Harry Alverson Franck.

Vagabonding through changing Germany online

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her country's enemies than the men. Her chief complaint,
however, was that America's entrance into the war had cut
her off from her most lucrative field, and her principal
anxiety the question as to how soon she would again be
able to exchange manuscripts for American drafts. She
grew almost vociferous in demanding, not of me, but of her
companion, why American writers were permitted to roam
at large in Germany while the two countries were still at
war, particularly why the Allies did not allow the same
privileges to German writers. I was as much in the dark
on that subject as she. Her companion, however, assured
her that it was because Germany had always been more
frank and open-minded than her enemies; that the more
freedom allowed enemy correspondents the sooner would
the world come to realize that Germany's cause had been
the more just. She admitted all this, adding that nowhere
were justice and enlightenment so fully developed as in her
beloved Fatherland, but she rather spoiled the assertion



by her constant amazement that I dared go about the coun-
try unarmed. In all the torrent of words she poured forth
one outburst still stands out in my memory:

"Fortunately," she cried, "Roosevelt is dead. He would
have made it even harder for poor Germany than Wilson
has. Why should that man have joined our enemies, too,
after we had treated him like a king ? His daughter accepted
a nice wedding-present from our Kaiser, and then he turned
against us!"

One sensed the curious working of the typical German
mind in that remark. The Kaiser had given a friendly
gift, he had received a man with honor, hence anything the
Kaiser chose to do thereafter should have met with that
man's unqualified approval. It was a most natural con-
clusion, from the German point of view. Did not the
Kaiser and his clan rise to the height from which they fell
partly by the judicious distribution of "honors" to those
who might otherwise have successfully opposed them,
by the lavishing of badges and medals, of honorariums and
preferences, of iron crosses and costly baubles?

A young man at an adjacent table took exception to some
accusation against America by the cantankerous old mer-
chant, and joined in the conversation. From that moment
forth I was not once called upon to defend my country's
actions; our new companion did so far more effectively
than I could possibly have done. He was professor of
philosophy in the ancient University of Altdorf, and his
power of viewing a question from both sides, with absolute
impartiality, without the faintest glow of personal feeling,
attained the realms of the supernatural. During the entire
war he had been an officer at the front, having returned to
his academic duties within a month after the signing of the
armistice. As women are frequently more rabid than men
in their hatred of a warring enemy, so are the men who have
taken the least active part in the conflict commonly the



more furious. One can often recognize almost at a glance •
the real soldier — not the parader in uniform at the rear,
but him who has seen actual warfare; he is wiser and less
fanatical, he is more apt to realize that his enemy, too,
had something to fight for, that every war in history has
had some right on both sides.

When we exchanged names I found that the professor
was more familiar than I with a tale I once wrote of a journey
around the world, republished in his own tongue. The
discovery led us into discussions that lasted late into the
evening. In the morning he conducted me through the
venerable seat of learning to which he was attached. It
had suffered much from the war, not merely financially,
but in the loss of fully two-thirds of its faculty and students.
Three-fourths of them had returned now, but they had
not brought with them the pre-war atmosphere. He
detected an impatience with academic pursuits, a super-
ficiality that had never before been known in German
universities. Particularly the youths who had served as
officers during the war submitted themselves with great
difficulty to the discipline of the class-room. The chief
"sight" of the institution was an underground cell in which
the afterward famous Wallenstein was once confined. In
his youth the general attended the university for a year,
the last one of the sixteenth century. His studies, however,
had been almost entirely confined to the attractions of the
Gasthduser and the charms of the fair maidens of the sur-
rounding villages. The attempt one day to enliven academic
proceedings with an alcoholic exhilaration, of which he was
not even the legal possessor financially, brought him to the
sobering depths of the iron-barred cellar and eventually to
expulsion. But alas for diligence and sobriety! While the
self-denying grinds of his day have sunk centuries deep into
oblivion, the name of Wallenstein is emblazoned in letters a
meter high across the facade of the steep-gabled dwelling



in which he recuperated during the useless daylight hours
from his nightly lucubrations.

