Along the River Rhine
( Originally Published 1903 )
COLOGNE is a large city—the largest in Rhenish Prussia. The expulsion of the Jews and other events in the fifteenth century, when it was almost unexampled in prosperity, caused it to decline ; but now its numerous shops and busy thoroughfares indicate that it is once more in a flourishing condition. In my little guide-book I read that the peculiar manufacture of the city is eau de cologne, and I visited the most noted establishment, that of Farina, and purchased a bottle of it as a souvenir of the city. I was successful at last in bringing it to America without the bottle being broken ; but I was obliged to place it carefully in my knapsack, and there were times when I wished myself rid of such troublesome luggage.
While in the city I had and insight into many German customs which seemed very peculiar to me, and some of them were very uncomfortable, too. I came near to leaving my lodging when I discovered that the landlady had given me a bed with two feather ticks and no quilts or comforters. She had a hard time making me understand that I was to sleep between the two feather beds, and the first night it seemed quite impossible to keep the upper one from floating to the floor. Every time I kicked it went off, and I passed a restless time. After a while, however, I became used to the feather beds and learned to be quite comfortable between them.
From Cologne I started on a pedestrian tour up the River Rhine, and this was a stage of my journey to which I had looked forward with great anticipation. I had a strong desire to see for myself the famous stream of which I had read, and of which there was such an entrancing picture in the school geography. The Rhine at Cologne was disappointing. I had pictured it in my mind as a silvery stream, flowing between lovely green mountains ; but as it flows through the city, its banks are flat and its waters are a dirty yellow in color. I was told that it would be quite different after I had walked upstream for a few miles, so I wasn't altogether discouraged.
Along the Historic Rhine
When I saw the fine steamers which ply between Cologne and Mayence, it was a temptation for me to give up my pedestrian trip and go up the stream by boat. But I knew that the less I walked the less would be my desire to do so, and I determined to carry out the original plan; and I hadn't proceeded far from Cologne when I was delighted with the prospect before me. After a few miles the river became more interesting, and the country districts along the banks were beautiful. Later in the afternoon I reached the famous university town of Bonn, where so many of the German royal family have been educated, and from there I inquired the way to Konigswinter, which was not much farther up the river. After leaving Bonn the hills became higher and higher, until they almost attained the dignity of mountains. Their sides were one mass of green, partly forests and partly vineyards, and from a distance they had a purple hue which was beautiful to see. The stream, much cleaner now than in Cologne, flowed between the hills, and along the bank there was a fine, broad road, along which I trudged with my knapsack over my shoulder. I wanted to stop about every five minutes to look at the magnificent panorama which was spread out before me, it was all so different from anything I had seen elsewhere. I decided that the Rhine was truly great, and that its beauties hadn't been exaggerated in the least.
I walked until the sun was about to sink behind the hills in the west, and then, as I came to a turn in the road, the most beautiful picture I had ever looked upon was spread out before my eyes. It was the region of the Seven Mountains, which extended up the river in an array of greenish purple, their sides dotted with ancient ruins and modern palaces, and their summits crowned with purple clouds, illumined by the sun. I lifted my knapsack from my shoulder and sat down to feast my eyes upon the lovely scene. Then I decided that I had walked quite far enough for one day, and certainly I couldn't hope to find a more charming district in which to spend the night.
A Fascinating Country
So I went to the little village of Konigswinter and found there a cheap lodging where I could sleep. Then I lit the alcohol lamp and made some coffee for my supper, looking out of the window all the while at the river and the hills. When I had eaten the sandwiches and fruit and had drunk the coffee, I went out and climbed to the summit of one of the Seven Mountains, passing upward through great forests which appeared to be a thousand years old, and past old buildings which must have stood for centuries. As I climbed higher and higher, passing the cave where lived Siegfried's dragon, I experienced a sense of exhilaration which I had experienced in no other place, and I thought it no wonder that Wagner had such great conceptions amid such surroundings as these. When I stood upon the summit, and looked down upon the river, glistening in the fading light, it appeared like a winding silver ribbon between the hills. I stood there on the ruin of an ancient castle, looking up and down and all around. It was a happy time, and I again congratulated myself that I had undertaken this trip and that I had persevered in order to see such places as this.
