Germany – The River Rhine

We walked along the Rhine and up a little side valley on a public footpath that led us under trees, and gradually climbed higher until at last it came out into the vineyards. The sides of the mountains were planted to grapes, trained up on stakes and standing as thick as they could stand. We followed on up through the rows of grapes. How nicely they were cultivated; there was not a weed or a blade of grass between the vines. They stood on land so steep that no horse could be worked there; the vines were too close-set for horses anyway. All the labor is done by hand, even to carrying up manure and sometimes soil in baskets. The vines had small leaves and small, white grapes, which perhaps made “Rhine wine.” Workmen were digging among the vines, or training them up to stakes. We were doubtless trespassing, and soon we could see them ceasing work and staring at us in wonderment; in fact, the entire neighborhood was spellbound by the audacity of the trespassing strangers. I have no idea how near we came to being jailed for trespass, but at last we emerged from the vines to a mountaintop through a fringe of tiny oaks and found on the level cherry trees and little grain fields, all harvested. Below the lovely winding valley of the Rhine were the old village and the very busy river with its endless fleets of barges, its great rafts of pine logs or its swift, gay little passenger steamers. Afar off in the distance were great cool-looking pine forests. It was evident that this was no land of farms or sheep.

We took a steamer and went down from Bingen to Cologne, taking nearly a day for the journey, and a restful day it was. We have no river like the Rhine. It seems most artificial; in fact, much wealth has been spent taking out its obstructions. They were still planing off the rocks of its bottom to make it flow as smoothly as water in a concrete horse trough. It is fed by mighty snow-clad mountains, so that it never gets too low for boats. In the day’s ride I suppose we passed at least 500 boats and barges. Almost a continuous village stretches along the Rhine. In the villages live the women and men who work with the vines. The little cities are all quaint and picturesque, with their countless thou-sands of window boxes of bright geraniums and petunias, and everywhere were happy children. We passed steamer after steamer laden with people; always dozens of handkerchiefs were waving, and always on boat and ashore happy folk sought to in-crease our happiness by their smiles and salutations.

Old, damaged, worm and moth-eaten castles stood grim on giddy heights overlooking the Rhine. There also were rejuvenated castles and fine, modern castles with electric lights and bathrooms. There was a castle on every crag and on every mountaintop. What a fashion there was for castles in the old days along the Rhine. Many of them were inhabited by robber barons who exacted toll from each passing boat that ventured up or down the Rhine. Others were for defense against possible marauders who might seek the convenient passage of the Rhine. They say that a man would not dare live in the country unless he belonged to some lord who owned a castle and who in turn oppressed and protected him. Castles, legends, Lorelei and mermaids abounded and still abound along the Rhine. Men are still building castles. One architect and builder does nothing else. He has a regular scale of prices, running about like this : For a modern castle, in good re-pair, steam-heated, $50,000, depending of course on its size and equipment; for a castle built in 1700, mossy and weatherworn, a half more; for a castle of the 1600′s, with dungeons, drawbridge, keep, and ancient armor, partly in ruins, double that price; for a castle of uncertain age, going back into legendary times, half in very ancient, mossy ruins, half restored, with moat, portcullis, donjon, an echo, private chapel (in half ruins), three legends in good order, armorial bearings, ancient lights and manorial rights, with choice of ghost, mermaid or Lorelei, the price is a matter of arrangement, depending some what on where it is to be placed, but ranging from $200,000 to $1,000,000.

The Rhine emerged from its encircling mountains into a rich farming region, and I saw one small flock of sheep—the one flock that I saw along the Rhine. We reached Cologne, magnificent in cathedrals, and an interesting old city, evincing plenty of modern spirit. There I said a reluctant good-bye to my friends and took the night train for Berlin. That night I had the upper berth shelf and my good German neighbor below locked the door and saw that the window was tightly closed. I survived. I came out early to breathe; we were in a flat, poor, sandy region, given chiefly to pine forests. The Germans love trees, and there is no waste land; if it is too poor for rye, they plant pines. In Berlin I fortunately found a man who would ac-company me and interpret, a German-American, Richard Ewers. With him, I visited the Deutsche Landwirthschaft Gesellschaft (German Agricultural Society), and was there advised where to go. Saxony, they said, would interest most a man studying sheep. There were not many sheep in Germany—only 7,703,000. In 1860, there were four times as many. They told me that Germans do not care to eat mutton, and that the influence of Australia had blighted the wool-growing industry; that population increased and must be fed, so that grain-growing paid better than sheep. With addresses of the principal men in Saxony, we set out.

Saxony is a picturesque land of plain and rising slopes, and great rounded hills, forested on slopes and farmed again on summits, languid rivers, villages, big towns, cities, close-set, with farms between. “It is the most densely peopled region in the world,” said Mr. Ewers, “if we except Belgium and China.” On the edge of the pine forest of the sandy plain, in the early of the cool morning, lithe little red deer cropped the farmer’s cabbage, although he had put out rows of small red flags to scare them away. The farmer must not shoot the deer unless they actually bite him and endanger his life. Little farms lay between dense pine forests; there were heathery slopes, all purple and new-set to young pines. Efficient fire guards were numerous. I saw wagons of our own sort, with tongues and hounds, fore and aft. Evidently the American wagon idea came from our German ancestors. Cows are sometimes used as draft animals ; women work in the fields. Soldiers were seen in resplendent array and peasants without socks. Gorgeous big young men were in military uniforms and in splendid leisure, disdaining worn and callous old women whose labor in the fields makes the elegant leisure of the soldier possible. We saw a great barn in a farming village ; there were two threshing floors in the barn, each floor was covered with sheaves of bright, yellow rye; two men facing two women, all with flails, beat the sheaves tremendously and in perfect time and accord. Old as I am I had never seen this before, though my father had flails, carefully preserved, when I was a boy. I should have thought this process too costly in labor even for Germany. Near by stood a modern threshing machine. Evidently human labor is still sometimes considered cheaper than steam. What splendid, patient, heroic, cheerful, manly women !