The professor pointed out to me a byway leading due
northward over the green hills. Now it strode joyfully
across broad meadows and ripening wheat-fields about
which scampered wild rabbits as I advanced ; now it climbed
deliberately up into the cathedral depths of evergreen forests
that stretched away for hours in any direction. Bucolic
little hamlets welcomed me as often as thirst suggested the
attractiveness of dropping the rucksack from my shoulders
to the bench of a refreshing country inn. I had struck a
Protestant streak, wedged in between two broad Catholic
regions. It may have been but a trick of the imagination,
but the local dialect seemed to have grown more German
with the change. Certainly the beer was different, pale
yellow in contrast with the mahogany brown of the far
heavier brew to the south. Whether or not it was due to
mere chance or to a difference in taste, the two types of the
beverage seemed to go with their respective form of Chris-
tianity through all Bavaria. But, alas! none of it was the
beer of yesteryear. On the walls of one tiny Gastzimmer
hung large framed portraits, dauby in composition, of four
youthful soldiers. The shuffling old woman who served me
caught my questioning glance at the largest of them.

"My youngest," she explained, in her toothless mumble.
"He has been missing since October, 1914. Never a word.
He, over there, was slaughtered at Verdun. My oldest, he
with the cap of an Unteroffizier, is a prisoner in France.
They will never let him come back, it is said. The other,
in the smallest picture, is working in the fields out yonder,
but he has a stiff arm and he cannot do much. Pictures
cost so now, too; we had to get a smaller one each year.
My man was in it also. He still suffers from the malady
of the trenches. He spends more than half his days in bed.
War is schrecklich — ^frightful," she concluded, but she said it in



the dull, dispassionate tone in which she might have deplored
the lack of rain or the loss of a part of her herd. Indeed,
there seemed to be more feeling in her voice as she added:
"And they took all our horses. We have only an ox left
now, and the cows."

Descending into a valley beyond, I met a score of school-
boys, of about fifteen, each with a knapsack on his back,
climbing slowly upward into the forest. They crowded
closely around a middle-aged man, similarly burdened,
who was talking as he walked and to whom the boys gave
such fixed attention that they did not so much as glance
at me. His topic, as I caught from the few words I heard,
was Roman history, on which he was discoursing as deliber-
ately as if the group had been seated in their stuffy class-
room in the village below. Yet it was mid-morning of a
Monday. This German custom of excursion-lessons might
be adopted to advantage in our own land; were it not that
our fondness for co-education would tend to distract scholarly

Toward noon the byways descended from the hills,
became a highway, and turned eastward along a broad
river valley. Hersbruck, at the turning-point, was sur-
rounded on two sides by railways, with all their attendant
grime and clatter, but the town itself was as peak-gabled
and cobble-paved, as Middle-Aged in appearance, as if
modem science had never invaded it. The population left
over after the all-important brewing and serving of beer
had been accomplished seemed to busy itself with supply-
ing the peasants of the neighboring regions. I declined the
valley road and climbed again into the hills to the north.
Their first flanks, on the edge of the town, were strewn with
impressive villas, obviously new and strikingly out of keep-
ing with the modest old town below. They reminded one
of the flashy, rouge-lacquered daughters of our simple
immigrants. A youth in blouse and field-gray trousers,



who was setting me on my way, smiled faintly and quiz-
zically when I called attention to them.

"Rich men?" I queried.

"Yes, indeed," he answered, with something curiously
like a growl in his voice.

"What do they do?" I went on, chiefly to make con-

"Nothing," he replied, in a tone that suggested the
subject was distasteful.

"Then how did they get rich?" I persisted.

"Wise men," he mumbled, with a meaning side glance.

"All built since the war?" I hazarded, after a moment)
gazing again along the snowy hillside.

He nodded silently, with something faintly like a wink,
at the same time glancing cautiously upward, as if he feared
the ostentatious villas would vent their influential wrath
upon him for giving their questionable pedigree to a stranger.

