Beyond The Luther Places
( Originally Published 1887 )
WITH the plan of seeing the Luther regions, there was another purpose combined. M. had written to us to be sure to visit her birthplace, and had so charged this solemn duty upon us that we felt it unsafe to return to America with the charge unfulfilled. It seemed easy enough to do, as " Bischofsheim," the name given us, was just beyond Frankfort, and on our way to Worms, — so the railway guide directed.
The local train to Bischofsheim was crowded with a rough set, and we were in terror lest these would prove some of the family, and we would find ourselves lodged in their homes. We got off the train, and then came our first disappointment, our second terror. M. has always described her childhood home as picturesque, with vines and arbors and winding river. There were no artistic homes in this place, no costumed people ; but ugly, yellow brick houses, close together ; no streets but the cobbled alleys. We hunted up the Gasthaus and interviewed the Wirth. He knew everybody in the place, and was certain that no one of the name we mentioned had ever lived there. We walked through the place. The people seemed poor ; the children were ugly. Had M. been such a child ? We asked everybody, but no one knew the family we sought, and we be-came happier and more happy as the search became more hopeless. Everybody had relatives in America, and overwhelmed us with questions about them, whom, of course, we were supposed to know. We could but conclude that this was not our Bischofsheim, and, from Bëd acker, learned of another, near Strasburg. We were obliged to stay in the ugly place all night, and to make the best of the primitive accommodations. We were told, with many bows and repetitions of "gracious miss," that they were not prepared for such "vornehme Leute"; but we assured them we could make ourselves comfortable. The best room was given us, but it had only one bed, a narrow, single one, with a feather-bed reaching almost to the ceiling. We made two beds out of it — one on the floor, —and rather enjoyed the making our-selves comfortable. In the morning we had coffee and rolls. For the supper, lodging, breakfast, paper and envelopes, and two stamps, the total bill for the two of us was three marks less than thirty seven cents apiece ! We made a rash resolution to stop in the little towns near the large cities, and thus reduce our expenses to almost nothing. It would be an economical way to travel. Bayard Taylor often did so.
Worms was to be the end of the trip, as the last of the Luther places ; but that "Bischofsheim" was like a Jack-o'-Lantern, luring us with deceptive light, and we followed its Zauberei into South Germany. It brought us to Strasburg. Led on blindly, we found ourselves reaching here at night, —landed in a blaze of electric lights, a confusion of German and French, and no idea where to go ! Hitherto, we always knew exactly the hotel or pension where we were to go. We followed some respectable-looking people to a brilliant gas-jet-burning "Hotel," where the Head Waiter received us with such deference that we began to think travelling alone and arriving at night something that entitles one to special attention, this time kindly attention. The Head Waiter is a most important official, and generally very lordly ; this one was affable, and, in response to our usual demand, "Ein Zimmer mit zwei Bet-ten," gave us a pretty room, with the beds in a niche, enclosed by portières.
Unfailing Bedacker marked a Bischofsheim near Strasburg, and next morning we started for this Dorf in Alsace. We enjoyed going through this territory just taken from the French, and where the language is such an odd mixture. But the Dorf ! — it was simply terrible ! The people and the animals all live together. The women were washing clothes at a pool in the centre of the town, but all stopped to look at us. To be sure, it was picturesque to look at, — but to live there ! It seemed impossible that lovely M. could have come from such a place ; at least, we agreed that her father showed his superior mind by fleeing the spot! We hunted the Burgomeister, but he had never heard of the family, and sent us to the Schreiber in the Gemeine Haus which is the Clerk in the Court House. The Schreiber examined all the books, finding no such name, and then on the map pointed out three other Bischofsheims ! Hunting for a needle in a hay stack ! Nevertheless, we decided on the nearest, and lost the next day in it, learning, however, that these little German towns are highly unattractive, and that the poor in the villages in America are much more happily situated. I was sick of the very name of Bischofsheim ; Elizabeth dreamed of it during the restless nights, yet it hung over us like a night mare, ringing through our thoughts as the haunting, " Punch, O brother, punch with care ; punch in the presence of the passenjare ! " We walked over the bridge of boats where the Rhine plunges on to its fall, again Umsonst ! To the third place we wrote, and then felt justified in giving up the hunt for M.'s birthplace.
