Freiburg And The Black Forest
( Originally Published 1889 )
Frankfort, July 29, 1845.-It would be ingratitude towards the old city in which I have passed so many pleasant and profitable hours, to leave it, perhaps forever, without a few words of fare-well. How often will the old bridge with its view up the Main, over the houses of Oberrad to the far mountains of the Odenwald, rise freshly and distinctly in memory, when I shall have been long absent from them ! How often will I hear in fancy as I now do in reality, the heavy tread of passers-by, on the rough pavement below, and the deep bell of the Cathedral, chiming the swift hours, with a hollow tone that seems to warn me, rightly to employ them ! Even this old room, with its bare walls, little table and chairs, which I have thought and studied in so long, that it seems difficult to think and study anywhere else, will crowd out of memory images of many a loftier scene. May I but preserve for the future the hope and trust which have cheered and sustained me here, through the sorrow of absence and the anxiety of uncertain toil ! It is growing towards midnight, and I think of many a night when I sat here at this hour, answering the spirit-greeting which friends sent me at sunset over the sea. All this has now an end. I must begin a new wandering, and perhaps in ten days more I shall have a better place for thought, among the mountain chambers of the everlasting Alps. I look forward to the journey with romantic, enthusiastic anticipation, for afar in the silvery distance, stand the Coliseum and St. Peter's, Vesuvius and the lovely Naples. Farewell, friends who have so long given us a home!
Aug. 9.-The airy, basket-work tower of the Freiburg Minster rises before me over the black, roofs of the houses, and behind stand the gloomy, pine-covered mountains of the Black Forest. Of our walk to Heidelberg over the ft-trodden Bergstrasse, I shall say nothing, nor how we climbed the Kaiserstuhl again, and danced around on the top of the tower for one hour, amid cloud and mist, while there was sunshine below in the valley of the Neckar. I left Heidelberg yesterday morning in the stehwagen for Carlsruhe. The engine whistled, the train started, and although I kept my eyes steadily fixed on the spire of the Hauptkirche, three minutes hid it, and all the rest of the city from sight. Carlsruhe, the capital of Baden, which we reached in an hour and a half, is unanimously pronounced by travellers to be a most dull and tiresome city. From a glance I had, through one of the gates, I should think its reputation was not undeserved. Even its name, in German, signifies a place of repose.
I stopped at Kork, on the branch road leading to Strasbourg, to meet a German-American about to return to my home in Pennsylvania, where he had lived for some time. I inquired according to the direction he had sent me to Frankfort, but he was not there; however, an old man, finding who I was, said Herr Otto had directed him to go with me to Hesselhurst, a village four or five miles off, where he would meet me. So we set off immediately over the plain and reached the village at dusk.
At the little inn were several of the farmers of the neighborhood, who seemed to consider it as something extraordinary to see a real, live, native-born American. They overwhelmed me with questions about the state of our country, its government, etc. The hostess brought me a supper of fried eggs and wurst, while they gathered around the table and began a real category in the dialect of the country, which is difficult to understand. I gave them the best information I could about our mode of farming, the different kinds of produce raised, and the prices paid to laborers; one honest old man cried out, on my saying I had worked on a farm, "Ah! little brother, give me your hand ! which he shook most heartily. I told them also something about our government and the militia system, so different from the conscription of Europe, when a farmer becoming quite warm in our favor, said to the others with an air of the greatest decision : " One American is better than twenty Germans!" What particularly amused me, was, that although I spoke German with them, they seemed to think I did not understand what they said among one another, and therefore commented very freely over my appearance. I suppose they had the idea that we were a rude, savage race, for I overheard one say : "One sees, nevertheless, that he has been educated ! Their honest, unsophisticated mode of expression was very interesting to me, and we talked together till a late hour.
My friend arrived at three o'clock the next morning, and after two or three hours' talk about home, and the friends whom hr expected to see so much sooner than I, young farmer drove me in his wagon to Offenburg, a small city at the foot of the Black Forest, where I took the cars for Freiburg. The scenery between the two places is grand. The broad mountains of the Black Forest rear their fronts on the east, and the blue lines of the French Vosges meet the clouds on the west. The night before, in walking over the plain, I saw distinctly the whole of the Strasbourg Minster, whose spire is the highest in Europe, being four hundred and ninety feet, or but twenty-five feet lower than the Pyramid of Cheops.
