Germany – Leipsic To Dresden Via Meissen

ABOUT eleven o’clock on Saturday, June 27th, we left Leipzig and headed for Dresden via Meissen. Driving out of town on the continuation of Dresdener Strasse, we passed many a queer little private garden so typical of large German cities. Big factory towns may look quite important from a distance, but they never have these hundreds of vegetable and flower gardens by which you can always tell you are approaching a city of the first class, such as Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig, or Berlin. The Ger-man possesses an innate love of nature and, cooped up in the confines of a big city, nothing will do but he must have his little strip of garden on the outskirts, where he may raise his favorite vegetables and flowers and putter around to his heart’s content.

It looks very odd to see scores upon scores of these little enclosures, side by side, with never a house near them—sometimes boasting a summer pavilion or a tool-shed, sometimes not even this. Many are quite pretty, with rose arbors, rockeries, flower beds and small trees; others are entirely devoted to the prosaic culture of vegetables.

There is a rising young lawyer in Dresden who, during the week, is a regular society swell; but on Sunday he goes out to a little patch of farm land near the “Sachsische Schweiz,” dons overalls, and digs, weeds, and plants all day long, getting just as tired and dirty as he likes. Because his fruit and vegetables lie open to the depredations of the small boy, during the week, he has hit upon the expedient of giving each of the local constables the fruit of certain trees, with the result that, among them, they maintain a close watch upon that particular property.

The road to Dresden carried us through Wurzen, Oschatz and Meissen. A good road, but rather dusty, and the numerous wheelmen we met swore quite volubly at the dust cloud we raised. They will get used to that in time; the practice of motor-touring is still young in Germany. Indeed, outside of large cities we seldom saw more than two cars a day; some days, none at all. While we felt sorry for travelers along the highway, and did not blame them for feeling “sore,” we took comfort in the fact that other motors seemed to raise more dust than ours.

Along this route there was the usual succession of picturesque German villages. At Bennewitz the river Mulde was crossed and soon after we came to Wurzen, which has an old Dom (cathedral) of the twelfth century and a castle of the fifteenth. A rising grade takes us between the Steinberg and the Wolfsberg and into the forest of Hubertusburg. At Oschatz the road goes down hill abruptly and, beyond Lonnewitz, we were glad to be again warned by our Ravenstein of a sharp descent to the railroad. A steep grade up to Obermoschütz brought us our first view of the Elbe. Sliding carefully down the hill to Zehren, we followed the Elbe to Meissen.

Meissen—older than Dresden, Leipzig or Berlin—is the oldest town in Saxony, one of the oldest in Germany. It was founded by Henry the Fowler, forebear of the Saxon line of emperors, and first sovereign to take hold and create a semblance of order out of the chaotic remnants of Charlemagne’s empire. Henry defeated the Danes and established the Mark Schleswig against them; he marched across the frozen marshes and captured Brannebor, the Wend’s chief city, establishing the Mark Brannebor, which became the great Mark Brandenburg and later the kingdom of Prussia. In 930 he founded the Mark of Meissen as a check to the Hungarians. How many high tides of invasion by those fierce Magyars must have surged and roared round this grim, fortressed hill jutting out into the Elbe ! It is hard to picture this now, as you look down from the Albrechtsburg over that beautiful, peaceful valley. Henry couldn’t do much against the Hungarians at first; had to pay them tribute, in fact. Having got his other borders under control he set to work to improve his fortress of Merseburg, and established new ones at Goslar and Quedlinburg. Most important of all, he taught his troops to fight on horse-back like the Hungarians. Thus in 933 he was able to defeat them decisively, which put an end to all tribute. But it by no means put an end to their inroads, which continued during the reigns of several of his successors.

These Marks were the border counties, so to speak, and the Markgraf (margrave) was count, or lord, of the marches, marks, borders, boundaries, or whatever you wish to call them. In our colonial days, it was a custom of great landed proprietors to “ride the boundaries” of their possessions at regular intervals in order to ascertain that blazes, surveyors’ monuments, boundary stones, etc., were still in place; that trails and roads were in good condition ; that nobody had committed depredations or encroachments on the land : in fact, to see that everything was as it should be. This, in a much magnified sense, was the duty of the Markgraf respecting a given stretch of the empire’s border; he policed the border, punished minor depredations, and served as outpost or sentinel in case of general invasions.

A Burggraf (burgrave) was lord of one of the kaiser’s castles, administering imperial affairs in the castle and its dependencies. A Landgraf was overlord of a given section of country and, without the special duties just mentioned, owed the kaiser military service, and paid other dues, directly or through his sovereign duke or king.

