Parizelchen In Deutsche Gesellschaft
( Originally Published 1887 )
"TIME, Time ! hold, hold ! " we cry, for in Germany old Time seems flying faster than ever, and we would have him linger now and make up for the lost time, when the hours are langweilig. The time has at last come when the German and I are beginning to " shake hands," and I am being raised from the deep vale of humiliation. I can understand everything, and say all that is necessary, although no one will vouch for the elegance of the sentences. But what a school of severe discipline is necessary to bring such a result ! Why, at night I would fairly dream in German, and my friends would smile to hear themselves as in my dreams rolling off the German words. Professor Richter says he can see the progress in the translations, and he has hither-to seemed in despair of my ever learning. The Hauptmann family are full of congratulations, and it is to them I owe the progress. They correct me continually, and spare no pains to help me. On the open evenings, Herr Hauptmann reads aloud. We have read several of Ebers' historical novels, " Uarda," " Der Kaiser," "Die Schwestern." Herr Hauptmann is fond of Ebers, as he is a personal friend of the family, and these books are "Compliments of the Author," a professor in Leipsic, the renowned Egyptologist. The best way to learn a modern language is to plunge into a novel or romance of some kind. It is a mistake to put students at once into classics. Classics are always difficult to read, and require concentration of thought even for those who know the language. The classics must be read so slowly in the class that the pupil wearies of the work, and fails to appreciate its power, and, from the very nature of the reading, there has been no gain in conversational ability. On the other hand, take a story : the learner's interest in the story will urge him to read on, and the interest grows, while, at the same time, the conversation in such a book, and the general narrative, give just the words and phrases for conversational use. This seems the philosophical way to learn a living language. Our little French teacher uses this method. We are reading Fleurange," one of the latest Academy novels, and we could not wait to read the story slowly, but stumbled on quickly to the end, and then returned to take it slowly. We read as much as we can for a lesson, mark down the words which require looking up in the dictionary, and learn them. Then, in the lesson, we tell, in French, what we have read, using the words we did not know. Even beginners must follow this plan, if they can read but one sentence and learn it. It is difficult at first, but the progress later is rapid. We read the Testament, as we are familiar with the words in English, and they are learned at sight. This was Lord Macaulay's plan. Herr Hauptmann's Vorlesung of the German novels was fine drill for me, and he never let me retire without having me tell what I had heard. When I go to any entertainment, he leads me to tell all about it, and " Uebung mach/ den Meister."
When any of the family go sight-seeing with me, they carefully explain everything in German, and how they enjoy seeing my admiration of Germany ! They have taken me to my first palace at Charlottenburg, one of the suburbs of Berlin. The car route is along the edge of the Thiergarten the great park, and the court equipages roll along this chaussée in fine style. There is a road for riding here, and the Fräuleins and Officieren exercise here daily. On the benches along the park at the forest, you may always see the lovers for whom the crowd does not exist ; and the nurse-girls wander about with their charges, and vie with each other in securing the attentions of the Kutchers. The maids are picturesque, with short, full, bright-colored skirts, long, full, white aprons, bare arms, stiff white caps (only on the crown of the head), with long streamers floating behind. The poor babies awaken our pity — all bound up in a pillow, with absolutely no freedom for their little legs. It is not strange that when they begin to walk their legs are weak, and they become bow legged. The absurdity of it is that they call this bow leggedness the Englische Krankheit ! (English sickness). It clings to the men ; not even the officers outgrow it ! We had been admiring the varied scene as we drove along ; but we could not help being provoked when the Frau told us this, the popular name for the result of doing these helpless children up in little feather-beds. Let the shame rest upon their own heads, and not be thrown upon another nation.
It was autumn, and yet the roses in the park in Charlottenburg were rich in bloom, and their fragrance was sweet and delicate. The rose-bushes here are trained very high, the lower branches cut off, and they are like little trees, — rose-trees, with great luscious roses at the top. I was disappointed in the palace, — no luxury nor elegance. But the fine palaces are in Berlin and Potsdam ; this is little used. Friedrich Wilhelm III., the father of the present Emperor, died here, and is buried in the mausoleum, by the side of the beautiful Louise; and this mausoleum and the statue of Louise give Charlottenburg its renown.
