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Vagabonding through changing Germany online

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repairs and sawmills in a certain divisional area. One
morning his sergeant at one of the mills called him on the
Signal Corps telephone that linked all the Army of Occupa-
tion together, with the information that the night force
had struck.

"Struck!" cried the lieutenant, aghast at the audacity.
"I'll be out at once!"

Arrived at the town m question, he dropped in on the
A. P. M. to request that a squad of M. P.'s follow him
without delay, and hurried on to the mill, fingering his .44.

"Order that night force to fall in here at once!" he com-
manded, indicating an imaginary line along which the
offending company should be dressed.

"Yes, sir," saluted the sergeant, and disappeared into
the building.

The lieutenant waited, nursing his rage. A small boy,
blue with cold, edged forward to see what was going on.
Two others, a bit older, thin and spindle-shanked, their
throats and chins muffled in soiled and ragged scarfs, their
gray faces testifying to long malnutrition, idled into view
with that yellow-dog curiosity of hookworm victims. But
the night force gave no evidence of existence. At length
the sergeant reappeared.

' ' Well, ' ' snapped the Heutenant , * ' what about it ? Where
is that night shift?"

"All present, sir," replied the sergeant, pointing at the
three shivering urchins. ' ' Last night at midnight I ordered
them to start a new pile of lumber, and the next I see of them



they was crouching around the boiler — it was a cold night,
sir — and when I ordered them back to work they said they
hadn't had anything to eat for two days but some war-
bread. You know there's been some hold-up in the pay
vouchers ..."

A small banquet at the neighboring Gasthof ended that
particular strike without the intervention of armed force,
though there were occasionally others that called for the
shadow of it.

In taking over industries of this sort the Americans
adopted the practice of demanding to see the receipted
bills signed by the German military authorities, then
required the same prices. Orders were issued to supply
no civilian trade without written permission from the
Americans. After the first inevitable punishments for not
taking the soft-spoken new-comers at their word, the pro-
prietors applied the rule with a literalness that was typically
German. A humble old woman knocked timidly at the
lieutenant's ofHce door one day, and upon being admitted
handed the clerk a long, impressive legal paper. When it
had been deciphered it proved to be a laboriously penned
request for permission to buy lumber at the neighboring
sawmill. In it Frau Schmidt, there present, certified that
she had taken over a vacant shop for the purpose of open-
ing a shoe-store, that said occupation was legal and of use
to the community, that there was a hole in the floor of
said shop which it was to the advantage of the health and
safety of the community to have mended, wherefore she
respectfully prayed the Herr Leutnant in charge of the
sawmills of the region to authorize her to buy three boards
four inches wide and three feet long. In witness of the
truth of the above assertions of Frau Schmidt, respectable
and duly authorized member of the community, the burgo-
master had this day signed his name and caused his seal to
be affixed.



The lieutenant solemnly approved the petition and passed
it on "through military channels" to the sergeant at the
sawmill. Any tendency of das Volk to take our occupancy
with fitting seriousness was too valuable to be jeopardized
by typical American informality.

A few days later came another episode to disprove any
rumors that the American heel was being applied with
undue harshness. The village undertaker came in to state
that a man living on the edge of town was expected to die,
and that he had no lumber with which to make him a coffin.
The tender-hearted lieutenant, who had seen many com-
rades done to death in tricky ambuscades on the western
front, issued orders that the undertaker be permitted to
purchase materials for a half-dozen caskets, and as the peti-
tioner bowed his guttural thanks he assured him: "You are
entirely welcome. Whenever you need any more lumber
for a similar purpose do not hesitate to call on me. I hope
you will come early and often."

The Boche gazed at the speaker with the glass-eyed
expressionlessness peculiar to his race, bowed his thanks
again, and departed. Whether or not he "got the idea"
is not certain. My latest letter from the lieutenant con-
tains the postscript, "I also had the satisfaction of granting
another request for lumber for six coffins."