I was glad for the Cathedral, for nothing could have rested my weary spirit but its eternal calm. I was as rapt, as abstract as any Catholic, kneeling upon my chair in the silent Dom. The Cathedral here is the glory and magnificence of a living Roman Church ; it lies beyond the Luther regions. Strasburg shows the Roman church in its fulness of pride. It has been French so long that it knows little, if any, of the Reformation spirit. The people here are far more French than German, and one wonders if they will ever receive the true " naturalization." So many seem to cling to the old rule. All our guides spoke of the French with regard : one refused to speak in German, and another re-marked, "We have been French for three hundred years ; we can't be changed into Germans so fast ! " The French seem determined to regain the lost ground, and the Germans will cling stubbornly to that which rightfully belongs to them, and their wonderful fortifications about the city will make it hard to be retaken. But the Catholic religion there — the glamour about it, the magnificence, the blind devotion of the people, the emptiness 'of form, the wickedness in society, the open depravity in the city, the total lack of that earnest spirit, that fine character, more moral tone in old Germany, in the regions which we had just left, made us, indeed, realize a little of the great evil from which the Fatherland had been rescued.
A tour through the Luther regions, and then a visit to the places just beyond them, gives a clearer understanding and appreciation of the Reformer's influence. That blessed and beautiful belt of land where his voice was heard, and his personal labor was known, is a country in strong contrast to the regions just beyond. While we see and acknowledge the world-wide influence of Luther as a reformer, still there is the local and national influence which is very striking and of charming interest to the thoughtful traveller. In greater Prussia that beyond the Rhine region the Catholic Church is weak ; — in the great capital (with Wittenberg near), it is quite so. All through Thuringia, with its historic Luther ground, and upon its borders — throughout Germany, until the territories of Austria or France are neared, the Roman Church is feeble ; beyond, it again rears itself in pompous pride. Saxony in Germany presents a strange relation to both Churches -- it is a Catholic kingdom in Protestant Germany.
Saxony is Catholic yet even here this Church has little power among the people. It seems so strange and sad, too, that Saxony, the very cradle of the Reformation, is now Catholic. From Saxony came Luther's help ; he himself was a Saxon, and here was the fiercest battle-ground. Here the victory was gained, yet the field belongs to the vanquished. Here was the brave Elector Frederick the Wise, the firm friend and helper of Luther, whose figure nobly stands with Luther on the Worms monument. So it frets us that Saxony, as a kingdom, must bear the name of Catholic, for it is only a name, only as a kingdom, the reigning family is Catholic, for the people themselves are sturdy Protestants, and warm lovers of Dr. Luther, and the Protestant Church is the prevailing one. The royal family them-selves are not strict, and Catholics and Protestants speak alike of good King Albert and his beautiful Queen Carlotta. The court must remain Catholic — yet there are two court churches, one Catholic, one Lutheran, and many of the nobility adhere to the latter. Nevertheless, the reigning power is Catholic, and will, in all probability, ever remain so at least until this royal line perishes. The story is a strange one, and reveals the hidden wickedness of the Roman Church. How much of it is merely legend we do not know, but it was vouched for by all the Saxon Germans we met. It is frequently spoken of among them, although they say —" Hush, we dare only speak it in whispers."
