Germany – Political And Geographical

It is characteristic of our deep ignorance of all Foreign affairs that I was appointed Ambassador to a place which does not exist. Politically, there is no such place as “Germany.” There are the twenty-five States, Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony, etc., which make up the “German Empire,” but there is no such political entity as “Germany.”

These twenty-five States have votes in the Bundesrat, a body which may be said to correspond remotely to our United States Senate. But each State has a different number of votes. Prussia has seventeen, Bavaria six, Wurttemberg and Saxony four each, Baden and Hesse three each, Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Brunswick two each, and the rest one each. Prussia controls Brunswick.

The Reichstag, or Imperial Parliament, corresponds to our House of Representatives. The members are elected by manhood suffrage of those over twenty-five. But in practice the Reichstag is nothing but a debating society because of the preponderating power of the Bundesrat, or upper chamber. At the head of the ministry is the Chancellor, appointed by the Emperor; and the other Ministers, such as Colonies, Interior, Education, justice and Foreign Affairs, are but underlings of the Chancellor and appointed by him. The Chancellor is not responsible to the Reichstag, as Bethmann-Hollweg clearly stated at the time of the Zabern affair, but only to the Emperor.

It is true that an innovation properly belonging only to a parliamentary government was introduced some seven years ago, viz., that the ministers must answer questions (as in Great Britain) put them by the members of the Reichstag. But there the likeness to a parliamentary government begins and ends.

The members of the Bundesrat are named by the Princes of the twenty-five States making up the German Empire. Prussia, which has seventeen votes, may name seventeen members of the Bundesrat or one member, who, however, when he votes casts seventeen votes. The votes of a State must always be cast as a unit. In the usual procedure bills are prepared and adopted in the Bundesrat and then sent to the Reichstag whence, if passed, they return to the Bundesrat where the final approval must take place. Therefore, in practice, the Bundesrat makes the laws with the assent of the Reichstag. The members of the Bundesrat have the right to appear and make speeches in the Reichstag. The fundamental constitution of the German Empire is not changed, as with us, by a separate body but is changed in the same way that an ordinary law is passed; except that if there are fourteen votes against the proposed change in the Bundesrat the proposition is defeated, and, further, the constitution cannot be changed with respect to rights expressly granted by it to any one of the twenty-five States without the assent of that State.

In order to pass a law a majority vote in the Bundesrat and Reichstag is sufficient if there is a quorum present, and a quorum is a majority of the members elected in the Reichstag: in the Bundesrat the quorum consists of such members as are present at a regularly called meeting, providing the Chancellor or the Vice-Chancellor at-tends.

The boundaries of the districts sending members to the Reichstag have not been changed since 1872, while, in the meantime, a great shifting of population, as well as great increase of population has taken place. And because of this, the Reichstag today does not represent the people of Germany in the sense intended by the framers of the Imperial Constitution.

Much of the legislation that affects the everyday life of a German emanates from the parliaments of Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony, etc., as with us in our State Legislatures. The purely legislative power of the ministers and Bundesrat is, however, large. These German States have constitutions of some sort. The Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg have no constitution whatever. It is understood that the people themselves do not want one, on financial grounds, fearing that many expenses now borne by the Grand Duke out of his large private income, would be saddled on the people. The other States have Constitutions varying in form. In Prussia there are a House of Lords and a House of Deputies. The members of the latter are elected by a system of circle votes, by which the vote of one rich man voting in circle number one counts as much as thousands voting in circle number three. It is the recognition by Bethmann-Hollweg that this vicious system must be changed that brought down on him the wrath of the Prussian country squires, who for so long have ruled the German Empire, filling places, civil and military, with their children and relatives.

In considering Germany, the immense influence of the military party must not be left out of account; and, with the developments of the navy, that branch of the service also claimed a share in guiding the policy of the Government.

The administrative, executive and judicial officers of Prussia are not elected. The country is governed and judged by men who enter this branch of the government service exactly as others enter the army or navy. These are gradually promoted through the various grades.

This applies to judges, clerks of courts, district attorneys and the officials who govern the political divisions of Prussia, for Prussia is divided into circles, presidencies and provinces. For instance, a young man may enter the government service as assistant to the clerk of some court. He may then become district attorney in a small town, then clerk of a larger court, possibly attached to the police presidency of a large city; he may then become a minor judge, etc., until finally he becomes a judge of one of the higher courts or an over-president of a province. Practically the only elective officers who have any power are members of the Reichstag and the Prussian Legislature, and there, as I have shown, the power is very small. Mayors and City Councillors are elected in Prussia, but have little power; and are elected by the vicious system of circle voting.

