The Blue Max

The Blue Max, and for those who occupy it on a daily basis is an establishment of assisted living – a peaceful setting isolated from the maddening crowd of philistines, sports fans, republicans and tea bag morons, women in sweatpants, old men in spandex, or who wear plaid pants and long-sleeve, button down shirts with Notre Dame logos on the pockets, young men in hoodies or wearing baseball caps with their pants worn down at the crack of their ass, young women wearing more makeup than a Japanese Geisha, people who think there is such a thing as a “Vodka Martini”, Catholic priests, middle-aged men who drive Mazda Miatas, thirty-something “young professionals” who order such chemical experiments as “Beergaritas”, “Appletinis”, “Irish Car Bombs” and the like, city council members, aldermen, mayors, insurance salesmen, “recovering” alcoholics who only drink club soda with a lime, people who drive Acuras, and the always forgettable but omnipresent “suburbanites”, who drop in for a glass of white wine while taking a break from antique shopping – not to mention the “sportsmen” – hunters, fishermen, hikers, bicyclists and marathon runners.

The Blue Max sits on a corner facing Main Street in St. Sebastian. The building was built in 1908, and has had many different identities – The Slaughterhouse, The Pub, The Back of the Yards, Pulaski’s Irish Pub, The Spot, The Brown Derby, and MaryAnn’s Safari Cruiser.

From the beginning, The Blue Max was meant to be a bar for serious people, thinking serious thoughts, and drinking serious amounts of alcohol. No televisions – and only a jukebox controlled by the wishes of the regulars – the public not allowed to use it.

When you first walk in to The Blue Max, you are temporarily rendered sightless, coming from the bright outdoors into the deep darkness of the bar. You also notice that the bar is kept at a very low temperature – even in the winter. As your eyes adjust to the light, you see on the left side of the room a magnificent mahogany bar. Over forty feet in length, it has a fifteen-foot high back, divided by three huge, ancient mirrors. Above these mirrors are stained-glass windows that run the length of the room. Facing west, these windows provide a cathedral-like glow in the late afternoons, as the sun begins to set. In fact, all of the windows in The Blue Max are stained-glass, and offer a diffused, tinted view of the outside world.

The Blue Max was created to be a sanctuary – one in which its regular patrons can sit in (mostly) peace and quiet. To these regulars, it is a sacred place, rife with intellectual curiosities, that places no pressure on anyone to participate in anything if they do not want to.

Among these regular patrons you will find – of course – Ludwig Johann Sebastian Strauss – who “owns” the bar. It is his domain, and no one will ever challenge his position as “the straw that stirs the drink”. However, there are some regulars who have their own gravitas – and who bring their own qualities to the mix.

The current owner took over the establishment in 2003, and on Strauss’ suggestion, renamed it The Blue Max. If you are wondering, Strauss’ suggestion for the name comes not from the Imperial Germany’s highest military decoration for valor, the Pour le Mérite, nicknamed the “Blue Max”, earned for shooting down 20 enemy aircraft.

The Blue Max comes from a 1966 British war film about a German fighter pilot on the Western Front during World War I, which starred three of Strauss’ favorite actors – George Peppard, James Mason, and Ursula Andress. In a nutshell, the plot of the movie was thus:

German Corporal Bruno Stachel (George Peppard) leaves the fighting in the trenches to become an officer and fighter pilot in the German Army Air Service. Joining a squadron in spring 1918, he sets his sights on the “Blue Max”.

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Coming from humble origins, Stachel is driven to prove himself better than the aristocratic pilots in his new fighter squadron, especially Willi von Klugermann. Their commanding officer, Hauptmann Otto Heidemann  is an upper-class officer whose notions of chivalry conflict with Stachel’s ruthless determination.

On his first mission, Stachel, in a Pfalz D.III, shoots down a British S.E.5, but does not receive credit for his “kill” because there were no witnesses. Upon his return to base, Stachel searches the French countryside for hours in a pouring rain for the wreckage, giving the other pilots the impression that he cares more about scoring kills than the death of the man with whom he flew.

