James Lileks
See more of the story

On behalf of everyone in Fergus Falls who was embarrassed by a fake Der Spiegel magazine story about their beloved town, I thought it would be fair to visit the offices of Der Spiegel, which is German for "The Spiegel," and see what they were like.

The offices are located high in the Alps, in a castle. A sign reading "Anyone not wearing lederhosen, turn back now!" was stuck by the side of the road, but my driver, a dimwitted lad named Horst, explained that it wasn't meant to be taken seriously.

"It's not like we judge people using stereotypes based on their appearance," he said. Then he offered to sell me his Alpine hat so I'd "fit in."

The receptionist, Ilsa Shewolff, 32, a former women's prison guard, gave me a fearsome stare, picked a fleck of tobacco off her red lips, then led me to down a hall lined with busts of former editors who had invaded other European magazines at various points. She opened the editor's door and gave a mocking smile.

"He will see you now," she said, adding under her breath, "swine."

The editor, Adolph B. Beethoven, was sitting behind a massive desk, studying a map of Europe, conferring with a sallow man in a brown uniform about logistics. I thought he might be planning an invasion, but it turns out he was a UPS guy.

"Jahowl," he said to me. "Sitzen, bitten." He was a compact man in his 50s, dressed in lederhosen; on his head was a green felt pointed cap with a feather stuck in the brim. He had a Luger on his belt. "Schnapps?" he said. "Schnitzel?"

I declined both, thanked him for seeing me, and started my recorder.

"You are American, nein? I expected someone fatter without a passport. Did you enjoy your trip? It must have been confusing because the road signs vere in ze metric."

He gave me a humorless smile and patted the panting German shepherd at his side.

"Don't mind Villy," he said. "If you veren't Aryan he vould have had your throat out by now."

"Yes, well, I'm a dog lover, too! Ha ha. Anyway, I'm from Minnesota, as your people — sorry, your volk — probably told you, and I'm here to confirm the lazy preconceptions of our readership and reinforce their unexamined assumptions about Europeans.

"I was just in France, where I interviewed some men in cafes who smoked strong cigarettes while arguing philosophy between shifts at the baguette factory.

"And, of course, I stopped off in England, where I spoke to a man with bad teeth who makes tiny bowler hats for the queen's corgis.

"I felt it was my duty to come here, as well, to get the German perspective.

"But I have to ask: As the editor of a famed journal, weren't you just a bit surprised when your writer seemed to find the embodiment of every ignorant preconception about America? My editor won't believe it for a second when I say I talked to Adolph Beethoven."

He shrugged. "Ve are not like you Americans, who think you are always right. Ve are Chermans, who know ve are always right."

I thanked him for his time and left the castle by V-2 rocket.

Update: Der Speigel has apologized for believing its writer's obvious fabrications. So I'll do the same. We're all good!

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks