Early 1900′s Berlin Travelogue

WHILE the sun is still sinking behind the Potsdam hills that victorious old Fighting Fritz loved so well, and the hero himself, astride his bronze charger, in cloak and cocked hat in the statue group on the Linden, seems riding slowly home to his neighboring palace with the lengthening shadows, the vast industrial army of the German capital issues in myriad units from its individual barracks and debouches on the spacious squares and broad avenues in quest of the evening’s diversions. It is the lull hour. The long, hard day’s work over, the amusements of the night are shortly to begin. In this pleasant interval the bustling, aggressive city seems pervaded with a spirit of relaxation, and no more opportune moment presents for catching the Berliner off his guard and really seeing him as his intimates know him.

This man, it should be borne in mind, is a type unto himself. The light-hearted Rhinelander, the solemn Bavarian, and the plodding, self-reliant Saxon are only half-brothers to the energetic, systematic, masterful Prussian whose most boisterous and irrepressible development is the Berliner. He plays as hard as he works, yielding to none in the thoroughness of either. He has a strong individuality, but with something of coarseness in feeling. He is enormously self-assertive, indefatigable, and patient, but scratch through his veneer of culture and you find a basis that is rude and often boorish. His optimism is sublime and his spirits correspondingly high. At work he is engrossed and determined, but when it is laid aside for the day he enters as eagerly upon his pastimes; and it is then one finds him witty and merry to a degree, but, at times, with the loudness and ostentation of a mischievous, unruly schoolboy. He is the sort of man that has a great time in zoological gardens, and goes picnicking in his best clothes. Intellectually, he is still as Buckle described him in the “History of Civilization in Europe,” the foremost man in the world when he is a scholar and the most ordinary in the main. Europeans dub him “a practical hedonist”; in America we should refer to him as “rough and ready.”

As soon as supper is over these joyous and virile people display their primitive scorn of roofs and flock into the open for fun and frolic; yet supper, itself, has been one of Gargantuan proportions at which an observer, recalling Rabelais, might well have trembled for palmers in the cabbage. From the four quarters they gather in force to hang about the fountains in the roomy squares or loaf on the Linden benches until the call of the concert-hall or the comfortable, tree-shaded beer-garden allures to those bibulous indulgences that old Tacitus, eighteen centuries ago, noted as peculiarly their own. For silent now are the forges and furnaces of Spandau, the clothing Fabriks of the northeast suburbs, the factories of the east end, and all the skilled industries of the south. The artist colony of Moabit may no longer complain of drilling regiments, and the mammoth business blocks they call Hofe have swelled the throng of clerks on Friedrich and Leipziger Strassen. All have supped; and merchant and laborer fare forth en famille to take the evening air.

With what heartiness and placidity does this multitude enjoy its ease! It is a trick your highstrung peoples beyond the borders can never get the hang of. It calms one merely to look on at the contentment and satisfaction with which they stroll slowly and merrily along, chattering animatedly in their deep guttural speech, and greeting friends with punctilious bows and infinite hatraisings. With every other word they “bend their backs and they bow their heads,” like the celebrated character of “Dorothy.” There is an agreeable absence of rush and hurry. Ponderous and massive, but with an erectness bred of military training, they wear their sombre, loosefitting clothes with palpable relish, for comfort and inconspicuousness are virtues of price with the Teuton. The stately gnadige Frau treads heavily in rustling silk, the mincing Fraulein favors ribbons and flounces, and mein Sohn is dapper in a tight suit, lavender gloves, and the indispensable little cane. Chaperons, of course, abound; for if a young man were to walk abroad alone with an unmarried girl in Berlin he would be consigning her at once to a plane with the painted nymphe de pave.

The surroundings are animated. Motor-cars roll sedately along with the least din possible and with scrupulous regard for speed limits, and a prodigious assortment of cheap and comfortable Droschke cabs hovers expectantly about with their drivers decked out in long coats and patent-leather hats. From time to time an officer in brilliant uniform or a diplomat in severe black, with a row of orders across his breast, posts past hurriedly to dine out in formal state; and with knowledge of the terrifying discomfort of a German social function comes confidence that most of them look from their smart broughams with profound envy at the jovial, care-free crowds that are so boisterously happy along the way.

The visitor, who is struggling with an uncomfortable suspicion that he may be missing something in the other two rings of the circus, might do well to climb the Kreuzberg and take the whole show in like a map. He has probably already learned that although the city lies prostrate on a level sandy plain as guiltless of a hill as a billiard table, yet the indomitable Berliner has repaired this oversight of nature by himself building a fine little mountain at a convenient spot due south. That is one of the advantages in rearing your own hills – you can have them where you want them.

