Germany – At Kiel Just Before The War

KIEL, situated on the Baltic, on the eastern side of the peninsula of Jutland near the Baltic entrance of the Kiel Canal, is the principal naval centre of Germany.

When the Germans decided to build up a great fleet the Emperor used every means to encourage a love of yachting and of the sea, and endeavoured to make the Kiel Week a rival of the week at Cowes, the British yachting centre.

With this end in view, the rich Germans were entcouraged and almost commanded to build and race yachts; and Americans and others who visited Kiel in their yachts were entertained by the Emperor in an intimacy impossible if they had come to Berlin merely as tourists, residing in a hotel.

In June, 1914, we went to Kiel as guests of Allison Armour of Chicago, on his yacht, the Utowana. I was detained by business in Berlin and Mrs. Gerard preceded me to Kiel. I arrived there on Saturday, the twenty-seventh of June, and that night went with Armour to dine with the Emperor on board the Emperor’s yacht, Hohenzollern.

In the harbour were a fair number of German yachts, mostly sailing yachts, taking part in the races; the fine old yacht of Lord Brassey, The Sunbeam, and the yacht of the Prince of Monaco, in which he conducts his scitentific voyages. A great British fleet, comprising some of the most powerful dreadnoughts, had also arrived, sent as an earnest of the good will and kindly feeling then supposed to exist between Great Britain and Germany. The redoubtable von Tirpitz was present on a German battleship, and the Hamburg American Line had an old transatlantic steamer, the Deutschland, rechristened the Victoria Luise, filled with guests, most of whom were invited on a hint from the Emperor.

At dinner on the Hohenzollern a number of British were present. The Kaiser had on one side of him the wife of the British Admiral, Lady Maud Warrender, and on the other side, the Countess of March, whose husband is heir to the Duke of Richmond. I sat between Princess Münster and the Countess of March, and after dinner the Emperor drew me over to the rail of the ship, and talked to me for some time. I wish that diplomatic etiquette would permit me to reveal what he said, but even in war time I do not think I ought to violate the confidence that hospitality seals. However important and interesting, especially to the tame Socialists of Germany, I do not give this conversation with the Emperor, nor the conversation with him and Colonel House at the Schrippenfest, because I was his guest. Conversations with the Emperor which I had on later occasions were at official audiences and to these the same rule does not apply. He also invited me to sail with him in his yacht, the Meteor, in the races from Kiel to Eckernfjord on the coming Tuesday.

Sunday afternoon Prince Henry and his wife, who reside in the castle at Kiel, were to give an afternoon reception and garden party; but on arriving at the gates we were told that the party would not take place. After going on board the Utowana, Frederick W. Wile, the celebrated correspondent of the London Daily Mail, ranged up alongside in a small launch and informed us that the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife had been assassinated at Sarajevo. There was much rushing to and fro in fast launches, the Emperor himself being summoned from the race which was in progress. That night we dined on board the yacht of the Prince of Monaco. All the diplomats and notables whom I met during the afternoon and evening seemed to think that there was no chance that the tragedy at Sarajevo would lead to war. The next morning the Emperor left early for Berlin, but expressly directed that the festivities and races at Kiel should be carried out as arranged.

Monday afternoon there was a Bierabend in the large hall of the yacht club at Kiel. The Emperor was to have presided at this dinner, but his place was taken by his brother, Prince Henry. Sir Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador, who was living on one of the British battleships, sat on his right and I sat on his left. During the evening a curious incident happened. The Prince and I were talking of the dangers of after-dinner speaking and what a dangerous sport it was. In the midst of our conversation some one whispered to the Prince and he rose to his feet, proposed the health of the visiting British Admiral and fleet, and made a little speech. As he contcluded, he said, addressing the officers of the British fleet: “We are sorry you are going and we are sorry you came.” It is remarkable as showing the discipline of the German nation and their respect for authority that thereafter no German ever referred to this curious slip of the tongue. The night was rather mild and after dinner we walked about the gardens of the yacht club. I had a long and interesting conversation with the Prince of Monaco. That Prince, who receives such a large income from the company which carries on the gambling rooms at Monte Carlo, is a man of the world intensely interested in scientific research : there is practically no corner of the seven seas into which his yacht has not poked her nose in the search for material for the Sea Museum which he has established at Monaco.

On Tuesday Armour and I boarded the Emperor’s sailing yacht, the new Meteor. The race was a beautiful run from Kiel to Eckernfjord and was won by the Meteor. As the Emperor was not on board, I did not get one of the souvenir scarf-pins always given to guests who sail with him on a winning race. Among our crew was Grand Admiral von Koster, subsequently an advocate of the ruthless submarine war.

Eckernfjord is a little fishing and bathing town. Near by is the country residence of Prince Henry, a rather modest house, built in brick in English Elizabethan style. The wife of Prince Henry was a Princess of Hesse-Darmtstadt and is the sister of the Czarina of Russia. We had tea with Prince and Princess Henry, their family, the Duke of Sonderburg-Glücksburg and several others of his family. The billiard room of the house is decorated with the large original caricatures made by McCutcheon of the Prince’s stay in America. Prince and Princess Henry came out to dine on the Utowana, and Armour and the Prince went ashore to attend another Bierabend, but I dodged the smoke and beer and remained on board. Before he left the yacht, I had a talk with Prince Henry. He seemed most exercised over the dislike of the Germans by all other peoples and asked me why I thought it existed. I politely told him that I thought it existed because of the success which the Germans had had in all fields of endeavour, particularly in manufacturing and commerce. He said, with great truth, that he believed a great deal of it came from the bad manners of the travelling Germans. Prince Henry is an able and reasonable man with a most delightful manner. He speaks English with a perfect English accent, and I think would be far happier as an English country gentleman than as the Grand Admiral of the German Baltic Fleet. He has been devoted to automobiling and has greatly encouraged that industry in Germany. The Automobile Club of Berlin is his particular pet.

On returning to Kiel next day we spent several days longer there. I lunched on board his battleship with Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, sitting next to him at the table. He struck me then as an amiable sea dog, combining much political and worldly wisdom with his knowledge of the sea. From Kiel we motored one night to dine with a Count and Countess in their country house. This house had been built perhaps two hundred years, and was on one side of a square, the other three sides being formed by the great stone barns in which the produce of the estate was stored. Although the first floor of the house was elevated about eight feet above the ground, the family, on account of the dampness of that part of the world, lived in the second story, and the dining room was on this story. An ancestor of the Count had, at a time when this part of the country was part of Denmark and about the year 1700, lent all his available money to the King of Den-mark. A crude painting in the hall showed him sitting in the hall of this particular house, smoking a long pipe and surrounded by three or four sisters who were all spinning. Our hostess told us that this picture represented the lending ancestor being supported by his sisters while waiting the return of the loan which he had made to the Danish king, an early example of the situation disclosed by the popular song which runs: “Everybody works but father.” Of course, no one ever expected a Prussian nobleman to do any work except in the line of war or in governing the inferior classes of the country.