Farther on, along a soft-footed country road that undu-
lated over a landscape blooming with fruit-trees and immense
lilac-bushes, I came upon a youthful shepherd hobbling
after his grazing sheep on a crude wooden leg that seemed
to have been fashioned with an ax from the trunk of a
sapling. I attempted to rouse him to a recital of his war
experiences, but he scowled at my first hint and preserved
a moody silence. A much older man, tending his fat cattle
a mile beyond, was, on the contrary, eager to "fight the war
over again." It suggested to him none of the bitter memo-
ries that assailed the one-legged shepherd. He had been
too old to serve, and his two sons, cultivating a field across
the way, had returned in full health. He expressed a mild
thankfulness that it was over, however, because of the
restrictions it had imposed upon the peasants. For every
cow he possessed he was obliged to deliver two liters of
milk a day. An official milk-gatherer from the town passed
each morning. Any cow that habitually fell below the



standard set must be reported ready for slaughter. Un-
productive hens suffered the same fate. He owned ten
Stuck of them, a hundred and fifty in all, with four roosters
to keep them company, and was forced to contribute four
hundred and fifty eggs a week to the town larder. At good
prices? Oh yes, the prices were not bad — three times those
of before the war, but by no means what the "hamsterers"
would gladly pay. Of course, he smiled contentedly, there
were still milk and eggs left over for his own use. The coun-
try people did not suffer from hunger. They could not
afford to, with their constant hard labor. It was different
with the city folks, who put in short hours and sat down
much of the time. He had heard that all the war restric-
tions would be over in August. He certainly hoped so, for
life was growing very tiresome with all these regulations.

Every one of his half-hundred cows wore about its neck
a broad board, decorated in colors with fantastic figures,
from which hung a large bell. Each of the latter was dis-
tinct in timbre and all of fine tone. The chimes produced
by the grazing herd was a real music that the breeze wafted
to my ears until I had passed the crest of the next hillock.
How so much metal suitable for cannon-making had escaped
the Kaiser's brass-gatherers was a mystery which the extraor-
dinary influence of the peasant class only partly explained.

Beyond the medieval ruin of Hohenstein, which had served
me for half the afternoon as a lighthouse does the mariner,
the narrow road led gradually downward and brought me
once more toward sunset, to the river valley. The railway
followed the stream closely, piercing the many towering
crags with its tunnels. But the broad highroad wound in
great curves that almost doubled the distance, avoiding
every slightest ridge, as if the road-builders of centuries ago
had been bent on making the journey through this charming
region as long as possible.

Velden, claiming the title of "city," was as unprogressive
21 307


and as nearly unclean as any town I ever saw in Bavaria.
A half-dozen inns flashed signs of welcome in the stranger's
face, yet declined to furnish the hospitality they seemed to
offer. I canvassed them all, only to be as many times turned
away by females almost as slatternly in appearance and as
resentful of would-be guests as the Indians of the Andes.
One might have fancied the hookworm had invaded the
town, so un-Bavarian was the ambitionless manner of its
inhabitants and the disheveled aspect of its clientless public-
houses. Only one of the latter consented even to lodge me,
and that with a bad grace that was colder than indifference.
None of them would so much as listen when I broached the
question of food.

The shopkeepers treated me with equal scorn. One after
another they asserted that they had not a scrap of Lebens-
mittel of any species to sell. Three times, however, they
directed me to the Gasthaus that had been most decided in
proclaiming its inability to supply my wants, assuring me
that the proprietor was a farmer and stock-breeder who had
"more than enough of everything, if the truth were known."
But a second visit to the alleged food-hoarder merely aroused
the assertion that his fellow-townsmen were prevaricators
striving to cover up their own faults by slandering a poor,
hard-working neighbor.

Apparently Velden had developed a case of nerves on the
food question. This was natural from its size and situa-
tion — it was large enough to feel something of the pinch
that the blockade had brought to every German city, yet
nearly enough peasant-like in character to make hoarding
possible. I did not propose, however, to let an excusable
selfishness deprive me of my evening meal. When it became
certain that voluntary accommodations were not to be had,
I took a leaf from my South American note-book and appealed
my case to the local authorities.

