LEAVING our hotel in Hamburg at nine a. m., we crossed the great bridge over the Elbe to the island of Wilhelmsburg, which lies between the Norder and the Slider Elbe, and is protected against floods by dikes. Here we left our bell-boy guide. We could undoubtedly have found our way alone, but Pater declared he would rather waste an hour in the country than lose ten minutes amid city traffic. Crossing the bridge into Harburg we had to pay toll; about forty pfennigs, I thinkat all events no exorbitant sum.
Harburg, as old as Hamburg, owes its origin to the same source and to analogous reasons. Had Charlemagne presented a church and a castle to his fortress on the Slider Elbe instead of to the one on the Norder Elbe, probably today Harburg would be the world-renowned city of more than 800,000 inhabitants, and Hamburg, the manufacturing town of less than 6o,000. On the other hand, the Black Hills of Harburg, properly fortified, might have forced King Waldemar to whistle for his tribute, in which event there would have been no purchased freedom, no proud, free city insisting on her rights; only a miser-able town done to death by various would-be owners among the petty princes. Upon such slender threads have hung the scales inclining to present greatness.
We pushed on via Sinsdorf, Jehrden and Stelle to the little town of Winsen on the Luhe. Our road skirted a canal which, with the low country reclaimed from the Elbe, reminded us of Holland’s polders. Beyond Winsen the country grew higher and we began to find pine woods on either hand. Soon we passed the forestry of Habichtshorst. Wherever the ruthless axe had bitten sections out of the forest, stood carefully planted fields of young growth, like a countless collection of miniature Christmas trees; their pretty, blue-green needles hid the scar on the landscape, while their sturdy aspect gave promise of closing the gap entirely some years hence. We noticed wood-cutters at work felling new sections, and all along the road met huge, bare poles on their way to sawmills, or to spots where rafts are built for a voyage down the river. Often, to economize labor, one driver of a four-in-hand moved a train of two or three big logs. Not-withstanding this heavy trucking, the roads were in splendid condition.
A sudden turn brought us on a sextet of mounted army officers. They drew aside to let the car pass, and though they tried to do their bounden duty in scrutinizing the ladies, the antics of their spirited horses interfered. As the automobile swept past, up the hill, our last glimpse showed the agonizing spectacle of their leader trying to fix a monocle in his eye while his restive thoroughbred danced on its hind legs.
We whizzed through the fragrant forest which raised its tall trunks in perfect alignment at either side. No trace of underbrush impaired the park-like appearance ; neither mark nor blemish marred the absolute uniformity except, here and there, a blaze indicating a section to be cut. Now and again a broad fire lane crossed the road at right angles and vanished downhill, giving a fleeting glimpse of distant country. These pine woods extended nearly to Bardowieck; and from exclamations of surprise, Scoffy resorted to caustic remarks about a congressional committee which, going abroad to inspect the German work of forest culture, returned only to report that it was all very finebut there was, as yet, no need of taking such trouble in America.
Bardowieck, once a great trading city, was destroyed by Henry the Lion in 1189, in the very year Hamburg was pleading with Emperor. Fredrich Barbarossa (the grand old man among emperors of the Holy Roman Empire) for special privileges of self-government; these, though once purchased at a heavy price from the marauding king of the Danes, had saved her from Bardowieck’s fate.
The town of Brunswick (Braunschweig) toward which we were heading, first became known as the stronghold of this same Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony, one of the Guelfsa high-handed, quarrelsome fellow who caused Barbarossa no end of trouble and was finally impeached, in the Diet, by Conrad of Hohenzollern. Conrad was burgave of Nuremberg, one of Barbarossa’s right-hand men, and the pioneer of that house of Hohenzollern whose descendant is now king of Prussia and German emperor. Kaiser Friedrich Barbarossa grew tired of Henry’s machinations and overthrew him in 1180, which put an end to the powerful duchy of Saxony; though it did not, apparently, do more than clip Henry’s wings and confine his warlike proclivities to a limited area. It seems strange that descendants of Henry and of Conrad are now cousins, and respectively king of England and ruler of the German empire.