They were singing a familiar old song with new words
during my last weeks in Coblenz, the chorus beginning
"The Rhine, the Rhine, the Yankee Rhine." For many
miles up and down the historic stream it seemed so in-
deed. I have been in many foreign ports in my day, and
in none of them have I seen the American flag so much
in evidence as at the junction of the Moselle and "Father
Rhine." The excursion steamers — those same side-
wheelers on which you rode that summer you turned
tourist, on which you ate red cabbage at a table
hemmed in by paunchy, gross Germans who rolled their



sentimental eyes as the famous cliff roused in them a
lusty attempt to sing of the Lorelei with her golden
hair — carried the Stars and Stripes at their stem now.
They were still manned by their German crews; a
resplendent "square-head" officer still majestically paced
the bridge. But they were in command of American
Marines, "snappy," keen-eyed young fellows who had
fought their way overland — how fiercely the Boche himself
knows only too well — till they came to water again, like the
amphibians that they are. A "leatherneck" at the wheel,
a khaki-clad band playing airs the Rhine cliffs never echoed
back in former years, a compact mass of happy Yanks
packing every corner, they plow placidly up and down the
stream which so many of their passengers never dreamed
of seeing outside their school-books, dipping their flags
to one another as they pass, a rubber-lunged "Y" man
pouring out megaphoned tales and legends as each "castled
crag," flying the Stars and Stripes or the Tricolor now,
loomed into view, rarely if ever forgetting to add that
unsuspected Httle touch of "propaganda," "Burned by
the French in 1689." Baedeker himself never aspired
to see his land so crowded with tourists and sightseers as it
was in the spring of 19 19. Now and then a shipload of
those poilus who waved to us from the shore as we danced
and sang and megaphoned our way up through their terri-
tory came down past Coblenz, their massed horizon blue
so much more tangible than our drab brown, their band
playing quite other tunes than ours, the doughboys ashore
shrilling an occasional greeting to what they half affection-
ately, half disdainfully call "the poor Frogs." There was
a somewhat different atmosphere aboard these horizon-blue
excursion boats than on our own; they seemed to get so
much more satisfaction, a contentment almost too deep for
words, out of the sight of the sale Boche in manacles.

Boatloads of "Tommies" came up to look us over now



and then, too, a bit disdainful, as is their nature, but friendly,
in their stiff way, for all that, their columns of caps punctu-
ated here and there by the cocked hat of the saucy " Aussies "
and the red-banded head-gear of those other un-British
Britons from the antipodes who look at first glance so
startlingly like our own M. P.'s. Once we were even favored
with a call by the sea-dogs whose vigil made this new
Watch on the Rhine possible; five "snappy" little sub-
marine-chasers, that had wormed their way up through
the canals and rivers of France, anchored down beneath
the gigantic monument at the mouth of the Moselle. You
have three guesses as to whether or not the Germans looked
at them with interest.

It was my good fortune to be able to make two excursions
into tmoccupied Germany while stationed on the Rhine.
Those who fancy the sight of an American uniform beyond
our Unes was like shaking a red tablecloth in a Spanish
bull-ring may be surprised to know that these little jaunts
were by no means rare. We went not merely in full uni-
form, quite without camouflage, but in army automobiles
and wholly unarmed — and we came back in a condition
which a cockney would pronounce in the same way. The
first spin was to Dusseldorf, between two of her Sparticist
flurries. Not far above Bonn the landscape changed sud-
denly from American to British khaki, with a boundary post
in charge of a circumspect English sergeant between. Be-
low Cologne, with her swarming "Tommies" and her plump
and comely girl street-car conductors and "motormen"
in their green-banded Boche caps, we passed scores of the
apple-cheeked boy recruits England was sending us to take
the place of those who were "fed up with it," and who
gazed about them with that wide-eyed interest in every little
detail of this strange new land which the traveler would
fain keep to the end of his days. It seemed natural to find
the British here ; one had grown to associate them with the



flat, low portions of the country. Far down the river a
French post stopped us, but the sentry was so interested
in posing before my kodak that he forgot to mention passes,
and we were soon speeding on through a narrow horizon-
blue belt. The Belgians, who turned the scene to brown
again not far beyond, were even less exacting than the
poilus. At the farther end of the great bridge over the
Rhine between Neuss and Dusseldorf they had a score of
sentries posted behind barbed-wire entanglements, touch-
ing the very edge of the unoccupied city. But our only
formality in passing them was to shout over our shoulders,
"Armie americaine!" that open sesame of western Europe
for nearly two years.