You probably all know Mont St. Michel, off the coast of Brittany, even if you have not seen it—that great rock which combines church, castle, town and fortress, all in one. Seen from the Elbe, Meissen looms up half town, half fortress, with the Ancient Albrechtsburg dominating the mass, and the spires of the Dom soaring against the sky; and you exclaim, “It’s the Mont St. Michel of Germany.” It was more than this to Germany and to the Anglo-Saxon race.

That charming story “Ekkehard,” a literary classic by Victor von Scheffel who wrote “The Trumpeter of Säckingen,” describes an inroad of the Huns into the duchy of Swabia which once comprised Baden, Wurtemberg and part of Bavaria. Barbarossa was a duke of Swabia.

Our first view of Meissen was not from across the river, for we approached along the bank upon which the city is located ; but the gray walls of the fortress looked impressive, towering above us as we drove into town. The quaint fifteenth century Rathaus looked very interesting; so did the old, old houses with red-tiled roofs, and the crazy, narrow, winding streets. But the hotels of the old town did not promise to be as satisfactory to the inner man as did the restaurant in the castle-yard, so we decided to stop there for lunch.

Well, this required some fancy driving you may be sure, and Bobbie earned his laurels there, if anywhere. Streets were narrow and steep, turns sharp and unexpected. Several streets have steps but, fortunately, we did not meet any, as we had in Halle. Up we went, and under the Burgbrücke; then round and round, up and up, on top of the Burgbrücke and over it, to the castle. Several times we reached what looked like a “jumping off” place. Once we took the wrong street, and it needed skillful driving to get our big touring-car turned again and to twist it around the remaining corners, and through narrow archways that allowed just sufficient clearance for a chance pedestrian to save his vest buttons from our mudguards.

But we reached the castle-yard at last, and Pater declares he saw a start of surprise on the bronze features of old Albrecht the Brave, who died in the year fifteen hundred and might little expect to receive guests in touring-cars.

Stumbling up and down the odd but somewhat dangerous steps in the hall of the restaurant building, we emerged on the terrace where we could dine under arbors or trees and, at the same time, enjoy the fine view. Medieval Meissen lay below us, a picturesque jumble of old buildings, whose equal is to be found perhaps nowhere in Germany save at Nuremberg.

In the stable-yard of the inn we found a taxicab from Dresden, which discovery throws a peculiar light on Pater’s remark about the Brave Albert’s features. Yet it in nowise detracts from Bobbie’s achievement; for if you compare a short taxicab driven by a man familiar with the turns, with a huge, heavy car driven by a stranger, you have—as the Irish would say—a gray horse of another color.

To our disappointment a passing shower pattered over the Garten, which deterred us from following the delightful German custom of dining outdoors. The dining-room windows showed a considerable view, but I fear we were too much amused by Bobbie and the taxi’s chauffeur to admire the landscape. They had decided to brave the elements, and were taking lunch at the terrace edge, in the shelter of a tree, engaged meantime in a lively conversation; that one understood no German and the other no English seemed to make not a whit of difference. Bobbie afterward declared they understood each other fairly well, though what wonderful motor-Volapük they employed he would not disclose.

Another distraction, was a gathering of German prep-school boys with their teachers, in the great hall adjoining our room, and it was interesting to listen to the speechmaking and cheering and to the singing of student song.

Scoffy initiated us into the mysteries of Erdbeerbowle (strawberry punch) which with Maiwein or Maibowle (May wine or May punch) is a delicious form of the “cup that cheers but not inebriates.”

I should like to devote a chapter to the Albrechtsburg and the cathedral, but lack of space forbids. This “palace,” one of the finest and most extensive German castles of the fifteenth century, was erected by the co-regents Albert and Ernest. They were the rulers who divided the duchy and electorate of Saxony which, as before mentioned, had fallen to the mar-graves of Meissen: Albert got the electorate and Meissen and some dependencies, which grew to be the present kingdom of Saxony; and Ernest got Thuringia which, as we know, eventually split up into the petty Saxon states.

The castle has a fine, circular, exterior staircase on the side facing the court, which suggested the staircase at Blois, though by no means as large nor as ornate. Inside, we find two stories of magnificent vaulted apartments. One, I think it is the small banqueting hall, is at the apex of the building and has windows on three sides, giving three quite different but equally beautiful views of the valley. Nearly every room is at a different angle from its neighbor and presents a different vista. Truly the sites that made fine natural defenses in olden times, afford fine natural scenery now. The living-rooms on the upper floors and the offices on the lower ones are not shown to visitors ; no dungeons are shown, though there must have been many in those dank cellars in the rocks. Scoffy and the Youth once caused the guide quite some uneasiness by opening a trapdoor which revealed a flight of stone steps leading down into darkness.

