Harry Alverson Franck.

Vagabonding through changing Germany online

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and they could not but realize that they were cheating
their less fortunate fellow-countrymen when they ate it.
The war had not merely reduced Germany's cattle numeri-
cally; the lack of fodder had made the animals scarcely
fit for butchering. They weighed, perhaps, one half what
they did in time of peace, and the meat was fiberless and
imnourishing as so much dogfish. The best steak I ever
tasted in Berlin would have brought a growl of wrath from
the habitue of a Bowery "joint." The passing of a gaunt
Schlachtkuh down a city street toward the slaughter-house



was sure to bring an excited crowd of inhabitants in its wake.
To bread and potatoes had fallen the task of keeping the
mass of the people alive, and the latter were usually, the
former always, of low quality

The resultant gnawings of perpetual hunger had brought
to light a myriad of Ersatz foods that were in reality no
food at all. It was frequently asserted that this consump-
tion of unwholesome imitations of food was responsible
for the erratic conduct of many a present-day German,
manifesting itself now in morose, now in talkative moods,
often in more serious deviations from his moral character.
Certainly it had made him less pugnacious. Indirectly
it had made him more of a liar — at least on his bills of fare.
The best hotel in Berlin made no bones of shredding turnips
or beet-roots and serving them as mashed potatoes. Once
in a while an honest waiter warned the unsuspecting client,
as was the case with one who shattered my fond hopes of
an appetizing dish announced on the menu-card he had
handed me. "Venison your grandmother!" he whispered,
hoarsely. "It is horse-meat soaked in vinegar. Take the
beef, for at least that is genuine, poor as it is." Milk, butter,
and all such "trimmings" as olives, pickles, sauces, pre-
serves, and the like were wholly unknown in public eating-
places. Pepper I saw but once in all Germany — as a special
l\ixury in a private household. Coffee might now and then
be had, but an imitation of burnt corn and similar ingredi-
ents took its place in an overwhelming majority of cases,
and cost several times what real coffee did before the war.
Beechnut oil, supplied only to those holding tickets, did
the duty of butter and lard in cooking processes. The
richest and most influential could not get more than their
scanty share of the atrocious, indigestible stuff miscalled
bread. Bakers, naturally, were mighty independent. But
those who could get bread often got cake, for there was
always more or less "underground" traffic in forbidden
11 147


delicacies. One of the most difficult tasks of all was to
lay in a lunch for a journey. Before my first trip out of the
capital I tramped the streets for more than an hour in quest
of something edible to carry along with me, and finally paid
six marks for an egg-and-sausage sandwich that went easily
into a vest pocket.

Good linen had almost wholly disappeared — at least from
sight. It was never seen on dining-tables, having long
since been commandeered by the government for the making
of bandages — or successfully hidden. Paper napkins and
tablecloths were the invariable rule even in the most expen-
sive establishments. Personal linen was said to be in a sad
state among rich and poor alike; the Ersatz soap or soap-
powders reduced it quickly to the consistency and dura-
bility of tissue-paper. Many of the proudest families had
laid away their best small-clothes, hoping for the return of
less destructive wash-days. As to soap for toilet purposes,
among German residents it was little more than a memory;
such as still existed had absolutely no fat in it, and was made
almost wholly of sand. Foreigners lucky or foresighted
enough to have brought a supply with them might win the
good will of those with whom they came in contact far more
easily than by the distribution of mere money.

But we are getting off the all-absorbing topic of food.
If the reader feels he can endure it, I wish to take him to a
half-dozen meals in Berlin, where he may see and taste
for himself. The first one is in a public soup-kitchen, where
it will be wiser just to look on, or at most to pretend to eat.
Long lines of pitiful beings, women and children predomi-
nating, file by the faintly steaming kettles, each carrying
a small receptacle into which the attendants toss a ladleful
of colored water, sometimes with a piece of turnip or some
still more plebeian root in it. The needy were lucky to
get one such "hot meal" a day; the rest of the time they
consumed the dregs of the markets or things which were fed



only to hogs before the war. The school lunch and often
the supper of perhaps the majority of the children of Berlin
consisted of a thin but heavy slice of war-bread lightly
smeared with a colic-provoking imitation of jam. In con-
trast, one might stroll into the Adlon in the late afternoon
and see plump and prosperous war profiteers — "Jews" the
Berliners called them, though they were by no means con-
fined to a single race — taking their plentiful "tea" in the
midst of, and often in company with. Allied officers.