Somewhat to our disappointment the atmosphere of
Dusseldorf was very little different from that of an occupied
city. The ubiquitous small boy surrounded us more densely
wherever our car halted; the thronged streets stared at us
somewhat more searchingly, but there was little other
change in attitude to be noted. Those we asked for direc-
tions gave us the same elaborate courtesy and annoying
assistance; the shops we entered served us as alertly
and at as reasonable prices; the manufacturer we called on
listened to our wants as respectfully as any of his fellows
in the occupied zone — and was quite as willing to open a
credit with the American army. The motto everywhere
seemed to be "Business as usual." There was next to
nothing to suggest a state of war or siege anywhere within
a thousand miles of us — nothing, at least, except a few
gaunt youths of the '19 class who guarded railway viaducts
and government buildings, still wearing their full trench
equipment, including — strange to believe! — their camou-
flaged iron hats ! Postal clerks of the S. O. S. supposed, of
course, that all this brand of head-gear had long since crossed
the Atlantic. Humanity certainly is quick to recuperate.
Here, on the edge of the greatest war in history, with the



victorious enemy at the very end of the next street, with red
revolution hovering in the air, Hfe went on its even v/ay;
merchants sold their wares; street-cars carried their lolling
passengers; children homeward bound from school with
their books in the hairy cowhide knapsacks we had so often
seen doing other service at the front chattered and laughed
and played their wayside games.

The return to Coblenz was even more informal than the
down-stream trip. Belgian, French, and British guards
waved to us to pass as we approached; only our own frontier
guard halted us, and from then on our right arms grew
weary with returning the salutes that were snapped at us in
constant, unfailing succession.

The second trip was a trifle more exciting, partly because
we had no permission to carry it as far as we did — playing
hooky, which in the army is pronounced "A. W. O. L."
keeps its zest all through life — partly because we never
knew at what moment the war-battered "Dodge" would
fall to bits beneath us, like the old one-horse shay, and leave
us to struggle back to our billets as best we could. It was
a cold but pleasant Sunday. Up the Rhine to Mainz
nothing broke the rhythm of our still robust motor except
the M. P. at the old stone arch that separated the American
from the broad horizon-blue strip — the two journeys laid
end to end made one realize what an enormous chunk of
Germany the armistice gave the Allies. We halted, of
course, at the cathedral of the French headquarters to see
the "Grablegung Christi (1492)," as every one should,
listened awhile to the whine of the pessimistic old sexton
with his, "Oh, such another war will come again in twenty
years or so; humanity is like that," and sped on along a
splendid highway to Wiesbaden. The French were making
the most of their stay in this garden spot. They let no
non-fraternizing orders interfere with enjoying the best
the Kurhaus restaurant or cellars, the magnificent, over-



ornate opera-house, the beautiful park, even the culture of
the better class of German visitors, afforded.

Our pass read Wiesbaden and return, but that would
have made a tame day of it. Rejuvenated of heart, if
saddened of pocketbook, by the Kurhaus luncheon, we rat-
tled swiftly on to the eastward. In due time we began to
pass French outposts, indifferent to our passage at first,
then growing more and more inquisitive, until there came
one which would not be put off with a flip of the hand and a
shouted "Arrn^e am^ricaine'' but brought us to an abrupt
stop with a long, slim bayonet that came perilously near
disrupting the even purr of our still sturdy motor. The
crucial moment had come. If the French guard could read
our pass we were due to turn back forthwith, chagrined and
crestfallen. But none of us had ever heard of a French
guard who could read an American pass, and we presented
it with that lofty assurance which only those have not
learned who wantonly wasted their time with the A. E. F.
in France. The sentry received the pass dubiously, as
we expected him to; he looked it over on both sides with an
inwardly puzzled but an outwardly wise air, as we knew he
would; he called his corporal, as we had foreseen; the cor-
poral looked at the pass with the pretended wisdom of all
his kind, handed it back with a courteous "Bien, messieurs,**
as we were certain he would, and we sped on "into Germany."