Here is the story, as told us by our pensionfrau. Saxony had been thoroughly, enthusiastically Protestant for many years. Many and many an Elector had tried to establish the Catholic religion again in their midst, but it had not succeeded. The time of August the Strong was very sad; for then the people were quite op-pressed, and Catholicism rose in power. It was this August, the splendor-loving king, who made Dresden the great art city which it continues to remain. He planned the magnificent Zwinger, where is the present wonderful gallery, and gave the impulse to the latter ; and, although the people were suffering and burdened with taxes, still Dresden became — as it is called the Florence of the Elbe. (O, Elb-Florenz !) Yet the people preserved their beloved Protestant religion, although again and again by contention. Frederick Augustus I., although wise in his political relations, was more bigoted than those before him, and he demanded the Catholic religion as the State religion. Kings were more powerful then, people less independent and how could they help themselves? So an agreement was macle that the kingdom should be Catholic during this reign, or at least until an heir was born to the throne. With the birth of the first son in the royal family, the kingdom should again become Protestant. That happened more than a century ago, and, strange to say, in all this long lapse of time, there has yet no heir been born to the throne ! The reigning pair have always remained childless, and the crown has descended to the eldest son of a younger brother, who, in his turn, has had no son to inherit his crown. Strange, is it not ? It is merely another instance of the wickedness of Rome. They say that children have been born live at court as princes of other families. Very many things are said or "whispered" among the people ; for there is great fear against openly speaking of scandals in court families.
Thus, while Saxony is nominally Catholic, it is virtually Protestant, as all of the heart of Germany. As you approach the borders, the change is felt ; and in the newly acquired territory of the German Empire the French and Catholic influence is seen in marked contrast to the regions left behind. As you leave the Luther-land, the very spots of the real labor, you feel the change. At Mayence the cathedral is not given over to the religion of Luther, yet it is not in a perfection of Catholic worship — one sees remnants of a former greater glory, and, while the building exists in its magnificence, it is a broken and a dimmed glory. This is felt very strongly, as one walks among the beautiful old cloisters — now deserted, once the crowded walk of devoted nuns. At Worms, the old cathedral rises in wondrous architecture, but it, too, is a decayed power ; even as the building has lost in strength and grace, so has its early service. Farther away is Speyer —there, there is more, yet not a flourishing power. Then comes the Rhine region, and as you go south, more and more, the Reformation influence is left behind, and the old Church is seen.
What a contrast to the simple, noble Church of Northern Germany is the Catholic Church that dominates in the South ! The inner towns of Germany and this city of Strasburg, on its boundaries how widely different ! Strasburg is evidently more French than German ; it is amazing that any German remains after a French rule of three centuries. While we know it is not French now, still it does not seem German — we do know, however, that it is decidedly Catholic, that Luther's influence has not reached here -- that is, in the personal religion of the people ; politically, his influence lives throughout, for the Church of Rome has none of the temporal power she once wielded.
This mixed character makes Strasburg unique. In every German town there are certain characteristics exactly alike ; a national similarity in the people, houses, customs. In Strasburg all is changed. It is quite picturesque. One picture rises after the other, each a complete, vivid scene. An artist could make a series of charming sketches. Here is the old city itself, just recovering from the ravages of the late war. How the heart 'sick-ens at the reminiscences of the inhabitants that fearful siege, those horrid nights of fire, blood, and clamor ! How fierce were both armies — the cherished hate of years let loose. War, at any time, is fearful,. and to war merely for small strips of territory seems a crime. These poor people, on the disputed ground, have really rio country, and are sadly indifferent to any. How many plain, homely words revealed their weary spirits : " Once we were all Madames, now we are all Fraus. We will wake some day, and find ourselves Madames again." "One time French, one time German ; it is all alike, we must work." "We only live to work some to go to war and die." " The kings and nobles fight over us— we have the burnt houses and confusion." " They have the victory, and we have our dead," said one old lady to me, with all the eloquence of Mrs. Browning in "Mother and Poet." One realizes how little the people are to the "powers that be." Poor Alsace and Lorraine — used in the hands of monarchs and powers, with no voice to speak thine own suffering, will, right ! No wonder the people here long for America, and speak of it as the one desired spot on earth. Ah, America — what land so happy !