My own first German meal — for those in the occupied
region were rather meals in Germany — was a "breakfast"
in a second-class hotel, of the kind with which almost every
one began the day in the Fatherland. There was set before
me with great formality a cupful of liikewarm water with
something in it which made a faint effort to pretend it was
coffee, a very thin slice of war-bread, yielded only after long
argimient because I had as yet no bread-tickets, and a
spoonful of a sickly looking purple mess that masqueraded
under the name of "marmalade." Where the Germans got
their comparative abundance of this last stuff I do not know.
Its appearance suggested that it was made of bruised flesh ;
its taste reminded one of rotten apples. The bill on this oc-
casion was three marks, plus lo per cent, for service. Begin
a few days on that and see how much "pep" you have left;
by noon you will know the full meaning of the word hungry.

I took lunch that day in a working-man's restaurant.
There I got a filling, though not a very lasting, dinner of
beans and potatoes, a "German beefsteak" — resembling
our "Hamburger," but possibly made of horse-meat — a
slice of what Europe calls bacon, which is really salt pork,
and two mugs of weak beer — total, four mk. forty. No
bread was asked or given. The clients ranged from small
merchants to hackmen.

For supper I investigated a long-established vegetarian
restaurant on Friedrichstrasse. An oat soup was followed



by a plate of mashed peas, one storage egg (two marks),
a cold potato salad, a pint of "white beer," and a pudding
that would have been tasteless but for its Himbeer sauce,
sickly as hair-oil. The check came to seven mk. seventy-
five, including the usual tip.

A few blocks farther on along this same chief cross-artery
of Berlin is a famous "Tunnel" restaurant below the level
of the sidewalk. If you have been in the German capital
during this century you have no doubt passed it, though
you probably took care not to enter. In 191 9 it was one of
the chief rendezvous of lost souls. Girls of sixteen, already
pass^es, mingled with women of once refined instincts
whom the war had driven to the streets. Their male com-
panions were chiefly "tough characters," some of them still
in uniform, who might give you a half -insolent, half -friendly
greeting as you entered, but who displayed little of that
rowdyism so characteristic of their class in our own country.
Here no attention was paid to meatless days, and, though
the date was plainly written on the bill of fare, it offered,
even on Tuesdays and Fridays, several species of beef and
veal and many kinds of game — wild duck, marsh fowl,
rabbit, mountain goat, and so on, all evidently the real
article. The servings were more than generous, the potatoes
almost too plentiful. The menu asserted that "Meat,
bread, and potatoes were served only against tickets," but
for the payment of an extra twenty-five pfennigs the lack
of these was overlooked, except in the case of bread. A
small glass of some sickly-sweetish stuff called beer cost the
same amount; in the more reputable establishments of the
capital the average price for a beverage little better was
about four times that. Five marks sufficed to settle the
bill, after the most nearly satisfying meal I had so far found
in Berlin. Here 15 per cent, was reckoned in for service.
Evidently the waiters had scorned a mere 10 per cent, in so
low-priced a resort.





While I ate, an old woman wandered in, peddling some
sort of useless trinkets. She was chalky in color and
emaciated to the last degree, staggering along under her
basket as if it had been an iron chest. Several of the
habitues got rid of her with a pewter coin. I happened to
have no change and gave her instead a few bread-tickets.
The result was not exactly what I had expected. So great
was her gratitude for so extraordinary a gift, beside which
mere money seemed of little or no interest, that she huddled
over my table all the rest of the evening. Before the war
she had been the wife of a shopkeeper in Charlottenburg.
Her husband and both her sons had died in France. Busi-
ness had dwindled away for lack of both demand and sup-
ply until she had been dispossessed, and for nearly two years
she had been wandering the night streets of Berlin with
her basket. Her story was that of thousands in the larger
cities of Germany.

