Hitler's Tea Service and Spy Weapons
Farley Berman was a spy. His wife, Germaine, was a spy. They met when they spied on each other during World War II. When the fighting was over they settled in Farley's hometown of Anniston.
Farley and Germaine kept a low profile, ran a women's clothing store, and spent the next four decades traveling the world, collecting things.
Their collection became the Berman Museum of World History in 1996. It proudly displays its Remington bronzes, its rare books, and an "Arts of Asia" gallery -- but its heart has always been Farley's collection of weapons and war booty.
The Colonel -- nearly everyone called him "Colonel Berman" -- somehow got his hands on everything from poison arrows to battle axes, grenade launchers to a launch control panel for a V-2 rocket. He evidently valued creativity when it came to killing people.
Museum curator David Ford pointed out examples, such as a five-barreled pistol used by ship captains to kill mutineers, and a belt with a built-in gun that would shoot anyone who grabbed you from behind.
The museum displays World War II German rifles with bent barrels that could shoot around corners ("The barrels did not last very long," said David) and an executioner's ax from England that the Colonel said had chopped off 75 heads.
The highlight of Colonel Berman's World War II collection is not a weapon; it's the silver tea service of Adolph Hitler. The Colonel, said David, would serve guests at his home with the Hitler silverware -- until pieces of it began leaving with the guests. It's an unlikely, dainty item for a madman mass murderer. It even has a pair of grape scissors. Maybe Hitler -- who didn't drink much tea -- had to conquer countries that had grapes so that he could finally use all of his silverware....
The Berman Museum's collection of "combination" and assassination weapons is equal to that of the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. As a spy, the Colonel appreciated the tactical advantages of being sneaky, and the sneakier the gadget, the more he liked it. "He'd say, 'If you're in a sword fight with someone and they're getting the best of you, just shoot 'em,'" said David, pointing to a sword with a hidden gun.
A quick scan of the Colonel's collection suggests that everything cylindrical and innocuous has at one time been turned into a spy weapon.
David ticked off a list of some of them: "The men's pipe fires a .22; the screwdriver shoots the blade or a .22; the fountain pen fires tear gas." There are keys that fire through keyholes, a box of cough drops that shoots whoever takes one, and a working flute that conceals a hidden gun on one end and a dagger on the other. "You shoot 'em, stab 'em, then play the death march for 'em," said David.
A gun-gearshift knob for French taxis was the most successful assassination weapon of World War II. "It was spring-loaded, it would pop out, and bam-bam, that was it," David said. "The Germans never figured it out."
Colonel Berman died in 1999. The Museum sells a 90-minute DVD of him giving a tour of his collection, demonstrating many of his spy weapons, and obviously enjoying himself.
"There's mystery as to how he acquired many of these things, and he liked that," said David. "When someone asked him how he got an item, his standard answer was, 'That's a good question. Next question.'"