Germany - Leipzig (Leipsic)
( Originally Published 1913 )
JUNE 25TH -27TH.
LEIPZIG, the fifth city of Germany, is of mixed Germanic and Slavonic origin tempered by Saxon civilization, and its very name is de-rived from the Slav Lipzi or Lipzk, meaning town of the lime trees.
Otto the Rich, margrave of Meissen, gave quite some impetus to trade in Leipzig—already favored through lying at the intersection of important trade routes—by prohibiting any competing public markets within a radius of four miles. The Leipzig fairs, there-fore, assumed great importance, and Emperor Maximilian widened the circle of restriction, also guaranteeing safe conduct to travelers to this city. Though the noted trade routes have been abandoned in favor of railroad transportation, and though markets and fairs have become obsolete through modern business methods, great fairs still take place here, and those held in Easter week and at Michaelmas are of considerable actual importance in the commercial world. Nearly five million dollars worth of business is done in the fur trade alone—leather, cloth, woolens, glass, and linen also figuring prominently; one New York importer who started manufacturing knickknacks to compete with foreign bronzes, was amused to find he could not create a market in New York until he had introduced them at the Messe (fair) in Leipsic. This city is also the center of the bookselling and publishing business in Germany.
For landmarks of the battle of Leipsic one should go into the suburbs of Thonberg, Möckern and Probstheida; this was the center of the French position, and from the Napoleonstein near Thonberg, where Napoleon himself directed operations, one may get a good view of important parts of the battlefield. Near by is a very interesting collection of relics.
Germans call this three-days' battle (Oct. 16-18-19, 1813) —in which some 450,000 men were engaged and probably over 75,000 left upon the field—the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlacht). Indeed, this was the real "Waterloo" which shattered Napoleon's power and after which the allies pursued him and inflicted a continued, though not unbroken, series of defeats. That the allies were so extremely shortsighted as not to incarcerate a man of his calibre in a safe and remote spot, and that they should consequently have part of their work to do over again at Waterloo, does not entitle Waterloo to the distinction of marking Napoleon's downfall and Europe's salvation.
Just before entering Leipzig we passed through Mockern, where the Prussians scored a victory over the French in the bloody fight of Oct. 16, 1813. Two and a half miles due north of Möckern-but more readily accessible from the city—is Breitenfeld, where two battles of the Thirty Years' War took place; in 1631, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, allied with the Saxons, defeated the Catholic general Tilly, and, in 1642, the Swedes—now fighting against united Germany--defeated the imperialists.
In Leipzig, at the corner of Dresdener Strasse and Salomon Strasse, is a monument to commemorate the storming of the Grimmaisches Thor by Major Friccius after the battle of 1813, and at the corner of Ranstädter Steinweg and Leibnitz Strasse is a stone to mark the location of the bridge prematurely blown up by the French to the destruction of their rear guard. The spot where Prince Poniatowski was drowned is marked by a stone on Lessing Strasse.
A curious feature of that pretty park, the Rosenthal, is an artificial hill. The good Leipzigers had long been chaffed about the extreme "flatness" of their town -perhaps not only as regards topography—so they decided to build a hill. All the ashes and cinders were piled in one spot in the Rosenthal, and when the mound had risen to the treetops it was covered with topsoil, sodded and planted with trees ; a path winds up to the summit crowned with a pavilion, and now the Leipziger proudly points out his Scherbelberg.
You will find many interesting old buildings should you care to look for them—some, such as the old Rathaus, the Fürstenhaus, the old Gewandhaus, and Auerbach's Keller of Goethe's "Faust," hardly require seeking. The fine ring of parks and promenades in the center of the town is, as usual, the site of old walls and fortifications. A row of eight-story houses (nearly five centuries old) on the Thomas Ring re-calls the fact that the city was noted in the Middle Ages for its tall buildings.
One could probably see the city pretty well in two days—certainly in three, as the museums and galleries are not extensive. Still, many travelers like to de-vote some time to the study of foreign life in the parks, cafés, and theatres. Plays begin so very early here that it is not unusual, going to an evening performance at the Neues Theater, to find it still broad daylight when you step from the foyer to the balcony, after the first act.
The building of the Reichsgericht (Supreme Court of the empire), is a good example of modern German monumental architecture, as the museum and the university library are of the preceding style. The Paul Knauer building on Ross Strasse, almost opposite the Hotel Hauffe, is a capital exponent of Germany's famous art nouveau in architecture, of which school of art Munich is really the centre.