So here is the picture of the old city, part still dilapidated, yet being rapidly and magnificently restored. There are the many-windowed, high-roofed old houses, the narrow, cobbled streets and alleys. Land is so valuable in Germany that the houses are built oddly : the first story covers a small area of ground ; then, as the rooms above must be larger, the second story projects over the first, the third and fourth over the ones below, so that houses on the opposite sides of these narrow streets almost meet at the top story ; at least you could reach out of the window and shake hands with your neighbor vis-à-vis. Strasburg was once an art city, and many of the old houses show remnants of ancient decoration. Then the high chimneys with the stork-nests, and the storks ! These are delightful ! — there they stand for hours, only one slender reed of a leg showing, and you almost refuse to believe that they are living things. The Strasburgers are fond of them, believe they bring good luck, and the children call to them to bring a little sister or brother. The people throughout Germany retain a charming, primitive imagination, romance, sentiment, that the practical Americon scorns (not in others, but for him-self).
In the streets are gay scenes. There are the Alsacian peasants and their Lothringen neighbors. The former wear immense bows on their heads, standing straight up, and with long streamers, bright kerchiefs across the bosom, and gay straight skirts ; the others, little full caps with a wide frill, similar kerchiefs and skirts — the Catholics bright red, the Protestants green ones. How charming they look the bright costumes, frequently baskets poised on their heads, fine figures, and a most graceful walk ! Their language is a patois of German and French. Mingling with these are the ever present soldiers. Germany sends her very best here — a large proportion being officers, magnificent-looking men, in handsome uniform, great, strong, with a purely German strength and physique. Along the banks of the river (which runs quite through the city) are the washerwomen. They have little sheds in the stream, where many congregate. They kneel in a box of straw, rub the clothes on a plain board, and continually dip them in the river. What a clatter they keep up ! Hour after hour we watch them, the passing peas-ants, and brilliant soldiers.
Yet these are all small genre pictures the masterpiece is the cathedral scene ! The Münster is a great glory of Strasburg — it is a glory to the art-world. Can we say aught of the Münster ? No, the guide-books may tell of its height, proportions, architectural beauties — the imaginative traveller can only remember the profound impression left upon his soul by its grandeur and loveliness. The lofty spire, so great, yet so exquisitely fine in workmanship the portals with bewildering sculptured figures the grace of flying buttresses, the fantastic gargoyles delicacy and grandeur what architecture, what art ! With nothing so great before, the mind cannot compare indeed, the mind itself is expanded by the experience. Within, the impressions are intensified. The rich, dark brown stone of column and arch, the sunlight changed to colored glory by stained windows (each a work of art), the rare carving, frescoing, ideal sculptured forms what richness !
The people throng the place. There are no pews ; chairs are hired two, one to kneel on, one to lean against. Each takes these where he will, and drops into devotional attitude. All about you, in every spot, they kneel, telling their beads with muttering lips. Some go far apart, some in hidden nooks, some at the altar each is as absolutely alone as if the great- .place were empty. There is something beautiful in this — in God's house, the soul thus pouring out its whole life to the Eternal. Few souls are strong enough for it, and it becomes a form. Weak mortality needs means of grace to help its devotion. The organ sends its soft, its whispering angel notes down upon the bowed people ; the priest, in shimmering, embroidered robe, swings the fragrant censer; the tapers, in gold and jewelled holders, reveal dimly the dusky shadows what does it all mean? How far from the simplicity and earnestness of the Church of Luther in Northern Germany !
Then the verger, in long gown and red sash, goes about knocking on the stone floor with his silver headed bâton, and a little boy in red offers the silver plate for your sous (French money is still used). The neophytes, in white gowns and tonsured heads, file out ; the people linger in prayer. The strangers gather about the clock, but on this Sabbath the sacrament is exposed, so the curtain is drawn, and we hear only the clear, shrill crowing of the cock.
The next day we see the clock— see the images of the Apostles as they go about the Saviour, who blesses them. It is more a mechanical wonder than a work of art. We ascend the heights, too (635 winding steps), look down on the storks, the old Gutenburg house, the extensive fortifications. We love to linger within : worshippers are always there, and the shrine of the Virgin ever ablaze with light, and laden with offerings flowers, coins, trinkets, laid there by devotees.
