A New View Of Germany And A Stop Over At Osnabruck
( Originally Published 1913 )
WERE we to believe implicitly all we read, to assimilate it without the proverbial grain of salt, what a strange idea we should get of people and their ways. Newspapers and periodicals have, for years, given us a diverting caricature of Germany. They picture it as the land of the absent-minded professor, the stolid beer-drinking student, the commonplace housewife, the unimaginative law-ridden citizen. They leave us with the impression of a prosaic, consequential community, devoid of humor, and restricted in free thought and personal liberty to the last degree.
This total lack of romance and freedom they rashly impute to a great land of song and story; one unusually rich in folklore and folksongs, a home of the fairy tale, and scene of legends reaching back, age by age, until they are .rnythology,-a mythology more picturesque than that of the Greeks and Romans. Which country was it, I ask you, first recognized the danger of overmuch learning and asceticism—recognized it to a degree that provoked the saying, "Who loves not wine, woman and song, remains a fool his whole life long ?" And, lest I defeat my argument by seeming too serious, let me ask, what country boasts a witty eccentric to equal Till Eulenspiegel, or a droll sprite like Rübezahl, or a champion liar to equal Baron Münchhausen; what other country has decorated its tavern walls, for centuries, with a complete "Rubaiyat" of proverbs spark-ling with happy humor and lacking entirely the fatal-ism of Omar's philosophy?
There are no so-called blue laws in Germany. It seems to me that we poor Americans (especially New Yorkers)—unable to buy a drink on Sunday or to make a bet at the races, unable to smoke on a street car platform or to demand a seat in exchange for our fare —should, above all things, beware of throwing stones lest we bring glass houses down about our ears.
Such laws as exist, the Germans naturally expect to enforce. German officials are always courteous when treated with courtesy, even affable, in most cases; but this does not prevent their remembering that they up-hold the majesty of the law. Should you, failing to realize that the guard on a railroad train is a government officer, treat him and his suggestions with con-tempt, the mistake is yours. Just tell an American policeman to mind his own business when he asks you to move on, and you'll soon see what happens when you run counter to officialdom in any land.
Not even the Kaiser would employ that phrase, "the public be damned," so freely used and often so truly applicable in America. The German people say what they please and think what they please about the Kaiser. Of course, if a man is unusually offensive, or is an anarchist or other dangerous political agitator, or a prominent person who, because of the very extent of his influence, should be more careful, he is apt to be quite promptly and properly clapped into jail for any lese majesty. Of their own volition, the Germans surround the person of their ruler with a certain unassailable dignity. If we in the United States did likewise, the recipient of our nation's greatest honor would perhaps sustain the dignity of the office of chief magistrate more carefully than has sometimes been the case ; I believe we are also beginning to learn that unqualified fredom of speech is not always desirable, especially in cases where educated—and, presumably, enlightened—persons attempt to inflame the masses.
The Germany I learned to know was delightful and quite the reverse of the one usually pictured.
Of the great European countries which, should you think, extends the most cordial welcome to the English-speaking traveler from over seas? "England," you say at once. No, not England. Whether they still harbor 1776 or 1812 against us, or are jealous of our growing power, or whether they are simply displaying the fundamental coolness of the English manner is an open question; but certainly they are not cordial to us in England. "Well, then, France, the sister republic." No, not France, either; but Germany.
It is in Germany you find the welcoming greeting of frank hospitality. The sunny smile, the song upon the lips, the eager, painstaking courtesy, the ever ready wit—these things show that the Germans delight in the joy of living, and desire the traveler, whoever he may be, to share it with them. In Germany the inn-keeper still clings to the old-fashioned custom of welcoming his guest, of personally looking after his welfare, and wishing him God-speed. Obviously glad to see you, he makes you feel that he would be glad to see you again. In England the innkeeper acts as if he were doing you the greatest favor to take you under his roof at all, and appears not one whit concerned whether you come or go. This view of England is corroborated by the published statement of two of New York's leading hotel men who recently studied hotel life abroad.