The walls of all the great halls are adorned with modern frescoes illustrating the history of the castle and of its doughty margraves and dukes. The effect is rather pleasing, suggesting old-time tapestries. One scene shows the kidnapping of the princes, Albert and Ernest, from the castle of Altenburg by Kunz von Kaufungen; another, the storming of the castle by the Poles in 1015. For you may well imagine a lord of the Marks held no idle office, and the lives of many margraves and of many thousands of men were sacrificed to preserve the empire and the Saxon civilization.

Of the original buildings antedating the Albrechtsburg, not much is left. The Burgbriicke, over which we drove, dates from the thirteenth century as does the cathedral—in course of renovation and restoration when we were there. To preserve the scanty lineaments of such old tombstones as were not already effaced, they have all been removed from the cathedral floor, and a new stone floor has been laid. The spires of the west front, destroyed by lightning in the sixteenth century, are being replaced according to their original design. The masses of scaffolding obscuring front and spires, made the structure look so much more like a modern American skyscraper in course of erection than a thirteenth century cathedral, that Mater promptly took a photograph of it.

We found the statues, altarpieces and the like, in the choir and in some of the chapels, undisturbed; especially noteworthy is the galilee chapel which closes the main west portal and contains, besides a bronze of Frederick the Warlike, four fine brasses attributed to Hermann Vischer or Peter Vischer. The carvings of the cathedral portal, preserved from the elements by the erection of this chapel, are correspondingly interesting. The cathedral adjoins the main Burg (castle) and projects into the bailey.

From 1710 to 1864 the Albrechtsburg was used as the royal porcelain factory; ten years later it was renovated and put into its present condition.

A curious story is told of the discovery of the process for making the famous Meissen china. It seems that at the beginning of the eighteenth century many alchemists were still busily searching for the philosopher’s stone. Just what this precious article was sup-posed to effect is hard to determine ; probably every-thing, and not least, the making of gold. The direct search for a means to manufacture gold was wide-spread, and the inverse process of getting gold into solution and then precipitating it again, was known

and tried in the course of these investigations. A certain chemist or alchemist in Berlin (Bottger or Botticher, by name) was aware of this trick, and one fine day he laid a wager that he could make gold. Of course he prepared his gold solution beforehand and easily won his wager.

The result of this wonderful experiment, noised abroad, reached the ears of the king of Prussia. He thought Bottger far too valuable a man to be at large and sent agents to find him. Bottger, warned by friends, sought safety in flight. But August the Strong of Saxony, nothing loth to have a goldmaker himself, had the border patroled by cavalry; and sure enough, our luckless alchemist, hurrying toward a fancied haven in Saxony, was straightway captured. Escorted to Meissen, he was placed in a room still shown to the public, and politely but firmly informed that here he must abide until gold was forthcoming. A spooky time for both town and castle, when winter winds howled around the old Albrechtsburg while the alchemist, ‘mid strange bottles and retorts in his eerie chamber, plied “black magic” far into the night by the lurid glow of oven or forge ! It was a bad time for the alchemist, however, for his magic was not “good magic” and the frenzied effort of years gave no results; finally, in desperation, he used the white clay of the neighboring countryside, and produced a fine glazed china dish. Whether this procured his release I cannot say; but, at all events, the poor man had taken to drinking heavily and drank himself to death shortly afterward.

By the irony of fate he left to Meissen, in this very porcelain, a heritage of gold still unexhausted.

It is interesting to visit the Royal Porcelain Works down in the town, and have the marvels of firing and glazing shown you—how the clay shrinks a third in firing and how the black stencilled figures come out the beautiful blue of the old Zwiebelmuster (onion pattern) ; how the fine hand painting of the other patterns is applied and how the carefully modeled little figures are made in sections, afterward assembled. These things are fascinating, especially to the ladies, and a lucky man is he who can get them away from the factory without their having discovered the salesroom connected with it. The men would probably prefer to have an unfired plate as a souvenir; but they may save themselves the trouble of trying to acquire one, for the good Saxons are still jealous of their secret of turning clay into gold, and any suggestion of such a purchase is met with looks of deep suspicion and a hurried movement of the guide to the next room. It is here the Royal Meissen (or Royal Dresden) china is manufactured—that with the crossed-swords mark on the back. Despite all secrecy, several close imitations of this first true “China ware” in Europe were manufactured in different parts of Germany ; for years there was a so-called “Meissen” china factory at Höchst, but its product was not known or sold as Royal Dresden ware. Though this, like some other factories, is now shut down, you may still buy the famous blue Meissen pattern without the authentic trademark.

