( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Favorite Home of Emperor William I.
AFTER "doing" all the other palaces to be found in Potsdam, the tourists are usually so exhausted that when they hear that Babelsburg is several miles farther on, and not at all imposing, they easily persuade each other that as long as they have seen the important ones, they would better not attempt another palace that day, but save their remaining strength for Berlin that evening.
Of course the Old Palace in Potsdam makes one see German history with one's own eyes, the New Palace asserts its regal grandeur to all visitors, while Sans Sousi quite realizes one's idea of a perfect little retreat, but Babelsburg in its undisturbed retirement nestles down among its great trees with an unpretentious charm that no other royal abode in Germany can equal.
It is nearly always open to the public and free to all, although the caretaker who conducts any one through expects a fee. It is amusing to see his feigned surprise when he is handed something, as everyone knows he calculates at first sight just how much he can make out of each visitor.
Babelsburg is modern and built in Norman style. • As was the custom among feudal barons, the hall is adorned with trophies of the chase; great boar-heads startle one, stag-horns cover the wall, weapons add to the picturesqueness and suits of armor stand about like sentinels, suggesting to intruders that here dwelt a man of might.
The other rooms are in startling contrast. Simplicity reigns supreme, nothing suggests expense or luxury. It might easily be taken for the home of a plain country gentleman in moderate circumstances. One scarcely notices the decorations, no masterpieces embellish the walls. There are merely three or four good paintings, the rest are family portraits, a few pictures done by the Crown Princess Frederick and numerous prints of battle scenes and horses.
Chintz takes the place of tapestry or brocaded hangings; instead of rare bric-a-brac the tables are strewn with homely little trinkets and work-boxes used by some member of the family. The clocks told the time, they added nothing to the beauty of the rooms. The chairs rested the weary, they would create no envy among collectors of odd bits of furniture except now for their association with the old Kaiser. He was no scholar and yawned when the Empress Augusta spoke of literature, and no coveted editions are seen in his library.
The most curious thing found in the rooms is the Emperor's camp bed. That narrow, hard little cot had bedding on it that would have caused disapproval and disgust in a thrifty linen-loving hausfrau. The plainness and stiffness of this bedroom surprise even those who knew his simple tastes. Think of the contrast between the state beds of his various fellow monarchs and this primitive little iron bedstead of the Emperor of Germany!
Regal pomp had no meaning for him. His daily life ran on with methodical exactness—the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He wrote in his diary when a young man, that he must think of his rank only to remind himself of its duties and must never forget a prince is only a man and the laws for others were also for him, as he would be judged by them! He stands in history as an emperor, but greater than the sovereign was the conqueror in him, and greater than the man, the joldier.
His subjects might be scholars, musicians and artists, he saw in them only warriors. He wanted not brains but muscles, not to know their dreams but their courage. His one al-mighty aim was to form from the innumerable antagonistic sovereignties around him a power strong enough to withstand outside nations. He thought only of war, war, war. He was never seen when not wearing his uniform, gunpowder permeated the very atmosphere about him. He viewed the country as a battlefield. He studied maps that he might select the best places to encamp. He moved his army as easily as we do our chessmen. His troops were drilled with relentless severity, no details were too small to be over-looked.
On his table the inkstand is from a cannon-ball, the pens are made of splintered lances. The roon- s were left untouched after the great warrior's occupancy, and his favorite photo-graphs of his family are strewn over the mantles and tables just as he left them. This home indicated his personality more than anything else. He was not a man who revealed in any way what to him was dearest, and while some claim he concealed his feelings, others think he had none to conceal.
However, we know his love for his mother, Queen Luise, never lessened. His visit to her tomb before starting for the Franco-Prussian war and his later visit after his victory over the French, which avenged the humiliation Napoleon had brought upon her, proved the memory of his mother came first in his life. He thought of her in his anxiety and in his victory, and the little vase of cornflowers often stood on his desk, because his mother had loved them.
The disappointment of his life was his father's refusal to allow him to marry Elise Radziwill. After his struggle with that sorrow his heart never again asserted any part in his life. He did his duty with a determination that never faltered, he carved out Germany's great future with world-famous success, and yet there was always something lacking in his own life.
When he first became King of Prussia crowds gathered in the streets to at-tack him, but in later years they brought their little children to catch a glimpse of the beloved old Kaiser who regularly appeared every noon at his library window in Berlin. Yet the man himself was as undisturbed by their plaudits as he had been by their curses. True, under him the different German kingdoms and duchies finally united and then proclaimed him Emperor of the Fatherland, this old man who some people had thought scarce strong enough at his brother's death to be even King of Prussia! But with the triumph in his soul the man changed not. Thrilling scenes left no traces on him.
When age finally weakened him, ;3races supported him in the same erect position on his horse. To the people he was always the stalwart soldier, the great conqueror. To him the nation was more than they, its component parts, and though he dealt with them with paternal kindness, a wall of reserve separated his inner from his outer life. Few ever saw the other side. Before conquering other nations the man had conquered him-self.
The park surrounding Babelsburg is very extt nsive and beautifully laid out. On one side the ground slopes down to the river, and on the other it undulates in miniature mountains and valleys for miles beyond. Some consider its interior insignificant, but no one can pronounce it devoid of interest, for there was William l.'s favorite residence, and the grounds alone make a paradise of it.
Empress Augusta's apartments are s.lmost as unpretentious as her husband's, and there, one above the other, they lived their long married life, under the same roof but practically a world apart. Their daughter Louise, the Duchess of Baden, had her rooms more attractively furnished, and the suite of their daughter-in-law, the Empress Frederick, shows somewhat more taste, but the whole house was unquestionably not furnished to surpass more lordly dwellings, but merely for a comfortable home for a hard-working man. There in the quiet of nature he rested from toil and surrounded by an unbroken stillness and peace he felt less the burden of his enormous responsibilities.