Student life in Leipzig proves very interesting to anyone who has the good fortune to see it from the inside. The university, founded in 1409, is one of the largest and most important on the Continent. Dueling is still in vogue among the student fraternities, though an adverse feeling is arising. A German's point of view regarding this custom is, you must re-member, very different from ours; Germany is an armed nation with foes on every border, and war is an imminent and stern reality-not, as with us, a vague possibility provoked or avoided, according to our own desire. Small wonder then, that teaching fellows to fight and take punishment without flinching was long considered one of the greatest benefits student societies could offer.
Before a student is permitted to join one of these Verbindungen he goes through a novitiate during which he is called a Fuchs (literally, "fox"), and does not wear the full colors of the fraternity either on the band of his cap or in the ribbon across his chest. To become a full-fledged Bursche he must demonstrate his ability to fight creditably on the dueling floor, as well as show his knowledge of the history of the entire German Burschenschaft and of their insignia, being drilled first of all in local usages by the Fuchsmajor. Untold prodigies in beer drinking are essential to the initiation ceremonies at the Commers (meeting), when the neophyte sits on a keg and sings a song of more than a dozen verses, draining a stein after each.
To go dueling is called "auf die Mensur gehen," the use of the Mensur (measure, test) being obvious; and because no thrusting or lunging is permissible in this style of swordplay, the expression "sick schlagen" (from "schlagen" to hit or strike) is often employed to signify "having a bout." The contestants stand face to face, toeing a chalk line on the floor, and are allowed neither to stir from that spot nor to dodge or flinch. As it is the most natural thing in the world to flinch when receiving a blow on the head, special attention is given to curing the new fencer of this habit. He wears a thick felt skullcap and is pitted against a far superior swordsman of his Verbindung, armed with the customary, blunt practice-sword. The experienced man needs but a minute to penetrate the Fuch's defense and soon begins to rain blows upon that felt-clad head; eventually, the Fuchs gets accustomed to these whacks and ceases to flinch.
Did you ever witness a Mensur? No ? Then come with me, now. Being in Leipzig we cross the border, into Prussia, to have our meeting, for laws against dueling are less severe there than in Saxony. Oh, yes, there is a penalty for dueling; it is one of those paradoxes which arise where you wish to control a thing yet do not wish to abolish it. The Kaiser is said to have remarked that if he caught any of his officers dueling he would see that severe imprisonment was meted out to the offenders ; but if any officer declined a challenge, dismissal from the army and lasting disgrace should be his portion.
For novices in fencing, friendly matches (often limited to fifteen rounds) are arranged; other bouts are the results of formal challenges arising from sporting rivalry, or quarrel and insult. At some quiet inn with a spacious hall upstairs, we will find our Burschen and those of some other Verbindung. Members do not go there in a body, lest this invite police interference ; and for the same reason they wear no "col-ors" on the way. A picket at the private entrance lets us pass after a few words from our friend. Upstairs in the large hall the fraternities are mingling—old friends are greeted, and new ones made, over a social glass of beer.
In an alcove, off the main hall and a few steps down, battle is already in progress. Little general interest is aroused by this match, for the contestants are both new at the game and not likely to hurt each other, so the buzz of conversation almost drowns the sharp click-clack, click-clack of swords. But we foreigners must have a look at the affair. The fighters are as well protected as line-bucking football players, though not in the same fashion. Head and face are the objective points in this duel ; one's neck is protected against chance blows by a heavy, leather-bound collar; eyes are shielded by huge, projecting, steel goggle-frames fitting tight so as to prevent blood from trickling into them. The front of the body is covered by a leather apron, the left shoulder padded, and the sword-arm wound with silk bandages until twice its natural size; sword-hand and wrist are covered by a heavy gauntlet; the other hand being held behind one's back, out of harm's way. The tightly swathed sword-arm, used to parry the cut in tierce, is supported horizontally by one's second, between rounds, to prevent an influx of blood. Most weapons have bellhilts to protect the hand and wrist, though in some places (like Munich) they use large metal basket-hilts. In no case does the weapon (a sort of rapier with a blade five-eighths of an inch wide) have a point, though ground to razor edges for the lower third of its length. There is no object in having a point since thrusting and lunging are barred; besides, it might break off and inflict a dangerous wound behind the ear, or even injure a spectator; so, nowadays, these swords (Schläger are cut square at the end.