We arrived from Leipsic about one o’clock and it is after four-thirty as we drive over the big bridge across the Elbe and wave a last adieu to staunch old Meissen. Thank God, you and the other Marks stood so firm and true for Saxony and the empire, and turned the rush of the eastern tribes back upon itself. Long may you stand, and may never an Anglo-Saxon visit you but to gaze at your old gray walls with reverence, and thank his stars you saved him from being Cossack, Turk, or Tartar, or the Lord knows what.

The progress of civilization has continued westward since those Markgraf days, until now the fierce Oriental has been overlapped on his eastern frontier. No bulwarks are raised against him there, no fortressed Marks; the open hand of friendship is outstretched. Let us hope it will be for the best.

Henry the Fowler, to whom we all owe so much, is buried in the abbey church at Quedlinburg, north of the Harz mountains, only thirty miles east of Bad Harz-burg. Quedlinburg, a residence of the Saxon emperors, is a quaint town with many medieval houses, an old Rathaus and a Schloss (castle). It was once a Hanseatic town and the Rathaus contains a wooden cage, the prison, for more than a year, of Count Albert of Regenstein who had disregarded municipal privileges.

Finkenherd Place near the Schlossberg is supposed to be the spot where Henry the Fowler was urged by a deputation of princes to become king of Germany. Near the Finkenherd is the municipal museum, displaying, among other attractions, many instruments of torture. Klopstock, and Carl Ritter the famous geographer, were born in Quedlinburg. Of course the place has a Roland; so has Halberstadt, another quaint old town—not ten miles northwest, which boasts also two ancient churches and much of that old half-timber architecture we are always eager to see.

On the slope of the mountains about nine miles further, if you come from the direction of Harzburg, lies Ballenstädt, seat of the dukes of Ballenstadt-Ascanien (the modern Anhalt). Ruins of their other old castle of Ascania lie near the modern town of Aschersleben. Albert the Bear, a duke of this line who died at Ballenstadt in 1170, was Henry the Lion’s greatest contemporary among German princes. He became Markgraf of Brandenburg upon the extinction of the ruling line and was the first great Markgraf there. Without belittling the work of those older margraves who lived and died in the defense of the borders, we can say that this Albert first put things to rights in Brandenburg, just as Henry the Fowler did in Saxony and in the empire. Under Albert, Brandenburg be-came an electorate ; consequently he had a vote in the election of the German kaisers.

The other electors (Kurfürsten) were six in number; three ecclesiastical—the archbishops of Mayence, Cologne and Treves ; and three secular—the duke of Saxony, the count of the Palatinate and the king of Bohemia. After the Thirty Years’ War, Bavaria, a temporary member during the war, was added permanently; and in 1692, Hanover was added as the ninth and last electorate. The imperial throne was hereditary only insomuch as a desirable son was generally elected to succeed his father.

Bernhard of Ascania, son of Albert the Bear, was the duke who received the duchy and electorate of Saxony when it was taken from Henry the Lion, and his family held it until it passed to the margraves of Meissen.

Blankenburg and Wernigerode, the Gegensteine, the Teufelsmauer (Devil’s Wall); the ruined ancestral castle of Anhalt, and Regenstein cliff with the rock-cut foundations of a castle built by Henry the Fowler in 919, all lie in this region.

At the expense of one more day we could have made the circuit of these highly interesting places, either returning to Harzburg or else striking through the mountains further east. Pater had an important engagement and so they were not visited, but I trust many of my readers may, have the pleasure of exploring them.

Merseburg, where Henry the Fowler defeated the Hungarians, is nine miles due south of Halle. It was a favorite residence of Henry’s as well as of his son, Emperor Otto I (Otto the Great), and was the scene of many imperial diets. The town is mentioned as early as the ninth century, and has a noteworthy medieval cathedral; among its interesting monuments is a brass of Rudolph of Swabia, an anti-kaiser who was killed in battle by Henry IV—the weak but impetuous Henry, famous for his excommunication.

Unluckily, we missed Merseburg as we had missed these Harz towns. We had underestimated Germany when planning this trip, and so had determined to steal every day we could for our tour in England; we enjoyed this, to be sure, but much regretted the places skipped in Germany, where we should, now, like to spend about twice the time we devoted to England.

Another lost spot, so far as this trip is concerned, was the Moritzb’urg—a hunting lodge or castle of the Saxon kings, built by Elector Moritz in 1541; it is about ten miles east of Meissen and somewhat nearer Dresden. Some years ago I visited this pretty place, which is situated on an island in a little lake surrounded by wooded hills. The simple, vaulted interior is rather fine and contains a magnificent collection of antlers. Near by is a great game preserve, notable for wild boars, and a visit there at feeding time is one of the popular attractions.

