My First Year In Germany
( Originally Published 1917 )
THE second day out on the Imperator, headed for a summer's vacation, a loud knocking woke me at seven A. M. The radio, handed in from a friend in New York, told me of my appointment as Ambassador to Germany.
Many friends were on the ship. Henry Morgenthau, later Ambassador to Turkey, Colonel George Harvey, Adolph Ochs and Louis Wiley of the New York Times, Clarence Mackay, and others.
The Imperator is a marvellous ship of fifty-four thousand tons or more, and at times it is hard to believe that one is on the sea. In addition to the regular dining saloon, there is a grill room and Ritz restaurant with its palm garden, and, of course, an Hungarian Band. There are also a gymnasium and swimming pool, and, nightly, in the enormous ballroom dances are given, the women dressing in their best just as they do on shore.
Colonel Harvey and Clarence Mackay gave me a dinner of twenty-four covers, something of a record at sea. For long afterwards in Germany, I saw everywhere pictures of the Imperator including one of the tables set for this dinner. These were sent out over Germany as a sort of propaganda to induce the Germans to patronise their own ships and indulge in ocean travel. I wish that the propaganda had been earlier and more successful, because it is by travel that peoples learn to know each other, and consequently to abstain from war.
On the night of the usual ship concert, Henry Morgenthau translated a little speech for me into German, which I managed to get through after painfully learning it by heart. Now that I have a better knowledge of German, a cold sweat breaks out when I think of the awful German accent with which I delivered that address.
A flying trip to Berlin early in August to look into the house question followed, and then I returned to the United States.
In September I went to Washington to be "instructed," talked with the President and Secretary, and sat at the feet of the Assistant Secretary of State, Alvey A. Adee, the revered Sage of the Department of State.
On September ninth, 1913, having resigned as justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, I sailed for Germany, stopping on the way in London in order to make the acquaintance of Ambassador Page, certain wise people in Washington having expressed the belief that a personal acquaintance of our Ambassadors made it easier for them to work together.
Two cares assail a newly appointed Ambassador. He must first take thought of what he shall wear and where he shall live. All other nations have beautiful Embassies or Legations in Berlin, but I found that my two immediate predecessors had occupied a villa originally built as a two-family house, pleasantly enough situated, but two miles from the centre of Berlin and entirely unsuitable for an Embassy.
There are few private houses in Berlin, most of the people living in apartments. After some trouble I found a handsome house on the Wilhelm Platz immediately opposite the Chancellor's palace and the Foreign Office, in the very centre of Berlin. This house had been built as a palace for the Princes Hatzfeld and had later passed into the possession of a banking family named von Schwabach.
The United States Government, unlike other nations, does not own or pay the rent of a suitable Embassy, but gives allowance for offices, if the house is large enough to afford office room for the office force of the Embassy. The von Schwabach palace was nothing but a shell. Even the gas and electric light fixtures had been removed, and when the hot water and heating system, bath-rooms, electric lights and fixtures, etc., had been put in, and the house furnished from top to bottom, my first year's salary had far passed the minus point.
The palace was not ready for occupancy until the end of January, 1914, and, in the meantime, we lived at the Hotel Esplanade, and I transacted business at the old, two-family villa.
There are more diplomats in Berlin than in any other capital in the world, because each of the twenty-five States constituting the German Empire sends a legation to Berlin ; even the free cities of Hamburg, Lubeck and Bremen have a resident minister at the Empire's capital.
Invariable custom requires a new Ambassador in Berlin to give two receptions, one to the Diplomatic Corps and the other to all those people who have the right to go to court. These are the officials, nobles and officers of the army and navy, and such other persons as have been presented at court. Such people are called hoffhig, meaning that they are fit for court.
It is interesting here to note that Jews are not admitted to court. Such Jews as have been ennobled and allowed to put the coveted "von" before their names have first of all been required to submit to baptism in some Christian church. Examples are the von Schwabach family, whose ancestral house I occupied in Berlin, and Friedlaender-Fuld, officially rated as the richest man in Berlin, who made a large fortune in coke and its by-products.
