Friday, December 4, 2009


Buried deep in the psyche of most U. S. North Americans is the concept of The Road. I don't mean to try to claim road stories just for America: Homer did a pretty good job with The Odyssey and presumably journey tales figure in many of the world's cultures. But in America, The Road is deep and significant. Sometimes, Our Hero is on the road of discovery. He's on the road to find out. But more often than not, road stories are about being pursued. My appreciation of road stories began with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and continued with books like On the Road, but my favorite road tales were quickly dominated by film. The list of road films is long and illustrious: It Happened One Night, Five Easy Pieces*, Rain Man, The Get Away, Thelma and Louise. I saw so many of these films growing up, I think I took it for granted that ultimately we'd all be on the run one time or another. It wasn't a future that I found entirely unappealing.

Germans love road films too, as far as I can tell, and more than one German film director has abandoned his or her Heimat and landed in Hollywood to make one. Some even stay at home and give it a try. I'm thinking here about Adolf Winkelmann and his trilogy of Ruhrgebiet cult films. Die Abfahrer is a classic road movie and has a small but dedicated following. But the truth is, being on the run in Deutschland is a far cry from floating down the mighty Mississippi on a raft. As two escapees from the JVA Aachen demonstrated this past week.

The JVA is a high security prison but in spite in that, two Kumpels, Michael Heckhoff and Peter Paul Michalski, both of whom were sentenced to life without parole, walked out last week and held most of North Rhine/Westphalen in suspense for several days as they eluded capture. If they had broken out of Leavenworth, Folsom or Angola, their plan would have been clear: steal a car and make a run for the Mexican border. Along the way there would have been plenty of opportunities for mayhem, high speed chases, and a killer sound track. Mexico is too far away to be a reasonable escape plan for German escapees, but they might at least have lit out for Italy, Spain or Turkey. Instead they called a taxi after breaking out and decided to go to Mulheim. "We're going on the assumption that the presence of a taxi waiting outside the prison was not a coincidence." said the State Attorney General Robert Deller. That would be my guess too.

I would also guess that these two convicts had never seen a good road picture like Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry or even The Straight Story. If they had, things might have turned out differently. As is was, the cops just went to Mulheim, former home of Heckhoff, and waited. No chase, no wrecked police cars, no nothing. Hollywood isn't likely to be negotiating for the rights to this story.

But the drama wasn't over yet. The pair split up in Kettwig and the second man, Michalski, was now "on the lam." If it were a decent screen play, he would have crossed the Dutch border on a Rhine river barge, made it to Rotterdam, and joined a swarthy crew bound for Honduras. This guy decided to go to Bielefeld. No sense of adventure. The cops picked him up by homing in on his Handy (mobile phone) and when they nabbed him, he was riding a stolen bike in a downpour. The cops took him into custody and his comment was, "I'm glad it's all over..." Yeah, I'd be glad it was over too if I was puffing along a busy highway shoulder with trucks splashing dirty water up on me.

What these guys really needed, was a 57 Chevy and four or five hundred miles of Route 66 to play around with. I'm glad the two of them are back in the slammer where they belong, but in a way, it's sad. I enjoy living in Germany and hope to be back there soon, but if I'm ever on the run, be it on a bike, motorcycle, Dodge Charger or even a rider mower, I'll want to do it in America where these things are properly understood.

* While doing the research for this post, I found some amazing stuff I can't help but share. Here's the Diner Scene from Five Easy Pieces.

And click here for a news report on Welt TV


Shawn B. said...

awesome blog Chris!

Shawn :]

Christopher T. Terry said...

this is exactly the kind of unrestrained praise we like to see here in the "Links" section of Forschungsjahr. Keep up the good work and my best Christmas wishes to you and Emily.


Anonymous said...

>but if I'm ever on the run,..
>I'll want to do it in America where these things are properly understood.

1988 Geiseldrama Gladbeck
was creepy (even for American standards I guess)
(some pictures are sad/terrible)

PS. I like your blog very much.

Christopher T. Terry said...

I printed the article from the Berliner Morgenpost and read it over the weekend. It was fascinating. Many thanks for the link,