From Meissen to Dresden, along the Elbe, is a run of 15 miles. The road was dusty, but afforded many pretty views of the river and of its hills, crowned by fine villas as well as occasional coffee gardens patronized by Dresdeners. We drove slowly on account of the traffic. Indeed, all morning we had passed plenty of “Warnung” signs for “Kraftfahrzeuge” along the route; and it generally turned out well for us that we heeded these, owing to steep grades and sharp turns.

In Dresden, as in Leipzig, we were much amused by the barber signs : for, in place of the striped pole so common in the United States, a German barber advertises his calling by a brass dish or plate; sometimes only one, sometimes four or five–presumably according to the number of chairs or assistants. Reaching the Altstadt, we were surprised to find the twelfth century Augustus Brücke torn down to make way for a wider structure, with larger spans, which will better accommodate the increased traffic and cause less obstruction to boats on the Elbe. As it will require years to complete this work, a temporary bridge has been erected alongside, whose huge wooden trusses spoil the panorama of the city; probably not since Marshal Davout blew up part of the bridge in 1813 has the river view been so disturbed.

It is beyond the province of this book to describe beautiful Dresden—surpassed, perhaps, only by Paris and Rome among Continental cities ; indeed, its fine site, handsome and orderly architectural appearance, and priceless collections, are too well known to call for description here. To August the Strong (August II) we owe the Zwinger, the general layout of the city, and its conversion into an art center; August III, his successor, erected the Bruhl Terrace and—by his purchase of part of the Modena Gallery, of the Sistine Madonna, and of many Dutch and Flemish masterpieces—raised the Dresden galleries to a par with the finest in the world.

We stayed at the Hotel Bellevue, delightfully located on the river bank in the heart of the city. As our visit to Dresden was made only to fulfill certain social obligations, many leisure hours were spent strolling beside the river—either in the hotel garden or on the Brühl Terrace—or idling in our sitting-room where we could watch the chain-steamers picking up the great chain from the river bottom as they pulled themselves, and their strings of barges, upstream. It takes skill to get a long tow between the half-demolished piers of the old Augustus Brücke, and we began to realize the necessity for destroying even this old and cherished landmark, in the interests of commerce. The amount of freight that goes down the Elbe is enormous, and explains Hamburg’s record of 19,000 in-land vessels in a year. Going down stream, barges are propelled by the swift current alone; a solitary helmsman leaning against the huge tiller and a dog to bark at passing vessels, complete the necessary crew.

Across the river, opposite our hotel, is one of the city’s numerous swimming baths. All day long, a succession of Dresdeners in bright red togs dived into the racing stream and swam with the current down to the lower landing stage. And all day long a little flatboat ferry carried people from the Altstadt to the baths; not Charon himself could be busier than this ferryman, who divided his time between struggling with his pole to keep from being carried downstream, and swearing volubly at barges that got in his way.

Dresden lies only 25 or 30 miles from the border of the Austrian empire, and any one who has not seen the so-called Saxon Switzerland should certainly take the run up the Elbe through Pilnitz, Lohmen, Hohenstein and Schandau to this charming, mountain country at the border. Up there is Konigstein, an old fortress crowning a sheer cliff some 800 feet above the Elbe, with a well over 500 feet deep; until modern artillery was perfected it was considered impregnable, so in time of war the Saxon royal treasure was stored here for safe-keeping. Opposite Konigstein is the Lilienstein mountain, at the foot of which Frederick the Great, with his Prussians, surrounded a Saxon army of 14,000 men and starved them into submission.

Our dolce far niente had to be paid for, on Sunday night, in another of those important councils of war. Each night we spent some time carefully going over our prospective route ; but this was one of the arduous meetings like that in Brunswick, where a general plan for a good part of the run was chosen.

We should have liked to go southwest through Bamberg. Würzburg and Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber; thence, along the Neckar, or even across the Black Forest. Again, it looked tempting to cross the Ardennes, going into France. But preconceived ideas and prearranged dates tied us down to a middle course, so it was decided to strike almost due west, paralleling the end of our eastward journey about 35 miles further south. From Eisenach we could then veer south-west through Frankfort, striking the Rhine at Mainz or Bingen. Even “grandfather’s mill,” said to have been one of the first power silk-mills in the country, had to go by the board, as did the old castle where Pater’s uncle labored early and late, trying to keep order in the difficult affairs of that much-talked-of Prince of Reuss.