WE arrived in Hamburg at 10.30 P.M., and although our steamer blew her powerful whistle at intervals, for an hour previous to landing, in tones sufficiently loud to waken the early sleepers from their profoundest slumbers, not a human being was to be seen on our arrival at the wharf. No cabs or conveyances of any kind were in waiting. Under similar circumstances in New York there would be a cab for each passenger, and its driver would exhibit an extraordinary degree of enterprise in securing him.
Many of the passengers, preferring a comfortable room at a good hotel to the close stateroom of the steamer, determined to disembark and try to find such accommodations. We sent a special messenger for cabs, went ashore, and stood an hour on the dock, shivering in the rain. Finally we heard the distant rumble of wheels, the near approach of which disclosed to us a single droschkerather limited accommodations for fifty people. Through the kind and rather officious efforts of an Austrian army officer, a fellow-passenger, our party of three secured the first seats. Then as many others got in and on the vehicle as it could possibly contain, and we started for the hotel at a very dignified pace.
Reaching its welcome portals, shortly after midnight, we found it closed and silent as the grave. By dint of ringing and pounding we succeeded in raising a diminutive, frowsy boy, who opened the door to us, holding a single candlean article which we subsequently found played a conspicuous part in our hotel billswhich did good service in making the darkness visible, but scarcely served any other useful purpose.
We asked the small boy for rooms, and we learned on the spot the important fact that one person can do only one thing in Germany. He shrugged his shoulders and saidin German, of course, which fortunately some of our party understoodthat he would go and wake up the clerk. After an interval so protracted that we thought he must be making an elaborate toilet in order to receive distinguished guests with due honors, the clerk appeared, with lantern in hand, and conducted the whole party all over the house, showing us all the unoccupied apartments, stating the price of each and all particulars. A little before daylight we were settled in our rooms, and were soon profoundly unconscious of the sensation we had produced by our untimely arrival.
Remembering the customs of first-class hotels in our great cities at home, it seemed strange that one of the largest hotels in Hamburg should at any time of the nightand especially as early as twelve or one o’clockbe shrouded in darkness, with no one astir to receive visitors, or even to watch the premises.
As we have made this journey to find out all we can about the customs and habits prevailing on this side of the ocean, we propose to keep our eyes and ears open, and to report according to our best ability, making such observations upon passing scenes and events as will enable the reader to see them, in some sense, through the eyes of the writer.
The attention of the traveller is first arrested here by the fact that he is not compelled, on landing, to run the gauntlet of a horde of custom-house officials. The contrast in this respect between arriving from abroad in Hamburg and New York is quite remarkable. Here there is absolutely no restriction, and you are subject to no embarrassment whatever on landing. But on approaching New York you are first required to subscribe to an oath as to the possession, among your effects, of any dutiable articles. Then your trunks are examined, upon the presumption that you have made a false oath, and you are perhaps made out a perjurer by the seizure of some trifling article that you had innocently thought you had a right to bring in free of duty. It is rather an unpromising reception for a high-minded foreigner to encounter a trap set for him at our very gates, and to suddenly find himself a self-convicted perjurera welcome, one would naturally think, little likely to lead him to expect courteous treatment at our hands on further acquaintance.
An American can hardly realize, at this distance and amid the conditions, that at this moment a most exciting contest is in progress at home, the main element of which is the question of duties upon imported merchandise. The fact that free trade has been successful in these commercial cities in the Old World cannot be considered conclusive as to the propriety of its adoption in America, with its vast territory and diversified interests. But the unquestioned success of the experiment, covering a period of centuries, may be very properly taken into the estimate in forming our conclusions and shaping our policy, in this regard, for the future.
Whether this success may be the result of the early adoption of absolute free trade or of other causes, or of all combined, certain it is that an important city has grown up here, which not only combines in a marked degree all those elements that constitute it a great mart, but, from the evidences which are everywhere apparent, it is replete with the best fruits of our modern civilization.
But all this is about to be changed and a system of tariff is to be inaugurated in these Free Cities, not, however, through the voluntary action of their citizens, who are entirely satisfied with their present commercial regulations, but at the behest of the German government. A gradual pressure has, for many years, bas been brought to bear upon these cities by the government, which they can no long resist, tending towards the inauguration of many organic changes. Previous to 1866 the inhabitants of the three Free Cities, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lubeck, were not compelled to furnish soldiers for the German army. Since that date the same rule applies to them as to the rest of Germany, and every young man is compelled to become a member of the army. At the very least he must serve either one or three years, and be trained as a soldier and hold himself ready at all times to enter into active service in any emergency. Indeed, he is liable to be suddenly summoned home from any part of the world for this purpose.
