Germany - Brunswick
( Originally Published 1913 )
SOME fortunate people there are who, by a dispensation of Providence, seem elected protegés of Clio; to them the wonderfully and fearfully made tablets of the world's history are clear as day; facts, figures, dates, descents, epoch-making events and interminable pedigrees, roll from their tongues as easily and unaffectedly as one might say who Richard Mansfield was, or state the record for the hundred-yard dash. They will tell you who was crowned king of a certain country hundreds of years ago, and when and why and where, as readily as you or I could announce that June is the month of roses, or that oysters should be eschewed between April and September.
We others, ordinary mortals, are guiltless of any-thing save a vague recollection of facts relentlessly drummed into us at school but soon forgotten; in us, fair Clio hardly inspires even a little curiosity. But when she points her finger at Brunswick the most unmindful displays a certain amount of interest; granting you are indifferent to the fact that Henry the Lion (whose history is inseparable from that of the city and duchy of Brunswick) is one of the forebears of the present reigning house of England, still another test awaits you.
Probably your first pilgrimage in this town of Welfs will lead to the venerable cathedral. Burg Dankwarderode's striking tower is visible at quite a distance ; its overhanging gallery, directly below the peaked roof, carries you back at a bound to the Middle Ages be-cause of its sinister purpose—to enable the besieged to pour hot tar, scalding water, boiling oil or molten lead upon the heads of the besiegers. Dankwarderode is now but a fragment of the castle erected, in 118o, by Henry the Lion to replace the original Burg (castle) said to have been founded in 86i by Dankwart, son of Duke Ludolf of Saxony. Passing around the end of the Burg you enter the Burgplatz, appropriately framed on two other sides by the cathedral and a group of fine, old, timbered buildings; of these latter, the Gildehaus (Huneborstel Haus) dating from 1536, is remarkable for its florid color decoration. The strangest feature of the square is on the grass-grown triangle in its center—the bronze statue of a lion, erected by Henry the Lion in 1166 as a symbol of his supremacy. Viewed face to face it resembles some strange bird rather than a quadruped ; of what species, it would be hard to say, yet undoubtedly a bird of prey and, as such, singularly characteristic of Henry as well as of many other "rulers by the grace of God" during these parlous times.
You are now free to devote attention to the cathedral of St. Blasius. The sacristan's little daughter unlocks a door in the west portal with a huge iron key, preceding you into a dark, damp vestibule under the organ loft. As you pause for a moment to accustom your eyes to the gloom, a dank, crypt-like odor assails your nostrils, a chill strikes to your very bones and you feel as though you had inadvertently stepped into a tomb. The church is an epitome of everything medievally German: the defunct Holy Roman Empire claims it for its own. The Romanesque vaulted nave, borne on columns, dates from the twelfth century; the double Gothic south aisle was added in the fourteenth century; the north aisle (also double) with its curious twisted columns suggestive of Lombard influence, in the fifteenth. The south transept, the choir, and the apse show the original Romanesque mural painting of the beginning of the thirteenth century.
In monuments and relics the church has also furnished important contributions to the history of art. The monument to its founder (Henry the Lion) and his consort Matilda, is a Romanesque work from the middle of the thirteenth century, the remarkable altar being a gift of Matilda's and the strange seven-branched candelabrum a present from Henry. The south transept contains curious, carved wood figures, a drinking-horn of Henry's, a crozier, Gothic monstrances, etc. ; the north transept has a stone sarcophagus (that of Henry's grandmother) and more wood carvings—crucifixes and passion pillars, with figures displaying grotesque postures or horrid, gaping wounds—strange, ghastly, horrible. Yet the antiquary and the archaeologist might gloat over them. With a feeling of relief you escape the clutch of that dead empire and descend into the crypt where the collection of modern coffins looks positively cheerful by contrast.
The coffin with the glass tube and indicator, pointed out as belonging to a duke who was afraid of being buried alive, seems quite "human" and modern and far less gruesome than some of those crude, barbarous figures above. It must not be inferred that the dukes of Brunswick were afraid of death; among the forty-five persons entombed here, nine of the men fell on the field of battle. The recitation of their guttural names and of the places where they fell becomes monotonous, so you turn for a reinspection of the huge double coffin containing the remains of Frederick the Great's parents-in-law, and mentally vote it an unpleasantly conspicuous display of the panoply of death.
Perhaps at this juncture the little guide will lisp some words about the "queen who died of a broken heart." Ha! what's that? Here is something for your money. Who died of a broken heart, and why? You approach the coffin indicated, and it gives you a start to read upon the plate, half hidden by withered wreaths and dead rose-leaves, the words "Caroline of Brunswick, wife of King George IV of England."
