Prosit Neue Jahr !
( Originally Published 1887 )
IT was Mohammed -- was it not ? who cried, " Can one see Heaven and Mecca too ? " So during these delightful holidays our enjoyment has been so keen that we take up the cry, " Can one see Berlin and Heaven too ?" Foreigners live in a state of happy realization and anticipation the union of the two highest stages of bliss. If one could only tell all the little customs and observances that give the spirit and charm to the festival, but it is these very characteristic " little things" that elude our grasp : words fail, and an outline-picture or faint shadow only responds to our attempt to portray the rich, glowing reality.
Christmas, with its erste, zweite, dritte Feiertage, is scarcely past when comes Sylvester Abend and New Year. The last day of the year is called " Sylvester Abend." Then the people drink chocolate and eat "Berliner Pfannenkuchen," a delicious sort of a doughnut, with a heart of jelly. Then they go to church for the beautiful liturgical service ; and then the old year goes out with a turmoil and din, and the new year is received with uproar and confusion. These border moments, when the old year is vanishing and the new year is dawning, are not allowed to slip by unnoticed in Germany. What an hour ! Then the ballrooms release their masked revellers, the saloon and Kneip corners send forth their guests ; and turmoil, high carnival, reigns in the city. The noise, the fun, the spirit, cannot be imagined ! The main streets of Berlin in wild confusion, surging masses swayed to and fro as excited cries from opposite corners call them first in one and then in another direction, and the squad of police, on horseback, riding even into their very midst, even upon the pavements, compel the excited mass to retire. A good natured crowd, held in check by the police, who allow the fun, merely watching, guarding against accident, always holding it in their power. Why, wherefore this crowd and such a riot, we do not know. Probably, there is no object, merely an hour of no law, no rule or order, an hour of unrestrained fun ! Bands of men or boys, with locked arms, all yelling, " Prosit Neue Jahr ! " compel a way; a long line, with serpentine gliding, winds through the midst. Groups with funnel-shaped paper caps, fool's-caps, masks, salute all with bows, and all sorts of humorous incidents happen. Woe to the girl or woman who chances to be detained late on this night ! A kiss is claimed, and some of our American students quite distinguished themselves by protecting several German girls, accidentally delayed, who were thus greeted by the German crowd. Even with an escort, it required care to get safely through, and we were always obliged to respond, " Prosit Neue Jahr ! " as quickly as we were greeted. Respond in good-humor, and you are safe ; but if no response is forthcoming, they will persist, a kiss here is the forfeit, too. With deep bows, profound reverence, hats off, hand on heart, so the ladies were greeted ; and the pass-word must be spoken, and then you may pass on in peace. It was a wild scene, and we can never forget the passing of '83 and the entering of '84.
Americans affect not to care for royalty. To be sure, one will see a snob now and then, who speaks with lofty tone of the calls, dinners, " und so weiter," among the court people ; but, as a rule, this is a matter of little concern to the Americans who have come for a purpose, and devote thought and time to that purpose. Nevertheless, it is an extreme not to care for it at all. Some acquaintance with royalty is necessary to a good understanding of foreign life. Moreover, these in the highest position are historical characters, living history. The union of Germany, a scheme against which France has worked for centuries, a union which has raised her to take rank as a foremost power in Europe, this is history most important, its chief actors, Von Moltke, Bismarck, the Crown Prince, and Wilhelm, the First Emperor of this United German Empire. It is worth something to see characters so great in history.
