From Berlin to Budapest in 1892 (chapter XV)

Chapter XV

Eger is so close to the frontier that we put down to German influence all its good qualities—its picturesque church and market-square, its delightful hotel, its decent landlord, who told us where to find cheap quarter in Baireuth. The nearer we came to the holy of Holies, the more we heard of the impossibility of getting tickets and of the iniquity of extortionate hotel-keepers; but now that it was within a day’s ride it would have been folly to turn back, and we started out the next morning without waiting for the Schntzen Fest—have we not at home seen the same celebration, which means hundreds of men in soft hats and feathers and green badges, marching to the noise of the brassiest of brass binds? A short run through pastoral country, with pretty villages standing in the midst of trees on the banks of little streams, brought us to the frontier. The Customs officers, who had let us ride into Bohemia without a question, would not let us ride out of it before they had found out where we were going, and what we had in our knapsacks, and what our business there was, anyway. But when, a little farther on, we passed the first blue-and-white pole of Bavaria and reached the first Bavarian village, though the inevitable German soldier was wandering about with his rifle, no one stopped us, and no one asked us a question, until we had stood so long on the pretty bridge facing the Custom House that curiosity brought one of the officers over to have a look at our machines. He was more interested in us as cyclists than as presumable smugglers, and there was no pretence of examining anything. And yet, when you are travelling across their frontier with a through ticket to London and your trunks registered to Charing Cross, these same Customs people will wake you up brutally in I the dead hour of the night and insist on going through every piece of your luggage separately! My note-book record in Bavaria, as in Bohemia, is of hills and beer, of clouds and rain. But, though the main conditions were the same, they differed in detail. The rich mass of the pines and firs under the fine grey skies, the colour of the distant black hills, the graceful birch-trees by the wayside, were a strong contrast to bare Bohemian stretches and to cherry- lined highways. There were fewer people, too, in the fields | and in the road; we had escaped the endless procession of peasants, and now again the women wore bodices. And what could have been more unlike the clear, amber Pilsener than the dark, molasses-tinged beer which we drank in the little inn of Thiersheim? Where Bavarian royalties, instead of their Austrian cousins, looked down from amid the great deer- antlers decorating the walls. By this time we were in the Fichtelgebirge, the mountains in which lies the “little out-of-the-way town of Baireuth,” as Wagnerites love to call it, though it is surrounded by many of the most popular summer resorts in Southern Germany, and though it is easily reached by railroad from Nuremberg, and though it is a huge, big, busy, flourishing place in itself. The landlord wanted us to go by way of Wunsiedel, for the sake of some of the most marvellous scenery—such mountains, such valleys, such cliffs!—no adjectives were good enough for them. I suppose we should have taken his advice, for the town was the birthplace of Jean Paul, and hero-worship, now we were bound for Baireuth, seemed eminently in our line ; but the road to Weissenstadt was far better, and when it comes to a question between hero-worshipping and easy riding, a cyclist never hesitates. At Weissenstadt there was a jolly old inn of the Post, with, outside, a huge and effective wrought-iron work sign; inside, a couple of women commercials, and a friendly man at a near table, who leaned over and said to us,“ Je parle Francais,” a compliment, surely, from a German. But when Joseph spoke to him in that language, his answer was,“ I speak English,” and this effort exhausted his accomplishments. The hills of Bavaria are less persistent and more reasonable than those of Bohemia. They do not go up and down out of sheer contrariness. When they were too steep for us to coast, or for the exhausted cyclists we met to climb, at least they led to something besides hills. For at the bottom we found pretty, narrow green valleys, winding with the mountain streams, and towns full of hotels, and tourists, and waiters in dress-coats. Nor did the rain fall at intervals all day, as in Bohemia; it reserved its forces until we were at the top of the last and worst hill of all, with Baireuth rising from the plain far below and beyond. Then came the deluge, and we were drenched to the skin long before we had walked—there was no riding— to the foot. On the long, straight stretch of poplar-lined road across the plain Joseph made the pace. I followed close behind, and we fairly flew, our macintoshes flapping in the wind and rivers pouring from our hats. Now that I look back, it seems a glorious ride, but at the time I thought it misery. I loathed the rain at all hours. But in the morning, when there was a chance of the sun coming out later and drying me, I could endure it. In the afternoon, when it meant to arrive damp and dripping in a large town or at a big hotel—why, then it was wholly and entirely unbearable. It takes a William Morris heroine—a prehistoric Amazon—to keep up an appearance with the water trickling from her hair and her garments clinging to her lithe form. I am not inordinately vain, but I do not enjoy being an object of derision for gods and men. The suburbs of Baireuth were more endless than that bit of road—dreary suburbs, full of dreary houses and grinning children. And the most provoking part of it all was that throughout Joseph remained a very Mark Tapley, and refused to be unhappy. But I amiably brought his pleasure to an end, and gave him a bad quarter of a minute by leaving my safety to its own devices, as in those first days, and letting it carry me straight across a gutter and deposit me on the damp brick sidewalk. This had the unexpected result, of putting me in a good humour, probably because for the first time Joseph’s temper was ruffled. “What possessed you to do such a stupid thing?” was all the sympathy he offered. After this, we walked the rest of the way. The cheap quarters recommended by our Eger landlord looked dismal. We had been roughing it enough all day to want now to be comfortable, and so we went instead to the first large hotel we came to, -where we were not turned away, not made to pay for all the months when no one comes to Baireuth, as we had expected, but were given a delightful front room looking over to a row of little houses, with Cook’s tourists, posing as Wagnerites, leaning from every cushioned window and watching more Cook’s tourists wandering sadly under umbrellas in the street below. And at once the head waiter offered us tickets for any and every Wagner performance at a good round sum. Baireuth is a capital place to go to when you want to meet friends. Before we had begun our supper we found one among the medley of Italians, Germans, English, and Americans at the long tables, and after supper he took us to the Bierkeller where Wagner used to go of an evening and drink beer and smoke a pipe, just like an ordinary mortal—only it was not a cellar at all, but a garret. It was jolly enough, however; trees in tubs were in the street in front, then there was a long tunnel-like entrance with mud floor, tables on one side, on the other, doors opening into vaulted rooms, and at the far end, a rickety flight of wooden steps which led up to a large square room, the walls covered with prints and plates, and beer-mugs on shelves—in a word, a provincial Chat Noir. There was to be no performance until“ Parsifal” on Sunday, so that we had all day Saturday to dispose of. We spent a good deal of it going to the Bank, where tickets were sold— hardly out of disinterested Wagnerism, I fancy—and where a superior young man, with blonde hair and excellent English, patronised us to such an unwarrantable extent that we felt like closing a bargain with the waiter on the spot. But, then, tickets cost less at the Bank. People who had theirs already seemed to have more trouble than we in putting in time. They lounged in front of the stationer’s opposite the hotel, where they were chiefly musical geniuses with long hair and soft hats. They stared by the hour in the shop-windows at the photographs of Siegfried and Parsifal, of Kundry and Venus, of the Master himself—side face, full face, three-quarters face—and at that monstrous cheap red glass goblet which looked as if it came from Birmingham, but which flaunting placards called the Holy Grail in “purpurglas und metalfuss.” They drove to the cemetery where Liszt is buried. They peered through the gates at Wagner’s house. They ate enormous table d’hote dinners. But in the afternoon there was a great stir in the place. Fresh tourists and trunks arrived every few minutes, and were deposited at every door.

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