Right here, unless I fail miserably in my prediction, you begin to display a lively interest in history, and do not rest until you have found out all about poor, simple, ingenuous Caroline. Amid shouts, the blare of trumpets, and salvos of artillery, she left her home to become the bride of the "first gentleman of Europe." It was not a love match; but neither George, nor any other prince of the time had the right to expect one. She possessed no great beauty, nor even wit; but she was kindly and bright and generous, and she would have loved him—drunk as he was the very day he married her, and dissolute and faithless ever after. Though she resorted to follies and extravagances in retaliation of his desertion, no wrong has ever been justly imputed to her; and, certainly, the "first gentleman of Europe"—petted and spoiled beyond all reason and, apparently, out of all his own reason, by the English people—owed at least formal courtesy and consideration to the Princess of Wales, his wife. When forcibly denied admission to the coronation ceremonies of her husband, the last straw was added to her burden and her heart gave way.
George's mother wished him to marry another cousin—beautiful Louise of Strelitz, famous later on as the unfortunate Queen Louise of Prussia—but financial considerations determined the choice. One is tempted to speculate whether Louise would have fared better or worse than Caroline. Reason says, "probably worse," for lack of unlimited money pinched George more than many another thing.
Moreover, beauty and wit did not always contribute to a happy solution of these complex situations. For example, another George (first of his name to rule England) married the great beauty, Sophia Dorothea of Zell; rich, witty, attractive and accomplished to a great degree, surely she should have been able to con-sort amiably with a husband who was shrewd, quiet, good-natured, and reasonably faithful as morals went in those days.
But no! She finds him cold and unsympathetic; declares she loathes him, yet is, at the same time, insanely jealous. What with her heartaches and exaggerated wrongs, she foolishly encourages an admirer of child-hood days, Philip of Konigsmarck, an engaging youth who had already figured as heavy villain on another stage. Repeated warnings from her quiet husband and his parents have no effect, and she carried her imprudence to the point of planning an elopement with young Konigsmarck during her husband's absence. This was the end : the youthful villain, betrayed by another woman to whom he had been making love, is killed resisting the soldiers sent to arrest him; and beautiful Sophia, divorced by her husband, had to spend glorious youth as well as the rest of her days, immured in the castle of Ahlden—thirty-two dreary years.
Not all these romantic tales are sad ones ; George III, for instance, was more fortunate. They say he chose the little Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz simply because he admired a letter she had written; chose her, and promptly sent for her. She was playing in the gardens at Strelitz, so the story goes, discussing sweethearts with the other girls. "Who will take such a poor little princess as me?" she exclaimed. A postilion's horn sounded, and one of the girls cried, "There is the sweetheart !" And so it proved, for the messenger brought letters which stated that the king of England wanted her for his wife. Needless to say she agreed gladly, and they were the happiest couple there ever was.
Again, we have George II, who married Caroline of Anspach, a beauty renowned for wit and learning, who, for the sake of her Protestant religion, refused an archduke—a future emperor. She worshiped her husband and was a most faithful and devoted wife; and he, though anything but faithful, really admired and loved her very much, too, in his selfish way.
Ah, me ! what stirring times of adventure and romance; what golden hours of love gone to waste for those who were too proud, too dull, too blind, to see and understand. "If Youth But Knew !" as the Castles so aptly phrased it. Have you ever read their charming tales of romantic Germany?
Had we made a slight detour, we might have come to Braunschweig via Zell (Celle) and seen there the ancestral home of the beautiful Sophia Dorothea—a former castle of the dukes of Brunswick-Luneburg. She lies buried in the vault of the parish church at Celle, which—strange coincidence !—also contains the remains of the Danish queen, Caroline Matilda. By birth an English princess, this queen ruined her life through indiscretions with a court physician and was, likewise, banished from her kingdom. Moreover, that gloomy palace in Osnabrück, that "palace without a king" which so depressed us, was where George I of England died. Perhaps Sophia Dorothea's ghost came there to vex him; perhaps it is stalking there yet—the true cause of the chill, distressing atmosphere which pervades the place.
Had we been blessed with Clio's favor and its attendant insight into things historical, we should undoubtedly have gone some two hours further out of our way, and have visited not only Celle, but also the town of Hanover, before driving to Brunswick. There we should have seen the palace and gardens of Herrenhausen—this miniature Versailles of manners and morals wellnigh incredible to our twentieth century ideas—where the electors of Hanover and the Georges of England aped prevailing fashions. The present province of Hanover, you see, runs all around the duchy, or state, of Brunswick, which resembles a little group of Brunswick islands in the corner of a big sea of Hanover.