On New Year's day we had a satisfactory view of royalty. We often meet the Emperor, for he drives out daily, and, as he passes along, greets the people. The Crown Prince and Von Moltke are often seen, but these are only flitting glimpses on the street. We were to have a near, long, satisfactory observation. We went to the Dom, the court church. The imperial box was full. There stood the grand old Emperor, so justly beloved by his people, so honored by the world. He is a wonderful man, born in the last century, 1797, at this time nearly eighty-seven years old, and yet he stood erect during the entire lengthy liturgical service. He wore his full court uniform, his breast glittering with stars and marks of various orders. Then the Crown Prince ! O, the Crown Prince is grand ! every inch a king! A magnificent-looking man, of fine figure, noble head, and royal bearing ! He, too, wears his uniform, the splendid white one, and with a mass of orders on his breast. The Crown Princess is quite a contrast to him. The Germans do not like her much, and say the Hohenzollern beauty has been spoiled since the entrance of this Queen Victoria's oldest daughter into the German royal family. True, her children are homely, and Prince Wilhelm seems rather insignificant in contrast with the line before him, his father, the Crown Prince, Emperor Wilhelm I., Friedrich Wilhelm IV., the Third, yes, even down to the Great Elector, leaving out Frederick the Great, who was just as insignificant-looking. But this Prince is young, and the Hohenzollern majesty may yet develop in him. The Crown Princess is homely, but not, as the Berliners say, an " echte Kφchin." She has done much for Berlin, and brought progress. Before her time, the Thiergarten was the Park for the aristocracy ; now, it is the delight of all classes, and the happy play-ground for the children. In the various open squares, loads of sand are placed for the pleasure of the children, through her influence ; and the Victoria Lyceum, so grand for the help of women's higher education, was started and is upheld by her support. So Victoria's daughter has a right to some love from the German people. The Crown Prince is over fifty years old, is late in coming into rule, and they say the Crown Princess is anxious for the title of Empress. O, it is the delight of the people to gossip about the Hof-leute !
In what state the party returned from church On New Year's day, the full magnificence is displayed. Grand coaches, all glass and gold, heralds before, footmen behind, all in rich livery, and most charmingly picturesque, with lace, and plumes, and curled, powdered wigs. The coach of the Crown Prince was drawn by six horses, richly caparisoned, and a coachman in dazzling livery held the many lines, all of red satin. It seems one of the old fairy-tales made real life.
Then the scene that followed ! Could it be real ? Again and again we question ourselves, not a play, not a dream, but is it reality ? In our country we are accustomed to see such costumes and parade merely as a spectacle, an exhibition arranged for some occasion ; and it is hard to dismiss this preconceived idea, to recognize that that was the copy, the farce, and this the reality ; and here are serious, earnest, true history and life before us! For the next few hours the Emperor received congratulations. We stood under the colossal equestrian statue of Frederick the Great, opposite the Imperial Palace, and took our glimpses of court life. Carriages rolled up to the palace door, the guards on each side presented arms, the foot-man sprang lightly forward, the officers stepped out the riding-cap is handed to the footman, the cloak is thrown to him, the plumed hat is assumed, and, in glittering uniform, the caller enters. The attendant at the door is a picture, gorgeous in red and gold and jewels a shield shaped, bejewelled hat, a silver-mounted rod in his hand, his bows and smiles measured by the rank of the caller. He cuts a funny figure !
What uniforms ! Ah, but the plain white and gold are the most beautiful, although the silver eagle helmets are handsome! The army calls first, all the officers; and, as Von Moltke appears, in open carriage, the crowd sends up a shout and and a cheer to greet the old general. Bismarck does not come he is seldom seen in public. The enthusiastic, " hoch, hoch ! " and hats in the air, announce the Crown Prince, in a second magnificent coach.. He, too, calls on his royal father. We wonder if they love one another ? It is said they do, but history has so many cases of the strange feeling between two who thus look at each other, one longing to hold his power, the other eager to receive it. So much heart-life is lost in royal families ! witness the principles on which the marriages are made. Prince Wilhelm comes in far grander style than any, even than that of his royal father. A coach nearly all of glass, a marriage present from his grandmother, Queen Victoria, eight cream-white horses, ornamented with light blue plush trap-pings, heralds before and footmen behind, with white wigs and pale blue livery, decorated with silver. Cinderella's godmother could call forth nothing more dazzling, nothing more delicately lovely, from all fairyland !
Then the court ladies and gentlemen arrive in coupιs distinguished with the imperial eagle. The lower classes look to these with greatest respect.