The Biirgermeister was a miller on the river-bank at the



edge of town. He received me as coldly as I had expected,
and continued to discuss with an aged assistant the action
to be taken on certain documents which my arrival had
found them studying. I did not press matters, well know-
ing that I could gain full attention when I chose and be-
ing interested in examining the town headquarters. It
was a high, time-smudged room of the old stone mill, with
great beams across its ceiling and crude pigeonholes stuffed
with musty, age-yellowed official papers along its walls.
Now and again a local citizen knocked timidly at the door
and entered, hat in hand, to make some request of the
town's chief authority, his apologetic air an amusing con-
trast to the commanding tone with which the Burger-
meister's wife bade him, from the opposite entrance, come
to supper.

He was on the point of obeying this summons when I
drew forth my impressive papers and stated my case.
The mayor and his assistant quickly lost their supercilious
attitude. The former even gave my demands precedence
over those of his wife. He slapped a hat on his head and,
leaving two or three fellow-citizens standing uncovered
where the new turn of events had foiuid them, set out with
me for the center of town. There he confirmed the asser-
tions of the "prevaricators" by marching unhesitatingly
into the same Gasthaus, to "The Black Bear" that had twice
turned me away. Bidding me take seat at a table, he dis-
appeared into the kitchen. Several moments later he re-
turned, smiling encouragingly, and sat down opposite me
with the information that "everything had been arranged."
Behind him came the landlady who had so forcibly denied
the existence of food on her premises a half -hour before,
smirking hospitality now and bearing in either hand a mug
of beer. Before we had emptied these she set before me a
heaping plateful of steaming potatoes, boiled in their jackets,
enough cold ham to have satisfied even a tramp's appetite



several times over, and a loaf of good peasant's bread of the
size and shape of a grindstone.

The Burgermeister remained with me to the end of his
second mug of beer, declining to eat for reason of the supper
that was awaiting him at home, but answering my questions
with the over-courteous deliberation that befitted the oiBcial
part I was playing. When he left, the Wirt seemed to feel
it his duty to give as constant attention as possible to so
important a guest. He sat down in the vacated chair
opposite and, except when his beer-serving duties required
him to absent himself momentarily , remained there all the
evening. He was of the heavy, stolid type of most of his
class, a peasant by day and the chief assistant of his inn-
keeping spouse during the evening. For fully a half -hour
he stared at me unbrokenly, watching my every slightest
movement as an inventor might the actions of his latest
contraption. A group of his fellow- townsmen, sipping their
beer at another table, kept similar vigil, never once taking
their eyes off me, uttering not a sound, sitting as motionless
as the old stone statues they somehow resembled, except
now and then to raise their mugs to their lips and set them
noiselessly down again. The rather slatternly spouse and
her brood of unkempt urchins surrounded still another table,
eying me as fixedly as the rest. I attempted several times
to break the ice, with no other success than to evoke a
guttural monosyllable from the staring landlord. The entire
assembly seemed to be dumm beyond recovery, to be stupid-
ity personified. Unable to force oneself upon them, one could
only sit and wonder what was taking place inside their thick
skulls. Their vacant faces gave not an inkling of thought.
Whenever I exploded a question in the oppressive silence
the Wirt answered it like a school-boy reciting some reply
learned by heart from his books. The stone-headed group
listened motionless until long after his voice had died away,
and drifted back into their silent, automatic beer-drinking.






It was, of course, as much bashfulness as stupidity that
held them dumb. Peasants the world over are more or less
chary of expressing themselves before strangers, before
"city people," particularly when their dialect differs con-
siderably from the cultured form of their language. But
what seemed queerest in such groups as these was their
utter lack of curiosity, their apparently complete want of
interest in anything beyond their own narrow sphere.
They knew I was an American, they knew I had seen much
of the other side of the struggle that had oppressed them
for nearly five years and brought their once powerful Father-
land close to annihilation. Yet they had not a question to
ask. It was as if they had grown accustomed through
generations of training to having their information delivered
to them in packages bearing the seal of their overlords, and
considered it neither advantageous nor seemly to tap any
other sources they came upon in their life's journey.