I visited the Minster of Freiburg yesterday morning. It is a grand, gloomy old pile, dating from the eleventh century-one of the few Gothic churches in Germany that have ever. been completed. The tower of beautiful fret-work rises to the height of three hundred and ninety-five feet, and the body of the church, including the choir, is of the same length. The interior is solemn and majestic. Windows stained in colors that burn, let in a "dim, religious light" which accords very well with the dark old pillars and antique shrines. In two of the chapels there are some fine altar-pieces by Holbein and one of his scholars; and a very large crucifix of silver and ebony, which is kept with great care, is said to have been carried with the Crusaders to the Holy Land. This morning was the great market-day, and the peasantry of the Black Forest came down from the mountains to dispose of their produce. The square around the Minster was filled with them, and the singular costume of the women gave the scene quite a strange appearance. Many of them wore bright red head-dresses and shawls, others had high-crowned hats of yellow oil-cloth; the young girls wore their hair in long plaits, reaching nearly to their feet. They brought grain, butter and cheese, and a great deal of fine fruit to sell-I bought some of the wild, aromatic plums of the country, at the rate of thirty for a cent.
The railroad has only been open to Freiburg within a few days, and is consequently an object of great curiosity to the peasants, many of whom never saw the like before. They throng around the station at the departure of the train and watch with great interest the operations of getting up the steam and starting. One of the scenes that grated most harshly on my feelings, was seeing yesterday a company of women employed on an unfinished part of the road. They were digging and shoveling away in the rain, nearly up to their knees in mud and clay !
I called at the Institute for the Blind, under the direction of Mr. Muller. He showed me some beautiful basket and- woven work by his pupils; the accuracy and skill with which every thing was made astonished me. They read with amazing facility from the raised type, and by means of frames are taught to write with ease and distinctness. In music, that great solace of the blind, they most excelled. They sang with an expression so true and touching that it was a delight to listen. The system of instruction adopted appears to be most excellent, and gives to the blind nearly every advantage which their more fortunate brethren enjoy.
I am indebted to Mr. Muller, to whom I was introduced by an acquaintance with his friend, Dr. Rivinus, of West Chester, Pa., for many kind attentions. He went with us this afternoon to the Jagerhaus,on a mountain near, where we had a very fine view of the city and its great black Minster, with the plain of the Briesgau, broken only by the Kaiserstuhl, a long mountain near the Rhine, whose golden stream glittered in the distance. On climbing the Schloss-berg, an eminence near the city, we met the Grand Duchess Stephanie, a natural daughter of Napoleon, as I have heard, and now generally believed to be the mother of Caspar Hauser. Through a work lately published, which has since been suppressed, the whole history has come to light. Caspar Hauser was the lineal descendant of the house of Baden, and heir to the throne. The guilt of his imprisonment and murer rests, therefore, upon the present reigning family.
A chapel on the Schonberg, the mountain op posite, was pointed out as the spot where Louis XV., if I mistake not, usually stood while his army besieged Freiburg. A German officer having sent a ball to this chapel which struck the wall just above the king's head, the latter sent word that if they did not cease firing he would point his cannons at the Minster. The citizens thought it best to spare the monarch and save the cathedral.
We attended a meeting of the Walhalla, or society of the students who visit the Freiburg University. They pleased me better than the enthusiastic but somewhat unrestrained Burschenschaft of Heidelberg. Here, they have abolished duelling; the greatest friendship prevails among the students, and they have not that contempt for every thing philister, or unconnected with their studies, which prevails in other universities.. - Many respectable citizens attend their meetings; tonight there was a member of the Chamber of Deputies at Carlsruhe present, who delivered two speeches, in which every third word was "freedom!" An address was delivered also by a merchant of the city, in which he made a play upon the word spear, which signifies also in a cant sense, citizen, and seemed to indicate that both would do their work in the good cause. He was loudly applauded. Their song of union was by Charles Follen, and the students were much pleased when I told them how he was honored and esteemed in America.
After two days, delightfully spent, we shouldered our knapsacks and left Freiburg. The beautiful valley, at the mouth of which the city lies, runs like an avenue for seven miles directly into the mountains, and presents in its loveliness such a contrast to the horrid defile which follows, that it almost deserves the name which has been given to a little inn at its head-the "Kingdom of Heaven." The mountains of the Black Forest enclose it on each side like walls, covered to the summit with luxuriant woods, and in some places with those forests of gloomy pine which give this region its name. After traversing its whole length, just before plunging into the mountain-depths, the traveller rarely meets with a finer picture than that which, on looking back, he sees framed between the hills at the other end. Freiburg looks around the foot of one of the heights, with the spire of her cathedral peeping above the top, while the French Vosges grew dim in the far perspective.