Soon afterward, he attacks an Allied two-man observation aircraft, incapacitating the rear gunner. Then, instead of downing the defenseless airplane, he signals the pilot to fly to the German base. However, as they near the airfield, the wounded rear gunner revives and reaches for his machine gun, unseen by the admiring German observers on the ground. Stachel is forced to shoot the aircraft down, but Heidemann believes Stachel simply murdered a helpless enemy crew in order to gain a confirmed kill.

The incident brings Stachel to the attention of General Count von Klugermann (James Mason), Willi’s uncle. When the general comes to the base to award his nephew the Blue Max, he meets Stachel. The general sees great propaganda potential in Stachel, one of the masses (“as common as dirt” as von Klugermann puts it)

Soon afterward, Stachel, attacked by two British fighters, is shot down after rescuing a Red Fokker Dr.I . When he returns to the airfield, he is stunned when he is introduced to the man he saved: Manfred von Richthofen , the Red Baron. Grateful, von Richthofen offers Stachel a place in his squadron, which Stachel declines, explaining his desire to “prove himself” with his current squadron.

With Stachel temporarily grounded owing to a minor injury, General von Klugermann orders him to Berlin to help shore up crumbling public morale. While there, General Count von Klugermann invites Stachel to dinner. This gives Kaeti the opportunity to sleep with her latest hero.

When Stachel returns to duty, he and Willi von Klugermann volunteer to escort a reconnaissance aircraft. British fighters attack their Fokker Dr.I triplanes. Stachel’s guns jam, but Willi downs two of the enemy on his first pass, then a third on Stachel’s tail, and the rest disengage.

As the two are returning to their base, Willi challenges Stachel. Spotting a bridge, Willi dives under the wide middle span, but Stachel tops him by flying under a much narrower side one. Seething, Willi does the same, but clips the top of a nearby brick tower afterward and crashes. When Stachel reports his death, Heidemann assumes that the two verified victories were Willi’s.

Insulted, Stachel impulsively claims the kills, even though it is discovered that he only fired 40 bullets before his guns jammed. Outraged, Heidemann reports Stachel’s suspected lie to his superiors, but is told that Stachel’s victories will be confirmed. Later, alone with Kaeti, Stachel admits he lied.

During a strafing mission covering the retreat of the German army, Stachel disobeys Heidemann’s order not to engage enemy fighters; one by one, the rest of the squadron follow him. Afterward, Heidemann has Stachel arrested, furious that nearly half the pilots were killed in the ensuing dogfight. Stachel, however, cares only that he has shot down enough aircraft, even without Willi’s kills, to qualify for the Blue Max. The two men are ordered to Berlin. There Stachel is to receive the Blue Max.

Later that evening, the countess visits Stachel and suggests that they run away to Switzerland since Germany’s defeat is inevitable. She storms out when he refuses to give up his flying.

The next day, Stachel is awarded the Blue Max by the Crown Prince in a well-publicized ceremony. However, a field marshal telephones von Klugermann to inform him of an impending investigation into Stachel’s false claim to Willi’s last kills. The general asks how the field marshal found out. While listening on the phone, he turns to gaze at his wife.

Desperate to avoid a scandal, von Klugermann sees a solution when Heidemann reports that the new monoplane he has just test-flown is a “death trap”, with struts that are not strong enough for the wing loading.

Von Klugermann orders Stachel to fly the plane and tells him, “Let’s see some real flying.” The stress of Stachel’s aerobatics causes the wings to tear away and the aircraft plummets into the ground. Just before the impact, von Klugermann stamps Stachel’s personnel file and seconds after impact, calmly signs it and has it sent to the field marshal, stating,

“It is the personal file of a German officer and a hero.”

So, this is how The Blue Max came into being. You are welcome to become a regular visitor, but be mindful to adhere to the protocols that have been carefully established by the regulars…

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