Time and again during the course of the Great War when I made some complaint or request affecting the interests of one of the various nations I represented, I was met in the Foreign Office by the statement, “We can do nothing with the military. Please read Bismarck’s memoirs and you will see what difficulty he had with the military.” Undoubtedly, owing to the fact that the Chancellor seldom took strong ground, the influence which both the army and navy claimed in dictating the policy of the Empire was greatly increased.

Roughly speaking there are three great political divisions or parties in the German Reichstag. To the right of the presiding officer sit the Conservatives. Most of these are embers from the Prussian Junker or squire class. Thy are strong for the rights of the crown and against any extension of the suffrage in Prussia or any-where else, They form probably the most important body of conservatives now existing in any country in the world. Their leader, Heydebrand, is known as the uncrowned king of Prussia. On the left side the Social Democrats sit. As they evidently oppose the kingship and favour a republic, no Social Democratic member has ever been called into the government. They represent the great industrial populations of Germany. Roughly, they constitute about one-third of the Reichstag, and would sit there in greater numbers if Germany were again redistricted so that proper representation were given to the cities, to which there has been a great rush of population since the time when the Reichstag districts were originally constituted.

In the centre, and holding the balance of power, sit the members of the Centrum or Catholic body. Among them are many priests. It is noteworthy that in this war Roman Catholic opinion in neutral countries, like Spain, inclines to the side of Germany; while in Germany, to protect their religious liberties, the Catholic population vote as Catholics to send Catholic members to the Reichstag, and these sit and vote as Catholics alone.

Germans high in rank in the government often told me that no part of conquered Poland would ever be incorporated in Prussia or the Empire, because it was not desirable to add to the Roman Catholic population; that they had troubles enough with the Catholics now in Germany and had no desire to add to their numbers. This, and the desire to lure the Poles into the creation of a national army which could be utilised by the German ma-chine, were the reasons for the creation by Germany (with the assent of Austria), of the new country of Poland.

This Catholic party is the result in Germany of the Kulturkampf, or War for Civilisation, as it was called by Bismarck, a contest dating from 187o between the State in Germany and the Roman Catholic Church.

Prussia has always been the centre of Protestantism in Germany, although there are many Roman Catholics in the Rhine Provinces of Prussia, and in that part of Prussia inhabited principally by Poles, originally part of the Kingdom of Poland.

Baden and Bavaria, the two principal South German States, and others are Catholic. In 1870, on the withdrawal of Ole French garrison from Rome, the Temporal Power of the Pope ended, and Bismarck, though appealed to by Catholics, took no interest in the defence of the Papacy. The conflict between the Roman Catholics and the Governmnent in Germany was precipitated by the promulgation by the Vatican Council, in 1870, of the Dogma of the Infallibility of the Pope.

A certain number of German pastors and bishops refused to subscribe to the new dogma. In the conflict that ensued these pastors and bishops were backed by the government. The religious orders were suppressed, civil marriage made compulsory and the State assumed new powers, not only in the appointment but even in the education of the Catholic priests. The Jesuits were expelled from Germany in 1872. These measures, generally known as the May Laws, because passed in May, 1873, 1874; and 1875, led to the creation and strengthening of the Centrum or Catholic party. For a long period many churches were vacant in Prussia. Finally, owing to the growth of the Centrum, Bismarck gave in. The May Laws were rescinded in 1886 and the religious orders, the Jesuits excepted, were permitted to return in 1887. Civil 1 marriage, however, remained obligatory in Prussia.

Ever since the Kulturkampf the Centrum has held the balance of power in Germany, acting sometimes with the Conservatives and sometimes with the Social Democrats.

In addition to these three great parties, there are minor parties and groups which sometimes act with one party and sometimes with another, the National Liberals, for example, and the Progressives. Since the war certain members of the National Liberal party were most bit ter in assailing President Wilson and the United States. In the demand for ruthless submarine war they acted with the Conservatives. There are also Polish, Hanoverian, Danish and Alsatian members of the Reichstag.

There are three great race questions in Germany. First of all, that of Alsace-Lorraine. It is unnecessary to go at length into this well-known question. In the chapter on the affair at Zabern, something will be seen of the attitude of the troops toward the civil population. At the outbreak of the war several of the deputies, sitting in the Reichstag as members from Alsace-Lorraine, crossed the frontier and joined the French army.