Very gradually, as the evening wore on, the landlord's
replies to my queries reached the length of being informa-
tive. Velden, he asserted, was a Protestant community;
there was not a Catholic in town, nor a Jew. On the other
hand, Neuhaus, a few miles beyond, paid universal homage
to Rome. With a population of one hundred and seventy
families, averaging four to five each now, or a total of eight
hundred, Velden had lost thirty-seven men in the war,
besides three times that many being seriously wounded,
nearly half of them more or less crippled for life. Then
there were some fifty prisoners in France, whom they never
expected to return. The Allies would keep them to rebuild
the cities the Germans had destroyed — and those the
Allied artillery had ruined, too ; that was the especially unfair
side of it. No, he had not been a soldier himself — ^he was
barely forty and to all appearances as powerful as an ox —
because he had been more useful at home. His family
had not exactly suffered, though the schools had become



almost a farce, with all the teachers at war. Women?
Faugh! How can women teach boys? They grow up
altogether too soft even under the strengest of masters. As
to food; well, being mostly peasants, they probably had
about a hundred pounds of fat or meat where two hundred
or so were needed. But it was a constant struggle to keep
the "hamsterers" from carrying off what the town required
for its own use.

That the struggle had been won was evident from the
quantities of ham, beef, potatoes, and bread which his wife
served her habitual clients in the course of the evening.
She seemed to have food hidden away in every nook and
cranny of the house, like a miser his gold, and acknowledged
its existence with the canniness of the South American
Indian. As she lighted me to a comfortable bedchamber
above, as clean as the lower story was disorderly, she re-
marked, apologetically :

"If I had known in what purpose you were here I would
not have sent you away when you first came. But another
American food commissioner was in Velden just two days
ago, a major who has his headquarters in Niirnberg. He
came with a German captain, and they went fishing on the
river. ' '

In the morning she served me real coffee, with milk and
white loaf sugar, two eggs, appealingly fresh, bread and
butter, and an excellent cake — and her bill for everything,
including the lodging, was six marks. In Berlin or Munich
the food alone, had it been attainable, would have cost
thirty to forty marks. Plainly it was advantageous to
Velden to pose as suffering from food scarcity.

The same species of selfishness was in evidence in the

region round about. Not one of the several villages tucked

away in the great evergreen forests of the "Frankische

Schweitz" through which my route wound that day would

exchange foodstuffs of any species for mere money. When



noon lay so far behind me that I was tempted to use physical
force to satisfy my appetite, I entered the crude Gasthaus
of a little woodcutters' hamlet.' A family of nearly a dozen
sat at a table occupying half the room, wolfing a dinner
that gave little evidence of war-time scarcity. Here, too,
there was an abundance of meat, potatoes, bread, and
several other appetizing things. But strangers were wel-
come only to beer. Could one live on that, there would
never be any excuse for going hungry in Bavaria. When I
asked for food also the coarse-featured, bedraggled female
who had filled my mug snarled like a dog over a bone and
sat down with her family again, heaping her plate high
with a steaming stew. I persisted, and she rose at last
with a growl and served me a bowl of some kind of oatmeal
gruel, liquid with milk. For this she demanded ten pfen-
nigs, or nearly three-fourths of a cent. But if it was cheap,
nothing could induce her to sell more of it. My loudest
appeals for a second helping, for anything else, even for a
slice of the immense loaf of bread from which each member
of the gorging family slashed himself a generous portion at
frequent intervals, were treated with the scornful silence
with which the police sergeant might ignore the shouts
of a drunken prisoner.

Birds sang a bit dolefully in the immense forest that
stretched for miles beyond. Peasants were scraping up the
mosslike growth that covered the ground and piling it in
heaps near the road, whence it was hauled away in wagons
so low on their wheels that they suggested dachshunds.

Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckVagabonding through changing Germany → online text (page 25 of 29)