These two receptions are really introductions of an Ambassador to official and court society.
Before these receptions, however, and in the month of November, I presented my letters of credence as Ambassador to the Emperor. This presentation is quite a ceremony. Three coaches were sent for me and my staff, coaches like that in which Cinderella goes to her ball, mostly glass, with white wigged coachmen, outriders in white wigs and standing footmen holding on to the back part of the coach. Baron von Roeder, introducer of Ambassadors, came for me and accompanied me in the first coach; the men of the Embassy staff sat in the other two coaches. Our little procession progressed solemnly through the streets of Berlin, passing on the way through the centre division of the arch known as the Brandenburger Thor, the gateway that stands at the head of the Unter den Linden, a privilege given only on this occasion.
We mounted long stairs in the palace, and in a large room were received by the aides and the officers of the Emperor's household, of course all in uniform. Then I was ushered alone into the adjoining room where the Emperor, very erect and dressed in the black uniform of the Death's Head Hussars, stood by a table. I made him a little speech, and presented my letters of credence and the letters of recall of my predecessor. The Emperor then unbent from his very erect and impressive attitude and talked with me in a very friendly manner, especially impressing me with his interest in business and commercial affairs. I then, in accordance with custom, asked leave to present my staff. The doors were opened. The staff came in and were presented to the Emperor, who talked in a very jolly and agreeable way to all of us, saying that he hoped above all to see the whole of the Embassy staff riding in the Tier Garten in the mornings.
The Emperor is a most impressive figure, and, in his black uniform surrounded by his officers, certainly looked every inch a king. Although my predecessors, on occasions of this kind, had worn a sort of fancy diplomatic uniform designed by themselves, I decided to abandon this and return to the democratic, if unattractive and uncomfortable, dress-suit, simply because the newspapers of America and certain congressmen, while they have had no objection to the wearing of uniforms by the army and navy, police and postmen, and do not expect officers to lead their troops into battle in dress-suits, have, nevertheless, had a most extraordinary prejudice against American diplomats following the usual custom of adopting a diplomatic uniform.
Some days after my presentation to the Emperor, I was taken to Potsdam, which is situated about half an hour's train journey from Berlin, and, from the station there, driven to the new palace and presented to the Empress. The Empress was most charming and affable, and presented a very distinguished appearance. Accompanied by Mrs. Gerard, and always, either by night or by day, in the infernal dress-suit, I was received by the Crown Prince and Princess, and others of the royal princes and their wives. On these occasions we sat down and did not stand, as when received by the Emperor and Empress, and simply made "polite conversation" for about twenty minutes, being received first by the ladies-in-waiting and aides. These princes were always in uniform of some kind.
At the reception for the hoffahig people Mrs. Gerard stood in one room and I in another, and with each of us was a representative of the Emperor's household to introduce the people of the court, and an army officer to introduce the people of the army. The officer assigned to mediaeval costume and sat in a gallery, sounded trumpets and then the Emperor and Empress entered the room, the Emperor, of course, in uniform, followed by the ladies and gentlemen of the household all in brilliant uniforms, and one or two officers of the court regiment, picked out for their great height and dressed in the kind of uniform Rupert of Hentzau wears on the stage, a silver helmet surmounted by an eagle, a steel breast-plate, white breeches and coat, and enormous high boots coming half way up the thigh. The Grand Huntsman wore a white wig, three-cornered hat and a long green coat.
On entering the room, the Empress usually commenced on one side and the Emperor on the other, going around the room and speaking to the Ambassadors' wives and Ambassadors, etc., in turn, and the Empress in similar fashion, chatting for a moment with the German dignitaries and their wives lined up on the opposite side of the room. After going perhaps half way around each side, the Emperor and Empress would then change sides. This going around the room and chatting with people in turn is called "making the circle," and young royalties are practised in "making the circle" by being made to go up to the trees in a garden and address a few pleasant words to each tree, in this manner learning one of the principal duties of royalty.
