A 1984 Exception
Katherine Iwatiw

I was a fresh-faced American soldier with a pocketful of Deutsche Marks out for a night in Nuremburg, Germany. When the city center’s bar and dance hall announced, ‘last call,’ the trains and buses had shut down. I hadn’t kept enough marks for a taxi back to my post, but I had danced with a cute American soldier who mentioned a hotel down the street for U.S. military personnel.

Outside the closed bar and dance hall, I spotted my friend.

“Hello, soldier,” I said. “Walk with me to the government hotel.”

He held my hand as we drifted down the empty cobblestoned street. He joked; I laughed, and there we stood in front of the hotel. Flood lamps illuminated the U.S. and West German flags mounted above the hotel’s first floor. The facade looked pre-World War II and war-spared with no visible bullet holes.

My friend held open the large wooden door inlaid with antique glass while I sashayed through, allowing myself a Mae West moment.

He asked for a room from the clerk, a middle-aged German man who spoke impeccable English. After my friend handed over his ID card, I asked for a room. The clerk pointed to a sign in German and English: “Keine Frauen erlaubt. No women allowed.”

Holding up my green American military ID card, I said, “I am not a woman. I am an American soldier.”

The man turned the signboard around, “Keine Ausnahmen. No Exceptions.”

Looking around the lobby, I spotted a couch in a far corner.

“I’m going to lie down on the couch over there. I don’t give a f_ _k what you boys decide to do.”

It was a two-cushion couch about five feet long, enough for all of me. I wrapped my black Army trench coat around me and allowed my body to sink into a respectful coexistence with every lump, bump and bug living in the couch. I closed my eyes and focused on a mechanical hum coming from a distant room. I listened until I heard nothing more.

“Wake up. The clerk wants to see your ID.”

I pushed myself to a seated position and coordinated my eye-blinking and breathing patterns until I was awake.

“Hurry or he’ll change his mind.”

I stood up and adjusted my clothes. I pulled my card from my pants pocket and hastened to the counter.

“Thank you, Fräulein,” he said as I handed my card to him, “Please sign here.”

With squinting eyes, he inspected both sides of my card and then made copies front and back using a noisy 1970s copier.

My friend and I rented one room with two twin beds. I intercepted the key as it was being handed over.

“I’ll take this,” I announced.

Walking away, I allowed myself a smile. No exceptions some other night.