Germany – The German Character

Obedience is the keynote of German character. It is begun in the little children. It is maintained by the family life at home; it is furthered by the compulsory military training that every boy must have. Not that the German is a whining weakling; he is the reverse—big and stout and often full of conceit, but he has learned from early childhood to obey where obedience is due. It all makes for the strength of the nation. One day in Berlin Richard Ewers took me to see a new part of the city (although all of Berlin is seemingly newer than our American cities, certainly more beautifully built), and we reached at last some rows of concrete houses. I recall that they were of beautiful architecture ; that each floor had its window boxes in concrete and that these were gay with flowers. The street was wide, and as clean as possible. “There, Mr. Wing, how would you like to live in one of these houses?” asked my friend. “Oh, well enough,” I replied, “but they would not be in my class; these must be for the very rich.” “On the contrary,” he replied, “every house in this street is occupied by laboring men; these are model tenements.” I was impressed, but the impression was deepened later. We visited the gardens where laboring men plant things. A tract of land of perhaps forty or eighty acres is divided into little squares, perhaps fifty feet or larger, and each one is the garden of some family. Little streets or alleys separate the gardens. Nearly every garden is equipped with a small summer-house where the gardener may keep his tools, a table and a few stools. After the man has- done a fair and honest day’s work, he goes, not tired out, to his pleasant house; there his wife meets him at the door with a big basket, and the children. Then they all go out to the garden ; there unlocking the door of the little house, they take out the hoes, rakes and pruning knives. They dig and train and prune ; they exclaim in sincere wonder at the growth of this plant or that flower; they dig a few potatoes, perhaps, or cull some flowers ; then the table is brought out, and luncheon of bread and sausages and a bottle or two of beer is enjoyed. They sit there in the midst of their little garden, eat their very simple dinner, and then while the mother and two children do more things to the garden the father sits and smokes his big pipe as happy as a king. He is content; he does not go on a strike; his wages are low, it is true, but he has so much enjoyment out of what he does earn that he is well off.

The good house for the man, the clean, orderly, beautiful environment, the little parks for the children, the garden, the habit of contentment with simple, natural, wholesome pleasures—these are what make the German workman a good man. And these perhaps are at the foundation of the great difference that exists between industrial Germany and industrial England. The fact is that Germany shows on her face a greater advance and prosperity along nearly all lines of human endeavor than any other country that I have seen, the United States not excepted. In fact, our towns and cities look dingy, old and cheap beside the new, orderly and beautiful towns and cities of Germany.