To us it seems a false system, and we admire our ancestors for leaving these old countries where birth and not worth establishes the position of the people. Finally, the greatest glory the Botschaften, ambassadors from all lands. What splendor ! Here are the representatives of Turkey, Persia, China, Japan, Austria, France, in wonderful equipages and court costumes ! It is not a play, it is real history" we continually assure ourselves of this, for it seems too glorious for reality. As the coaches, having deposited their envoys, draw up in the open square, what a tableau ! Scarlet and gold of nodding plumes, and glittering ornament, blazing jewel, oriental grandeur, and royal splendor ! Here are all countries in their peculiar governments and life, how such a sight suggests, broadens, quickens thought !
How great a contrast to the simplicity of our customs ! In the evening, our United States minister, Mr. Sargent, received his American friends. Simply yet how nobly, with true nobility! were we received. No state, no kissing of the hand, no bow of homage, but the honest hand-shake and the clear look in true eyes. And the gathering, how characteristic of our country ! a basis of character its only royalty ; students of music, art, science, literature ; inventors, philosophers, authors, correspondents, and the usual sprinkling of wealthy society people. It is strange thus to meet each other. Our past, our old position, all is left behind ; character alone must speak. What a future is here also ! This is history too, although life founded on widely different principles. There is something grand about a long line of rulers of one family ; yet there is something much grander in the rise of worth and character into power.
This touch of the court life, these views afar of royalty, whetted our appetite for more, and we at once put into execution our long talked of plan of visiting the Old Palace, the palace of Hohenzollerns, from the first great one, the Great Elector, down to present times, and so a historical place. It is an immense structure, of dark gray stone, and dates from 1699. Dimensions are unsatisfactory, capacity more comprehensible. So, vaguely, it is 148 metres long and 128 wide ; definitely, it contains 600 rooms. At the entrance are those magnificent bronzes that George Eliot so admired two men curbing two strong horses, presented by Nicholas of Russia. The people, in derision, have named these "Progress Checked," "Retrogression Encouraged"! what a world of bitterness in this ! There are statues all along the edge of the roof, as is usual in European buildings. This palace is not beautiful, but grand, gloomy, with a world of greatness, mystery, and tragedy suggested. We paid fifty pfennige, and the guide led the way.
As we entered the great salons, we were obliged to put on great felt slippers, so as not to rub of scratch the polished floors. These inlaid wood floors, polished to the highest degree, are so slippery that we were glad to have the protection of the slippers, although they were so immense it was a constant struggle to keep them on. The guide led us through sixteen rooms, bare in their magnificence. There were fine paintings, portraits of the royal families, and battle scenes by Camphausen. It was dreary enough, and we sighed for the poor Hohenzollern princesses of the past, those of the present century are saved from this desolate abode, the great palace only being in use for state occasions. The great hall for these state ceremonies is the Weisse Saal, a grand salon, lighted by twenty six hundred candles, and the illumination must make a peculiarly dazzling light, with so many points of radiance. The Throne Room has several points of interest, an orchestra box, once made of solid silver, which silver was afterward needed in the wars, and so now it is only plated ; a throne, consisting of chairs for king and queen, a background of red velvet embroidered in silver eagles, and, above, a canopy ; a rock-crystal chandelier, under which Luther stood at the Diet of Worms. There are two long picture-galleries, where the powdered princesses smiled down on us, striving to make us believe they were once happy in these old deserted halls ; but we had just read the " Reminiscences of the Margravine of Baireuth," sister of Frederick the Great, and we knew that these walls echoed to her cries of agony as her royal father, Friedrich Wilhelm I., dragged her by the hair, "the useless baggage," he called her. The chapel used for the marriages and baptisms in the royal family is beautiful, and we honored the throne seats, but, as the guide told us this was all, we were disappointed.
We determined to know and see more. We knew the immense number of rooms in that building, and this was far too little to satisfy us. We spoke to the guide, but he said "no more to be seen." We offered him money, and, wonderful to say, it failed. He had no keys. Miss W., the Deacon, who had tired of Hanover, and come to us in Berlin, and I went to the Kastellan who sells the tickets, and asked him, but he said it was impossible. While we were talking, a gentleman came from an inner room, a handsome, courtly man. We presented our cause, told him we were foreigners, making a special study of German history, and particularly interested in all that concerned "Alter Fritz." He was charming ; made us promise not to "plaudern," and to come again at half past two, when our wishes would be gratified. We managed this all in German, and so were doubly happy.