An avenue of hemlocks leads to the mausoleum ; and, in a mysterious way, you are subdued as you walk in their shadows, so that you are prepared to enter the stillness of the vault with softened, solemn feelings. The beautiful temple is a fit casket for the lovely statue of Queen Louise. It is the work of the celebrated Rauch. They say he was in love with the beautiful queen, and so chiselled each line with love, — genius inspired by love has produced this masterpiece. The queen lies asleep, for there is no death in the limbs so lightly crossed, the head so gently touching the pillow. In the face is love, gentle and tender, and none of the endless rest of death. It is lovely, and a faint blue light, streaming from above, tones it to more subdued beauty. The Emperor, at her side, lies in the grandeur of death. The two are buried in the vault beneath, and the Emperor visits this tomb of his parents, and holds a memorial service on her birthday.
But all my experiences pale before my début in German society ! PParizelchen in Deutsche Gesellschaft ! Parizelchen is the name given me by the family ; "chen " is the diminutive, and " zelchen " the superlative of " chen." They mean Parizelchen to express their liking for me. They have a peculiar idea that an -American in their midst is a child, or something of the kind, about the house — the Hauptmann especially so; and it is charming to see this great stout German captain, — a handsome man he is, — with a ferocious mustache, assume this care and interest in a stranger and a foreigner. He will rap at my door and half whisper " Parizel-chen—ihre, Hand." And I will thrust my hand out at the door, when, putting something in, he closes it, and quickly turns away and I will find in my hand a chocolate drop, a nut, a bon bon, some piece of confection ! Or he will place a sweetmeat of some kind at my plate, and then wait for me to discover it, and his enjoyment makes every little surprise a genuine pleasure. He frequently meets me after my lesson, and takes me to the Conditorei for chocolate. Then, as I sip the fragrant Chocolade and nibble the little seed cake, he watches me with the greatest happiness, saying continually, " Nicht gut, Parizelchen?" and, as we leave the shop, he buys me some of the confections, — once, a little marzipan pig. Surely, no American ever had a happier lot in the heart of a German family. Their enjoyment was as keen as mine when I finally received an invitation to attend a dinner with them, — a German company, and in glee they cried "now we shall see Parizelchen in a Deutsche Gesellschaft."
The dinner was at Bork's, a family of high rank the gentleman, an official in the Mint. We arrived late, as it is " ade] " (noble) to be late. We were ushered into a parlor full of ladles ; Herr Hauptmann, into another room, with the gentlemen. The ladies were knitting -- cela va sans dire. The talk was rapid and vapid ; sandwiches, little cakes, and tea broke the monotony. Some sort of liquor, rum, was put in the tea by the ladies, — the only element that flavored the insipidity of the occasion. The gentlemen were playing cards ; and wine, beer, smoke gave color to their councils. The talk of the ladies was mingled with " liebe Gertrude," "beste Elsa," "meine Beste," and we would call it, in America, "gushing." At ten o'clock the dinner was announced. A stately officer handed a card to me, which requested Herr Capitaine to take Fräulein Americanerin to the table and thus we were introduced. He made himself very stiff, gave me a bow from the waist, and with military precision presented his arm, and with soldierly stride led me to the Saal. O, to hear the talk of that party ! My officer was just what I had long sighed for, one of the late army men, "hot from the wars ! " How he did rave against the French ! He declared that Germany had not exacted half as much from France as she ought to have done, and as she would yet do! He said that Germany had gone into the war with enthusiasm ; the wrath of ages had been accumulating, and then " auf einmal ging es los ! " The youth are being filled with hatred against the French ; and the many injuries of the past must yet be avenged, by an even greater humiliation. Then he told of the battles, and the siege of Paris, where he had been. He paid a glowing tribute to the French troops, saying they were brave and gallant, but that the officers were not equal to the time. He said, too, that the French were so einseitig they would never learn any language, and so were at a constant disadvantage ; whereas the Germans had learned French, and knew how to help themselves in that country. O, how the whole company enthused over the victory ! I was reminded of an English lady's criticism that here found illustration : The modern German is likely to become a thorn in the flesh of humanity at large, — not because he is victorious, but because he is forever blowing the blast of his victories on the trumpet of fame. Success is so sweet to him, power so new, triumph so intoxicating, that he exacts admiration. Grovel, and all is well ; resist, and you are torn to pieces." Of course, I was too wise to resist, only saying, " hitherto and no farther " when they dared insinuate that even America might fear their power. Surprised, he questioned, "Are you Americans not afraid of the German nation ? " " Why ? " I innocently asked. "Why, our big army, our big soldiers ! Is not America afraid?" " We? O, no ! You would be afraid to cross the water." " Ganz recht, ganz recht ! " the others cried, in the highest glee.