Click-clack, click-clack, goes the shining steel—one minute, I think it was, to a round—then "Halt!" Crash, go the seconds' Schläger knocking up the en-gaged weapons; the doctor looks the men over; not a scratch on either. "All right, are you ready ?" "Parat!" "Los!" Click-clack, click-clack again, till the next call of time, and so on for some thirty rounds which constitute a match, unless injuries to either party make a cessation advisable.
The match over—neither swordsman has so much as a scratch. "I told you so" is heard on all sides, and those who had hoped for something more exciting turn away disappointed.
But the next bout will be a good one. "Here's where you get something worth while," says the Bursche who is our guide. Others think so, too. The tables are deserted, and the crowd gathers round the place of battle, while we, standing on chairs, look over their heads. "That is best," says our guide, "for if you don't like to see blood you can get down. I had an Englishman here, last time, and he fainted." We promise not to be as timorous as that.
Click-clack, they are at it ! More clicks and arcs of shining steel flashing quicker than our eyes can follow --"Halt!" crash—the round is over. "Did they get anything?" Yes, one of them did—a cut on top of his head, and blood is trickling down either side of his ear. The doctor examines the cut. "It is nothing—two inches long, but light." The scorekeepers scribble busily and the next round begins.
The fellow with the cut is mad. Zip ! his opponent has a split lip. Zip ! again, and he gets a slash on his cheek—two wounds in the same round; though bleeding profusely they are "not bad." But a later round gives him a cut on the forehead—a circular cut that lets the skin drop down and hang over one eye. "Aha ! this looks like business," is the general comment. "I think we'll stop," says the doctor. "Yes, I should say we will stop," he exclaims, as he examines the other fellow. "That forehead is not so bad, but this man has another cut on the head right across the first, a nasty one, too—down to the bone." So the bout is ended. The scorekeepers begin appraising the injuries and the combatants are led away to have their wounds dressed.
Other encounters follow and turn out much the same, though perhaps less bloody. It is considered nearly as creditable to get a Schmiss (slash or scar) as, by superior skill, to avoid one; for a scar of this sort is regarded with almost as much pride as a wound received in battle. Certainly, it is a sign of pluck and endurance, for no anesthetic is given—the young patients sitting up to have splinters of bone brushed out of a cut in their heads, and half a dozen stitches taken in the wound, with never a murmur. .
Of course we take in the surgical operations as well, but like them much less; for my part, I am glad to get out of the surgery and indulge in a glass of kummel to brace me up a bit—being determined to disappoint our guide by appearing quite undisturbed, and not even suggesting a resemblance to his Englishman.
Equally skilled contestants are always chosen if possible, though, of course, the unexpected does happen. A left-handed man is said to have an advantage over the right-handed one; indeed, the latter requires special training in defense against a left-handed opponent.
We would like to stay for a sabre duel, the event of the day; but this is a real duel (the outcome of hard words and boasting), not a friendly bout as the others had been. To be sure it is not Sabelsühne, which I might translate as à outrance,—"to the death" seeming too melodramatic, although not infrequently correct. Vital points are accordingly protected (for ex-ample, the left side and the left shoulder) as a descending blow on the shoulder has been known to cleave clear through collarbone and carotid artery, proving instantly fatal. However, mild as this Sabel (sabre) duel is, it is considered too serious for strangers to witness.
So the Mensur—though scarred faces are not agree-able unless viewed from the standpoint of a peculiar code of ethics—is neither dangerous nor terrible. The real danger lies in the fact that any one who has been through the Mensur is liable to a challenge in after years under more serious circumstances.
For example, a chap I knew got into an altercation with an army officer during his one year's volunteer service. Nothing would do but they must fight it out Sabelsühne. My friend had been the best swordsman in his university but, with this engagement in prospect, he hurried home and took extra lessons from the university fencing master. His mother told me of the fright the whole family experienced, and their great relief when he telegraphed that he had come off with-out a scratch. The officer, a lieutenant, was considered the best sword in the garrison. They met—stripped to the waist and unprotected. At first, honors were even; then my friend just missed in an attack which, however, drew blood by a scratch extending across his adversary's chest. Infuriated, the officer, who had expected an easy victory, threw caution to the winds and fought so recklessly that, in a few minutes, he received a cut on his sword-arm which severed two ten-dons and put an end to the duel.