So far as the quaint and the picturesque are concerned, you will meet them in Germany wherever you turn. No need to visit celebrated towns such as Nuremberg, Dantzic, or Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber. Generally speaking, the German village makes the average French village look bare, squalid and ugly—the aver-age English village modern, hard and unattractive. There are exceptions in both countries, to be sure. England, for example, has certain well-known specimens of thatched cottage, certain carefully treasured relics of half-timber construction. Yet in Germany the most insignificant villages abound in these types of building, and in one day's run through the countryside you may see half a dozen half-timbered villages, to say nothing of many individual examples. It proved a complete surprise to me, as it may, perhaps, be to you.
This revelation of the true Germany makes me feel doubly fortunate in having been able to study the country from intimate view-point of the automobile. I had the privilege of riding in a private touring-car. Recalling the extent to which I have lauded the hired car, in a trip through Holland, you may be inclined to question the sincerity of my motives when I enlarge upon a trip taken by private motor. But a moment's reflection will prove that I could advance no more conclusive argument than by describing just such a trip and illustrating the thousand and one tasks and annoyances to which the owner of the private car may be subjected. You have no doubt already made the deduction that my remarks pertain only to the owner of the car. Traveling as a guest in a private car is quite another matter—the acme of felicity, one might easily say.
My companions on these succeeding tours will be designated as they were in Holland, adding Bobbie, the chauffeur, whom we shall call by his Christian name notwithstanding all ethics of British "good form." I shall introduce Bobbie as the wearer of a smile which assumes an expression of injured innocence when a policeman inquires why we were going twenty-five miles an hour, but disappears in favor of a determined lower jaw when some fellow wants the whole road, or some teamster ignores universal custom and written law by declining to give way to a faster-moving vehicle.
We entered Germany, as we had Holland, by rail. The reason for this was directly due to the first series of difficulties confronting the owner of a car brought from America. Every country requires you to register your car, purchase a license, demonstrate or otherwise prove the efficiency of your chauffeur, and make a de-posit sufficient to cover the duty due should you chance to sell your car instead of taking it home again. These requirements vary in different countries, but are generally as enumerated. Adding to all this red tape the expense of buying road maps, the bother of studying them, the uncertainty of finding a good garage at the landing place, the probability of being without the car for several days (if not a week) after landing, etc., it seemed hardly worth while to view Holland from our own car. We would have had time to see the whole country while waiting to get the car, since it would take but a few days to make a tour of Holland, and on entering Germany we should have been confronted with much of the same sort of trouble. So the car was shipped to Hamburg, while we sailed on a Dutch boat and made our tour of Holland in a hired automobile.
Pater, a member of the Automobile Club of America, could have enjoyed the courtesy of the Royal Automobile Club of London, which extends not only ad-vice regarding ways and means and routes in England and on the Continent, but also issues a certificate of deposit to cover foreign customhouse requirements. But as England was not our first objective, he made application for membership in the Touring Club of France, whose triptyques simplify touring in both France and Germany.
Having thus avoided red tape and delay in Holland, we found ourselves in the compartment of a German railway train. To break the ten hours' journey from Amsterdam to Hamburg, a stop-over of several hours was made at Osnabrück. The slight stop near the border for the customs inspection hardly afforded much of a rest, so quickly and politely did the officials pass our baggage; they opened only two out of fourteen pieces.
Though a flourishing town of fifty-one thousand in-habitants the prevailing note Osnabrück sounds for the visitor is that of antiquity. Once in the center of the town, we hardly needed Pater's admonition, "Please remember the bishopric of Osnabrück was founded by Charlemagne in 785," to make us realize the great age of the place. Presumably a ford or bridge of the Hase in the dim past, it grew to be an important fortress in the Middle Ages and a town of considerable size. Our cabmen drove for fully an hour through squares and crooked, narrow streets, lined with gabled houses centuries old.