It was a bland and sunny afternoon. The suburban
villages of Frankfurt were waddling about in their Sunday
best, the city itself was promenading its less dowdy holiday
attire along the wide, well-swept streets. We brought up
at a square overlooked by a superbly proportioned bronze
gentleman who had lost every stitch of his attire except
his "tin hat," where we left the car and mingled with
the throng. Passers-by directed us courteously enough to
the "Goethehaus." Its door-bell handle dangled loosely,
as it had fifteen years before, but a sign informed us that the






place was closed on Sunday afternoons. The scattered
crowd that had paused to gaze at our strange uniforms
told us to come next day, or any other time than Sunday
afternoon, and we should be admitted at once. We did
not take the trouble to explain how difficult it would be for
us to come another day. Instead, we strolled nonchalantly
through the thickening throng and fell in with the stream of
promenaders along the wide main street. There were four
of us — Colonel — but never mind the name, for this one
happened to be a perfectly good colonel, and he may still
be in the army — and three other officers. We — or, more
exactly, our uniforms — attracted a decided attention.
The majority stared at us vacantly or with puzzled airs;
now and then we saw some man of military age whisper
our identity to his companion. No one gave any indica-
tion of a desire to molest us. Yet somehow the atmosphere
about us was considerably more tense than in Diisseldorf,
Twice we heard a '^verdammte'^ behind us, but as one of them
was followed by the word "Engldnder" it may have been
nothing worse than a case of mistaken identity. Still
there was something in the air that whispered we had
best not prolong our call beyond the dictates of good taste.

The shop-windows were fully as well stocked as those of
Cologne or Coblenz; the strollers, on the whole, well dressed.
Their faces, in the expert opinion of the colonel, showed
no more signs of malnutrition than the average crowd
of any large city. Here and there we passed a sturdy,
stern-faced sailor, a heavy Browning or Luger at his side,
reminding us that these men of the sea — or of the Kiel
Canal — had taken over the police duties in many centers.
Otherwise nothing met the eye or ear that one would not
have seen in Frankfurt in days of peace.

As we were retracing our steps, one of my companions
stepped across the street to ask directions to a fashionable
afternoon-tea house. He returned a moment later beside



a gigantic, heavily armed soldier-policeman. The fellow
had demanded to see our passes, our permission to visit
Frankfurt. Now, in the words of the American soldier,
we had no more permission to visit Frankfurt "than a
rabbit." But this was the last place in the world to betray
that fact. The pass to Wiesbaden and return I had left
in the car. I showed great eagerness to take the policeman
to see it. He gave evidence of a willingness to accept the
invitation. We were on the point of starting when a more
dapper young soldier-guard, a sergeant, appeared. The
giant clicked his heels sharply and fell into the background.
The sergeant spoke perfect English, with a strong British
accent. He regretted the annoyance of troubling us, but —
had we a pass? I showed renewed eagerness to conduct
him to the car and show it.

"Not at all. Not at all," he apologized. "As long as
you have a pass it's quite all right, you know, quite. Ah,
and you have an automobile? Yes, yes, quite, the square
where the bronze Hermes is. It's quite all right, I assure
you. You will pardon us for troubling you? The Astoria?
Ah, it is rather a jaunt, you know. But here is the Cafe
Bauer, right in front of you. You'll find their cakes quite
as good, and, their music is topping, you know. Not at all.
Not at all. It's quite all right, really. So sorry to have
troubled you, you know. Good day, sir."