"No, I am not exactly sick," she explained, after all but
toppling over upon me, "but my heart is so weak that it
gives way when I try to work. I faint in the street every
few hours and know nothing about it until I find myself in
some shop door or alleyway where passers-by have carried
me. The back of my head and my neck have ached for
more than a year now, all the time, from the chin clear
around. It is lack of food. I know where I could get plenty
of meat, if I could pay for it and spend six or seven marks
for a coach to get there."

"But you get American bacon now, don't you?" I put in,
more out of curiosity to know how she would answer than
to get information.

"Bacon!" she coughed. "Yes, indeed, one slice every
two weeks! Enough to grease my tongue, if it needed it."

A moment later I chanced to mention Holland. She
broke off a mumbling account of the horrors of war suffering
at home with:



"Holland! Isn't that where our Kaiser is? Do you
think our wicked enemies will do something wrong to his
Majesty ? Ah me, if only he would come back ! "

Like all her class, she was full of apologies for the deposed
ruler and longed to bask once more in the blaze of his former
glory, however far she was personally removed from it.
Nor had her sufferings dimmed her patriotism. An evil-
faced fellow at a neighboring table spat a stream of his
alleged beer on the floor and shouted above the hubbub
of maudlin voices: "Ein Hundeleben ist das in Deutschland!
A dog's life ! Mine for a better country as quick as possible. ' '

"Rats always desert a sinking ship," snapped the old
woman, glaring at the speaker with a display of her two
yellow fangs, "no matter how well they have once fared
upon it."

The fifth meal to which the reader is invited was one
corresponding to our "business man's lunch." The clients
were wholesale merchants, brokers, lawyers, and the like.
In its furnishings the place was rather sumptuous, but as
much cannot be said of its food. My own luncheon con-
sisted of a turnip soup, roast veal (a mere shaving of it,
as tasteless as deteriorated rubber), with one potato, a "Ger-
man beefsteak," some inedible mystery dubbed "lemon
pudding," and a small bottle of water — beer was no longer
served in this establishment. The bill, including the cus-
tomary forced tip, was nineteen mk. eighty, and the scornful
attitude of the waiter proved that it was considerably less
than the average. Even here the majority of the dishes
were some species of Ersatz, and the meat itself was so under-
nourished that it had virtually no nourishment to pass on.
Of ten pounds of it, according to the wholesale butcher
who sat opposite me, at least five disappeared in the cooking.
Finish such a meal at one and you were sure to be ragingly
hungry by three. Yet there was less evidence of "profiteer-
ing" in establishments of this kind in Berlin than I had



expected. The ice-cold bottle of mineral water, for instance,
cost forty-five pfennigs, a mere four cents to foreigners.
The German does not seem to go over his entire stock
daily and mark it higher in price irrespective of its cost to
him, as in Paris and, I fear, in our own beloved land.

But there was one restaurant in Berlin where a real meal,
quite free from Ersatz, could still be had, by those who could
pay for it — the famous Borchardt's in Franzosischerstrasse.
Situated in the heart of the capital, in the very shadow of the
government that issues those stern decrees against "under-
ground" traffic in foodstuffs, it was protected by the rich
and influential, and by the same government officials whose
legal duty it was to suppress it. Admittance was only by
personal introduction, as to a gambling club. The only
laws this establishment obeyed were in the serving of bread
and the use of paper in place of table linen. Meatless days
meant nothing to its chefs; many articles specifically for-
bidden in restaurants were openly served to its fortunate
guests. It depended, of course, entirely on Schleichhandel
for its supplies. Among the clients, on the evening in ques-
tion, were generals out of uniform, a noted dealer in muni-
tions, a manufacturer of army cloth, several high govern-
ment officials, two or three Allied correspondents, and
Bemsdorff's right-hand "man" in several of his American
trickeries — in a silky green gown that added to the snaky
effect of her serpent-like eyes. It was she who "fixed" so
thoroughly the proposed attack on us from Mexico during
the early days of 191 7.

Four of us dined together, and this is a translation of the

Cover Uablecloth and napkins, or paper). . . . 2.50 Marks

Two bottles of Yquem 90.

Wine tax on same 18.

