I do not own any of the characters from the series Hogan's Heroes

Even the snow wasn't what it used to be. There was no magic in it any more: no dancing glitter of reflected moonlight, no soft feathery blurring of the landscape, no tantalising crispness underfoot. The snow, like everything else since this miserable war had started, was just another trial to be endured somehow; a cold, wet, dirty mess that slowed one's steps and chilled one's heart. And Hilda's heart was already feeling well chilled, as the year ran towards its last days with no prospect of an end to hostilities.

She had paused on her way through the crowded streets of Hammelburg, gazing at the display of Christmas decorations for sale in one of the little shops on Auguststraße. Like everything else, they had changed in recent years. The hand-blown glass birds and pine cones she remembered from her childhood weren't part of the new world order; little glass swastikas and blood-red baubles emblazoned with the Reichsadler adorned the Christmas trees of the Third Reich.

It was just one more reason for her to feel melancholy about the season.

As she turned away, a pedestrian who was hurrying past ran into her. He staggered, recovered with a stammered apology, and stooped to pick up Hilda's handbag, which had fallen to the pavement. He was enveloped in the heavy grey topcoat of the Luftwaffe, and as he straightened up she recognised the indecisive, irregular features of Corporal Langenscheidt.

Hilda didn't know him well, although he had been assigned to Stalag 13 before she came to work there as secretary to the Kommandant. She saw him nearly every day, but never really talked to him. Now here he was, holding the bag out to her, before he realised it was slightly muddy, and attempted to brush the dirt off. Even by the yellowish light from the shop window, she could tell he was blushing, and she felt a little sorry for the poor man. He was unusually timid, for a prison guard; the Allied prisoners ran rings around him.

"It's alright, Corporal," she said, gently removing the bag from his hands. "It was my fault. I should have seen you."

"No, really, Fräulein, I wasn't watching where I was..." He floundered into silence, looking around for inspiration. The gaudy, sinister decorations in the window caught his eye. "Were you shopping for Christmas?" he asked.

"Just looking," replied Hilda quickly. Not to her closest friend would she dare admit how much those abominations repelled her. If such information got back to the Kommandant - or to the Gestapo - things could become very unpleasant.

She shivered at the idea, and Langenscheidt noticed. "You are cold, Fräulein?"

"Just a little," said Hilda. It was true; the little green coat she was wearing had never really been suitable for winter. But as the war dragged on, replacing worn-out clothes got more and more difficult. She was clever with a needle; nobody would have suspected how many hours she spent repairing and rejuvenating garments that many girls would have considered hopeless, in order to have something presentable to wear. But her heavy coat had finally passed beyond any hope of further use, and she'd had to resort to this relic from her last year at school.

Langenscheidt saw nothing wrong about the coat. He wasn't au fait with the conventions of women's fashion, but he thought she looked pretty in that shade of green. Inasmuch as he gave it any thought at all, it seemed to him most colours and styles suited the Kommandant's secretary.

"Please, allow me, Fräulein," he said, preparing to offer her his own topcoat.

Hilda declined. "You'll catch cold, Corporal. You have a weak chest, you mustn't take chances with it."

It surprised him that she knew about that; but of course, it would be in his records, and she might come across it in the course of her work. It was what had brought him to Stalag 13 in the first place, unfit for more active duties, but not quite unwell enough to avoid military service altogether.

"It's not so bad," he murmured, blushing again. "I've been taking ginger tea, it's getting much better." He hesitated, wondering if he should persist in his offer, unable to come to a decision about it.

Another awkward pause followed.

"I really should go," said Hilda. "I have an early train in the morning."

"Are you going away?" asked Langenscheidt.

"Yes, I'm spending Christmas in Darmstadt, at my grandparents' house. The whole family will be there." They would ask her why she wasn't married yet. They always did. And she could hardly tell them the reason: Because Colonel Hogan won't ask me...

"How about you, Corporal?" she went on quickly. "I saw your furlough request on the Kommandant's desk."

Langenscheidt reddened again, but not from embarrassment. "It was turned down," he admitted after a few moments. "I will be on duty."

"Oh, that's a shame," said Hilda.

