Hither And Thither In Germany – William Dean Howells
Here Mr. Howells reintroduces the charming couple whose honeymoon was described in one of the author’s most delightful books, “Their Silver Wedding Journey.” Through Hamburg, Karlsbad, Nuremberg, Weimar, Berlin, Frankfort and Dusseldorf and along the banks of the Rhine the gifted literary necromancer conducts the reader through the eyes of his pleasant middle-aged travelers as they wend their leisurely way through parts of Europe as it was a good many years before the First World War.
Hither And Thither In Germany.
Excerpt from the text:
THE long train which they took was solely for their steamer’s passengers, and it was of several transitional and tentative types of cars. Some were still the old coach-body carriages; but most were of a strange corridor arrangement, with the aisle at the side, and the seats crossing from it, with compartments sometimes rising to the roof and sometimes rising only half-way. No two cars seemed quite alike, but all were very comfortable; and when the train began to run out through the little seaside town into the country the old delight of foreign travel began. Most of the houses were little and low and gray, with ivy or flowering vines covering their walls to their brown-tiled roofs; there was here and there a touch of Northern Gothic in the architecture; but usually where it was pretentious it was in the Mansard taste, which was so bad with us a generation ago and is still very bad in Cuxhaven.
The fields, flat and wide, were dotted with familiar shapes of Holstein cattle, herded by little girls, with their hair in yellow pigtails. The gray, stormy sky hung low, and broke in fitful rains; but perhaps for the inclement season of midsummer in northern Germany it was not very cold. Flowers were blooming along the embankments and in the rank green fields with a dogged energy; in the various distances were groups of trees embowering cottages and even villages, and always along the ditches and watercourses were double lines of low willows. At the first stop the train made, the passengers flocked to the refreshment-booth, prettily arranged beside the station, where the abundance of cherries and strawberries gave proof that vegetation was in many respects superior to the elements. But it was not of the profusion of the sausages, and the ham which openly in slices or covertly in sandwiches claimed its primacy in the German affections; every form of this was flanked by tall glasses of beer.
A number of the natives stood by and stared unsmiling at the train, which had broken out in a rash of little American flags at every window. This boyish display, which must have made the Americans themselves laugh, if their sense of humor had not been lost in their impassioned patriotism, was the last expression of unity among the passengers, in their sea-solidarity. After they reached Hamburg they no longer knew one another, but selfishly struggled for the good-will of porters and inspectors. There was really no such haste; but none could govern themselves against the common frenzy. With the porter he secured March conspired and perspired to win the attention of a cold-eyed but not unkindly inspector. The official opened one trunk, and after a glance at it marked all as passed, and then there ensued a heroic strife with the porters as to the pieces which were to go to the Berlin station for their journey next day and the pieces which were to go to the hotel overnight. At last the division was made; the Marches got into a cab of the first class; and the porter, crimson and steaming at every pore from the physical and intellectual strain, went back into the station.
They had got the number of their cab from the policeman who stands at the door of all large German stations and supplies the traveler with a metallic check for the sort of vehicle he demands. They were not proud, but it seemed best not to risk a second-class cab in a strange city, and when their first-class cab came creaking and limping out of the rank, they saw how wise they had been, if one of the second class could have been worse.
As they rattled away from the station, they saw yet another kind of turnout, which they were destined to see more and more in the German lands. It was that team of a woman harnessed with a dog to a cart which the women of no other country can see without a sense of personal insult. March tried to take the humorous view, and complained that they had not been offered the choice of such an equipage by the policeman, but his wife would not be amused. She said that no country which suffered such a thing could be truly civilized, though he made her observe that no city in the world, except Boston or Brooklyn, was probably so thoroughly trolleyed as Hamburg. The hum of the electric-car was everywhere, and everywhere the shriek of the wires overhead; bath-like flights of connecting-plates traversed all the perspectives through which they drove to the pleasant little hotel they had chosen.