The dancing is only by young women and young officers of noble families who have practised the dances before. They are under the superintendence of several young officers who are known as Vortanzer and when any one in Berlin in court society gives a ball these Vortanzer are the ones who see that all dancing is conducted strictly according to rule and manage the affairs of the ballroom with true Prussian efficiency. Supper is about ten-thirty at a court ball and is at small tables., Each royalty has a table holding about eight people and to these people are invited without particular rule as to precedence. The younger guests and lower dignitaries are not placed at supper but find places at tables to suit themselves. After supper all go back to the ballroom and there the young ladies and officers, led by the Vortanzer, execute a sort of lancers, in the final figure of which long lines are formed of dancers radiating from the throne; and all the dancers make bows and curtsies to the Emperor and Em-press who are either standing or sitting at this time on the throne. At about eleven-thirty the ball is over, and as the guests pass out through the long hall, they are given glasses of hot punch and a peculiar sort of local Berlin bun, in order to ward off the lurking dangers of the villainous winter climate.
At the court balls the diplomats are, of course, in their best diplomatic uniform. All Germans are in uniform of some kind, but the women do not wear the long trains worn at the Schleppencour. They wear ordinary ball dresses. In connection with court dancing it is rather interesting to note that when the tango and turkey trot made their way over the frontiers of Germany in the autumn of 1913, the Emperor issued a special order that no officers of the army or navy should dance any of these dances or should go to the house of any person who, at any time, whether officers were present or not, had allowed any of these new dances to be danced. This effectually extinguished the turkey trot, the bunny hug and the tango, and maintained the waltz and the polka in their old estate. It may seem ridiculous that such a decree should be so solemnly issued, but I believe that the higher authorities in Germany earnestly desired that the people, and, especially, the officers of the army and navy, should learn not to enjoy themselves too much. A great endeavour was always made to keep them in a life, so far as possible, of Spartan simplicity. For instance, the army officers were forbidden to play polo, not because of any-thing against the game, which, of course, is splendid prac tice for riding, but because it would make a distinction in the army between rich and poor.
The Emperor's birthday, January twenty-seventh, is a day of great celebration. At nine-thirty in the morning the Ambassadors, Ministers and all the dignitaries of the court attend Divine Service in the chapel of the pal-ace. On this day in 1914, the Queen of Greece and many of the reigning princes of the German States were present. In the evening there was a gala performance in the opera house, the entire house being occupied by members of the court. Between the acts in the large foyer, royalties "made the circle," and I had quite a long conversation with both the Emperor and Empress and was "caught" by the King of Saxony. Many of the Ambassadors have letters of credence not only to the court at Berlin but also to the rulers of the minor German States. For instance, the Belgian Minister was accredited to thirteen countries in Germany and the Spanish Ambassador to eleven. For some reason or other, the American and Turkish Ambassadors are accredited only to the court at Berlin. Some of the German rulers feel this quite keenly, and the King of Saxony, especially. I had been warned that he was very anxious to show his resentment of this distinction by refusing to shake hands with the American Ambassador. He was in the foyer on the occasion of this gala performance and said that he would like to have me presented to him. I, of course, could not refuse, but forgot the warning of my predecessors and put out my hand, which the King ostentatiously neglected to take. A few moments later the wife of the Turkish Ambassador was presented to the King of Saxony and received a similar rebuff; but, as she was a daughter of the Khedive of Egypt, and therefore a Royal Highness in her own right, she went around the King of Saxony, seized his hand, which he had put behind him, brought it around to the front and shook it warmly, a fine example of great presence of mind.
Writing of all these things and looking out from a sky-scraper in New York, these details of court life seem very frivolous and far away. But an Ambassador is compelled to become part of this system. The most important conversations with the Emperor sometimes take place at court functions, and the Ambassador and his secretaries often gather their most useful bits of information over tea cups or with the cigars after dinner.