Many dwellings had driveways leading to interior courts, the entrance being barred by huge wooden gates. Narrow thoroughfares paved with cobbles and frequently quite innocent of any sidewalk, crazy roofs and leaning fronts, overhanging gables, low stories and tiny windows (and, withal, the fact that the houses were in good repair and tenanted) gave a more vivid impression of a medieval town than we had heretofore received. The picture needed but a few gossiping housewives in old-time dress, a gay halberdier in leather jerkin, doublet and hose, flirting with a flaxen-haired Fräulein, and maybe the town crier announcing the next public execution—to take us back bodily some five hundred years. On second thought I should add dirty streets and a few bad smells to my inventory of requirements.
A sign "Eingang zum Bischoflichen Palais," located the ancient palace of the archbishops. The high-roofed Gothic Rathaus (town hall) with its row of German emperors in canopied niches along the front, spoke for itself, as did the venerable cathedral with quaint towers and green copper roofs—a church too old to afford much display of architectural beauty, yet possessing quite a little fine, crumbling, Gothic tracery. In this very Rathaus was signed the peace of Westphalia, which put an end to the Thirty Years' War, one memorable August day of 1648 ; giving the whole of central Europe, laid waste by fire and sword, a passing chance to recuperate.
Down a fine vista of the Hase, with arching bridges and overhanging trees, we saw the Hasetor. Next we passed a hoary, gray, stone tower, an old landmark converted, with its surrounding terrace, into that popular German institution, a coffee garden.
Our carriage turned into a broad avenue following the line of a pretty little park—the promenade on the site of the old fortifications—and presently we came to a piece of the city wall kept intact to preserve a memorial gate. Of far greater interest than the gate, was the adjacent section of the wall, carrying an enormous oak whose branches threw shade over a goodly space of ground. Loving hands had railed it off and propped up its giant limbs. How many generations it may have sheltered we can only conjecture, but certainly it was a more magnificent specimen than any we chanced upon afterward. in England's New Forest or Sherwood Forest. Mater voiced the tenor of our thoughts, as she quoted :
"Woodman, spare that tree;
"Oh no, Mater," interrupted Scoffy. "All Holland is yours, and as much of France as you think necessary to qualify for your `de,' but we'll not allow you ancestors everywhere."
Traversing Grabengasse on the site of its some-time moat, we came upon the palace, a desolate looking building on a narrow street. It was not as old as we had expected ; but, goodness knows ! it looked decrepit enough across the bare courtyard, and very forlorn, as it stood there hemmed in by unwonted surroundings. Given human attributes, it must be pondering sadly on the ephemeral qualities of earthly splendor, and the strangely eccentric march of human progress.
"Another `palace without a king,' " said Mater. "I don't like them; they are entirely too mournful. Let's go back."
Most of the half-timbered houses had the whole front painted, beams and plaster alike, the wood generally picked out in a darker tint. While disappointing, I suppose it was a necessary sop to the modern life of the town. There were some exceptions, however, that showed the real thing. Notably three fine old Renaissance houses in Bierstrasse, with carved fronts entirely of wood or with the plaster panels richly decorated in color ; the wood had weathered till it was almost black and was quite on a par with that of the famous "Mahogany House" in Frankfort.
We were glad to have seen Osnabrück, for its own sake and for the sake of historical facts it called to mind. For example, the fact that Charlemagne, shortly after his coronation as emperor in the year 800, conquered and Christianized the Saxons, explained, in a measure, the surprising number of statues of Roland we afterward saw in the towns of western Germany. Few novels deal with the great man of the Dark Ages : "Passe Rose," by A. S. Hardy, a charming love story of Charlemagne's court, gives us but a meagre introduction to the emperor; on the other hand, Felix Dahn's "Bis zum Tode Getreu" (True unto Death) which draws a fine picture of the great emperor and of the early Saxons at home, has, I believe, never been translated.
Of men who have been accorded that supremely honored "great," Charlemagne presents the most heroic figure; statesman, soldier, scholar, judge, and teacher, general of fifty-three campaigns in less than forty years, he retained till death his majestic presence—seven feet of indefatigable, upright manhood—as well as the fire of those remarkable blue eyes whose glance, in anger, not many could endure.