Approaching Luneburg we crossed a portion of the III well-known Lüneburger Heide (moor). It was too early for the purple heather to be abloom, and though the Young Ladies sang “Röslein, Röslein, Röslein roth, Röslein auf der Heide” in most fetching tones, not a single wild rose came to view. But there were flowers galore in Germany; wherever we traveled the scarlet poppy and the blue cornflower grew by the wayside in profusion. Among the stalks of yellow grain they twinkled as far as the eye could penetrate and, where the wheat was short or sparse, whole fields were red or blue with them, or both red and blue. Neither France nor England showed their equal. They lend to the landscape a bright, happy charm not easily described. It is a wonder to me that the Ger-man national colors are not red, blue and yellow.
A pretty picture, too, the women make as they work in the fields with the men. Anywhere between the ages of six and sixty you may find them engaged in agricultural pursuits. The younger ones are generally pretty. They go barefooted as a rule, and had they worn shoes their skirts would scarcely have reached their shoe-tops; their fine throats, and firm round arms exposed to the elbow, show the summer’s tan, but sun-bonnets protect their rosy cheeks, and from this shelter red lips and flashing teeth, dimples and merry blue eyes show at their best. “Maud Mullers,” Mater dubbed them, as they paused in their work to lean upon a take and watch us, or to wave or call a cheery greeting.
“Yes, yes, boys,” remarked Pater, “this is beautiful, picturesque Germany. Now, if I were a young man like you scamps, the er” catching sight of Mater’s expectant face, he concluded, “the auto wouldn’t go so fast; that’s all I can say.”
Luneburg is a quaint old town with many gabled houses in which each story, supported on curiously carved brackets, projects beyond the one beneath. We passed the Nikolaikirche and got a glimpse of the towering spire of the Johanniskirche, and of the Rathaus with its odd, buttressed Renaissance front and hipped roof surmounted by a belfry. The Youth tarried so long for postcards that Pater vetoed a stop to look at the medieval paintings and carvings treasured in the Rathaus. Luneburg, later a Hansestadt (Hanseatic city), was, with its dependencies, one of the ancient inheritances of the Welf, or Guelf, family.
Departing southward we again traversed a section of the Heide, and the ladies, at this early season, once more scanned the heath fruitlessly for Heidenroslein. But the “horrid men” discovered something they declared more interesting, and that was peat-cutting; in many boggy places neat squares of peat had been cut and piled up to dry. At Melbeck we branched to the left and followed the Ilmenau river as far as Bienenbüttel. Here we took the wrong turn, crossing the river on one of those queer stone bridges that rise high in the middle of the span, forming an actual hill. The poor condition of the road made us suspect an error, and inquiries proved we were off the highway, so, back went the car, over the hilly bridgeto the round-eyed amazement of a barefoot Gänseliesel who had much ado to keep her geese in order in the face of such a monster.
“Liesel, liebes Liesel, was raschelt im Stroh?
Sind die kleinen Ganschen, sie ha’n keine Schuh, Schuster hat’s Leder, kein’ Leisten dazu,
D’rum kann er dem Gänschen auch machen kein’ Schuh.”
One of the Young Ladies hummed this old German lullaby with which Humperdinck begins his opera “Hansel and Gretel.” “I think it’s so comical,” she added, “to impute the wearing of shoes to geese when the little girls who tend them probably never owned a pair.” In “Koenigskinder,” Humperdinck makes us acquainted with the goose girl and with the lovable character and idol of the children, Spielmannthe village fiddlerliving representative of the minstrel of old, once idolized by grown-up children. The Castles discovered Spielmann for us years ago, but he is not necessarily the old man they depict.
Passing through Jelmsdorf, Taeterdorf, and Kirchweihe, we drew into Uelzen. “Aha l” cries Pater, “well figured, eh, Bobbie? Uelzen and lunch time. Besides, the trumpeter is anxious to wet his whistle.” And he raised his horn for a long blast with an extra flourish.
He had, as you may gather, purchased a horn some-what similar to the one we had seen in Holland, and it proved very useful. A peasant driving a rattling cart often failed to hear the usual deep-toned honk of an auto-horn, but with our bugle we could “fetch” him over half a mile away. Pater had become quite ex-pert at working the four tubes and two pistons, and his efforts elicited the small boy’s applause everywhere.
