From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter VIII)

Chapter VIII

But we were not especially anxious to climb that last mountain, down which it bad been hard work to walk holding our machines, and so all we saw of the Brocken was that one unimpressive glimpse. Now, turning our backs on it, we left it to be “done” by the ladies with draggled feathers and the gentlemen with news- paper parcels and umbrellas who were crowding the restaurant, eating Schnitzel and drinking beer, and we went on our way towards Berlin. A very pretty way it was all the afternoon, now up, now down, always well wooded, and everywhere tourists out for a holiday, large parties on foot, large parties in carriages, families walking hand in hand, men on pleasure severely bent walking alone, their newspaper parcels slung over their shoulders; and the horrid sound of the cyclorn was heard in the mountains as a doubled-up cyclist came scorching by. Through Llsenburg we rode, across the Llse—the Princess Llse of Heine’s song—and through many more little villages full of toy houses; the one I remember best, with a Romanesque church and old monastery, and long lane leading to it, where women, their white aprons over their heads, coming in the sunshine to work in near fields, looked as if they had stepped from a plein air picture in the Champ-de- Mars. And then, out from the mountain woodland, between fields yellowing in the harvest, down a road lined with cherry and apple trees, where we sat for a blissful hour or more by the wayside, the wide plain stretching below; and on again into Wernegerode, the castle high up on the hillside, the town hall so picturesque with its turrets and hundreds of little figures that we had to stop in a cafe opposite, where there were tables and chairs and oleander – trees on the pavement, and drink coffee. There were no more tourists here; they seemed to have stopped with the line of the woodland. But the town swarmed with women in long hooded cloaks, which they fastened in some mysterious way under one arm and then slung their babies in them as an Indian squaw slings hers on her back, and very comfortable and unconcerned the babies looked. For the rest, Wernegerode had nothing to show but a badly paved street, which meant the usual long walk out of the town. But it was in the warm evening light that we rode across the ten kilometres of plain that lie between into Halberstadt, a fine old town, encompassed about with new ugly villas and factories. The Goldenen Ross, with its funny little flights of stairs leading up and down, its narrow passages, its low- ceilinged rooms, was like an old English inn. But essentially German was the late supper eaten in a rose-garden—groups of men around the red cloths, at one table a newly married couple looking up at the moon when they were not drinking beer out of the same glass. It was before our supper was brought that the waiter deferentially offered us something, we could not make out what “Etwas zu essen?” Joseph asked; and, despite his politeness, the waiter roared. And then a man came from a near table and said that he could speak a little English—he had a brother in America—and that the waiter wanted to know would we like feather pillows on our beds—those abominations which, when I went to bed, first kept me awake and then haunted me in my sleep. There was one dreadful night in which, in my dreams, I tried to count up the infinite varieties of this modern torture. Why is it that towns like Halberstadt and Fritzlar are unknown, while Nuremberg has a world-wide reputation? Each old house you come to in Halberstadt seems more wonderful than the last, with its carvings and inscriptions and saints—St. Nicholas as special favourite—set up in niches, and grinning grotesques of corbels and gargoyles. There is nothing in Nuremberg more perfect in its way than the great square, upon which some of the most beautiful of these houses, turreted and gabled, with overhanging storeys, look out, and at one end of which is the town hall, a colossal Roland on duty in front, and on one side a wonderfully graceful and delicate Renaissance door and stairway. But though really with more to show architecturally than Fritzlar, Halberstadt now is without one of the charms of the smaller hill town. For the fever of restoration in its most malignant form has attacked the place, and its churches were being restored with a fury which augured ill for the future of the town’s beauty. When next we go there, I do not doubt that every statue and grotesque will be scraped and polished, and built up to look as the modern contractor thinks the old artist ought to have made it. A brand-new town like Cassel is far less melancholy than an old one like Halberstadt under process of restoration. Of the next morning’s ride there is little to record, except a bumpy road, that kept us to the side-path; beautiful patches of red and purple poppies; tramps, with their boots over their shoulders, who gave us a fraternal good-day; little villages, pretty from a distance, with their spires and red roofs amid the trees, but ugly once we were in their streets ; and then, outside of Egeln, a hurricane, which sent us back in hot haste, and made the railroad seem an invention for the relief of cyclists. Were I writing a treatise on architecture, I might have much to say of the cathedral of Magdeburg, which was one of the finest we came to in Germany. To see it, as soon as we had put on dry clothes and boots, we borrowed an umbrella from the hotel porter and braved the storm, walking through pools of water in the large square, struggling with the wind at every corner. But we were cyclists, not architectural students, and our pleasure in its beauty was the greater because we were under no necessity later to make a “copy” out of it. The town itself is very like the average big modern town of Germany, even less interesting than Cassel it seemed, and we had no wish to stay longer and get to know it more intimately. The road from Magdeburg to Berlin, with the great pine- wood s and wide lakes of the Prussian plain, I saw from the windows of a railway carriage. My gown now was nothing but rags, the hurricane was still blowing, and the mud was unspeakable. Enthusiastic cyclists write about the wild joy of struggling with the storm and conquering the elements. But for myself I do not like that sort of thing, and I accept my defeat with unruffled cheerfulness. I look upon a machine as an instrument of pleasure, not of torture. But Joseph was of another mind, and so we parted company for the day. His fate, after all, was not so dreadful; the wind was with him, and, rid of me and his luggage, he scorched as conscientiously as the German wheelman, and to better purpose. He seemed determined to show me what a fast rider he was when left to himself, and, therefore, what a condescension it was for him to make the journey with me. His one stop was for dinner at a little town, whose name, he tells me he had not time to put down in his note-book, but where he had the distinction of dining in the same hotel with Bismarck. But Bismarck’s dinner lasting on late into the afternoon, and as scorchers wait for no ex-Chancellors, he did not see the great man. In one place he lost his way—so he says—and went kilometres out of it, and he had various and many adventures with tramps. It is only near the capital that you meet roughs and cads who refuse to get out of your way, or else do all they can to get into it and who use sticks and stones as arguments. There was one in particular walking on the wide side-path, where alone, owing to the mud, it was possible to ride, who refused to budge an inch, and explained to Joseph that he was a Communist, and had as good a right there as anyone. But his was a little game at which two can play, and Joseph, waking up to the full consciousness of his own rights, gave him what Mr. Squeers would call an object-lesson in Communism, and wheeled him to one side, where there was plenty of room for him. Despite all these adventures, Joseph got to Berlin, 147 kilometres from Magdeburg, that same evening before I had gone to bed, and naturally I was as impressed as he could have wished me to be. But he was honest, and confessed that when, in the twilight, he had gone astray again, this time among the palaces of Potsdam, he sensibly took the train. It was only .between Egeln and Berlin, and again when we left the capital, from Berlin to Potsdam, that we exchanged the road for the railway.

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