Little Red Ridinghood was anxiously watching the confusion on the pavement.

Anxiously? Well, not anxiously enough to deny her admirer a smile as he blushingly saluted her. Apparently she was indeed aware of his interest in her. Foolish girl... Fouling up the entire mission for puppy-love from a clumsy corporal...

Suddenly he felt Kinch's hand on his arm. "I think Langenscheidt might have it, sir," he whispered barely audible. "Seems to me he is thanking the lady."

Hogan groaned. "I can imagine him wanting a special keepsake from his lady-love. But does it have to be a microfilm??" He sighed. "But I agree he's our only bet. Hochstetter wouldn't be so furious if he had gotten hold of it right away. And Carter would definitely look more uncomfortable in the present circumstances if indeed he had managed to catch it. And no one else got even close to catching it. Tell Newkirk to pick Langenscheidt's pockets as soon as he can."

Kinch nodded, and moved over to Newkirk.

The prisoners were rather glum when they started their way back to the truck at the Wilhelmsplatz. No microfilm, no money... not even some candy! While that detestable major Hochstetter was leading the way, his pockets bulging with undeserved candy...

And back at the truck, Hochstetter snarled: "And now back to ze camp and stay zere! All of you!"

Newkirk made sure he got in right after Langenscheidt, and before Hogan in pleasant tones had wished the major a merry Christmas ("Paah!" was all the good major replied to that), the special 'candy' had already changed pockets.

Newkirk grinned at Hogan as he sat down. "That was something for the books, colonel! A fruitful evening. Just like back home!"

And Hogan returned the grin. He understood.

xxx

It was five minutes to nine when the truck turned into the camp.

"Just in time for roll-call," Schultz observed happily. "You may as well line up outside the barracks right away, Colonel Hogan."

"Sure, Schultz."

Klink came out of his office at nine sharp as usual, and seemed surprised that the caroling prisoners and guards had actually returned. And on time, too!

"Repooort!"

Schultz saluted happily, and munched: "All present and accounted for, Herr Kommandant."

Klink shook his iron fist. "Don't talk with your mouth full." And he turned on his heel.

"Eh, Kommandant?" Hogan called after him.

Klink turned back to him. "Yes, Colonel Hogan?"

"What time shall we come caroling for you, sir? We thought midnight might be an appropriate time for our Kommandant."

Klink came back to him with anger written over his entire posture. "I do not want you caroling around the camp at midnight. Understood?"

"How about one o'clock then?"

"No!

"Two o'clock? Three?"

"No! I do not want you caroling around this camp at all!"

Hogan's face was a picture of killed innocence. "But sir, you said yourself that we didn't even need your permission to go around the camp singing Christmas carols!"

"In daytime, yes! But not after lights out!" Klink huffed. "Good night, Hogan!"

Hogan sighed as he saw the Kommandant disappear into his office. "Well, no 'Silent Night' for you then..."

And he, too, slowly turned towards his barracks. With still two problems to ponder about.

One was an old problem: how to clear out the emergency tunnel.

The other however was a new one. And perhaps a more pressing one: what on earth was the role Langenscheidt had played in tonight's events?

Was he just a love-struck clumsy corporal?

Or had he - on purpose? and if so: on what purpose? - consciously saved the precious microfilm out of Hochstetter´s hands?

Colonel Hogan sighed. It wouldn't be much of a silent night for him either...

.

The End