From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter X)

Chapter X

It took place in the Bellevue Café at the hour of afternoon coffee, when the tall glasses with the layer of cream on top are the delicious shadows which the coming Vienna casts before. But, still, the very nicest thing we saw in Berlin was not Prussian or German at all, but unmistakably American. For it was in the same cafe that we, one evening, came face to face with Mr. Harold Frederic, then on his way to study the Jews in Russia, but with a little philanthropy to spare and to spend upon two stray fellow-countrymen alone in a foreign world. Had he not started eastward in a few days, there is no telling how much longer pressing business might have detained us in the capital. But once he was gone, my dress finished to everybody’s satisfaction, and the bicycle’s back wheel half concealed under leather, it seemed high time to be off again. With our start from Berlin, our journey, according to our original plans, really begun. We had first decided to ride “From Berlin to Budapest on a Bicycle,” and afterwards, when we set out from Cologne, for the sake of alliteration, we did not change our title with our minds. We took the train to Potsdam. The Road-Book of the Cyclists’ Touring Club describes the road that lies between as bad. We have since been assured that it is one of the best in Germany, and but for the folly of Berlin police regulations, which allow tricycles but not bicycles to be ridden through the streets, there is no reason why one should not, as in London, cycle it from the very hotel door. If a plain were a trial to Tristram Shandv, the greatest of all travel writers, what can lesser men—and women—do but get over it as quickly as possible? The level, with its pine woods and lakes and its wide cultivated fields, stretched almost all the way to Dresden. The only new thing in the landscape was my gown, which worked admirably. Even when we stopped at night in the little town of Grossenhain there was nothing to break the monotony of our experience. The landlord at the inn like all other well-regulated German landlords, had been to America, and had several sisters and brothers and friends still there. This was no novelty. But he also had a bicycle, which gave extra warmth to his friendship. Every other person about here seems to ride a bicycle or a tricycle. We never met so many machines as we did the next morning on the way to Dresden, still on a level road, but coming out presently on the river and passing the picturesque town of Meissen on a little hill above it. We were exchanging grunts for All Heils the entire distance, until, after defying the policeman on the bridge, we had pulled up in front of Weber’s Hotel. We found Dresden charming in its contrast to Berlin, and is full of character as the Prussian capital is without any. Already the Berlin palaces and museums in my memory have become confused with a hundred and one other buildings of the same date and style. But, the world over, you can find but one Zwinger: it Is impossible to forget it. A rococo monstrosity, according to the Neo- Gothic school, It is a delight to those who like to be amused, and who can take architecture artistically just as they would painting. Dresden has its vile new streets, and plenty of them too, and its display of modem shops and modern buildings. But the whole town would have to be razed to the ground before the bounty of its lines, as you see it from the Elbe, could be destroyed. And near the Z winger, under the shade of the Bruhl Terrace, in the market-place, all about the Old or Augustus Bridge, the triumphs of the jerry builder and the sanitary reformer can be forgotten. Very much as it is now must the town have looked in days when those bewigged gentlemen in the pastel room of the gallery devoted their lives to something better and more joyous than sanitary reform and the greatest happiness of the greatest number. That Dresden has not yet branched out as a model modem city is the more to its credit, as its temptations have been great. It swarms with English and Americans, who theoretically adore the old and practically demand the new wherever they go. We heard our native American as she is spoke on every side: we met Englishwomen—De Maupssant’s “Mees Old Maids”—wherever we went: in the Zwinger, on the Terrace, in the shops, by the river, but, above all, in Dresden’s holy of holies, the shrine of the Sistine Madonna. Those who have folded their hands and worshipped in whispers before Holman Hunt’s “Innocents” here bow in awe before the great original of all blither in art. I loved that little room; I loved the faces of the worshippers—expectant, bewildered, resigned, enraptured, ecstatic, and weary. For, truth to tell, if all come professedly to worship, sheer exhaustion drives many to that famous corner-room. It is the most respectable place in all the gallery for a quiet rest, since here a vacant stare may pass for boundless appreciation, a surreptitious nap for overwrought feeling. But to us the greatest charm of this charming Saxon capital was the outdoor life of the people. There is nothing quite like it in Berlin or Munich, or any other big German town through which we passed. To all the many open – air restaurants, at course, we had not time to go. Our favourites were by the river-side: first, the Belvedere, high up on the Terrace, unmistakably“ the meet of the best society,” as the Caffe Venezia in Rome ingenuously called itself. It was all white and gilt, with half its chairs and tables in the large hall, where the orchester played, half in the garden, from which you could look down upon the Elbe and its lights. It had its regular groups of officers, whose presence confirmed at once its cheapness and its excellence, padded and laced creatures, with a glass in one eye, ogling all the plump young German girls, just as they do In Schlittgen’s drawings. And it had its family parties, mother and daughters very prim and proper and elegant. Strong as was the English contingent, it could not lessen the German character of the place. You paid half a mark, I think it was, and then you could sit all the evening at one of the little white tables, whether you ordered an elaborate supper or a single glass of beer. The other, nearer the Zwinger, was a beer-garden of the people, also by the river-side, but low down on the water, with a floating band stand, which rocked gently up and down with every passing boat and barge, and where, when twilight had entirely faded, there was a fine display of fireworks — Roman candles, sky-rockets, and calcium lights – watched with rapture by a free audience hanging over the parapet of the near bridge. The military element here, too, was strong, but never rose in rank above a sergeant; and the family parties, as a rule, brought their sausages and bread done up in newspaper in their pockets, and ordered only beer. Why cannot Londoners spend their summer evenings in this same pleasant fashion? Why must a big exhibition, with blazing lights and circus side-shows, all noise and confusion, be their substitute for the quiet, homelike gardens of Dresden, where mothers bring their knitting and fathers their evening cigar, and friends meet for a quiet talk?

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