Germany – Eisenach To Frankfurt

WE lunched early and left Eisenach about one o’clock, having decided to make Frankfort in one stretch. Roads and scenery proved all that could be desired. Proceeding via Vacha and Hünfeld to Fulda, thence through Neuhof, Schlüchtern, Salmünster, Gelnhausen and Hanau, we found mountainous country and the usual succession of pretty villages and interesting towns.

The beginning of our route, through Fürtha and Marksuhl, was plentifully sprinkled with danger signals on the map and along the road—quite necessary, owing to many sharp curves. Climbing the hills out of Marksuhl the road passes close to Hautsee, a lake containing a floating island. On a certain day of the year part of this lake is said to grow blood-red. Ages ago, at a kirmess in the neighboring village of Donges, two beautiful girls appeared and joined in the dancing; the village youths were vastly attracted to the well-dressed strangers, and one playfully stole their gloves. When the dance ended, the girls were almost distracted, looking for their missing gloves, but had to depart without these. Following the fair ones to Hautsee, the youth saw them disappear into the water which, soon after, showed a big red spot—the poor nixies, betrayed by the lack of gloves, had paid the penalty of their visit to the upper world.

We were now motoring through a part cf old Hessen (Hesse) whose name will recall both bitter and sweet events of our Revolutionary days. At one time there were margraves ruling both Thuringia and Hesse. Since then, Hesse has shrunk considerably; upper Hesse lies like a little island in southwestern Prussia near the border, and Rhein Hessen (with Mayence and Darmstadt) lies just below. Frankfort and Hanau lie between the two, in the strip of Prussia that divides them. Not all Hessian rulers were like the grand duke who sent his poor peasants to America, in order to fill his treasury at the expense of George III; several of them used to go round incognito to learn the needs of the people. Landgrave Philip questioned a poor woman one day, and found she was taking yarn to market to raise money for taxes. He gave her a gulden to cover the taxes. “May God reward you, Junker,” said she, “I wish the money lay burning hot on the landgrave,* heart.” He let her go her way and, turning to his followers, said with a laugh : “What a remarkable transaction ! I bought that evil wish with my own money.”

Another time, the landgrave of Hesse was imprisoned by the kaiser while imperial troops overran his land and reduced all his fortresses save Ziegenhain, which was defended to the last ditch by Heinz von Lüder. The landgrave was released upon promising to hang up the loyal Heinz in chains on the castle wall. In the presence of the assembled knights and of the imperial messenger, Heinz was hung to the wall, for a moment, with a gold chain that was immediately presented to him in token of faithful service.

Numerous wayside shrines apprised us of a stretch of Catholic country. A church on the summit of a steep, conical hill, provoked some comment concerning the zeal of worshipers willing to make the climb. The choice of such inconvenient sites dates from the time of Boniface (the English priest Winf rid, some-times called the “Apostle of Germany”) who replaced many a pagan temple so situated, by a house of God. Some of his original chapels and churchyards are maintained throughout Hesse and Westphalia, and peasants in the locality still demand to be carried up these precipitous paths to their last resting place.

Crossing the Werra and Ulster rivers we reached Hünfeld and followed the Haune almost to Fulda. This is a considerable town; founded as an abbey by Boniface in 744, it grew to be the seat of the primate of all abbeys, and finally a bishopric. It contains a Schloss, a convent, a monastery, a Catholic seminary, and many churches, and is the modern German center of Catholicism. St. Boniface is buried in the cathedral crypt. Through his valuable work in Westphalia he rose to be archbishop of Mainz, but came to an untimely end at the hands of the Frisians. They proved as hard to convert as the Saxons were to subdue. Radbot, count of Friesland, had agreed to be baptized—already had one foot in the water—when he suddenly asked would he find his ancestors in heaven. Being informed that, as heathen, they had presumably gone to hell, he promptly withdrew his foot, saying, “Then to hell I go. I’d rather suffer the tortures of hell with them than enjoy the splendor of heaven alone.”

Fulda lies on the river of that name, a wonderful stream, whose waters pause in their flow while a ruler of Hesse is dying. Through Neuhof and Flieden the road rises and falls frequently, but warning danger marks are on our map; at Schlüchtern we enter the valley of the Kinzig, following this as far as Hanau.

Steinau has a strange spring round which no grass will grow. Here the lords of Steinau, Eberstein, Brandau, and others, plotted against the life of Abbot Berold of Fulda. After the murder, the knights and their retainers, to the number of thirty, were caught looting a near-by church and were promptly beheaded or broken on the wheel; since then, knights of Steinau have had to display three wheels and three blades on their coat of arms. There is still a castle at Steinau; and approaching Salmünster we see, on the hills across the valley, the extensive ruins of Stolzenburg.

Near Wachtersbach we observed a large cloud of dust ahead, and at once raised the cry “the enemy is coming”—for thus we dubbed approaching automobiles, owing to the danger involved in passing not only the auto but vehicles hidden in its dusty trail. The “enemy” was slower than usual in meeting us, but finally we discovered that the dust was raised by a large flock of geese driven homeward by the usual barefoot girl—their flapping wings as effective in obscuring the landscape as four big tires and a puffing exhaust.