What a fraud ! you exclaim. The idea of taking us to Brunswick and then palming off on us the history of Hanover. Yet this very thing illustrates a point I am anxious to explain. The story of Germany, of the Holy Roman Empire, or of any part of it, is a dread-fully complex affair. One cannot undertake to tell any of it without putting the cart before the horse, and another horse in front of that cart, and so on, till you have a complete circle of them. The hardest puzzle ever devised does not offer half the difficulty. It reminds me of the well-known puzzle "pigs in clover" : you chase one pig into the pen and the others get away ; then you go after the others, and the first one escapes you. The name, too, seems ludicrously appropriate, at least in many instances ; though it hardly applies to the earlier princes who were, rather, wolves in the sheepfold. As such, they held no sinecure either for there were other wolves galore, and the whole game was played to the rule of "might is right."
English history is child's play in comparison. But then, the story of the Holy Roman Empire was, one might almost say, the history of the civilized world for many long years after Charlemagne—England being an insignificant little place beyond the pale of society.
However, let us summon up courage and make a start somewhere in the history of the Welfs; being dukes of Bavaria they were very big wolves in the fold, as were the dukes of Saxony. A certain Welf (Henry the Proud) married the daughter of Lothar of Saxony. Now this duke of Saxony was a candidate for the imperial throne, and his son-in-law helped him to get it. What more natural, than that Lothar should present the now vacant duchy of Saxony to his useful son-in-law ? Thus the Welfs first came to Saxony and Brunswick.
Lothar had a continuous fight against the rest of the big wolf pack, to hold his throne. When he died, the opposition elected their emperor, who at once put Henry the Proud under the ban, and presented Saxony and Bavaria to some of his own adherents—provided they could take possession. A foxy strain, you see, in some of these old wolves. During the struggle Henry died, leaving a ten-year-old son, Henry the Lion. The senior Henry's widow married again; this formed a basis of adjustment : her second husband getting Bavaria, and her son the duchy of Saxony. So far, so good. But young Henry the Lion, son of a "proud" father, would not rest content ; having made conquests and gained adherents, he began to consider himself bigger than the emperor. Unfortunately for Henry, the emperor was now the great red wolf, Barbarossa, master of them all. Barbarossa had inaugurated courts of justice,. a novelty in those days, and had displayed a certain amount of consideration for the small wolves—nay, for the very sheep. Consequently, when he marched on Henry, the latter's friends fell away, and "the lion" had to bow to his master.
Saxony, taken from him, was divided; he retained only Brunswick and Luneburg. In search of support and aggrandizement, he married Matilda, the daughter of Henry II of England, and from this union sprang several sons, one of whom was named William. William's son Otto was the first duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg; Celle and Hanover were added to this duchy and her rulers afterward became electors of Hanover. Thus it is that the English house of Han-over were Welfs and first came . from Brunswick. Eventually another line, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, reigned over Brunswick.
George I was even closer to England, as his mother, electress of Hanover, was a granddaughter of James I. Being the nearest eligible Protestant in the succession, George was called from his electorate of Hanover to the throne of England. A German king, unable to speak a word of English, who roared his sonorous German—God save the mark !—in the palace of St. James; truth to tell, it was good German, the Hanoverians being noted for the purest diction and pronunciation in all Germany. .Poor England ! with her Normans, Welsh, Scotch, Dutch, and Germans—how long it is since she has had an English king !
A truce to these dry tales. After all, we entered Brunswick, not as students, but as tourists out for a holiday, and such let us remain. A bridge over the moat at the Wendenthor brought us into the town. This moat is really a branch of the Oker river which has been divided and, after encircling the town, is permitted to reunite and go on its way rejoicing; water was once of greater importance strategically than it now is commercially. We followed the trolley-tracks to the Hagenmarkt and not seeing our hotel, the '`Deutsches Haus," pushed on to the next square, where we found it. This was our usual mode of entering or passing through most of the larger towns, and it is a good one; when you see a trolley-track, follow it; it will almost invariably lead to the market place.
On the market place, or near it, you will generally find the principal sights and the best hotels or, in small places, the only ones. Of course, this plan does not apply so well in large cities, but even here it pays to follow the trolleys, as they usually lead to the center of the town. On the Markt (market place) or on the main street, you will always find policemen or citizens to direct you. Should you desire to pass through a fairly large town or a small city it is always advisable to find your way to the market or the city hall, first of all. Once there, ask for the street leading to the next town en route. It is best to inquire repeatedly, for similar names and landmarks, or your failure to recognize landmarks given, may mislead you.