It was with difficulty that we found seats in the crowded
cafe, large as it was. A throng of men and women, some-
what less buoyant than similar gatherings in Paris, was
sipping beer and wine at the marble-topped tables. A
large orchestra played rather well in a corner. Seidels of
good beer cost us less than they would have in New York
two years before. The bourgeois gathering looked at
us rather fixedly, a bit languidly. I started to light a
cigar, but could not find my matches. A well-dressed man
of middle age at the next table leaned over and lighted it



for me. Two youthful students in their gay-colored caps
grinned at us rather flippantly. A waiter hovered about
us, bowing low and smirking a bit fatuously whenever we
spoke to him. There was no outward evidence to show
that we were among enemies. Still there was no wisdom
in playing too long with fire, once the initial pleasure of
the game had worn off. It would have been hard to explain
to our own people how we came to be in Frankfurt, even
if nothing worse came of another demand for our passes.
Uncle Sam would never suffer for the loss of that "Dodge,"
but he would be quite apt to show extensive inquisitiveness
to know who lost it. The late afternoon promenade at the
Kurhaus back in Wiesbaden was said to be very interesting.
We paid our reckoning, tipped our tip, and wandered
casually back to the square graced by the bronze young man
whose equipment had gone astray. To say that we were
surprised to find the car waiting where we had left it, the
doughboy-chauffeur dozing in his seat, would be putting
it too strongly. But we were relieved.

The Kurhaus promenade was not what it was "cracked up
to be," at least not that afternoon. But we may have been
somewhat late. The opera, beginning at six, was excellent,
lacking something of the lightness of the same performance
in Paris, but outdoing it in some details, chiefly in its
mechanical effects. One looked in vain for any suggestion
of under-nourishment in the throng of buxom, "corn-fed"
women and stodgy men who crowded the house and the
top-heavily decorated foyer during the entr'actes. French-
men in uniform, from generals to poilus, gave color to the
rather somber audience and made no bones of "fraterniz-
ing" with the civilians — particularly if she chanced to be
beautiful, which was seldom the case. American officers
were numerous; there were Englishmen, "Anzacs," Bel-
gians, Italians, and a Serb or two. The after-theater
dinner at the Kurhaus was sumptuous, except in one detail;


neither bribery nor pleading could win us the tiniest slice
of the black war-bread that was stintingly served to those
with bread-tickets. Otherwise "wine, women, and song"
were as much in evidence as if war had never come to trouble
the worldly pleasures of Wiesbaden.

We left after ten, of a black night. Our return trip, by
direct route, took us through a strip of neutral territory.
We were startled some eight or ten times by a stentorian
"Halte!" at improvised wooden barriers, in lonely places,
by soldiers in French uniforms who were not Frenchmen,
and who could neither speak any tongue we could muster
nor read our pass. They were French colonials, many
of them blacker than the night in which they kept their
shivering vigil. Most of them delayed us a matter of
several minutes; all of them carried aside their clumsy
barriers and let us pass at last with bad grace. Nearing
Coblenz, we were halted twice by our own soldiers, stationed
in pairs beside their blazing fires, and at three in the morning
we scattered to our billets.

Two cartoons always come to mind when I look back on
those months with the American Watch on the Rhine.
One is French. It shows two ^ai/ws sitting on the bank of
the famous stream, the one languidly fishing, with that
placid indifference of the French fisherman as to whether
or not he ever catches anything; the other stretched at
three-fourths length against a wall and yawning with
ennui as he remarks, "And they call this the Army of
Occupation!'' The other drawing is American. It shows
Pershing in 1950. He is bald, with a snowy beard reaching
to his still soldierly waist, while on his lap he holds a grand-
son to whom he has been telling stories of his great years.
Suddenly, as the erstwhile commander of the A. E. F. is
about to doze off into his afternoon nap, the grandson points
a finger at the map, demanding, "And what is that red spot
in the center of Europe, grandpa?" With one brief glance




.. A* i'^' '^^


the old general springs to his feet, crying, "Great Caesar!
I forgot to relieve the Army of Occupation!"

Those two squibs are more than mere jokes; they sum up
the point of view of the soldiers on the Rhine. The French,
and like them the British and Belgians, only too glad that
the struggle that had worn into their very souls was ended
at last, had settled down to all the comfort and leisure
consistent with doing their full duty as guardians of the
strip intrusted to them. The Americans, like a team arriv-
ing at a baseball tournament so late that they could play
only the last three innings, had gone out on the field to
bat up flies and play a practice game to take some of the
sting out of the disappointment of finding the contest over
before they could make better use of their long and arduous
training. It was this species of military oakum-picking

Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckVagabonding through changing Germany → online text (page 7 of 29)