Half -bottle Lafanta (ordinary wine) 13 -So

Tax on same 2.60

Hors-d'oeuvre (radishes, foie gras, etc.) .... 150.



Roast veal (very ordinary) 80. Marks

Potatoes (cost, i mark in the market) 12.50

Asparagus (plentiful in Berlin) 54.

Charlotte (a tasteless dessert) 20.

Ice 6.

Bread (one very thin slice each — black) .60

Cigars (three horrible cabbages) , 18.

Butter 4-

10 per cent, for service 47-iS

Total S18.35

Thankfully received, May 8, 19 19

Fritz Reich.

At that day's rate of exchange this amounted to some-
thing over forty doUars; at the pre-war rate, which was
still in force so far as the German clients were concerned,
it was about one hundred and twenty-five dollars. Small
wonder the clientele was "select" and limited.

Before we end this round of restaurants let us settle with
the waiters. About the time of the revolution the majority
of them refused to have their income any longer subject
to the whims of clients, a movement which had spread
through all the larger cities of unoccupied Germany. In
most eating-places a charge of "10 per cent, for service"
was now added to the bill; in a few cases it ran as high as
25 per cent. How soon they will be demanding 100 per cent,
is a question I cannot answer. There were suggestions
that before long they will expect to get free-will tips in addi-
tion to the forced contribution, especially after the first
flock of American tourists descends upon the Fatherland.
In many hotels the bills were stamped "10 per cent, added"
so faintly that the unsuspecting new-comer was often over-
generous by mistake. At some establishments the waiter
was required to inform the guest that the service fee had



been included, but the majority labored under no such com-
pulsion, and those who did frequently whispered the informa-
tion so hurriedly that only ears sharpened by financial
worries could catch it. Another favorite trick was to find
it so difficult to make change that the busy client finally
stalked out without it. The advantages to the customer
of this system were dubious; the waiters, on the whole,
seem to like the new arrangement. "We may not get any
more," I was assured in a wide variety of cases, "or even
as much; but at least we know what we are getting." Some
of the clan seemed to do their best, in their quiet, phlegmatic
way; others took full advantage of the fact that, like phy-
sicians, they got their fees, anyway, no matter how poor the
service. As is the tendency among the laboring class the
world over, the fellows were inclined greatly to overrate
their importance in these new days of "democracy." For-
merly they were quite content to be addressed as "Kellner,"
and their chief answered with alacrity to the call of "Ober
Kellner." To-day the wise diner summons the most hiunble
of the serving personnel with a respectful, gently modulated
"Herr Ober."

The question of Schleichhandel, or food trickery, had
grown disturbing all over Germany, particularly so in Berlin.
It is undeniable that those with plenty of money could still
get enough to eat, irrespective both of the law and of the
general supply, though by so doing they abetted profiteering,
hoarding, smuggling, and several other species of rascality.
Perhaps it was not worth while for the government to
expend its energies in combating the illegal traffic in food-
stuffs, which, compared with the whole problem, was a minor
matter and might involve a struggle with the most influential
citizens. More likely the higher officials feared that an
honest inquiry would disclose their own bedraggled skirts.
The newspapers of the capital teemed with such paragraphs
as the following :




In the past two months not only has underhand dealing become far
more prevalent, but the prices of articles affected by it have greatly
increased. We now have the common circumstance that wares in no
way to be had legally are offered openly for sale in Schleichhandel, so
that the expression "Schleich" (slippery, underground) is no longer true.
For instance, every one knows to-day the price of butter in Schleichhandel,
but very few know the official price. The government has sent out the
following notice :

"The Schleichhandel in potatoes has taken on an impulse that makes
the fvimishing of the absolutely necessary potatoes, officially, very seri-
ously threatened. From many communities, especially in the neigh-
borhood of large cities, thousands of hundredweight of potatoes are car-
ried away daily by 'hamsterers.' At present the authorities are chiefly
contenting themselves with confiscating the improperly purchased
wares, without taking action against the improper purchasers. A better-
ing of the situation can only be hoped for through a sharper enforcement
of the laws and decrees concerning food. The potato-protective law of
July i8, 1918, calls for a pvmishment of a year's imprisonment and 10,000
marks fine, or both. For all illegal carrying off of food — and in this,
of course, all Schleichhandel is included— the fine must equal twenty
times the value of the articles."