At the proper time we presented ourselves for the grand tour, and it was a grand tour! Then we saw how kings really live, and what elegance surrounds royalty. Thick carpets and rugs, the most luxurious satin and embroidered furniture, tapestried walls, magnificent paintings and statuary, exquisite bric-ΰ-brac, pianos with pearl keys, carved doors and windows, stained glass, and flowers, artistic effects, and luxury on every hand. We were in the room in which Frederick the Great was born, and in the death room of the last king, the present Emperor's brother. The " Bridal Apartments " mentioned by the " wicked Wilhelmina" in her Memoirs were shown us. Whenever there is a marriage in the ruling family, the royal pair occupy this suite of rooms for three days. The Bridal Room is ugly, everything in it very old, of course, as it has been used as it is for two hundred years, and it is a law that this must be the bridal room. Next to it is a beautiful room, the bedstead of gilt and hung with delicate lace curtains, the wedding present of Queen Victoria to her grand-daughter, the Princess Charlotte. There is much of interest in this grandest of the German palaces, which figures so largely in Wilhelmina's Memoirs. In spite of Carlyle's denunciation of her, her history is fascinating, and a vivid, realistic account of royal life. We hunted for her picture in the gallery : she is quite pretty, notwithstanding all the tribulations her poor looks called upon her in the tormenting question of the Double Marriage. There is a noble picture of Queen Louise here, one showing her in a queenly, womanly beauty different from the girlish beauty usually given her.
We would have lingered longer but we were obliged to hasten home to get ready for Mrs. M.'s party, which was the "prettiest " party I ever at-tended, a beautiful close to the holiday season. As I entered, and greeted Mrs. M., she put a pretty little Venetian bracelet on my arm, as a token of the evening, or, as the German doctor said, " for remember." There were just ten couples. The table looked beautiful with colored wine-glasses and flowers, and at each lady's place was a bouquet, and an honor for her gentleman. There were seven courses, and, actually, ice-cream ! We put the caps from the bonbons on our heads, and some looked pretty, some ridiculous, but altogether it was a feature to help on the merriment. Everything was arranged to keep up the fun. One would take a roll, and discover it was only a "pretend," and was in reality a little wooden box of bonbons. Another taking an apple has an equal surprise. Marzipan potatoes are mixed up with the real ones another surprise. Conundrums and puzzles ran riot, and the two hours at table were charming. We played games until after twelve, and then the remarkable part of all happened, when the gentlemen let us all go home alone. Fortunately, we were able to procure droschkes to take us to our doors. The gentlemen afterward heard of our amazement at the procedure, and hastened to explain that they feared we would not feel free to use the American custom, as the German families, unaccustomed to it themselves, disapprove it in us. The German gentlemen do not accompany ladies unless married or engaged to them.
Thus the New Year has come in with happiness ; but there must always be some shadow on the brightest day, and mine came in the shape of the announcement at the Lyceum that Professor Richter will leave the Lyceum soon. He has just been honored by the State. As I entered the class-room, for the new term, all the girls greeted me with the cry : " Dr. Richter is made Professor ! " On the blackboard they had written " Professor Doctor Richter gratulire ! " and as we were rejoicing together, in he came, radiant, and beaming graciously over his gold glasses. We shook hands with him, saying, " gratulire," and he made no effort to disguise or subdue his delight. How much more pleasing the free expression of his natural feelings than the affected indifference usually met. Professor is a very honorable title, given only for special excellence in some department. So now it is Professor Richter! He is only a little over thirty years old, and deserves to be congratulated on his wonderful acquirements. But now he is to go to Rome and to the island of Capri to study the excavations there. I could not help showing my disappointment as he announced this new appointment ; so, after class, he walked a few squares with me, urging me to spend the next year in Rome, where he will still have classes, connected with the Archaeological Institution. A ; he parted, he made the stiffest bow, most politely saying, " Empfehle mich, Addio ! "