In the sullen red of the dying day one beholds from the battlements. of the Kreuzberg’s Gothic tower a monster plain, twenty-five miles in an irregular circle, smothered in house-tops, and barred and seamed with an intricate entanglement of carefully made streets. He sees parks and squares in surprising profusion, and an abundance of foliage in spite of the sand; and there is a sluggish river winding a serpentine course, a Ringbahn encircling the suburbs, an elevated road that dives underground and becomes a subway, and surface lines without number. One could fancy a great cross in the centre of the city, whose upright is the long Friedrichstrasse and whose broad crosspiece is the splendid Unter den Linden. The last rays of the sun gild the roofs and spires of each of the “town districts,” which the Prussian Diet has recently merged into a Greater Berlin of four million ;souls – Wilmersdorf, whose “millionaire peasants” became rich overnight by selling their lands to speculators; Charlottenburg the Pampered, that has increased tenfold in thirty years; Rixdorf the Prosperous; and Schoneberg the Renowned -which is well worth a sentimental journey to the graves of the Brothers Grimm under the cypresses of St. Matthew’s Cemetery, if only out of gratitude for the familiar versions of ” Cinderella,” “Tom Thumb,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and so many others of our childhood’s companions. The sunset glory falls where glory is due – on a region at our feet of ancient martial fame; the little village that the Knights Templar held for centuries, and the broad Tempelhofer Feld, – Prussian drill-ground for two hundred years, – whither all Berliners turn holiday-faces when the Kaiser reviews the Guards in spring and autumn, and journey cockishly homewardwhen the show is over, “snapping their fingers at the foeman’s taunts.”

In every section that the Kreuzberg looks down upon, and still farther away under the fading western skies, pleasant signs of recreation abound. The Linden overflows, the lesser streets are swollen streams, and every open square is a ruffled lake of leisurely humanity. A strong tide of loiterers sets through the most popular of Berlin’s breathing-places – the stately Tiergarten – and ripples there about the bases of statues and monuments, the marble settles of the Sieges-Allee, and the sculptured benches of the Anlagen of the Brandenburg Gate. There is the usual deep eddy before the graceful statue of the adored Queen Louise, which is half-buried in flowers by a grateful people every March 10. The bridle-paths teem with lines of aristocratic riders, with possibly the Kaiser himself among them. Indeed, no other part of the city may compare with the Tiergarten at this hour, so beautiful is it in turf and tree and so delightful in heavy fragrance. No wonder that Berliners have so long regarded it as the best last glimpse of life – to fight duels in by dawn in other days, and to take their own lives in now.

All Berlin is now out of doors. The millionaires of the exclusive Tiergarten purlieus are cooling themselves in their villa gardens, and the middle-class man is beaming at the band at the Zoo, where the restaurant-terraces are overflowing into the flowered walks among the trees. There is a boisterous coterie of shouting children to every prim fountain in the prim squares. Out under the pines and cypresses of Grunewald crowds returning from the races are gazing admiringly at the pretty white villas that rim the verges of the placid forest lakes; and others are turning aside for the spectacular amusements of Luna Park. At Steglitz the bicycle races are ending and merrymakers are swarming into the Botanic Gardens to marvel over the cacti and palms of the long hothouses. Capital boating is in progress on the Spree, and sailing at Wannsee, and steamer trips all through the suburbs. Bands are crashing in the noisy penny-shows of the tumultuous Zeltern; they are having beer in crowded Weinhandlungen, chocolate at dainty Conditoreien, and much besides in the jolly Vienna cafes that open out invitingly to the street. In every part of the city rise music and laughter and the sound of early revelry in pretty, tree-shaded summer gardens. It is an audible expression of the Berliners’ joy of living – their cherished Lebensfreude.

Could we rise with Zeppelin we should find it the same now at Charlottenburg, and over at Potsdam. Charlottenburg the Prosperous is having its serene and dignified companies sauntering in quiet evening talk along the broad, handsome streets. The gay are at the lively Orangerie, the philosophic in the trim, pert little parks, and the sentimental among the flaming roses and fragrant trellises of the charming Palace Garden. In solemn and conscious superiority the great Technical High School and famed Reichanstalt shroud their learned cornices in the gloaming of tree-tops, and that chiefest mecca of all, the royal mausoleum, embowers its gleaming marble walls in heavy shrubbery at the bottom of its avenue of pines. No loiterer, you may be sure, but thinks reverently of the recumbent snowy effigies of the dead rulers that lie in the hushed gloom of that dim interior.

Potsdam, Germany’s Versailles, steeped in the melancholy beauties of the Havelland pine forests, redolent of old Frederick the Great and his dream of an earthly Sans Souci, thinks nothing of drawing Berliners twenty miles to its twilight peace and calm. Exuberance tempers to the dignity and beauty of those parks and palaces where the Kaiser has his favorite royal seat. Up the broad Hauptweg they stroll by hundreds and gladden their patriotic eyes with the colonnades, porticoes, and statues of the vast New Palace that proved to the foes of defiant old Fritz that the sturdy warrior was far from bankrupt despite the Seven Years’ War. Nor do they forget that it was here the late emperor, beloved “Unser Fritz,” learned how “unto dying eyes,The casement slowly grows a glimmering square.”