This officer seemed to think that he was obliged to scream at me, to make me understand German, and when I would tell him I understood him well, instead of softening his tone, he thought I was complimenting him, and his vigor increased as he would respond : "Ja, ja, weil ich so deutlich und langsam spreche !" The hostess had a book of conundrums, and would vary the entertainment by throwing these in at every chance. The dinner was in the usual courses, ending with the bread and the little rolled bits of butter and cheese; and the wine flowed freely, and healths were drunk all around. We were at table three hours, every moment delightful, although I have heard the Fräuleins groan over the long dinners. As they arose, they all shook hands, with a bow, and saying, " Gesegnete Mahlzeit ! " Literally, this is " blessed meal time ! " and it is the custom to say this after every meal. It seems absurd,— why not say it before the meal ? Everybody shook hands with everybody, at the same time ejaculating this " Gesegnete Mahlzeit ! " The officer led me back to the salon, bowed stiffly again, and said "Empfehle mich ! " and retired. This "empfehle mich" is another ridiculous phrase. It is "I recommend myself!" The gentlemen always use it when parting with ladies, — although we often fail to see how they can truthfully do so, with nothing to recommend, — and, in general society, it is a term used by ladies among each other. I never know how to respond, — one has to overcome a great deal to recommend one's self continually. Thus, I made my entrance into German Gesellschaft, and it was highly enjoyable.
The next thing was one of the celebrated Kaffee-Klatsches. I had been so eager to attend one that I was elated at the opportunity. At five in the afternoon, we assembled, — eight German girls and four Americans. Each had her handiwork, in a bag, embroidered or painted, — beautiful work-bags they have ; and we all sat about a table in the Speise-saal, working, eating, above all, talking. Coffee and assorted cakes came first, then a big Torte ornamented with conserved fruits. After that came the Bowie,— a sort of lemonade, but made of mild wine and pineapple in this instance. In the spring, they make it look very pretty by sprinkling over the top Waldmeister, a cruciferous plant, with a small white flower and delicate green leaves. This Mai-trank or Mai-bowle is the favorite beverage of the year. There was much fun with this Bowie. All arose, clinked the glasses, and toasted the "Kaiser." Then was proposed the " American Girls," and we gallantly responded with the " German Girls," and then " Our Hostess " was complimented. A song was started, about " crowning the wine-glass," and each one clinked the glass of her neighbor, who turned to the next one, and so all around ; and the one who was clinking as the last word was sung was obliged to drink all in her glass, — drink it out and fill it up, and start the song around again. Sometimes we spoke German, sometimes English. All but two were artists, studying in Gussow's atelier. It was interesting to hear them talk of their work, of the new rising artists, and all the professional gossip. These girl-parties are not insipid, nor uninteresting, but free, easy; a good time for fun, pleasure, and profit. At eight we left, after much hand-shaking.
On returning to the house, I found we had company for Abendbrod, eight ladies, all named Wunder. For this company, we had for tea three or four kinds of sausage, raw ham, rye-bread, and beer! Is not that a commentary on the taste and constitution of the German ladies ?
Another German entertainment, of a different kind, is added to the list. One of the home girls coaxed us to go to some German entertainment ; a crowd of Americans were going, and so we went. We thought it was a concert, or something similar, and so wore our street dresses and gloves, but, behold ! when we arrived there, every one was in full evening toilette ! -- long trains, bare arms and necks, light gloves, satins, flowers ! We were a sorry-looking crowd, but we deter-mined to see it through. There was singing, and some attempts at elocution, —a science about which they know nothing. And then we went to supper ! What do you think that was ? Chicken-salad, oysters, ices? No, far be that from the substantial German taste ! A plateful of meat — roast-beef or veal — and a roll or bread ! " Lots " of beer and wine natürlich ! What a people !a party to sit down to this ! Our crowd was jolly. Mr. G. brought us three German doctors, one for each ; and how the English and German mingled in converse sweet ! Mrs. H., who is quite an American society lady, who chaperoned the American girls, sat at one end of our table, cutting brown bread, one of the long loaves, and, as each desired a piece, he would call out to her to cut another. All ate heartily. Our gentlemen insisted on paying for our suppers, saying they believed it was " American style." One mark apiece was the charge.