On one hand their windows looked toward a basin of the Elbe, where stately white swans were sailing; and on the other to the new Rathaus, over the trees that deeply shaded the perennial mud of a cold, dim public garden, where water-proof old women and impervious nurses sat, and children played in the long twilight of the sour, rain-soaked summer of the fatherland. It was all picturesque, and withindoors there was the novelty of the meager carpets and stalwart furniture of the Germans and their beds, which after so many ages of Anglo-Saxon satire remain immutably preposterous. They are apparently imagined for the stature of sleepers who have shortened as they broadened; the pillows are triangularly shaped to bring the chin tight upon the breast under the bloated feather bulk which is meant for covering, and which rises over the sleeper from a thick substratum of cotton coverlet, neatly buttoned into the upper sheet, with the effect of a portly waistcoat.
The hotel was illumined by the kindly splendor of the uniformed portier, who had met the travelers at the door, and a friendly air diffused itself through the whole house. At the dinner, which, if not so cheap as they had somehow hoped, was by no means bad, they took counsel with the English-speaking waiter as to what entertainment Hamburg could offer for the evening, and by the tune they had drunk their coffee they had courage for the Circus Renz, which seemed to be all there was.
The conductor of the trolley-car which they hailed at the street corner, stopped it and got off the platform, and stood in the street until they were safely aboard, without telling them to step lively, or pulling them up the steps, or knuckling them in the back to make them move forward. He let them get fairly seated before he started the car, and so lost the fun of seeing them lurch and stagger violently and wildly clutch each other for support. The Germans have so little sense of humor that probably no one in the car would have been amused to see the strangers flung upon the floor. No one apparently found it droll that the conductor should touch his cap to them when he asked for their fare; no one smiled at the efforts to make him understand where they wished to go, and he did not wink at the other passengers in trying to find out. Whenever the car stopped, he descended first, and did not remount till the dismounting passengers had taken time to get well away from it. When the Marches got into the wrong car in coming home, and were carried beyond their street, the conductor would not take their fare.
The kindly civility which environed them went far to alleviate the inclemency of the climate; it began to rain as soon as they left the shelter of the car, but a citizen of whom they asked the nearest way to the Circus Renz was so anxious to have them go aright that they did not mind the wet, and the thought of his goodness embittered March’s self-reproach for under-tipping the sort of gorgeous heyduk, with a staff like a drum-major’s, who left his place at the circus door to get their tickets. He brought them back with a magnificent bow, and was then as visibly disappointed with the share of the change returned to him as a child would have been.
They went to their places with the sting of his disappointment rankling in their hearts. “One ought always to overpay them,” March sighed, “and I will do it from this time forth; we shall not be much the poorer for it. That heyduk is not going to get off with less than a mark when we come out.” As an earnest of his good faith he gave the old man who showed them to their box a tip that made him bow double, and he bought every conceivable libretto and playbill offered him at prices fixed by his remorse. “One ought to do it,” he said. “We are of the quality of good geniuses to these poor souls; we are Fortune — in disguise; we are money found in the road. It is an accursed system, but they are more its victims than we.”
The house was full from floor to roof when they came in, and everyone was intent upon the two Spanish clowns, Lui-Lui and Soltamontes, whose drolleries spoke the universal language of circus humor, and needed no translation into either German or English. They had missed by an event or two the more patriotic attraction of “Miss Darlings, the American Star,” as she was billed in English, but they were in time for one of those equestrian performances which leave the spectator almost exanimate from their prolixity and the pantomimic piece which closed the evening.
