From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter VII)

Chapter VII

Tourists in wagons and tourists on foot were on the road when we set out at a reasonably early hour from Saint Andreasberg, of hilly memory, towards the Brocken. Of course this was our chief point of interest in the Harz. One would have to be very cynical to pretend complete indifference on the road once given over to witches and broomsticks, where women, in the medieval way, asserted their rights. And one would have to be even less imaginative than I not to hope that the adjectives wild and weird would be more appropriate to the scene of the Walpurgis Night than to most places to which they are recklessly given. We knew what Mr. Irving’s idea of the Brocken is, and, though we did not look for any dramatic display of red calcium light and uncanny blue draperies, there seemed no reason why the famous mountain should be less impressive in real life than on the stage. About the point, as far as we could judge, where Baedeker says it first comes in view, we kept an anxious look-out. Far to our right there was one mountain top slightly more conspicuous than the rest, because of its treeless slopes, which corresponded to Baedeker’s description, and because of its form, which suggested an old burial mound set up on a high place—”a wart of a hill,” I          irreverently called it. It was not in the least impressive, not in the least wild, not in the least weird. It was just another tourist’s sell, Joseph decided; while I tried to make up my mind that it was not the Brocken at all, and that suddenly, in the approved fashion, a strange peak, rugged and riven, would “burst upon the traveller’s eyes.” And then the usual thing happened. The clouds fell on the mountains, lower and lower, thicker and thicker, until we were completely enveloped in them, and our clothes were getting gradually wetter and wetter. We could see absolutely nothing but the tourists who, from indefinite shadows just in front of us, for one minute took substantial shape at our side. And what fantastic shapes they seemed up here in the clouds—the women in big straw hats with draggled feathers on the back of their heads, so as to show their front hair out of curl, while for wrap their choice lay between a large fur cloak and a linen duster! “Try tweed and a Henry Heath hat!” I felt like crying after them as they passed. And the men in black coats and trousers and stiff hats, for all the world as if they were on their way to their town office, some carrying big newspaper parcels, others with bigger knapsacks on their back, and all with an umbrella doing duty for alpenstock. However great the German’s knowledge in some matters, any Englishman would be his master in the art of comfortable dressing for outdoor work. There were cyclists, too. There always are cyclists on German roads, stern military creatures, with no luggage but a whip on their handle-bars, who give you a soldierly salute and cry out a solemn All heil! They had no pity on me, even when I was hill-climbing, but after saluting Joseph, who was usually ahead, reserved a special All heil for my benefit. We had begun by answering politely and distinctly, but there were too many of them, and by this time our greeting had degenerated into a grunt. Sometimes these riders wore a uniform, though what they then were I never found out. Only the day before we had been raced by an elderly gentleman, in braid and buttons, on a tricycle. Now, in the Harz, all who passed insisted on racing, and on beating us into the bargain. But they had a vile habit of stopping for drinks, and falling behind, only to overtake us and start a new race. Joseph had been telling me all the morning, when things were at their very worst, that presently we should begin to go down with the river, and after that it would be all easy riding. Before long we really did go down, but so suddenly and abruptly that we were off our heavily loaded machines in a few minutes, and walking with a long train of timber- laden carts, so that by the time we were in the valley our friends the cyclists, who had no luggage, and could coast with only a chance, and not the certainty, of breaking their necks, had overtaken us, and were scorching for dear life. Away they shot in front of us, and then the next thing I knew, two were rolling in the mud—and such mud! It was inches deep. My own tumble was much more neatly managed. It was on a side path, to which we had to take to get out of the way of the timber-carts. and my handle-bar perversely caught in a tree, but I came off gracefully on my feet. The amiable cyclists smiled, but were paid for it. The last we saw of them, they had retired into a little wood by the wayside to wipe a new covering of mud from their coats and knee-breeches. The trail of the tourist is over all Harzburg, which stands low in the valley, the mountains shutting it in on every side. The restaurant-lined road is to the modern German’s summer resort very much what the Street of Tombs was to the old Roman city, and before we got into Harzburg we passed one “arbour for tea” and “balcony for lunch” after another, and plenty of gay young ladies and bearded young gentlemen in black coats wandering in the mud. Next came the inevitable succession of unspeakably ugly villas, big hotels, and long lines of cabs, in which, probably, enterprising tourists make the ascent of the Brocken with the comfort with which royalty nowadays climbs the Alps. We chose for our mid-day dinner an outdoor restaurant with pretty little tent-like arrangements in its garden, where already men and women were drinking beer. But is there an hour of the day or night in the Fatherland when men and women are not drinking beer? There was among them an elderly Anglomaniac in a full suit of Jaeger’s—like old Uncle Joseph of Mr. Stevenson’s story—who patted me on the back, and called me what sounded like jutu Reisende, and then brought his fat wife from her knitting and her beer that she might look at me, which was a trifle embarrassing. I wondered if her feminine eyes counted all the grease and mud spots and the holes in my poor gown, which now threatened to fall to pieces before I could manage to have a new one made in Berlin. We were surprised all the way through the Harz, and we noticed it particularly here in harzburg, to see that the Germans have monopolised these mountains as their pleasure-ground almost as wholly as Londoners monopolise the Thames. From Gottingen to Halberstadt we came across but one foreigner, an Englishman, at whose unexpected flannels we stared with as much astonishment as the natives. Of course, foreigners do come to the harz; to say that they do not would be too sweeping an assertion, as the result of our short experience there. But that they are not looked for in numbers is proved by the average waiter’s indifference to all but his own language. Just fancy in the big hotels and restaurants of a Swiss town a waiter who could not “Spik Inglis”! After the mists and rains of the morning it was very pleasant in the valley. And before we had finished our dinner the clouds, with the usual perversity of nature, rolled up the hillsides, the sun came out and the sky was as blue and clear as the heart of man or woman could desire.

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