The next town of note was old Gelnhausen ; on an island in the Kinzig are ruins of Barbarossa,* palace, built in honor of beautiful Gela, where he first met her. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the Swedes in the Thirty Years’ War. Bobbie made no stop, however, till Hanau, where we were glad to pause for refreshment. Close by is the spot where Prince Wrede with forty thousand Bavarians sought vainly to intercept Napoleon retreating with eighty thousand men from his defeat at Leipzig; Prince Wrede was killed in this engagement and a legend tells how, on certain moonlight nights, his ghost appears on the bridge over the Kinzig and strives to save thousands of his foes from drowning in the river, dark waters. Perhaps the tale is familiar to many through Arthur Rapp, poem.

Hanau was founded in the sixteenth century by Protestant exiles from the Netherlands, and some of their old trades, such as diamond-cutting and working in gold and silverware, still flourish here. It was the birthplace of the three brothers Grimm. Jacob and William need no introduction, unless to such as have forgotten their childhood; Ludwig, the youngest, was a painter and etcher of considerable talent. It may perhaps be less generally known that Jacob was author of several more serious works. No ! that is all wrong, for what is more serious than a well told fairy tale; let us rather say, of several technical works. His “Deutsche Grammatik” was the first comparative Germanic philology, and the law it set forth regarding relative correspondence of consonants is still called “Grimm, law.”

On the stretch from Eisenach to Hanau we again passed through many odd little villages with streets so crooked and narrow that we never knew where we should emerge, nor, in fact, whether we should ever emerge at all. Any of them would have furnished the proper background for one of Grimm, fairy tales and, were forest or field needed, it was close at hand, as were foresters, peasants, black cats, old crones bent beneath their load of fagots, and all the rest of the accessories. Many a time, at sight of a tiny, timbered house with rundles blinking in its casements. Scoffy murmured the witch,* words in “Hansel and Gretel,”

“Knusper, knusper, knâuschen. Wer knuspert an mein’ Hauschen?”

This defies adequate translation but, to those who know German fairylore, speaks volumes.

Oh, those beautiful German fields ! with cornflowers and poppies growing among the wheat, and fringing the roadside where the unfenced fields meet it. And oh ! the scent of newmown hay wafted to us on the summer wind with the cheery greeting of barefoot peasant girls who wave a hand and call, “Juché” or “Grüsz Gott.”

But for this we had been sorry to have come in haying time; the wagons so frequently blocked our way and it was difficult to make a driver hear us. Empty wagons were the worst to pass, as their rattling drowned our auto-horn. Lacking a bugle we should have been much annoyed, for every day we met wagons whose drivers were sound asleep. The horses usually had “horse sense” enough to turn out, and it was comical to see the horrified expression on the drivers’ faces as they awoke to hear our trumpet-call and see us rush by; many of them looked as if they thought the last trump had sounded. Fortunately, German horses seem quite phlegmatic; I recall only two occasions on which they made any real attempt at shying.

In all parts of Germany you are likely to find the road lined, both sides, with cherry trees. While they afford a grateful shade they are not, as some travelers seem to imagine, a philanthropic institution to feed the hungry. The trees usually belong to the township and are rented to some poor peasant whose bread and butter depends on the crop. Naturally he is liable to feel seriously concerned at any depredations. Cherries were ripe at the time of our visit, and the men picking them looked very much worried as the car whizzed past the foot of a ladder. Many a bag of the luscious fruit did we buy for a few pfennigs.

The river Nidda, which enters the Main at Frank-fort, owes its name to an amusing incident that befell a countess of Hesse. She vowed to build a castle at the first place where her favorite donkey paused. The stubborn beast stopped at a swampy spot near the river, and neither whip nor spur could urge it on. “Nit da, nit da!” (“not there”) she cried, but in the end she had to build her castle there ; the town that sprang up around it was called Nitda, and so was the river. In Barbarossa, time, Berthold, Count Nidda, took to plundering town and country to such an extent that the emperor was notified; the count had for a long time covered his tracks by shoeing his horses back-ward ; but the depredations were at length traced to him, and the emperor, being in the neighborhood, at once invested the castle with a large force. Despite the odds Berthold would not surrender, but his countess secretly opened negotiations to be allowed to de-part in peace. She finally effected an arrangement whereby she was permitted to leave with what she could carry—and as much more as she could pack upon a mule—provided she took only her most valued possessions, and did not attempt to have the count bestride the mule. She set her three little sons upon the mule and, flinging the count over her shoulders like a sack, managed to totter to safety with him.

Nidda lies twelve miles northwest of Gelnhausen. Some cellars of the famous castle remain, and at one time the townsfolk instituted a vigorous search for treasure supposed to have been buried there. They did find a precious hoard of the count,*, but it consisted entirely of horseshoes designed for shoeing a horse backwards.

The story of Nidda recalls the siege of Weinsberg in 1140, where Conrad III offered the women safe-conduct with such goods as they could carry. They emerged from the city gate bearing their husbands and sweethearts and, though his officers objected, Conrad grinned in appreciation and said, “A king,* word once given must not be broken.”

