Germany – Weimar – Via Chemnitz, Gera, Jena

ON Monday morning our journey was resumed. Necessary purchases delayed our departure till after ten-thirty, but we managed to reach Chemnitz, forty-five miles away, in ample time for lunch. Leaving Dresden via Annen and Chemnitzer Strassen and crossing the Weisseritz at Plauen, we found the road pretty well worn as far as Deuben. At Hainsberg, Bobbie kept to the right and followed the Weisseritz along a wooded hillside to the charmingly situated town of Tharandt, with its ruined castle crowning rocky heights. He kept heading southwest, uphill and down, through the forest of Tharandt, finding here the usual beautiful roads. Tharandt has a famous school of forestry.

The chaussée now entered Freiberg, an old mining town famous for a fine, late Gothic cathedral with a remarkable sculptured south porch (Goldene Pforte), a remnant of the original twelfth century church. Kunz von Kaufungen was beheaded on the Ober (upper) Markt. The castle of Freudenstein, now used as a government storehouse, lies in the northern part of the town.

A glimpse of the Freiberg of 1545 is handed down to us in the story of weaver Richter, living in the Weingasse, who cursed his dilatory son, saying, “Stand there till you never move again.” The curse took effect, and the poor lad stayed for years in one spot till he wore, into the floor, footprints that were shown to the curious long after. Any attempt to move him resulted in driving him almost frantic; but much prayer and general exorcism finally enabled the clergy to put him to bed, where he died some years later—a fearful example to bad children as well as to those who curse in haste and repent at leisure.

Numerous hills were encountered as far as the manufacturing town of Oederan, but they afforded fine scenery. A little beyond this town the Augustusburg may be seen on a hilltop, and soon the road descends into the pretty valley of the Flöha, following it a good part of the way to Chemnitz, a manufacturing town of 245,000 inhabitants, and the third city of Saxony. What we feared most, near a large factory town, was poor going; nor did we escape it. Pater decided that, beyond Chemnitz, we would give up the southern route (via Lichtenstein—Zwickau), because of many hills, in favor of one through Penig and Altenburg. Near Penig on the Mulde, Kunz von Kaufungen’s castle once stood, and it was from the castle at Altenburg that Princes Albert and Ernest were stolen by Kunz one midnight in July of 1455, with the connivance of a traitorous steward, in the absence of the elector.

Kunz was an unattached general of some ability. Once, while hired by the Nurembergers, he defeated Elector Albert of Brandenburg, one of the fiercest fighters of the day. Later, he fought for Elector Friedrich against his brother (William of Meissen) and the Bohemians. The outcome of this was a quarrel that culminated in the Prinzenraub, an event as famous as the murder of England’s princes in the Tower. Kunz, it seems, did not fare very well in his campaign; was captured by the Bohemians, and had to pay ransom. Elector Frederick, perhaps unjustly, refused to reimburse him; so, in revenge, he stole Frederick’s sons—the progenitors of the Albertine and Ernestine lines of Saxony—a bold, cleverly executed proceeding. Kunz divided his party into two sections with a prince apiece; but, alas ! luck was against him; some restless sleeper awoke, alarm bells, immediately rung in Altenburg, soon tolled through all Thuringia, and both princes were rescued. Kunz—what outrageous fortune !—was taken in the woods, next day, by charcoal burners; and the other party, after hiding three days, finally surrendered its prince in exchange for safe-conduct to the border.

Altenburg is the birthplace (pardon the anti-climax) of Skat—considered, by many, the most intricate and scientific game of cards. It can be compared to no game of ours except, perhaps, bridge whist; in this there are but two forms of play—trumps and no trumps; in Skat there are seven forms and three ways of selecting these. Luck is practically eliminated, for the worst hand may win points, and the best may be defeated.

By advice of the hotel keeper at Chemnitz we took neither route we had in mind. Instead, we drove via Hohenstein, Glauchau, Meerane, Schmolln and Ronne-burg, to Gera. The roads were rather poor, except through occasional forests, nor did we avoid the hills altogether, so we might better have taken the Altenburg route as far as Ronneburg; but I must say we were amply repaid by the beautiful scenery. Almost every town along the way had its Schloss; Glauchau had two.