The "Deutsches Haus" is centrally located and has many windows overlooking the Burgplatz. A hatrack garnished with swords and belts and many-colored military caps first called our attention to its army patronage. This alone is, in Germany, a sign of excellence, as the best hotel is none too good for the officers. A few years ago we should have seen, across the square, the old buildings of the Pauline convene; but they have been razed, and we could only trace the outline of arch and vaulting on the walls of the adjacent structures. The débris was covered, not —as you might conjecture—with a growth of weeds, but with a beautiful, purplish mantle of flowers, reminiscent of the buried cloister garden.
Braunschweig is a treasure house of half-timbered buildings, surpassing Osnabrück in this respect. Certain vistas of its tiled roofs with crazy gables, dormers, eyelets, and chimney-pots, in endless variety, recall the famous views over the roofs of Nuremberg and of Meissen. Scoffy and the Youth took great delight in losing themselves among narrow, winding streets and alleys overshadowed by venerable gables and queer, leaning, timbered walls. They managed to escape from the maze only with the aid of various church towers, and of the post-office, always an easily recognized landmark because of its crowning framework to which all the telegraph wires in town converge.
With this wealth of medieval dwellings adorned by many an old motto, it is perhaps natural the citizens should have preserved a decidedly "Gothic" turn of mind ; travelers who have had the opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted, assert that the towns folk's firm belief in fairies, witches and goblins, in omens, proverbs, and quaint superstitious customs is remarkable. At the same time, a frank, innate humor and mother-wit make their superstition appear almost convincing. Indeed, the Luneburg district just traversed has contributed largely to fairy and folk lore, being specially noted for its Heinzelmannchen—a kind of brownie or friendly house-goblin—who secretly per-form a deal of work about one's home, but sharply resent criticism or observation; they often foretell events and give friendly warnings. An authentic Heinzchen appeared, from 1584-88, in castle Hudeninühlen on the Aller, and in the neighboring castle of Ahlden.
Memorials to great men and prominent characters abound not only in the public squares, but on the sides of buildings and in other unexpected places. A column in the Stadtpark commemorates General Olfermann, who led the Brunswick troops at Waterloo. In St. Leonhard's Platz is a monument to Schill, the Prussian officer who tried to create a popular uprising against Napoleon ; receiving little support and being surrounded by Napoleon's Dutch and Westphalian allies at Stralsund, he and most of his adherents fell, fighting. Eleven officers were taken and executed at Wesel by Napoleon's command; fourteen soldiers were shot in Brunswick, and their bodies (together with Schill's head) were interred at the spot now marked by his monument. The year 1809 was "a year full of glory and disaster," so the inscription states.
An interesting monument is the Till Eulenspiegel Brunnen (fountain). Its odd conceit (Till Eulenspiegel talking to an audience of monkeys and owls) refers to the forms of cakes he baked while a journeyman but, to my mind, it also cleverly symbolizes his monkeyshines which always had a very substantial basis of shrewdness and wisdom.
Venerable buildings are so numerous one can hardly mention all; of these, the old weigh-house (Alte Wage), the Gewandhaus, the old L-shaped Rathaus (with its two-story Gothic arcade), the Vaterlandische Museum, and a dozen or more patrician dwellings are truly gems. Nor is it possible to adequately describe the fine old churches—several, originally Romanesque basilicas—filled with treasures of art.
There is a peculiar charm about these churches, bare and angular though they be. At sundown, go stand on the Hagenmarkt, opposite the narrow, sparingly ornamented front of the Katherinenkirche; look up to the great Gothic bell-chamber window embraced by the towers ; look still higher, to where doves are circling round the spires silhouetted against the evening sky, and you will agree that it is a rarely impressive sight. The longer you look the more you will be impressed, until, as you gaze, the voices of children on the square fade away in the hush of evening, and your thoughts travel back through ages, pondering on the strange scenes and startling changes those gaunt gray towers have witnessed. They alone have survived that varicolored, ever-shifting picture on the square; now they frown on you, outlandish pigmy, standing on this German Markt where the rush of life has gone surging by for near a thousand years. Food for reflection this certainly affords, and an unusual insight into the "faith that makes faithful", suggested by the lines, "This world is all a fleeting show, For man's illusion given." Meanwhile night has fallen and a fitful, wavering light flickers on the corner house of Wenden Strasse. You are almost convinced it is cast by the lanthorn of the "night watch" whom you momentarily expect to see striking his staff upon the stones and crying,
"Listen, my friends, and let me tell you,
The clock's struck nine, and it were well you Covered your fire and prayed to the Lord ;
For He alone brings the morrow."
