From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter V)

Chapter V

Gottingen is not far from Munden, but many hills lie between. It was delightful for the first time to put my feet on the foot rests and really enjoy letting the machine carry me downhilll There has been little enough enjoyment in my first coasts on a safety. All sense of security had left me when I lifted my feet from the pedals: I felt as safe as if I had tried to fly through the air on a broomstick. But now I honestly liked the sensation, and was pleased as a child when, on one of the down-grades. I saw two men watching me with open-eyed astonishment. At this very moment my dress caught in the back wheel. I have not said anything about it. but it has a way of catching, and more than once had brought me with the machine to the ground. Now I cautiously put my feet down and clutched at my skirts to pull them out. The next thing I knew I was lying in the street of the village at the. foot of the hill, the back of my head on the stone paving. My first thought was that I was going to be stunned, my next, that, in case I was not, I must make myself presentable. for my hat was on the other side of the street and my hair hung over my shoulders. By the time Joseph, who was ahead, missed me and came back I was quite myself again. But it is a woman’s privilege to have nerves, and I find by my notes that “I was a bit shaky the rest of the way.” However, the human head is stronger than one sometimes thinks, and my tumble served its purpose, since it was an excellent excuse to spend the rest of the day in Gottingen. Germany has produced nothing so amusing as the German student. There is the naive bravado of more chivalric days in the sabre cuts on the fresh, beardless faces; and the little caps, red, blue, and green, are as comic as the illustrations in Fliegende Blatter, to which they seem by right to belong. You have to go to Germany to appreciate the immensely clever realism of that paper. All through our journey it seemed to us that the officers and students and Jews we met were not real people, but stray creations of Schlittgen and Reinecke, of Wagner and Harburger. On the whole, what we liked best in Gottingen was the student His University did not please us half so much, though, after we got beyond an interminable line of villas, there was a pleasant, suggestion of picturesqueness about the town itself. But the University buildings are strikingly uninteresting, and I am sure would seem so even if one did not make the inevitable comparison between them and the colleges of Oxford, or Cambridge, or harvard. They either present the sham classical facade of the last century or the characterless brand-newness of modern Germany, and they are too scattered to give a proper impression of their collective importance. There are no gardens or“ backs.’’ though there is a beautiful walk under the limes around the old ramparts, where, however, we saw, not a student, but, instead, a party of Americans, to remind us that we were again in the tourist world, which we had left behind at Cologne. I suppose in a University town it is sacrilege to mention the commercial traveller, but in Gottingen he divided our attention with the student We found him in the hotel (which, by-the-way,) understood the art of charging University prices quite as well as its English rivals, where he was eating his late supper. We never could get used to the German midday dinner. There is something barbarous in eating the principal meal of the day before working hours are over. But the German supper has its virtues. These are an indefinable friendliness and an almost domestic sociability which even the domestic German could not give to dinner. So far, on our ride, we had spent the night in small village inns, so that it was at Gottingen we first shared the pleasantness of this late meal with one or two officers and several commercial travellers, who did not court the strict seclusion peculiar to the English bagman, but were seated in informal little groups about the two large tables. And when they had finished their cold meats and salads, they did not hurry away at once to a cafe, as a Frenchman would from the table-d’hote, but sat on to smoke over their glass—the long slim glass—of Rhine wine, for it is against all laws of polite society to drink beer in a German commercial hotel. It is rarer to see a German commercial traveller drinking ordinary wine, or the drink of his country, than it is to hear a Frenchman of the same profession order anything else. Whether the German is paid more, I do not know, but, as we saw him, he is a much more extravagant variety of the species. It was at Gottingen, too.that we first met the small boy waiter, borrowing a dignity beyond his years with his dress- coat. In London, probably, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children would want to make him the subject of a Special Commission. I do not doubt that he has his black days, when he breaks things or mixes up the orders. But he always looked to me as if he were making a game of waiting, just as I did of keeping house or selling groceries in my youthful years. The students were determined that our last impressions of Gottingen should he scholastic, not commercial. At a very late, or rather very early, hour a party of them came and sang college songs in front of the hotel, but I cannot flatter myself in my special honour. It was a bright moonlight night, and I got up and looked out of our open window. There were five: their little caps were stuck on their heads at a sadly rakish angle, and they were so unsteady as they stood there that I dreaded to see them walk. But though they sang on for an hour or more, and though they made such a noise that I wondered where the police could be, not once did I hear a laugh. Why has it never been said that Germans take their pleasure sadly? If I had my “Reisebilder” by me, I might give an appropriate quotation from Heine for our start the next morning from Gottingen, even if our route was not exactly the same as his. In our geographical ignorance—it is only by travelling that one learns geography—when we had planned to set out on our journey at Cologne we had not known that the road to Berlin lay through the Harz. But our discovery of the fact had delighted me, less because of Goethe and the Brocken than of Heine. To be honest, however, when we walked out of Gottingen my thoughts were not with him. but with my tumble of the day before. And, while I grumbled a great deal, I was genuinely glad that we had to climb, and not to coast, the big hill that begins just as you leave the town. For a while we were forced to do almost as much walking as Heine. The road was deep in mud, and the wind against us. But both improved as we went on over the low hills, covered with a patchwork of little fields and an occasional stretch of woodland. They were very modest hills at first, not much higher or more mountain-like than the Downs of Kent or Sussex, and there was never a suggestion of valley and gorge, cliffs and waterfalls, or the other stock elements of mountain scenery, lint gradually a faint bine shadow on the horizon began to take more substantial form, to fill us with hopes of the Harz, as Ruskin would say.

Leave a Reply