He didn't tell her how depressing he found the thought. Not that he had anywhere else to go, but of all the miserable places to spend Christmas, a prison camp must be one of the worst. He knew the prisoners would make the best of things; they always managed something in the way of a celebration amongst themselves. They might even ask Sergeant Schultz to join them, as he was on quite friendly terms with the men in Barracks 2. Langenscheidt wasn't so lucky. He knew Colonel Hogan and his men regarded him as just another Kraut. For all they knew, he was perfectly committed to the Nazi cause. He might as well be, as long as he didn't have the nerve to make a stand. And he knew he never would, no matter how much the ideology sickened him.

He put it aside; no point in dwelling on it. "Are you going this way? May I walk with you? It's getting late, you oughtn't be out on your own."

Normally Hilda would have dismissed any such presumption without thinking twice, but he had seemed so dejected a moment before that it stirred a touch of pity in her. "I'm only walking as far as the tram stop on Adelsplatz," she said kindly. "I don't want to trouble you."

"It's no trouble, Fräulein. It's on my way." He glanced over his shoulder, and lowered his voice. "Colonel Klink left me to wait with the car, while he has dinner at the Hauserhof. I'm on my way back there now, but he won't need me for at least another hour."

"Unless the waitress slaps him again," added Hilda.

A tiny grin flitted across his face, and was quickly banished. She glanced at him from under her eyelashes, as they made their way through the crowded street towards the corner. This was really rather intriguing; she found herself wondering whether there might be more to Langenscheidt than she had thought.

Automatically, because the pavement was slippery, she put her hand on his arm, and moved a little closer. "You didn't wait with the car?"

Yet again, Langenscheidt blushed. "I've hardly been out of camp for three weeks. I thought, maybe while the Kommandant is occupied, I could look for something to send my sister and her husband."

"You have a sister?"

"We're not close," replied Langenscheidt, and closed his lips firmly. His disagreement with his sister wasn't something he cared to talk about; the details, if they reached the wrong ears, would be enough to get Katrin and her husband arrested, and Karl himself shipped off to the Russian Front, weak chest or no weak chest. But he couldn't let Christmas pass by without some kind of acknowledgement.

"Did you find anything?" asked Hilda.

"No. There's not much that she would like. Even the Christmas cards these days are not...well..." He didn't complete the sentence, and if Hilda knew what it was he meant to say, she wasn't admitting it. The fact was, nothing these days was untainted. Christmas cards - no, Julfest cards - were just another vehicle for political doctrine. Katrin would prefer never to hear from her brother again, rather than receive one of those messages from his hand. And Karl would sooner cut off that hand than sign his name to any such greeting.

The snow started falling again, lightly, just as they reached the corner, and a song began to sing in Hilda's mind, one she'd learned as a small child. Leise rieselt der Schnee, still und starr liegt der See... A moment later she realised that Langenscheidt was humming the same tune under his breath. It was a small thing, but somehow the chill of winter seemed lessened. That was one thing that couldn't be spoiled. Even though the Party had put new words to the most popular Christmas carols, they could never really take them away, not as long as memory kept them safe.

The square looked quite pretty in the snow. On one side, the light shining faintly through the windows of the Hauserhof cast a reddish gleam on the snowflakes as they fell, while next door the Café Mandelbaum was in darkness. A group of people were just leaving the café; two men and a woman.

It was the shorter man who drew both Hilda's and Langenscheidt's attention. His companions were not particularly remarkable, but there were not so many men around of such diminutive stature. Hilda recognised Corporal LeBeau at once, and bit her lip, unsure of what to do. Langenscheidt caught on a few seconds later.

"But...that man is..." He broke off, shocked. He knew the prisoners of Stalag 13 got away with a lot of clandestine activities, but this was going too far. His eyes travelled from LeBeau to the taller man behind him. Colonel Hogan, of course. And the woman - he knew who she was, too. She was a writer, who had made the mistake of writing about something that was not supposed to be made known. Now the Gestapo were searching for her. The whole of Germany was searching for her.

And then, as if things needed to get worse, the door of the Hauserhof flew open, and Kommandant Klink came striding out. He wasn't alone; at his right elbow was the stocky, agitated figure of that Gestapo major they saw so often at camp.