The road now enters a wild, narrow valley, which grows smaller as we proceed. From Himmelriech, a large rude inn by the side of green meadows, we enter the Hollenthal-that is, from the " Kingdom of Heaven" to the " Valley of Hell!" The latter place better deserves its appellation than the former. The road winds between precipices of black rock, above which the thick foliage shuts out the brightness of day and gives a sombre hue to the scene. A torrent foams down the chasm, and in one place two mighty pillars interpose to prevent all passage. The stream, however, has worn its way through, and the road is hewn in the rock by its side. This cleft is the only entrance to a valley three or four miles long, which lies in the very heart of the mountains. It is inhabited by a few woodmen and their families, and but for the road which passes through, would be as perfect a solitude as the Happy Valley of Rasselas. At the farther end, a winding road called "The Ascent," leads up the steep mountain to an elevated region of country, thinly settled and covered with herds of cattle. The cherries which, in the Rhine-plain below, had long gone, were just ripe here. The people spoke a most barbarous dialect; they were social and friendly, for everybody greeted us, and some-times, as we sat on a bank by the roadside, those who passed by would say "Rest thee!" or "Thrice rest !"
Passing by the Titi Lake, a small body of water which was spread out among the hills like a sheet of ink, so deep was its Stygian hue, we commenced ascending a mountain. The highest peak of the Schwarzwald, the Feldberg, rose not far off, and on arriving at the top of this mountain, we saw that a half hour's walk would bring us to its summit. This was too great a temptation for my love of climbing heights; so with a look at the descending sun to calculate how much time we could spare, we set out. There was no path, but we pressed directly up the steep side, through bushes and long grass, and in a short time reached the top, breathless from such exertion in the thin atmosphere. The pine woods shut out the view to the north and east, which is said to be magnificent, as the mountain is about five thousand feet high. The wild, black peaks of the Black Forest were spread be-low us, and the sun sank through golden mist towards the Alsatian hills. Afar to the south, through cloud and storm, we could just trace the white outline of the Swiss Alps. The wind swept through the pines around, and bent the long yellow grass among which we sat, with a strange, mournful sound, well suiting the gloomy and mysterious region. It soon grew cold, the golden clouds settled down towards us, and we made haste to descend to the village of Lenzkirch before dark.
Next morning we set out early, without waiting to see the trial of archery which was to take place among the mountain youths. Their booths and targets, gay with banners, stood on a green meadow beside the town. We walked through the Black Forest the whole forenoon. It might be owing to the many wild stories whose scenes are laid among these hills, but with me there was a peculiar feeling of solemnity pervading the whole region. The great pine woods are of the very darkest hue of green, and down their hoary,, moss-floored aisles, daylight seems never to have shone. The air was pure and clear, and the sunshine bright, but it imparted no gaiety to the scenery : except the little meadows of living emerald which lay occasionally in the lap of a dell, the landscape wore a solemn and serious air. In a storm, it must be sublime.
About noon, from the top of the last range of hills, we had a glorious view. The line of the distant Alps could be faintly traced high in the clouds, and all the heights between were plainly visible, from the Lake of Constance to the misty Jura, which flanked the "Vosges of the west. From our lofty station we overlooked half Switzerland, and had the air been a little clearer, we could have seen Mont Blanc and the mountains of Savoy. I could not help envying the feelings of the Swiss, who, after long absence from their native land, first see the Alps from this road. If to the emotions with which I then looked on them were added the passionate love of home and country which a long absence ereates, such excess of rapture would be almost too great to be borne.
In the afternoon we crossed the border, and took leave of Germany with regret, after near a year's residence within its bounds. Still it was pleasant to know we were in a republic once more : the first step we took made us aware of the change. There was no policeman to call for our passports or search our baggage. It was just dark when we reached the hill overlooking the Rhine, on whose steep banks is perched the antique town of Schaffhausen. It is still walled in, with towers at regular intervals; the streets are wide and spacious, and the houses rendered extremely picturesque by the quaint projecting windows. The buildings are nearly all old, as we learned by the dates above the doors. At the inn, I met with one of the free troopers who marched against Luzerne. He was full of spirit, and ready to undertake another such journey. Indeed it is the universal opinion that the present condition of things cannot last much longer.
We took a walk before breakfast to the Falls of the Rhine, about a mile and a half from Schaffhausen. I confess I was somewhat disappointed in them,. after the glowing descriptions of travellers. The river at this place is little more. than thirty yards wide, and the body of water, although issuing from the Lake of Con stance, is not remarkably strong. For some distance above, the fall of the water is very rapid, and as it finally reaches the spot where,. narrowed between rocks, it makes the grand plunge, it has acquired a great velocity. Three rocks stand in the middle of the current, which thunders against and around their bases, but cannot shake them down. These and the rocks in the bed of the stream, break the force of the fall, so that it descends to the bottom, about fifty feet below, not in one sheet, but shivered into a hundred leaps of snowy foam. The precipitous shores, and the tasteful little castle which is perched upon the steep just over the boiling spray, add much to its beauty, taken as a picture. As a specimen of the picturesque, the whole scene is perfect. I should think Trenton Falls,, in New York, must excel these in wild, startling effect; but there is such a scarcity of waterfalls in this land, that the Germans go into raptures about them, and will hardly believe that Niagara itself possesses more sublimity.