When I awoke the next morning I decided to spend the day in the neighborhood, where there was so much that was worth exploring. Across the river from Konigswinter I found another picturesque village, and above it were more purple mountains and more ruined castles. The whole district seemed to abound in ruins, and there was a strange legend about every one. My second night I spent in Rolandseck, which is about two miles from Konigswinter, and there I had my first experience in a German hotel. I reached the village at nightfall, and though I looked everywhere for a cheap room in some peasant's house, I could find no one to accommodate me, and there was nothing to do but to seek a room in some hotel. I accepted this as a last resort, for I expected that a hotel in such a place as this would be an expensive one.
But I couldn't walk about all night, so I visited the most modest of the hotels and asked for the landlady. She appeared, and I was glad to find that she spoke English very well. I told her that I would like to obtain a room for about seventy-five pfennig, which is about nineteen cents in American money. She was astonished at such a request, but when I explained my circumstances she agreed to accommodate me at that price. My room that night was a better one than I had enjoyed for some time, and I rested well after a day of tramping through the hills.
On several occasions, when I was obliged to stop over night in German hotels, I found that I could obtain a room at a very low rate. Doubtless the proprietors often took pity on me for being alone in a strange land, and were unwilling to charge me more than I could afford to pay. I usually explained that I was from America, and they always understood that, and then they would ask, in astonishment, "Aline?" And when I nodded my head, that I was quite alone, they would murmur their sympathy and try their best to be hospitable. I found it easy to keep my expenses down to a very satisfactory level during the whole of my stay in Germany. When I arrived in a village at nightfall, I would say schlafen to the first pleasant-looking person I met in the street. I didn't know exactly what the word meant, but I knew that it had something to do with sleep, and that when I used it I was always able to get a bed.
One night I entered a village about half-way between Cologne and Mayence, and following my usual plan, I accosted a pleasant old lady, and used my single word. She laughed, as if she understood, and calling a small boy, she instructed him to take me somewhere across the village. I hadn't the least idea where I was going, but I followed him obediently. He led me through one street after another, greatly to the delight of the children in the street, who noticed my knapsack and staff, and finally we stopped in front of a low, white building, over which were the words " Herberge zur Heimath." I didn't know the meaning of the phrase. " Heimath," I knew, was home, but the first word was new to me.
In the hallway I met a neatly-attired woman, and to her I said "schlafen." She nodded, and then called some one from the rear room. In came a great fat man, who motioned me to enter the front room. I did so, and found myself in a large apartment, which was filled with men and boys of every description. There were two blind men and one cripple, and I had an idea at first that I must be in an infirmary; but there were a great many young fellows, with knapsacks like myself, and I soon saw that this must be some sort of a hotel.
The " Home for the Friendless"
Everything looked clean and neat, and some of the men were eating what appeared to be excellent food. I slung my knapsack from my shoulder, and made myself at home. Upon the wall I saw a printed bill-of-fare, and I saw that for a very few cents I could obtain a better supper than I had been accustomed to having of late. For about eight cents I had enough to satisfy my appetite, and when the food was before me I found that it was all clean, well-cooked and . wholesome. I decided that this was one of the best places I had yet found, and I wondered what the beds would be like.
When I had finished supper I took out my diary and began to write. Most of the others in the room were busy reading or writing, and I thought it would be safe for me to do likewise. I continued at it until I noticed that everyone had laid his work down and was sitting up straight, and then I saw that the fat landlord had come into the room with a great book in his hand. Stepping to the centre of the room, he opened the book and began to read. I couldn't under-stand a word he said, so I began to write again, but the landlord called to me and demanded that I pay attention. So I listened very carefully, and it dawned upon me at last that it was probably the Bible which he was reading. All the men in the room were listening with every outward mark of respect, and I thought it very nice that there should be this simple devotional service in the public room of a roadside inn.