The same pressure which has accomplished this result is causing the radical change which is now being inaugurated in the commercial policy of the Free Cities, and extensive buildings are now being erected and all the necessary changes made to establish the new system of collecting duties upon the foreign merchandise entering these ports. These changes will only affect the three cities above named, as all the goods entering Germany at other points have been hereto-fore subject to the customs regulations of the general government. No doubt the advocates of both policies in America will gather arguments from these facts to sustain their respective views.
The fact of the abandonment of the free-trade policy here, and of the evidently increasing sentiment against it in England, seems to show that its practicability is still a mooted question and that it is likely to remain so for a long time.
There has been much excitement in Germany on the tariff question during the last ten years. It seems not a little remarkable that, in an old country like this, with its conservative institutions and tendencies, the great chancellor, who has done so much to consolidate and aggrandize the empire, has for several years used his influence on this question in a manner rather indicating the shifting policy of the politician than the conservative and reliable methods of , the political economist. He has been largely influential in promoting the imposition of duties upon agricultural products and awarding premiums upon similar articles exported.
In some cases the interests affected by such ex-actions have been greatly damaged. This was notably the result of the special legislation, not long since enacted, involving the article of sugar. The undue stimulation thus afforded caused over-production to such an extent that the whole interest was ruined. Tempted by the exceptional profits, agriculturists generally engaged in the production of sugar, making large outlays for the necessary machinery, and adjusting all their arrangements to make it the leading crop. The disturbed and chaotic state thus produced, in this industry, has existed for several years, and the wise men of the nation are at their wits’ ends to provide a competent remedy.
Not, however, being wise myself in the mysteries which surround this subject, I am willing to wait a few centuries longer for its practical solution. In viewing the exciting contests of the advocates of each system in the arena of financial politics, I am inclined to sympathize with the Western woman who exclaimed, on witnessing a fierce fight between her husband and a bear, the victory being for a long time in doubt : “It is a grand fight anyhow, and I don’t care much whether the old man or the b’ar gets licked.”
To an American, fresh from the bustle of our great cities, the tide of commercial activity ebbs and flows here with a deliberation which at first seems quite exasperating. On calling at a leading banking house, to draw money upon my letter of credit, at 2 P.m., I was told by a lad in charge to come at 3.30, as the cashier had gone to dinner. Thus it seems that two hours are taken out of the best part of the business day to enable that official to dine, which will surely en-able him to eat with sufficient deliberation to avoid dyspepsia. While the same deliberation would, no doubt, be conducive to the health of the bank cashier in America, he would speedily discover that the claims of his stomach would be outweighed by the duties of his position.
On returning at 3.30 I was ushered into a room about eight feet square, containing a window which commanded a view of the inner office, at which I presented my letter of credit and then awaited further developments. The cashier scrutinized the document for the space of about two minutes with the greatest care. After which he handed it to a clerk, who devoted several more minutes to its critical examination, when, laying it deliberately on his desk, he proceeded to fill up two blank receipts for the amount to be drawn, and read them over and over again. Then, after having evidently gone through the whole process mentally several times, to make quite sure that everything was correct, he laid them on the cashier’s desk. In three minutes by the watch that official took them up and deliberately examined and compared them, with an air plainly indicating that he had a lurking suspicion that something was wrong somewhere. Finally he laid them on his desk once more, and went for his money-bag and counted out the ducats with the same deliberation that had characterized the entire performance. Just twenty-three minutes had elapsed since I had crossed the threshold on entering, and no one else had in the meantime been in to claim attention. The interest and admiration in-spired by this transaction naturally awakened my solicitude as to what might be the effect of several customers calling at the same time.
Hamburg is situated about seventy miles from the North Sea, upon the broad river Elbe. It is the most important seaport of northern Germany and one of the leading commercial cities of Europe. It has been largely rebuilt during the last fifty years, as more than one quarter of the city was destroyed by a terrible fire in 1842, which left 10,000 families homeless. Still there may be found in the old parts of the city many quaint specimens of architecture which form a marked contrast with the more modern structures, and possess an especial charm for the traveller. The leading hotels and many elegant private houses are situate upon a large basin, which is surrounded by a broad and attractive promenade. There are several such basins connected by canals running through the very heart of the city, upon which small steam pleasure-boats are constantly passing between the different basins, gliding swiftly under the graceful arches of the numerous stone bridges constructed for the passage of the streets across the canals.
The Zoological Gardens are extensive and well appointed, and contain one of the, finest collections of animals in Europe. They are certainly a circumspect and well-behaved group of beasts, and I fancied that I discovered indications in their demeanor that they had imbibed, since arriving from their native retreats, a healthy respect for the German military system, and that even the lion cast a furtive glance around to see if an officer was in sight before he ventured upon a hearty and well-defined roar.