Fine reading this makes for the beginning of the twentieth century ! You'd almost think you were back in colonial days. However, all's well that ends well; and this duel surely did end well. Either of those rash chaps might easily have been killed—a fine kettle of fish for all concerned, especially for the survivor.
Besides teaching fighting and endurance, the Verbindung teaches manliness, courtesy, and manners. One day in the week is couleurfrei (color-free), but on other days the fraternity cap and ribbon are worn and the various mandates must be observed. Carrying umbrellas is considered effeminate; therefore, Burschen, like army officers, do not use any. They must not haggle over purchases ; they must not carry large, unsightly bundles ; they must be courteous ; they must never omit a proper tip, etc., etc. By them, swordplay is considered "the manly art," and to settle differences with the fists is extremely vulgar. You must not assume, however, that this is wholly due to ignorance ; many German students have taken lessons in "bux'n," as they call it, and are eager to put on the gloves with an Englishman or an American.
Though their militant life does not, as a rule, appeal to Americans, the students show other traits that are both attractive and amusing.
"Did you ever drink Lichtenhainer?" inquires the Bursche who took us to the Mensur. "No, what is it, a kind of wine ?" we respond. "No, indeed, it's a kind of beer; very pale and very mild. Lighter in color than Pilsener." It is brewed in Jena, I believe, and the students there can consume untold quantities without being any the worse.
So away we go with our guide, along a narrow street, to the sign of The Golden Hat (Zum Goldnen Hut). As we enter, a burst of light, laughter and song almost overwhelms us. A score of students sitting at two long tables are singing, "Herz, mein Herz, warum so traurig," etc. Of course they are not "traurig" at all; on the contrary, very happy. Some people, who admit that German songs are very beautiful, complain that so many of them are sad. There are hundreds of comical German songs; but the finest compositions, the world over, are nearly always sentimental or sad. The hap-pier a German becomes, the sadder the song he sings ; and when he is real downright happy he loves to sing the Lorelei, which runs :
"Ich weiss nicht was soli es bedeuten das ich so traurig bin,
Ein Marchen aus alten Zeiten, das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn," etc.
This might be translated :
I know not what may be portending, that I am so sad today,
An old legend of sorrowful ending holds me in its memory's sway.
The singers are so busy it requires no less than three pretty barmaids to keep their throats from getting dry. It is a merry, kind-hearted crowd. Seume says
"Wo man singt, da lass' dich ruhig nieder,
Bose Menschen haben keine Lieder."
Where there's singing, you may safely tarry; The wicked have no tunes to carry.
We were introduced all round as "friends from America." One chap jumped up and introduced us formally to the barmaids, somewhat to their con-fusion, especially as he immediately proceeded to ex-amine them upon the subject of "Amerika"—its location, size, religion, government, etc. ; this was productive of quite some fun, owing equally to the vagueness and the wit of the answers.
Another had the happy inspiration that, as newcomers, we must treat (schmeissen) if we joined the table. "fa, fa! eine Spritzkanne schmeissen," echoed the crowd, and forthwith began to sing Franz Abt's fine melody, "Die Lindenwirthin,"
"Keinen tropfen im Becher mehr,
a song often used like our, "How dry I am."
The Spritzkanne was a large tankard from which the Lichtenhainer beer is poured; it is like a huge coffeepot of vertical strips of alternately light and dark wood, and has a copper spout. The beer is served in wooden mugs which match the Kamm, and tasted somewhat like buttermilk. We thought the boys were playing one of their pranks, as in these mugs we could see nothing but the foaming top of the beverage ; but a glass filled at our request, set our suspicions at rest.
I was inclined to think it might be a sort of ale, but it isn't. There is a drink called Gose (sold in the suburb of Gholis) which is as popular with Leipzigers as the dreadful Weissbier is with citizens of Berlin; it is made by top fermentation, so I presume it must be a kind of ale. They serve it in flat, long-necked flasks, such as have elsewhere gone out of fashion centuries ago. The fermentation gathers in the neck of the flask, and, by a skillful fillip, one throws this flotsam on the ground, after which the rest of the beverage is ready for consumption. Gose is sour and the taste for it, like that for ale, is an acquired one; it is so very sour that even those who indulge regularly, take a Knickebein (sherry and egg), before and after, to fortify their stomachs.