Yet for all these threats Borchardt's and similar estab-
lishments went serenely on, often feeding, in all probability,
the very men who issued these notices.

Of ordinary thievery Germany also had her full share.
Every better-class hotel within the Empire displayed the
following placard in a prominent position in all rooms:

The honorable guests are warned, on account of the constantly increas-
ing thefts of clothing and footwear, not to leave these articles outside
the room, as was formerly the custom, for cleaning, but to hand them
over personally for that purpose directly to the employees charged with
that service, since otherwise the hotel declines any responsibility for
the loss of such articles.

Verein of Hotel Owners.

As to foodstuffs, thefts were constant and attended with
every species of trickery, some of them typically German in



their complications. Thieves and smugglers on the large
scale were particularly fond of using the waterways about
the capital. One night the boat-watch on the Spree detected
a vessel loaded with fifty hundredweight of sugar slipping
along in the shadow of the shore. The two brothers on
board, a waiter and a druggist, announced that they had
bought their cargo from a ship, and had paid five thousand
marks for it, but they were unable to explain how the ship
had reached Berlin. They planned to dispose of the sugar
privately, "because it would cause fewer complications."
A few days later the papers announced :

The police of Berlin report that not only native foodstuffs, but our
foreign imports, are being stolen. American flour disappears in startling
quantities. Many arrests of drivers and their helpers show where much
of it goes. It is stolen, and later most of it comes into Schleichhandel.
The drivers who take the flour from the boats to the bakers are too
seldom given a guardsman, and even when they are they flnd friends
to act as such and help them in the stealing. Even in the finest weather
the driver puts a tarpaulin over the load, and his accomplice hides him-
self under it. There he fills an empty bag he has brought along by
pawing a few handfuls out of each sack of floiur and sewing them up
again. Then he slips into some tavern along the way. The nvunber of
sacks remains the same, and as our bakers are not familiar with the full-
ness of American flour sacks, hundred of himdredweight of flour are lost
this way daily. In spite of many arrests the stealing continues.

The wildest rumors on the subject of food were current
in Berlin. One of the yellow sheets of the capital, for in-
stance, appeared one evening with the blatant head-line,
"Goat Sausage of Child Flesh!" asserting that many
Berliners were unconsciously indulging in cannibalism.
"Where," shrieked the frenzied article, "are those one
hundred and sixty -five children who have disappeared from
their homes in Berlin during the past month, and of whom
the police have found no trace? Ask the sausage-makers
of one of our worst sections of town, or taste more carefully



the next 'goat sausage' you buy so cheaply in some of our
less reputable shops and restaurants ..." To my astonish-
ment, I found no small number of the populace taking this
tale seriously.

I have it from several officers of the American shipping
board that affairs were still worse along the Kiel Canal
and in the northern ports than in Berlin. At Emden, where
there were even "vinegar tickets," and along the canal
the inhabitants were ready to sell anything, particularly
nautical instruments, for which Germany has now so little
use, for food — though not for money. Even the seagulls
were said to abandon their other activities to follow the
American flag when a food-ship came into port. Stevedores
sent down into the hold broke open the boxes and ate flour
and lard by the handful, washing it down with condensed
milk. If German guards were placed over them, the only
difference was that the guards ate and drank also. Set
American sentries over them and the stevedores would strike
and possibly shoot. What remained under the circum-
stances but to let them battle with their share of the national
hunger in their own indigestible manner?



TWO or three days after my arrival in Berlin I might
have been detected one morning in the act of stepping
out of a wabbly-kneed Droschke at the Stettiner Bahnhof
soon after sunrise. In the northernmost corner of the
Empire there lived — or had lived, at least, before the war —
a family distantly related to my own. I had paid them a
hurried visit ten years before. Now I proposed to renew
the acquaintance, not only for personal reasons, but out of
selfish professional motives. The exact degree of war
suffering would be more easily measured in familiar scenes

Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckVagabonding through changing Germany → online text (page 13 of 29)