Near Meerane we left Saxony and entered the duchy of Saxe-Altenburg. The Altenburger peasant dress is an old Wendish costume often seen in Leipzig and in Dresden, where it is fashion among the rich to have nursemaids wear this quaint garb. In Hamburg, nursemaids often wear the Vierland costume of the near-by peasantry.

But our picture of the past is not confined to dress, alone. A huge, strangely shaped boulder near the town of Altenburg has given the peasants much concern; they call it “the devil’s hat.” All Druid stones and odd rock formations were invested with super-natural attributes, as their names—devil’s wall, devil’s rock, devil’s mill, devil’s dancing place, etc.—will indicate. An awful manifestation, worse than the Wild Huntsman, is the Muthusheer which roars through Thuringia—yes, through all Westphalia—on a stormy night, especially around Christmas time. The terrible wraiths of the ancient dead are there, from Wotan’s time down; the accursed and unshriven; witches, devil’s imps, misbegotten monsters, and howling hounds of hell. The only redeeming feature is that “faithful Eckhart” sometimes goes in front to warn the belated traveler, or ameliorate the blight likely to fall on those who meet this terrible array, face to face. Peasants, when they hear its fearsome approach, close doors and windows tight; for should but a part of that terrible army sweep through the house, a hellhound is left behind—a gaunt, gray beast that, while it eats nothing, stays a full year and brings all manner of bad luck.

Nobody would care to risk having such a visitor; rather, almost, would one employ a werewolf on the farm : that is, a man who secretly changes to a ravening wolf and devours cattle and children. The dreadful succession of witchcraft trials the world over was, in Germany, sometimes interrupted by catching a werewolf. As late as 1610 two men were executed in Lüttich as confessed werewolves.

What a life ! with the imminent possibility that your neighbors would report you as witch or magician; with the prospect that the devil would substitute Wechselbalge (changelings) for your children; with spooks, Wild Huntsmen and Muthusheere making roads and fields unsafe, and then “in the forest dark” to hear “the werewolf bark !” Indeed, they tell us that one noble actually employed, as his steward, a man who had been dead two years. Yet the Saxons lived cheerfully on in spite of this; they were in no hurry to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” if one may judge by the experience of Pastor Oest. He was making the rounds of a newly acquired parish when he came upon an old, white-haired man crying bitterly. “My father beat me,” was the answer to sympathetic inquiries. At the door of the house, there stood an even older man, in a great temper. The astonished pastor at-tempted to soothe this old gentleman, but became speechless in consequence of his exclamation, “Bah ! the wretched boy let my father fall.” And, sure enough, indoors by the stove, sat a shriveled little body lustily bewailing the carelessness of his grandson.

Not far beyond Ronneburg the road crosses the border of the principality of Ruess-Gera-Schleiz; this belongs to the younger Reuss line, so it had no special interest for Pater. Five miles of uninteresting country brought us to Gera, its capital, a town on the White Elster. On Hainsberg lies the palace of Osterstein, the prince’s residence. Leaving Gera, our attention was engrossed by the unusual sight of an automobile ahead of us. It had gone by while we paused to make sure of our route, and we were under the necessity of swallowing the dust from a slower-moving vehicle which we could not pass, in this trailing cloud, without considerable danger; fortunately the other car soon struck off on a side road. Though we had been almost entirely free from such an experience, owing to the scar-city of automobiles in the open country, this, while it lasted, served to make us realize the unusual good nature of the peasantry under the aggravating dust clouds we often inflicted upon them. In England, where touring is general, we learned to truly appreciate the pleasure of motoring through the less frequented realm of the Kaiser.

Some pretty, wooded country led via Roda and Lobeda to the university town of Jena. About five miles west of Gera the road had crossed another border into an exclave of the duchy of Saxe-Altenburg, and just before reaching the castle of Lobeda it left Altenburg soil again and entered the grand duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Thus we crossed four borders of this cluster of German duchies in one day, and were due to cross four more on the morrow.