Let us return to our friends in the Golden Hat. The students display a comradeship and frank affection that is quite a revelation to the beholder. When an old pedler wanders in with flowers for sale, the fellows buy extensively and present each other with boutonnières as a token of mutual regard. When a vendor of picture postcards appears they invest quite heavily; pencils and fountain pens now come into play, and cards are sent to friends all over the country—cards which recall this or that jolly outing or social gathering, or a hard grind over the books in Gymnasium (high school) days. Sometimes a number of chaps is called upon to sign a card someone else is sending. Thus many a warm friendship is renewed or fostered which would inevitably perish of dull efforts at regular correspondence. Songs, jokes and witty arguments are the order of the evening, while sly gibes and genuine compliments fly back and forth. With regret we hear Frau Wirthin's announcement that closing time is at hand.
For real fun you should attend a Commers (regular meeting of a Verbindung). I shall be generous, and take you to one of these also. We shall go late so as to avoid the business part of the meeting. When we arrive, the Burschen are gathered about an L-shaped table; the chairman presiding at the middle of the short arm, the Füchse sitting at the lower end of the long arm—below the salt, as it were—in charge of the Fuchsmajor, their instructor and mentor.
A succession of songs is chosen by the chairman. They are sung well and with evident zest; during the intervals occur beer-drinking, smoking, toasts and Salamanders, (this last, a peculiar ceremony in which the steins are rubbed upon the table). Lest some one be unable to recall the score or more of stanzas many songs contain, Commers songbooks are supplied, their covers studded with large gilt tacks to keep them clear of the beer, so liable to get spilled. Fortunately, not all the verses are sung, only those selected by the chair-man. Hilarity grows and spirits wax high. A great deal of beer is consumed, but the fellows seem to stand it; even if they didn't no trouble would ensue, for the most comical set of parliamentary rules governs the meeting, making a serious dispute impossible. Any one who has to be called to order frequently, is put into Bierverbann by the chair. While in this "beer-ban" the offender may not join the drinking, singing or conversation, and he must be redeemed, so to speak, by one who is bierehrlich ("honest," in good standing) ; this is accomplished by drinking with the of-fender and declaiming some Latin incantation.
For a serious breach of etiquette doppelter (double) Bierverbann may be the penalty, and this offender has to be redeemed twice, the first process getting him only into the ordinary form of Verbann. Any one in Bierverbann has his name put on the blackboard, that all may read and be warned. The Füchse are not honored by having their names thus inscribed ; instead, the outline of a pig is drawn, with as many legs as there are offending Füchse. Since they generally get into trouble together, being often put up to it on the sly by the Fuchsmajor, the pig may have eight or ten legs; on the other hand, it may have only one. Another comical way of settling one of those hyper-serious arguments drinking sometimes engenders, is for bystanders to demand that it be settled by the "Bierprobe" (beer test). Each of the disputants is given a full stein of beer—a neighbor acting as referee. "Setzt an" (get set), he says, at which they raise the steins to their lips, and then, "Los" (go), whereat they begin to drink. The one who can first empty his stein and cry "Bierjunge" wins the argument, and it is customary to invert the stein to show that it is really empty. Should one of them begin drinking before the word is given, the referee cries "Halt! Wechselt die Waffen" (exchange weapons), and of course the man who was good gets the benefit of a handicap. The whole thing, you see, is a parody on the Mensur. So fun and ridicule take care of those whom drink makes combative rather than jovial. As a matter of fact, out-right drunkenness is rare, considering the great quantity of beer and wine consumed in Germany. Even the foreigner quite unused to drinking, surprises him-self by the amount of beer he can safely imbibe. Whether it be the climate or the beer's quality, I do not know, but the fact remains.
In their pranks German students are no better and no worse than students elsewhere. Their practical jokes are extremely funny, but seldom, if ever, take the form of hazing or rough horseplay. There are no forcible collisions with the police in the pursuit of these jokes, as the police do not arrest students, simply demanding to see their student-cards. These are issued by the university, which is responsible for the boys' behavior and makes short shrift of undesirable characters.
No regular curriculum is in force, and a student may attend lectures or not. To get a degree he need only pass the examinations held at stated times, in stated subjects; accordingly, he may spend either a few years or a great many, in obtaining it. That much besides learning goes to make university life of value, is a fact fully recognized in Germany. The boys have had their noses pretty close to the grindstone in "prep-school" days, and it is expected that, unless a chap is too poor to afford the time, his first two or three semesters will not amount to much so far as the pursuit of learning is concerned.