At Uelzen we drove to the Stadt Hamburg, a large, well-kept inn ; its plain exterior is redeemed by tables along the wall, each in an alcove of trellised ivy. A step through the hospitable portal discloses a spacious staircase, with landing and double, upper flights, leading to a ballroom on the second floor. One is re-minded not only of stairs in colonial mansions of Virginia, but also that our old roadhouses often boasted ballrooms patronized by the neighboring gentry. On the ground floor is a large taproom whose dais has tables where the Stammgâste (original or long-standing patrons) may quaff their potations in envied and undisturbed complacency. Further back, is a series of alcoves in one of which we enjoyed a simple, but excellent, repast; potatoes and kale done to a turn, sugar peas, delicious roast vension, fine coffee and good local beer. Well-known German wines were at our disposal ; even real icewater appeared by special re-quest. Often, in cathedral towns of England, was there occasion to regret the distance separating us from the good, appetizing fare provided in most insignificant German towns.
The one regret at Uelzen was that our idea of lunch time, noon, did not agree with mine host’s by a good three-quarters of an hour; we might have profitably employed this interval at Luneburg, admiring the treasures in the Rathaus. The time was not quite . wasted, however, for the ladies had a chance to look over the house as well as furbish up their dusty plumage, while Pater quizzed mine host and two motorists (General Somebody and his secretary Herr von Some-body Else) regarding roads and routes, and received much information, courteously given. Scoffy and the Youth amused themselves diving into quaint alleys and queer driveways, which never betrayed the slightest indication where they would emerge.
As an aid to digestion, a walk about town was undertaken, which resulted in the discovery of a little twelfth century church, seldom visited by strangers, shown to us by the pastor himself, and containing a number of interesting antiquities. Every street displayed examples of venerable gabled houses, whose timberwork was often covered with carved inscriptions commemorating special events in the owner’s life, accompanied by Biblical and religious allusions, and seldom failing to ask a blessing on the home. Indeed, all through Germany, such inscriptions abound, in town and country, on house and barn alike. Of the few examples in England, perhaps the God’s Providence House, in Chester, will be best known to the reader ; and this is not as quaintly personal and ingenuous as most of those.
From Uelzen a splendid road led via Holdenstedt, Sprackensehl and Gross Oesingen, to Gifhorn. It carried us through fine forestsForst Breitehees and the Maseler Waldand through the moors of Brut-lags Heide. Gifhorn is a little old place slumbering peacefully where the Ilse flows into the Aller; a weatherbeaten castle overlooked the jumble of tile roofs and timbered gables, and as we approached, the rusty vane on its one square tower would have been the only moving object in sight had not its creaking revolutions started up some rooks from the eaves below.
The town looked like a section of old Nuremberg or of Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber, gone astray and fallen asleep at this scheduled spot. We did meet a few people in the streets at first, but when we had lost our wayhaving made a detour on account of street repairsthere was not a soul in sight, and we had to inquire at a house. A barefoot boy, who came rushing out at the sight of the stopping car, conquered his astonishment long enough to point out the “Chaussée nach Braunschweig,” and an old crone who happened along, drawing an enormous load of brush and fagots, confirmed the child’s directions. The lad appeared to regard her with suspicion, seeming more afraid of her ugly wrinkled face than of the huge car with its roaring motor. As this was the land of Grimm he may have thought himself in the midst of a fairy tale, for his wide-open mouth and wondering eyes seemed to express a query which of us would vanish first, and how; would the car, with the ogres in goggles and the fairy princesses becomingly veiled, fade into thin air, or would the old hag suddenly fly away on a broom-stick after the manner of all well-behaved village witches? When we started off with a honk and a rush he scuttled back into the house.
It is quite evident that the older generation of peas-ants regards an automobile with some superstitionan omen of bad luck, if nothing worse; many may be seen to cross themselves, or spit in the road, or throw a stick or stone over the shoulder. This is not surprising when one considers the light in which even well-informed people of other days regarded the steam railroad for some years after its introduction. Some of our relatives abroad could not be bribed to ride in an automobile; and many people remember great-aunts and grandmothers who would not for the world have ridden in those early railroad trains, and who were not ashamed to admit it.
Not so with the younger generation; I fear you could abduct any youth or maid in all Germany with the lure of an “out-o” ride, as they call it. The famous Pied Piper would have had a much easier task and a more expeditious fulfilment of it, had he possessed an. automobile large enough to accommodate the children of Hamelin.
Shortly beyond Gifhorn our road crossed the Aller Canal and the railroad to Hanover. Crossroads now become very frequent, but by keeping straight ahead we had no trouble in making Brunswick, arriving at about four-thirty after a pleasant run of one-hundred and ten miles’ actual travel, the map mileage being one-hundred and eight.