Aside from the short season, Berlin is rather dull; Bismarck characterised it as a "desert of bricks and newspapers."
In addition to making visits to the royalties, custom required me to call first upon the Imperial Chancellor and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The other ministers are supposed to call first, although I believe the redoubt-able von Tirpitz claimed a different rule. So, during the first winter I gradually made the acquaintance of those people who sway the destinies of the German Empire and its seventy millions.
I dined with the Emperor and had long conversations with him on New Year's Day and at the two court balls.
All during this winter Germans from the highest down tried to impress me with the great danger which they said threatened American from Japan. The military and naval attachés and I were told that the German information system sent news that Mexico was full of Japanese colonels and America of Japanese spies. Possibly much of the prejudice in America against the Japanese was cooked up by the German propagandists whom we later learned to know so well.
It is noteworthy that during the whole of my first win-ter in Berlin I was not officially or semi-officially afforded an opportunity to meet any of the members of the Reichstag or any of the leaders in the business world. The great merchants, whose acquaintance I made, as well as the literary and artistic people, I had to seek out, be cause most of them were not hoffahig and I did not come in contact with them at any court functions, official dinners or even in the houses of the court nobles or those connected with the government.
A very interesting character whom I met during the first winter and often conversed with, was Prince Henkel-Donnersmarck. Prince Donnersmarck, who died December, 1916, at the age of eighty-six years, was the richest male subject in Germany, the richest subject being Frau von Krupp-Bohlen, the heiress of the Krupp cannon foundry. He was the first governor of Lorraine during the war of 1870 and had had a finger in all of the political and commercial activities of Germany for more than half a century. He told me, on one occasion, that he had advocated exacting a war indemnity of thirty milliards from France after the war of 187o, and said that France could easily pay it and that that sum or much more should be exacted as an indemnity at the conclusion of the World War of 1914. He said that he had always advocated a protective tariff for agricultural products in Germany as well as encouragement of the German manufacturing interests: that agriculture was necessary to the country in order to provide strong soldiers for war, and manufacturing industries to provide money to pay for the army and navy and their equipment. He made me promise to take his second son to America in order that he might see American life, and the great iron and coal districts of Pennsylvania. Of course, most of these conversations took place before the World War. After two years of that war and, as prospects of paying the expenses of the war from the indemnities to be exacted from the enemies of Germany gradually melted away, the Prince quite naturally developed a great anxiety as to how the expenses of the war should be paid by Germany; and I am sure that this anxiety had much to do with his death at the end of the year, 1916.
Custom demanded that I should ask for an appointment and call on each of the Ambassadors on arrival. The British Ambassador was Sir Edward Goschen, a man of perhaps sixty-eight years, a widower. He spoke French, of course, and German; and, accompanied by his dog, was a frequent visitor at our house. I am very grateful for the help and advice he so generously gave me doubly valuable as coming from a man of his fame and experience. Jules Cambon was the Ambassador of France. His brother, Paul, is Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Jules Cambon is well-known to Americans, having passed five years in this country. He was Ambassador to Spain for five years, and, at the time of my arrival, had been about the same period at Berlin. In spite of his long residence in each of these countries, he spoke only French; but he possessed a really marvellous insight into the political life of each of these nations. Bollati, the Italian Ambassador, was a great admirer of Germany; he spoke German well and did everything possible to keep Italy out of war with her former Allies in the Triple Alliance.
Spain was represented by Polo de Bernabe, who now represents the interests of the United States in Germany, as well as those of France, Russia, Belgium, Serbia and Roumania. It is a curious commentary on the absurdity of war that, on leaving Berlin, I handed over the interests of the United States to this Ambassador, who, as Spanish minister to the United States, was handed his passports at the outbreak of the Spanish-American war! I am sure that not only he, but all his Embassy, will devotedly represent our interests in Germany. Sverbeeu represented the interests of Russia; Soughimoura, Japan; and Mouktar Pascha, Turkey. The wife of the latter was a daughter of the Khedive of Egypt, and Mouktar Pascha himself a general of distinction in the Turkish army.