When the landlord had finished his reading the men arose and repeated together the Lord's Prayer, and then a large book was produced in which we all registered our names. We chose our beds, also, and I was surprised to find that it was possible to get one for four cents, or six cents, or eight cents. I decided upon a six-cent bed, for I was afraid to try one at four cents the very first night. There was no telling what it might be like.
The landlord led us upstairs with his candle, and when we reached the top I found that I was to sleep in a room with five others. There were six little beds, all as clean and nice as they could be, and the room was well ventilated. The fat gentleman stood by with his candle until we were safely in bed, and then he went out and locked the door behind him. I suppose he was afraid we would escape in the night.
A Toilet on the Roof
I was soon asleep between straw ticks, instead of feather ones, and I knew nothing until six in the morning, when we were all awakened by our host. We washed ourselves in a trough of water on the roof of the building, and then went downstairs, where we had bread and coffee for breakfast, at a price so low that I saw it wouldn't pay me to light my alcohol lamp and prepare my own. After the meal there was another reading from the Bible, and a prayer, and most of the men left the inn with their luggage.
I saw upon the wall of the large room a list of other institutions similar to this in various part of Germany, so I realized that this was only one of a number, and that they were all controlled by a central organization. I learned afterward that they are kept up principally for the benefit of young mechanics and artisans who are traveling about the country practicing their trade, so that they may always be able to sleep and eat in a cheap place, amid Christian surroundings. After this first experience I always inquired for the " Herberge zur Heimath " upon entering a German village at nightfall, and by living as much as possible in these places I was able to bring my expenses down to a very low point, and to thereby prolong my tour of the Continent.
I never tired of the lovely Rhine, for every half-mile brought me to some new and interesting sight. My only objection was to the weather. It rained almost every day ; but when I got used to being wet I didn't mind it, and I continued my journey up the river, rain or shine. In the grape district every hillside was terraced with green vineyards, and I was able to have delicious grapes three times a day, for when they weren't given me, I could buy them very cheap. Just after leaving the village where I discovered the " Herberge zur Heimath " I came opposite the famous Mausethurm, or Mouse Tower of which I had heard so much. A strange legend, which has been versified by Southey, the English poet, connects the tower with a certain Bishop Hatto, who, for hoarding corn which the starving people needed, and burning in a barn a number of them who complained, was devoured in this tower, whither he had taken refuge, by an army of mice. It was interesting, indeed, to see the scene of this well-known legend, and I was sorry that I couldn't explore the tower itself.
Pleasant Days 'mid Pleasant Scenes
Every little while, in a turn in the river, some grand old castle met my view, and all day long I was on the lookout for new scenes and the fresh interest excited by the legends connected with them. The scenery did' not improve in beauty as I went up the river, and had it not been for the historic interest of the many old castles and ruins, I would have thought the stream far less beautiful than our own Hudson. Certainly the Rhine has no such grandeur of beauty as belongs to the American stream, nor has it such a variety of scenery. I have never seen any river anywhere which boasts anything to compare with the Hudson at West Point—not even the far-famed Lurlei of the Rhine.
The villages, however, snugly built between the river and the hills, were always picturesque, with their queer old public buildings, their tumble-down shanties, and their winding streets. Some of them looked to be a thousand years old, and probably they were. The peasants looked happy and prosperous ; like the land of Canaan, the country seemed to flow with milk and honey—a land of corn and wine, of beautiful hills and steep slopes, terraced and green with vine-yards. I never saw any fences or hedges in the fields. The heifer and the ox were yoked together to the plough, and whole families, without regard to sex, were busily engaged in the fields and vineyards. The Rhine country is altogether so pleasant, that I wondered why any of the inhabitants care to leave for far-off North or South America, where their future is uncertain, and where they can scarcely hope to be more comfortable. The only explanation is that they look upon America as a land of gold, whence they will speedily return home rich.