Those old rulers were magnificent men—men of practical insight and decision, and not a few were scholars of ability in their day; Barbarossa was the most heroic figure of the Middle Ages, as was Charlemagne of earlier, darker days. Their lives at best were one long battle, for that great empire had to be ruled with an iron hand. They dispensed a peculiar, picturesque justice, usually very fair—judged even by later standards—and pregnant with ready wit. But unscrupulous nobles and jealous relations often put them in the wrong. Otto III executed a count whom his jealous queen unjustly accused of having made improper advances. When the truth of the matter developed he promptly offered his own head in forfeit. But the court of nobles granted four stays of the sentence, for each of which the emperor gave the count,* widow a castle as indemnity, until the guilty queen could be tried in due form and executed, thus avenging the death. Otto, though the last of his line, never married again.

Otto I (the Great) wore a red beard by which he was wont to swear, and it often got him into difficulties that needed skillful adjusting. On some occasions, though, he refused to back down. Such was the case when a woman of Lombardy stopped him—on his way to suppress an insurrection—to demand the punishment of a man who had wronged her. “By my beard, I’ll see justice done you when I return,” quoth Otto. “Master, you’ll forget,” said the woman. “No, by this church, I swear it.” When the kaiser returned, the woman, who had meantime fallen in love with the man, begged frantically for his life. “By my beard, I swore to do you justice.—Let the man be executed !” cried the kaiser.

At Seligenstadt, on the Main seven miles above Hanau, Emma and Eginhart were buried. Eginhart, a favorite scribe and biographer of Charlemagne,, secretly made love to the emperor, daughter, Imma (or Emma) ; during one of their meetings a fall of snow made detection imminent, so Emma carried her lover away on her back, that only a woman,* foot-prints should be visible—a ruse witnessed by the emperor. Meanwhile, Eginhart had asked for dismissal, alleging that his services were poorly requited ; the emperor realized this, so he decided mercy would be the truest justice, forgave the transgressor and re–warded him with the gift of his daughter,* hand and a rich dowry. So happy did this marriage prove that their home was called Seligenstadt. Emma is said to have named the well-known Odenwald, which she frequently apostrophised as “O du Wald.”

Following the Main, which is joined by the Kinzig at Hanau, it was not long before we descried the fine tower of Frankfort,* cathedral, which, thanks to Hans von Ingelheim, affords a most pleasing change from both square towers and sharp spires.

Frank ford ! disclosed in the hour of direst need—when the Franks and Charlemagne were fleeing from the victorious Saxons—by a doe that walked sedately through the river while panting and bleeding thou-sands watched, with eager eyes, this path to safety. Centuries after, a bridge was built—not without some difficulty. Did you ever notice the metal rooster on the old bridge? Well, it was like this : a builder had agreed to finish the bridge by a certain day, but when, with only one night left, he still had two arches to construct, he gave up the job in despair. Then the devil approached him and offered to complete the bridge that night in exchange for the first living being to cross it. Agreed ! The bridge stood all finished next morning, but the crafty builder drove a rooster across. The devil, in fury at being gulled of a human victim, tore the rooster in pieces and hurled these through the bridge with such force that two of the stone spans were broken. Nor was it ever possible to fill the gap ; like the hole in the cathedral at Goslar, it refused to be closed with masonry. So, after many futile attempts, it was bridged with wood. But there ! I must stop.

Fain would I break my resolution not to expatiate upon the larger and more traveled towns in favor of this old capital of the East Frankish empire. But prudence says “No.” Frankfort was not new to us and it is probably well known to most travelers—the others I commend to the good offices of Herr Baedeker. We did not even revisit the famous Romer with its room of the electors and its Kaisersaal whose venerable walls echoed to the coronation feast of many a Holy Roman kaiser while the fountain on the square outside ran with the famed red and white wines of the country. They are a long time dead—these kaisers and their guests ; I wonder will men know the spot when another four or five hundred years have passed, or will the records say, “Somewhere, in a town called Frankfort, those old emperors were crowned.”

This city is one of the great centers of Germany, motor industry and seems popular with motor tourists. We found a number of these—Germans as well as foreigners—stopping at Frankfurter Hof, and they all marveled at our record of fine weather, fine roads, and complete freedom from tire-trouble, or any other trouble. The fine open court of this hotel afforded an opportunity, dear to the German’s heart, of dining out-doors. One window in the dining-room has an enormous sheet of glass (over eight feet high and correspondingly wide) which, when pushed up out of the way, not only gives an outdoor appearance but provides easy access to the terrace tables—very popular in fine weather.

Ravenstein,* maps are published in Frankfort ; our maps reached but little beyond this point, so we were obliged to buy others and then hold a meeting to determine our route to Metz.

Of course we devoted one evening to the famous Palm Garden. After wandering through the grateful coolness of the splendid palm house, we dined on the terrace and watched the gaily dressed crowds. Hundreds of incandescent lamps shed a soft light over the interesting scene, while the band played dreamy waltzes and bright two-steps. American selections were frequent and received a generous round of applause ; as the strains of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” rang out we thought of home and of the morrow—”the glorious Fourth.”