From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter IV)

Chapter IV

When we arrived three men in blouses were in possession: one short and fat and red, another tall and thin, with a curious far-away likeness to the historian of Morals and Rationalism, and the third with no positive character whatever. Their fatherly interest in our bacon, beer, and bread we at first attributed to the fact that they had brothers or sisters or half their family connections in the United States. This was nothing uncommon—all Germany has sisters and brothers America. Indeed, after four days in the country, I was quite sure that if we were to meet the Emperor he would begin the conversation by telling us of his aunt or uncle or cousin— oh, no! I forgot: it is of Mr. Poultney Bigelow he would tell us. It did not take long to discover that the friendliness of the men of Geisinar was in a large measure due to Schnapps, which they were eager for us to drink with them and out of the same glass. They became quite unbearable as they got drunk, and their leers warned us that their jokes would not have met the approval of Mr. McDougall. It was in this humble inn of the people that we were cheated for the first and only time in Germany. The fat man presided when we paid our bill, so that it is likely he shared the profits; and we had not left the village a kilometre behind when Joseph discovered that his map was gone. He rode back for it, however, though it was only after he had sworn with much earnestness in French that the tall man, who was still drinking, reluctantly drew it from his pocket. I wonder if Zola’s picture of the people is so over-coloured after all. It is easy in the quiet of Hammersmith or Shepherd’s Bush to idealise the Sons of Labour, but put Mr. Morris or Mr. Crane into the midst of his heroes at their innocent revels, and what then? There was no sign of the proletariat in the new part of Wildungen, as genteel as the guests who come to it for the waters. A beautiful wood, with, the road gently descending for the pleasure of cyclists, leads to its villas and hotels, into which, in our shabbiness, we were refused admission. But we fared well enough in a modest restaurant, where men in blouses sat at the red-cloth covered tables on one side of the leafy porch, and leading citizens in black coats on the other; and as we left the town we found there is an old Wildungen, with pretty old houses, and lamps strung across the street, as in so many Swiss villages. I think that we ought to be grateful to the landlords of the Wildungen hotels for not taking us in, or else we would not have spent the night at Fritzlar, or have cycled across the plain between the two hills in the late afternoon, the perfect hour for riding, racing the train and beating it, to the interest of stokers, guards, and passengers. It was funny to see how the few travellers in the first-class carriages leaned back, but made no pretence of not looking, how the far greater number in the second stood at the windows, while in the third crowds hung out and shouted. At one station the guard invited us to get in, but Joseph politely offered him a lift on his bicycle. But after the next the train took a short cut across country, which was not fair, and ran right away from us. In all our travels in Germany we came to nothing prettier than Fritzlar as we saw it on its hillside, with walls and towers and spires rising against the evening sky. Nor did it disappoint us after we had climbed the hill into the town itseIf. Even the plague of children with which we were afflicted- as, indeed, we were in every village and city—could not destroy its charm. It is a little mediaeval town, as perfect in its way as Rocamadour, in France, or Assisi, in Italy ; though the tourist, who would not miss his Nuremberg, probably has never heard its name. There is hardly a house that is not a model of what domestic architecture ought to be; the women still draw water at a fountain old as the houses which line the four sides of the market-square; and roses, with a luxuriance which I always supposed to be essentially English but which I now know to be quite as German, grow close to the old town walls and turrets. There is a cathedral worthy of the town, with its striking mixture of Romanesque and Gothic, its three terraces of altars, its rare ironwork and many banners, and its cloisters, which the brand – new painting in the worst modem German taste cannot make quite ugly. And the treasures — the gold and silver plate, the jewel-encrusted crosses, the old embroideries and missals—which the sacristan showed us in a little airy chamber projecting from the side of the choir, would make a very respectable nucleus for a new South Kensington. Not the least attraction of Fritzlar is that it provides as successfully for one’s creature comforts us for one’s aesthetic entertainment. With such an excellent hotel to stay in, the wonder would be that all Wildungen does not migrate to Fritzlar, were it not that the average drinker of waters has something more important to think of than quiet beauty. Our landlord had no relations in America, but he had been there himself; he had cooked iu many a New York hotel; and he was unaffectedly glad to see us. It is a curious comment 011 our civilisation that all the American he remembered was “O Jesus Christ!” But of this he made the most, beginning and ending every German sentence with it—out of compliment to us, I suppose. If Fritzlar showed us what the German ideal of architecture once was, the next morning in Cassel we had a good specimen of what it is to-day. The only incident of our ride there was the taking off and putting on of our macintoshes, for the rain kept up with cheerful intermittency. I remember little else, except that we passed through long” characterless villages, one with a ruin on a hilltop, another decked out in greenery for a coming feast, and that somewhere in the distance was Wilhelmshohe, which we vaguely felt we ought to visit for history’s sake, but to which we did not go. The well laid-out streets and squares of Cassel, the showy and pretentious buildings, the trams, the modem improvements, would fill the soul of the lover of nineteenth-century progress with joy. It is to this pattern that all Europe is being gradually l-educed; perhaps we might not complain if occasionally we did not come to a little Fritzlar to remind us of the world’s loss. Our friend the cook of New York was waiting for us at the hotel, where, in his company, we ate a breakfast which was by far the best thing Cassel had to offer. I say this, even though we dutifully went to its picture gallery and braved the staring of the whole town. I never could get used to the absurdity of men in hats and coats which in Broadway or Regent Street would be guyed by every small boy, or of nurses with their skirts up to their knees showing the ribbon bow that fastened their stockings, staring us out of countenance simply because Joseph had on knee-breeches and my dress was a trifle shorter than the ordinary length—Mrs. Hancock would have thought it too long for London streets. Though the walls of the gallery were well covered, we might have spared ourselves the visit but for a charming little Gainsborough landscape which found its way there, who knows how? So rare is it to see good English work in Continental galleries. As we walked from the town we had glimpses of one or two narrow old streets, but we were too eager to be out of a place which had in no way appealed to us to stop for a second look. Matters, however, grew worse when we left the streets. There was such a hill to climb! and the three o’clock sun was so hot. Joseph found compensation in looking down through the long glades in the hilly woodland to the valley and Cassel far below, but for me even the loveliness of the outlook could not make up for the misery of that endless climb. And then, as always happens in cycling, just as I wanted to throw my machine away and never see it again, the perfect hour came, and my misery was forgotten. One of the happiest memories of our journey will always be of the long ride down through the cool wood to M tin den, as we first saw it—a group of red roofs in among trees, with the river flowing quietly past. Why was it that, while in Wildungen we had been turned away, in the big hotel of Munden we were received with rapture? The entire household turned out to greet us, a palatial room on the first floor was given us, and it took just four men and one chambermaid to carry up our two knapsacks, two macintoshes, and one Rendell and Underwood bag. To see the very swell waiter solemnly leading the procession with a macintosh held out at arm’s length to keep the mud off his by no means spotless broadcloth was as good as a Palais Royal farce. He probably, had been in England, and had the proper respect for sport. Munden, we learned in the early morning; is another of the pretty old towns in which this part of the country abounds. It also has an old cathedral, houses with gables and overhanging storeys, a castle on the river bank, and an inexhaustible supply of wrinkles for the architect.

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