This was not given until nearly the whole house had gone out and stayed itself with beer and cheese and ham and sausage, in the restaurant which purveys these light refreshments in the summer theaters all over Germany. When the people came back gorged to the throat, they sat down in the right mood to enjoy the allegory of “the Enchantedmountain’s Fantasy; the Mountain-episodes; the Highinteresting Sledge-Courses on the Steep Acclivities; the Amazing Uprush of the thence plunging Four Trains, which arrive with Lightningswiftness at the Top of the over-forty-feet-high Mountain — the Highest Triumph of the To-day’s Circus-Art; the Sledgejourney in the Wizardmountain, and the Fairy Ballet in the Realm of the Ghostprince, with Gold and Silver, Jewel, Bloomghosts, Gnomes, Gnomesses, and Dwarfs, in never-till-now-seen Splendor of Costume.” The Marches were happy in this allegory, and happier in the ballet, which is everywhere delightfully innocent, and which here appealed with the large flat feet and the plain good faces of the coryphees to all that “was simplest and sweetest in their natures. They could not have resisted, if they had wished, that environment of good-will; and if it had not been for the disappointed heyduk, they would have got home from their evening at the Circus Renz without a pang.
In the audience Mrs. March had seen German officers for the first time in Hamburg, and she meant, if unremitting question could bring out the truth, to know why she had not met any others. Their absence was plausibly explained, the next morning, by the young German friend who came in to see the Marches at breakfast. He said Hamburg had been so long a free republic that the presence of a large imperial garrison was distasteful to the people, and, as a matter of fact, there were very few soldiers quartered there, whether the authorities chose to indulge the popular grudge or not. He was himself in a joyful flutter of spirits, for he had just the day before got his release from military service. He gave them a notion of what the rapture of a man reprieved from death might be, and he was as radiantly happy in the ill health which had got him his release as if it had been the greatest blessing of Heaven. He bubbled over with smiling regrets that he should be leaving his home for the first stage of the journey which he was to take in search of strength just as they had come, and he pressed them to say if there were not something that he could do for them.
“Yes,” said Mrs. March, with a promptness surprising to her husband, who could think of nothing; “tell us where Heinrich Heine lived when he was in Hamburg. My husband has a great passion for him and wants to look him up everywhere.”
March had forgotten that Heine ever lived in Hamburg, and the young man had apparently never known it. His face fell; he wished to make Mrs. March believe that it was only Heine’s uncle who had lived there; but she was firm, and when he had asked among the hotel people he came back gladly owning that he was wrong, and that the poet used to live in Königstrasse, which was very nearby, and where they could easily know the house by his bust set in its front. The portier and the head waiter shared his ecstasy in so easily obliging the friendly American pair, and joined him in minutely instructing the driver when they shut them into their carriage.
They did not know that his was almost the only laughing face they should see in the serious German Empire; just as they did not know that it rained there every day. As they drove off in the gray drizzle with the unfounded hope that sooner or later the weather would be fine, they bade their driver be very slow in taking them through Königstrasse, so that he should by no means miss Heine’s dwelling, and he duly stopped in front of a house bearing the promised bust. They dismounted in order to revere it more at their ease, but the bust proved, by an irony bitterer than the sick, heartbreaking, brilliant Jew could have imagined, in his crudest moment, to be that of the German Milton, the respectable poet Klopstock, whom Heine abhorred and mocked so pitilessly.
In fact, it was here that the good, much-forgotten Klopstock dwelt when he came home to live with a comfortable pension from the Danish government; and the pilgrims to the mistaken shrine went asking about among the neighbors in Königstrasse for some manner of house where Heine might have lived; they would have been willing to accept a flat, or any sort of two-pair back. The neighbors were somewhat moved by the anxiety of the strangers; but they were not so much moved as neighbors in Italy would have been. There was no eager and smiling sympathy in the little crowd that gathered to see what was going on; they were patient of question and kind in their helpless response, but they were not gay. To a man they had not heard of Heine; even the owner of a sausage-and-blood-pudding shop across the way had not heard of him; the clerk of a stationer-and-bookseller’s next to the butcher’s had heard of him, but he had never heard that he lived in Königstrasse; he never had heard he lived in Hamburg.