An Ambassador must keep on intimate terms with his colleagues. It is often through them that he learns of important matters affecting his own country or others. All of these Ambassadors and most of the Ministers occupied handsome houses furnished by their government. They had large salaries and a fund for entertaining.
During this first winter before the war, I saw a great deal of the German Crown Prince as well as of several of his brothers.
I cannot subscribe to the general opinion of the Crown Prince. I found him a most agreeable man, a sharp observer and the possessor of intellectual attainments of no mean order. He is undoubtedly popular in Germany, excelling in all sports, a fearless rider and a good shot. He is ably seconded by the Crown Princess. The mother of the Crown Princess is a Russian Grand Duchess, and her father was a Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. She is a very beautiful woman made popular by her affable manners. The one defect of the Crown Prince has been his eagerness for war; but, as he has characterised this war as the most stupid ever waged in history, perhaps he will be satisfied, if he comes to the throne, with what all Germany has suffered in this conflict.
The Crown Prince was very anxious, before the war, to visit the United States; and we had practically arranged to make a trip to Alaska in search of some of the big game there, with stops at the principal cities of America.
The second son of the Kaiser, Prince Eitel Fritz, is considered by the Germans to have distinguished him-self most in this war. He is given credit for great personal bravery.
Prince Adalbert, the sailor prince, is quite American in his manners. In February, 1914, the Crown Prince and Princes Eitel Fritz and Adalbert came to our Embassy for a very small dance to which were asked all the pretty American girls then in Berlin.
It is never the custom to invite royalties to an entertainment. They invite themselves to a dance or a dinner, and the list of proposed guests is always submitted to them. When a royalty arrives at the house, the host (and the hostess, if the royalty be a woman) always waits at the front door and escorts the royalties upstairs.
Allison Armour also gave a dance at which the Crown Prince was present, following a dinner at the Automobile Club. Armour has been a constant visitor to Germany for many years, usually going in his yacht to Kiel in summer and to Corfu, where the Emperor goes, in winter. As he has never tried to obtain anything from the Emperor, he has become quite intimate with him and with all the members of the royal family.
The Chancellor, von Bethmann-Hollweg, is an enormous man of perhaps six feet five or six. He comes of a banking family in Frankfort. It is too soon to give a just estimate of his acts in this war. When I arrived in Berlin and until November, 1916, von Jagow was Minister of Foreign Affairs. In past years he had occupied the post of Ambassador to Italy, and with great reluctance took his place at the head of the Foreign Office. Zimmermann was an Under Secretary, succeeding von Jagow when the latter was practically forced out of office. Zimmermann, on account of his plain and hearty manners and democratic air, was more of a favourite with the Ambassadors and members of the Reichstag than von Jagow, who, in appearance and manner, was the ideal old-style diplomat of the stage.
Von Jagow was not a good speaker and the agitation against him was started by those who claimed that, in answering questions in the Reichstag, he did not make a forceful enough appearance on behalf of the government.
Von Jagow did not cultivate the members of the Reichstag and his delicate health prevented him from undertaking more than the duties of his office.
As a matter of fact, I believe that von Jagow had a juster estimate of foreign nations than Zimmermann, and more correctly divined the thoughts of the American people in this war than did his successor. I thought that I enjoyed the personal friendship of both von Jagow and Zimmermann and, therefore, was rather unpleasantly surprised when I saw in the papers that Zimmermann had stated in the Reichstag that he had been compelled, from motives of policy, to keep on friendly terms with me. I sincerely hope that what he said on this occasion was incorrectly reported. Von Jagow, after his fall, took charge of a hospital at Libau in the occupied portion of Russia. This shows the devotion to duty of the Prussian noble class, and their readiness to take up any task, however humble, that may help their country.