If there is one talent which the Germans superlatively lack, it is that of ruling over other peoples and inducing other people to become part of their nation.

It is now a long time since portions of the Kingdom of Poland, by various partitions of that kingdom, were incorporated with Prussia, but the Polish question is more alive to-day than at the time of the last partition.

The Poles are of a livelier race than the Germans, are Roman Catholics and always retain their dream of a re-constituted and independent Kingdom of Poland.

It is hard to conceive that Poland was at one time perhaps the most powerful kingdom of Europe, with a population numbering twenty millions and extending from the Baltic to the Carpathians and the Black Sea, including in its territory the basins of the Warta, Vistula, Dwina, Dnieper and Upper Dniester, and that it had under its dominion besides Poles proper and the Baltic Slays, the Lithuanians, the White Russians and the Little Russians or Ruthenium.

The Polish aristocracy was absolutely incapable of governing its own country, which fell an easy prey to the intrigues of Frederick the Great and the two Empresses, Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine of Russia. The last partition of Poland was in the year 1795.

Posen, at one time one of the capitals of the old kingdom of Poland, is the intellectual centre of that part of Poland which has been incorporated into Prussia. For years Prussia has alternately cajoled and oppressed the Poles, and has made every endeavour to replace the Polish inhabitants with German colonists. A commission has been established which buys estates from Poles and sells them to Germans. This commission has the power of condemning the lands of Poles, taking these lands from them by force, compensating them at a rate determined by the commission and settling Germans on the lands so seized. This commission has its headquarters in Posen. The result has not been successful. All the country side surrounding Posen and the city itself are divided into two factions. By going to one hotel or the other you announce that you are pro-German or pro-Polish. Poles will not deal in shops kept by Germans or in shops unless the signs are in Polish.

The sons of Germans who have settled in Poland under the protection of the commission often marry Polish women. The invariable result of these mixed marriages is that the children are Catholics and Poles. Polish deputies voting as Poles sit in the Prussian legislature and in the Reichstag, and if a portion of the old Kingdom of Poland is made a separate country at the end of this war, it will have the effect of making the Poles in Prussia more restless and more aggressive than ever.

In order to win the sympathies of the Poles, the Emperor caused a royal castle to be built within recent years in the city of Posen, and appointed a popular Polish gentleman who had served in the Prussian army and was attached to the Emperor, the Count Hutten-Czapski, as its lord-warden. In this castle was a very beautiful Byzantine chapel built from designs especially selected by the Emperor. In January, 1914, we went with Allison Armour and the Cassatts, Mrs. Wiltsee and Mrs. White-house on a trip to Posen to see this chapel.

Some of our German friends tried to play a joke on us by telling us that the best hotel was the hotel patronised by the Poles. To have gone there would have been to declare ourselves anti-German and pro-Polish, but we were warned in time. The castle has a large throne room and ball-room; in the hall is a stuffed aurochs killed by the Emperor. The aurochs is a species of buffalo greatly resembling those which used to roam our western prairies. The breed has been preserved on certain great estates in eastern Germany and in the hunting forests of the Czar in the neighbourhood of Warsaw.

Some of the Poles told me that at the first attempt to give a court ball in this new castle the Polish population in the streets threw ink through the carriage windows on the dresses of the ladies going to the ball and thus made it a failure. The chapel of the castle is very beautiful and is a great credit to the Emperor’s taste as an architect.

While being shown through the Emperor’s private apartments in this castle, I noticed a saddle on a sort of elevated stool in front of a desk. I asked the guide what this was for: he told me that the Emperor, when working, always sits in a saddle.

In Posen, in a book-store, the proprietor brought out for me a number of books caricaturing the German rule of Alsace-Lorraine. It is curious that a community of interests should make a market for these books in Polish Posen.

Although not so well advertised, the Polish question is as acute as that of Alsace-Lorraine.

After its successful war in 1866 against Austria, Bavaria, Saxony, Baden, Hanover, etc., Prussia became possessed of the two duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, which are to the south of Denmark on the Jutland Peninsula.

Here, strangely enough, there is a Danish question. A number of Danes inhabit these duchies and have been irritated by the Prussian officials and officers into preserving their national feeling intact ever since 1866. Galling restrictions have been made, the very existence of which intensifies the hatred and prevents the assimilation of these Danes. For instance, Amundsen, the Arctic explorer, was forbidden to lecture in Danish in these duchies during the winter of 1913-14, and there were regulations enforced preventing more than a certain number of these Danish people from assembling in a hotel, as well as regulations against the employment of Danish servants.