The Strasburgers are devout it should, then, be a good city. What is the character of the place ? We fail to see that Catholicism has done aught for the population. There is a very marked, plainly noticeable difference in the characteristics of these people and those of the Luther country. One is painfully struck with the absence of the sturdy, energetic, honest character seen at once in the true German. Here they are an inferior-looking people — physically, morally. It seems to be a wicked place. We never felt safe. We were followed several times, twice addressed, and stared at all the time. The casinos and dancing-gardens are gay nightly, and the place is called " little Paris." We had never seen such scenes as met us everywhere here. We were disgusted with Strasburg, picturesque and interesting as it is. Catholicism seems to have no influence to raise the life of the people, and all devotion seems mockery.
We remained in the place, hoping to hear from the third Bischofsheim, and were glad to accept the friendship of an English lady rooming next to us. From the window of Hotel Pfeiffer, which looks out on the Bahnhof, we watch the crowds passing continually to and fro, peasant women and Stolze Damen, officers and peasant soldiers. There are several officers at the hotel, but their wives ignore us. They probably think they are too high caste to associate with foreigners. They ought to know our high acquaintances in Berlin ! Herr Hauptmann would soon make this right, although our English friend doubts it, as she says these people are of the old nobility, in contradistinction to the newly created nobility, and there is nothing prouder on the earth than this old nobility, especially since the creation of the new aristocracy. One interesting episode is told concerning this old and new nobility. When the emperor offered the title of Prince to Count Anthony Gunther of Oldenburg, of the illustrious house of Holstein; he with dignity replied, " No, thank you. I would rather enter at the head of counts than bring up the tail of princes." At another time the Count of Orange Nassau, with an outburst of rage and contempt, flung behind him one of the newly cooked princes, who was entering the council chamber of the Emperor before him, bitterly exclaiming, "Apprenez, Monsieur, que des princes comme vous marchent après des comics' commesnous ! " These centuries of class system have really made such a distinction that there is a world of difference between the nobility and the peasantry. In America, even our common people have some claim to appearances. Blood tells here ; even under like circumstances you can tell the low-born. Take for instance the army. The officers are a striking contrast to the peasant soldiers, and even among the ranks you can tell an Einjahriger from a full service soldier. The former wear their handsome uniforms with style, and carry themselves as though uniforms were but the least part of their greatness. The common soldier carries his uniform as something that makes him what he is, his excuse for being. In spite of glitter and stride, he is still the ploughboy. There is amusement in noting the contrast, and it is some satisfaction and pleasure to think that the meanest ploughboy and all the country lads may have this three years' taste of glory ; in this uniform to flutter on the parade, in the beer-gardens, on the promenade, — what a dream thrown into the chrysalis-life of the Bauer !
And now, just as we were leaving Strasburg, impatient of longer delay, comes a note from the Burgomeister of Bischofsheim am Rhein welcoming any relative of his old playmate, long since departed to America ! We were to await a courier to accompany us to the place. Then, indeed, was a period of doubt and fear! This strange courier might be a deceiver, and we seriously considered getting on our way northward as fast as possible. When he appeared, however, his honest looks relieved our fear; nevertheless, we gave a full account of our plan to the Wirth and our English friend, with injunctions to hunt us up, if we did not reappear within a given time. I am glad we cleared away all our doubts as to M.'s native place. Nothing could be lovelier. It is a little suburban town, away from the railroad, on the banks of the Rhine, and as picturesque as an artist's or a poet's dream. The whole village, in holiday costume, met us with flower and song, and we passed through an arch as we entered. We were fêted and feasted and lionized to our heart's con-tent. The preacher, the mayor, the clerk made addresses, and we are deeply indebted to M. for this rarest of all experiences. It seems that M.'s father was a von — of the nobility -- and lived in a château near the town, but he had been the preacher of the place for some years before he left, and the people have quite idealized him. We call this episode our "Scene from the Opera," as it was just like the opera scenes of singing, gleeful peasants on a holiday.