From Berlin Budapest in 1892 (Chapter XVII)

ChapterXVII

We left Baireuth early on Monday morning. The exact sum set aside for “Tannhauser” tickets we had, in the meantime, squandered on beautiful last-century beer-mugs, with animals or youths or maidens prancing over them in a delightful arrangement of colour, and with pewter stands and tops. We have nothing to regret “Tannhauser” might have been an afternoon’s pleasure; the beer-mugs will be that hackneyed thing, a joy for ever—until they are broken. From Baireuth to Erlangen the ride was uneventful, though delightful; that is, if I except the morning’s floundering through the mud and the evening’s arrival in Erlangen just in time to be caught in a pelting thunderstorm. There is no question that the mud was awful—ugly, yellow, sticky mud, into which no self-respecting person would have fallen for worlds. It was so bad that for the first ten or twelve kilometres I saw nothing else except a most impressive regiment of Uhlans. We have, in our day, routed the Italian army completely, but the German cavalry invariably bore our charge without flinching. After the mud, however, we had our reward in the shape of a good road, of little villages full of white and grey cottages turning their huge gables to the street, where only the swarms of children were vile, and of the wooded hills and green valleys of the Franconian Switzerland—the second of the shams through which our travels led us. Like its Saxon rival, it was very pretty, and in one of the prettiest spots—at Beringersmuhle—where four valleys meet and hills rise high on every side, we found a quiet little Gasthaus, with tables under the trees in the garden, and there we dined. A couple of youths on a walking tour had stopped for beer, a large family drove up in a carriage for coffee, people sauntered in and out. And there were more tourists on the way as we went on to, and beyond, Muggendorf: among them no visible foreigners save ourselves, while the large majority were the overfed, overblown women always to be seen at the seashore or in the mountains, whose one mission in life is to take their ease, and from whom you turn with relief and respect to the unsexed women at work in the fields. It got prettier and prettier as the afternoon went on. In some places the hills rose in steep bare rocks, in others they were crowned with old castles which faced each other across the valley. The villages, somehow, came together better, the deep brown roofs clustering about the church spire, enormous painted crucifixes standing in the street, and of these, the smaller the village the more plentiful was the supply. The peasants were getting in the hay, and the road was full of ox-teams, and women in bright red handkerchiefs and skirts. We were well out of Switzerland, however, by the time we reached Furcheim, with its rows of hideous new German villas and its fine old market place, and moat turned into kitchen garden; and from here to Erlangen was a long stretch of good level road, with many pine woods on either side. And then, as I have said, down came the rain, and another soaking was the price we paid for having ventured to enjoy ourselves. Erlangen is a University town. We saw the photographs of Herr Professors in the shop windows, and the originals— presumably talking philosophy and unmistakably drinking beer—in the evening at the hotel, while two immaculate little Japs, in coats and trousers, played billiards in another room. In the University library there were Albert Purer drawings, which a polite professor, in the absence of the librarian, showed us, talking a French as shockingly bad as our German; and in the University garden there was a statue of a University hero on a prancing horse, almost as completely overgrown with a Virginia creeper as the pages and knights are with briar rose in Burne-Jones’s pictures. Having seen these things, we had exhausted Erlangen, and by eleven we were off in a wild hurricane to Nuremberg. It came into sight when we were about five kilometres out— a group of towers, flanked on each side by a long line of factory chimneys, in the middle of the plain. Those smoking chimneys were much in evidence as we drew nearer, and, only think, Oh, worse and worse!—as the epic of the Naughty Frederick says — the entrance to the town lay between two rows of modern villas! They were not what we had ridden to Nuremberg to see. Neither -was the bare ugly gateway, nor the street inside with its horse- car tracks; neither were the brand-new hotels, nor the commercial gentlemen in the dining-room of the Wittelsbach. This, a mediaeval town! You might as well call modern Rome a Roman city. The truth is, and I write it boldly, Nuremberg is one of the most over-rated places in the tourist’s itinerary. Go to Fritzlar or Frankenberg, to Rocamadour in France, to Assisi or Siena, if you want mediaevalism pure and simple. You cannot expect a town prosperous to-day to retain all its old architecture untouched—to resist the march of progress, as it is called. The narrow twisting alley – ways that once did duty for streets are not adapted to horse-cars; it is against all reason that an educated man who has once tasted the delights of the villa should put up with a fifteenth- century house! Nuremberg is eminently prosperous, and has suffered in consequence. Even the prosperity it owes to the tourist has told in the end, and the restorer has done his work with neatness and dispatch. So has the collector: in order to add one more to the shows of the town, he has filled the much belauded museum—probably the greatest rubbish-hole in Europe—with pictures that few artists would care to look at a second time; has even, with the zeal of the Vandal, torn leaves from old books to make a braver display of woodcuts and printed sheets. I do not want to be misunderstood. It would be nonsense to pretend that there is nothing to see in Nuremberg. We found plenty to delight us for the rest of that day and a great part of the next. There were the wonderful old churches with their rich sculptures, the squares with statue or well in the centre, the beautiful shrines and tablets stuck up every here and there on the tall houses, and, above all, that one stretch of the town wall which, probably, has been as often sketched and photographed as the mill at Iffley. But Nuremberg is essentially a town of beautiful “bits”; its reputation is that of a perfect whole. And what a tourists’ nest it is! No danger of the waiters at the hotels not speaking English here! In the churches you are given a printed guide in English, French, and German. And yet the wicked Joseph demanded one in Hungarian or Russian, and then persisted in talking what he alleged was Spanish. In the street the occasional native offers, in your own language, to show you the way. In the antiquity shops prices are regulated for English and American purses, as Joseph went to some pains to explain to the shopkeepers, who did not seem in the least grateful to him for his trouble. They told him he had better buy his beer-mugs elsewhere, and he thanked them and said that he had: his advice was disinterested. At the stationers’, shockingly bad process reproductions of old woodcuts, at a fabulous cost, are supposed to be fitted for the English-speaking market, a fraud which Joseph, turned public benefactor for the afternoon, also tried to make clear to its perpetrator. But “So?” was the stationer’s sole answer. Something of the Tit-Bits or Pearson’s spirit has entered into the keepers of Durer’s house, and a lottery ticket is your card of admission. We have our tickets yet, but I fear they are all the lottery will ever bring us. The day from Nuremberg was another of the red-letter days of our journey. It had its drawbacks, of course: I need not say that these were occasional rain and occasional mud. But then, on the other hand, we came to Schwabach, with a record- breaking champion in the hotel, and an uncommonly fine altar- piece by Wolgemut in the church; and Roth with its beautiful castle and a jolly stork’s nest up on a roof, a stork standing on one leg at its side ; and Ellingen, unmentioned by Baedeker, but with stately gates and architecture that recalled Italy and Palladio, and with outside a no less stately avenue of great trees, where we were pursued by the nastiest children we encountered in Germany ; and late in the evening Weissenburg, marvellously picturesque in the twilight, where we put up in a big rambling old inn facing the market square. Lovelier still was the day that followed—lovely, for all the thunderstorms.

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