In 1866, after its successful war, Prussia wiped out the old kingdom of Hanover and drove its king into exile in Austria. To-day there is still a party of protest against this aggression. The Kaiser believes, however, that the ghost of the claim of the Kings of Hanover was laid when he married his only daughter to the heir of the House of Hanover and gave the young pair the vacant Duchy of Brunswick. That this young man will inherit the great Guelph treasure was no drawback to the match in the eyes of those in Berlin.

There is a hatred of Prussia in other parts of Germany, but coupled with so much fear that it will never take practical shape. In Bavaria, for example, even the comic newspapers have for years ridiculed the Prussians and the House of Hohenzollern. The smashing defeat by Prussia of Austria and the allied German States, Bavaria, Saxony, Hesse, Hanover, etc., in 1866, and the growth of Prussianism since then in all of these countries, keep the people from any overt act. It is a question, perhaps, as to how these countries, especially Bavaria, would act in case of the utter defeat of Germany. But at present they must be counted on only as faithful servants, in a military way, of the German Emperor.

Montesquieu, the author of the “Esprit des Lois,” says, “All law comes from the soil,” and it has been claimed that residence in the hot climate of the tropics in some measure changes Anglo-Saxon character. It is, therefore, always well in judging national character to know something of the physical characteristics and climate of the country which a nation inhabits.

The heart of modern Germany is the great north central plain which comprises practically all of the original kingdom of Prussia, stretching northward from the Saxon and Hartz mountains to the North and Baltic seas. It is from this dreary and infertile plain that for many centuries conquering military races have poured over Europe. The climate is not so cold in winter as that of the northern part of the United States. There is much rain and the winter skies are so dark that the absence of the sun must have some effect upon the character of the people. The Saxons inhabit a more mountainous country; Wurttemberg and Baden are hilly; Bavaria is a land of beauty, diversified with lovely lakes and mountains. The soft outlines of the vine-covered hills of the Rhine Val-ley have long been the admiration of travellers.

The inhabitants of Prussia were originally not Germanic, but rather Slavish in type; and, indeed, today in the forest of the River Spree, on which Berlin is situated, and only about fifty miles from that city, there still dwell descendants of the original Wendish inhabitants of the country who speak the Wendish language. The wet-nurses, whose picturesque dress is so noticeable on the streets of Berlin, all come from this Wendish colony, which has been preserved through the many wars that have swept over this part of Germany because of the refuge afforded in the swamps and forests of this district.

The inhabitants of the Rhine Valley drink wine instead of beer. They are more lively in their disposition than the Prussians, Saxons and Bavarians, who are of a heavy and phlegmatic nature. The Bavarians are noted for their prowess as beer drinkers, and it is not at all unusual for prosperous burghers of Munich to dispose of thirty large glasses of beer in a day; hence the cures which exist all over Germany and where the average German business man spends part, at least, of his annual vacation.

In peace times the Germans are heavy eaters. As some one says, “It is not true that the Germans eat all the time, but they eat all the time except during seven periods of the day when they take their meals.” And it is a fact that prosperous merchants of Berlin, before the war, had seven meals a day; first breakfast at a comfortably early hour; second breakfast at about eleven, of perhaps a glass of milk or perhaps a glass of beer and sandwiches ; a very heavy lunch of four or five courses with wine and beer; coffee and cakes, at three ; tea and sandwiches or sandwiches and beer at about five; a strong dinner with several kinds of wines at about seven or seven-thirty; and a substantial supper before going to bed.

The Germans are wonderful judges of wines, and, at any formal dinner, use as many as eight varieties. The best wine is passed in glasses on trays, and the guests are not expected, of course, to take this wine unless they actually desire to drink it. I know one American woman who was stopping at a Prince’s castle in Hungary and who, on the first night, allowed the butler to fill her glasses with wine which she did not drink. The second evening the butler passed her sternly by, and she was offered no more wine during her stay in the castle.

Many of the doctors who were with me thought that the heavy eating and large consumption of wine and beer had unfavourably affected the German national character, and had made the people more aggressive and irritable and consequently readier for war. The influence of diet on national character should not be under-estimated. Meat-eating nations have always ruled vegetarians.