"... I tell you, Major Hochstetter," Klink stuttered, almost unintelligible with the impotent anger of a weak personality, "you have made a mistake. No prisoner has ever escaped from Stalag 13. And as soon as we get back there, I will personally escort you to the barracks, so you can see for yourself that Colonel Hogan is right where he should be."

"And I tell you, Klink, Hogan is in Hammelburg this very minute," snarled Hochstetter. "You can go back to Stalag 13 by yourself, and start packing your winter underwear. You will be needing it where you're going."

The party outside the café were standing very still in the shadows, obviously hoping not to be noticed. LeBeau and the woman were staring at the Kommandant and Hochstetter. Hogan, however, was looking directly at Langenscheidt.

Hilda's fingers closed on his arm. "Corporal..." she whispered.

But Langenscheidt already knew what he had to do. He disengaged her grip, blinked a few stray snowflakes from his eyelashes, and stepped forward. "Herr Kommandant," he said, trying for a military bark, and falling short by several decibels. "Request permission to report, I have just seen a suspicious person. That is to say..." His voice trembled into a stammer as he became the target of two glares, one dark and threatening, the other pallidly outraged. He stalled, swallowed and forced himself to continue. "I have to report...I think it might have been...at least, it looked like..."

"Hogan!" The name broke from Hochstetter's lips with a kind of savage glee. "Where?"

"He..." Langenscheidt hesitated, knowing there was no turning back once he answered. Then he raised his hand, and pointed back the way he had come. "I passed him on Auguststraße. He was headed towards the Hofbrau. But I can't say it was definitely..."

"I saw him, too," put in Hilda, from behind. "But I can't be certain, either."

Hochstetter was too elated to pay any heed to the disclaimer. "I've got him!" he crowed. "Klink, you will see." He headed off, almost at a run.

"Corporal Langenscheidt, I told you to wait with the car," grumbled Klink. "Obviously you can't be trusted with such complicated instructions. So we'll find something simpler for you - like walking night patrol. Permanently."

"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant," said Langenscheidt miserably.

"Understand this, Corporal..." Klink went on, but the diatribe was interrupted by a shrill bellow from the distance:


The Kommandant's voice leapt a full ninth in response. "Coming, Major Hochstetter. Langenscheidt, follow me - you can manage that, can't you?"

Before Langenscheidt could respond, Hilda took a hand. "Please, Kommandant, I'm a little nervous. Couldn't the corporal stay with me?"

Klink looked from her to Langenscheidt. "And leave Major Hochstetter with no back-up? Certainly not. It would be much better if I stayed..."

"Klink!" This time the shriek of rage was several steps beyond feral. Klink's whole face seemed to drop by two inches.

"Langenscheidt," he muttered, "stay and look after Fräulein Hilda." He scuttled off after Hochstetter.

Only when he was out of sight did Langenscheidt risk a glance at the coffee house. They were gone; Hogan, LeBeau and the woman had slipped away in the other direction while Klink and Hochstetter were distracted. Only Hilda remained, looking at him with a slowly dawning smile. Not just the conventional secretarial smile, either; this was a look of warmth, friendship and true respect. Nobody had ever looked at him like that before.

"Corporal," she said, "I think perhaps I won't go to Darmstadt for Christmas after all. If you're going to be on night patrol, someone should be around to make you some ginger tea afterwards."

Langenscheidt blushed again. "It's very cold on the tram," he said bashfully. "I don't think the Kommandant will need his car for a while. Perhaps..." He broke off, embarrassed.

But Hilda understood, and her eyes danced as she replied. "That would be very kind of you, Corporal."

She looked around at the square, at the glow from the windows of the hotel falling on the soft fall of new snow. Nothing much had changed; yet somehow everything seemed different. And Langenscheidt, as he opened the door of the car for her, looked as if he had just found something he didn't even know he possessed.

The car pulled away, and left the square; and soon all traces of its presence were hidden beneath the pristine whiteness of the new snow.

Afterword: The material relating to Julfest celebrations under the Third Reich was gleaned from Fortean Times 218 (January 2007): "How the Nazis Stole Christmas: A seasonal tale of politics, propaganda and paganism in Hitler's Third Reich", by David Sutton. A number of other articles on the same subject are available online.