But the light quickly grows into a steady glare, a bell clangs, and the noisy trolley-car sweeping into the Markt startles you from your reverie.
Among Brunswick's legends the most remarkable concerns Henry the Lion. His absence in foreign climes exceeded even the seven years' limit set by him-self. After unusual hardships and adventures he reached home to learn that his wife, having given him up for lost, was about to marry a young noble; and the wedding festivities had already begun when Henry, in pilgrim's guise, reached the castle gate and requested a beaker of wine poured by the duchess' hand. She could not refuse the request of a holy pilgrim on the eve of her marriage. Dropping his seal ring into the gold beaker, Henry returned it ; whereupon the duchess hurried out to hear what news this pilgrim might bring. Of course—or shall we say, fortunately—she was overjoyed to see her lost spouse, and her prospective bridegroom was wedded to Henry's ward, a rich Frankish princess. Henry was accompanied by a lion he had saved from death, and which had, in turn, saved him from starvation by going hunting while he lay sick. Some say the carved lion at the foot of Henry's effigy, as well as the curious bronze statue on the square, commemorates this faithful beast.
The origin of the name Welf (whelp) is explained in several ingenuous stories, all somewhat similar. A countess of Bavaria's Ravensprung line grew very much exercised when the stork brought triplets to the wife of a retainer, and said, very plainly, she considered it an evidence of faithlessness and thought the mother should be drowned—the penalty paid by unfaithful wives. But Heaven vindicated the happy mother; for the countess gave birth to twelve boys at one time and thus stood condemned out of her own mouth should her lord concur in her previous opinion. He was absent at this time, so the countess persuaded an aged tirewoman to take away eleven of the babes, with a view to drowning them. The count chanced to meet the woman and inquired what her burden was; she replied, "Only eleven little whelps for drowning." In spite of her protestations he insisted upon looking at the puppies, and, at sight of eleven tiny boys, soon got her confession of the whole story. The count was wroth, but confined his revenge to secretly raising the children and then confronting his wife with them, at the same time decreeing that his descendants should bear the name Welf.
You must not be alarmed at a tale of twelve children; the old German chroniclers were comparatively moderate. From the village of Leusden, near The Hague, comes a story of a noblewoman (some say a countess of Henneberg) who entertained similar suspicions of a beggar woman just because she carried twins in her arms ; the woman turned on the countess with a curse, saying "May you give birth to as many children as there are days in the year." This did occur, in the year of our Lord, 1270, and Bishop Guido of Utrecht baptized the 365, naming the boys John and the girls Elizabeth. The countess and her children died, but the local church treasured the brass basins in which "zyn aile deze kinderen gedoopt," and the church at Delft erected a tablet commemorating this marvel.
It would hardly be fair to leave Braunschweig with-out mentioning the present ducal palace, a large Renaissance structure with a great quadriga above its central portico. Quite a remarkable quadriga, cleverly constructed by Howaldt out of sheets of copper lest its weight prove too heavy for the foundations. Pater declared the palace "an old barracks," but he was probably annoyed, like the rest of us, to find that it did not harmonize with picturesque Brunswick. A friend, who spent school days in this charming town, inquired had we seen the palace and the quadriga; I assured him that the quadriga was still driving westward over Brunswick, though-since it is symbolical of modern progress riding roughshod over beloved antiquities—I added sotto voce, that it had not advanced an inch and I hoped it never would.
That night an important "diet" was held, not in the House of the Diet near the Altstadt-Rathaus, but in a sitting-room of the Deutsches Haus. It concerned the progress of our little American colony; and advocates of this or that plan made earnest speeches to carry their point. The condition of roads and the steepness of their grades were weighed and balanced; lengths of runs were computed in kilometers, reduced to miles, and then to running time. Questions of meal hours, daylight, gasoline, the choice of hotels, the relative importance of sights and the time required to see them had to be considered ; it was well toward midnight when our quandaries had been settled. The owner of a private car, as you begin to see, must, by continual inquiry and by constant study of his maps and guides, thresh out matters that a local chauffeur would have at his fingers' ends.
At ten o'clock next morning, we started for Hildesheim, leaving grim, immutable St. Catherine's still watching o'er the square, and the quadriga still steadfastly heading westward.