After that, the dance. The German gentlemen come up, make their bow, and you are expected to dance with them, without any introduction or farther ceremony. They only take a couple of turns about the room, and then release you. There is no long dancing, no continued whirl with one partner. Every half-hour they would order us all out of the room, to ventilate the place, and then summon all again. It was not great pleasure, but we laughed a great deal, and it was "fun." It was a party of a society similar to our S. P. C. A., and of a good class of people.
Another German company, but vastly different, marks this débutante period. The German Y. M. C. A., started through American influence, has established a Lodging House and Restaurant for the poor ; a charity modelled after our benevolent systems, new in Germany. Count Bernsdorf and Count von Waldersee, whose wife is an American, help in this work ; and that draws many others. They have Teas every month, when a collection is taken up. There are also private meetings for the droschke-drivers, the various mechanics and their families. Tea and cake are given, or sandwiches and coffee. Dryander and Frommel, the two favorites in Berlin, often speak to them. At this particular meeting, there were between three and four hundred men, women, and children present, and Frommel was to speak. When the tea was over, no Frommel appeared. A disagreeable, fat old clergyman made a very long, twangy prayer, then a long, long, drawling hymn, and still no Frommel ! Mrs. D. asked the clergyman to say a few words to the assembly, and he actually said he could not without being prepared. Now ! — a clergyman not able to speak to these people without preparation !—is it credible ? An-other hymn was sung, all through, — and the German hymns have an endless number of verses, and no Frommel ! Mrs. D. then spoke herself, but the whole company seemed so dispirited and disappointed it was pitiful. All of a sudden, that lithe, graceful figure stepped quickly into the room, and such a rustle of joyous reassurance and satisfaction ran through the whole crowd, that it made your heart thrill ; it was as if each one had received some good gift. At six, he had had a wedding ; at seven and a quarter, he was ordered to the crown princess of Sweden ; from there called to administer the sacrament to a dying man, and from that death-bed he came to the meeting ;— so he was more than excusable for his tardiness. He spoke beautifully on the Lord's prayer, and the people listened with tears in their eyes, and departed in a subdued yet happy manner.
The German entertainments and the company and customs afford the most fascinating study ; but we favored Americans in Berlin are not wholly dependent upon it. There are many Americans here studying about three hundred. It is said the student Americans come to Berlin ; the society people, to Dresden, where it is easy to get into court society. We Americans meet at church in the American chapel, and, during the winter, American receptions are held on Thursday evenings, at the home of a resident American. The receptions are very informal, consequently enjoyable ; and we realize the blessing of having one spot where compatriots may meet. Our hostess is mistress of the salon, a perfect one ; probably, a grace that rests upon her easily because natural, arising from her own lovely nature, that leads her to try to make every one happy and at ease. She knows just how to direct all the various elements in a gathering, so as to bring out the best in each individual. Her tact is a gift. You love to have her approach you ; her voice is soft and musical, her grace a constant pleasure, and, altogether, she reminds one of the Holbein Madonna, with her golden hair and soft tenderness. The old and new Americans have a jolly time comparing experiences among the foreign people. The colony is like one family, exchanging sympathies and congratulations : each new arrival creates a sensation, and our saddest experience is the departure of those we have learned to appreciate. It is continually " come and go." It must be hard on the residents, who take an interest in this flitting crowd, continually meeting and parting partings finally become indifferent matters. It proves all the more the goodness of our hostess, that she continues to open a home for the many, who flit through, enjoy it, and then forget all about it. But this family show that pure goodness in myriad ways. They have forty or more poor families dependent upon them for help, not only material help, but personal help in their homes, in sickness ; and the interests of these poor are as carefully considered as their own. All is done in such a quiet way, and they hate notice, yet such goodness is so rare in the world, and wickedness so vaunted, that it is a duty to spread the knowledge of good deeds. They are inspiring to others.