About two miles south of Lobeda is Rothenstein, where Thalmann von Lunderstedt, a knight at feud with Erfurt, escaped his enemies by spurring his horse over the cliff into the Saale—a feat few would care to imitate.

A few miles further south lies Orlamünde, whose castle ruins are haunted by that famous ghost, the White Lady. Otto, count of Orlamünde, died in the early fourteenth century, leaving a beautiful widow (said to have been a former countess of Meran) and two children. It was well known that the young countess hoped to marry again, and Albert the Handsome, burgrave of Nuremberg, remarked privately, that he would not be averse to espousing the widow “were it not for four eyes.” This reached the ears of the countess who, believing the “four eyes” referred to her children, had the poor little things murdered by a hard-hearted retainer. The burgrave, however, had reference to the eyes of his parents and didn’t marry her after all. Her hapless spirit also wanders in the imperial castles and palaces, where its appearance fore-tells a death in the family; for this is, indeed, the famous White Lady of the Hohenzollerns. Either the Nuremberger’s remark was intended to mislead the countess, or her claim upon him was greater than appears on the surface; why else should her ghost follow his family when they became electors of Brandenburg and even kings of Prussia.

The hills around Jena were once tenanted by dwarfs; harmless people, who occasionally borrowed household utensils for their festivities, but always returned them. In exchange for special favors of this nature they brought lasting good fortune by a return gift—that is, the good fortune lasted as long as their present was kept in the family. During hard times, however, they often pilfered fields and orchards, a proceeding made easy by invisibility. It is no hard matter to put an end to this, once you’ve decided who the culprits are. You simply procure some willow wands, go into your field at midnight and swish around, horizontally, at the height of your waist. Thus you knock off the dwarfs’ magic caps and the terrified little fellows, now made visible, are easily seized and held as hostages until immunity is promised.

Jena, first mentioned in the ninth century, is beautifully situated on the river Saale at its junction with the Leutra and several smaller streams. The university, established in 1548, is very famous, and every quarter of the town is reminiscent of the great minds of German literature. Many houses bear memorial tab lets to the illustrious men who taught or studied here: Arndt, Fichte, Oken, Schiller, Goethe, and others. In the old Schloss, a former residence of Saxe-Jena’s dukes, Goethe wrote “Hermann and Dorothea.” There are many inviting promenades throughout the town; in the garden of the observatory is a bust of Schiller, placed where he composed “Wallenstein.” Across the Saale is the “Tanne Inn” where Goethe once resided, and a path along the stream is pointed out as the place where—no doubt on those mystical moonlight nights when the fog was rising from the water—he conceived the weird “Erlking.”

We passed some of the university buildings, then al-most deserted. Scoffy took pride in pointing out to us placards advertising the famous Lichtenhainer beer. In one of the town’s narrowest streets we halted to ask the way of a group of bewhiskered and bespectacled gentlemen who had all the earmarks of the German professor. They informed us we were headed wrong and advised, with evident amusement, that we should turn around—knowing quite well that the width of the street would not permit this. But Bobbie did not propose to let foreigners get a rise out of him. His sharp eyes had noticed an open driveway where an attendant was just preparing to close the gates; driving on a few yards further, he suddenly re-versed and, after backing almost upon the toes of the astonished servant, steered proudly into the street again as the iron gates clanged behind us. This manoeuvre drew a round of applause from the group of spectators. It was but one of many occasions when we observed the ready wit of Germans, and their frank recognition of wit in others; it was ‘also proof that the much-caricatured Herr Professor is quite human after all and not indifferent to a little good-natured fun.

From Jena, with its quiet streets and lanes rich in association with some of Germany’s great minds, we drove to Weimar, the home of epoch-making German literature. A magnificent shady road skirting the edge of a wooded ravine led upwards out of Jena. Driving west along the chaussée, we could see, looking down the first crossroad to the right, the plain upon which the principal engagement of Napoleon’s battle of Jena was fought.

Somewhere in this part of the country—memory fails me as to the exact time and place, but certainly between Dresden and Frankfort—we met a regular, old-fashioned, German postilion. Rather, to be exact, it was the driving successor to the riding postilion, dating from the time when postboys no longer be-strode the horses, but when mail-coach and post chaise were driven from the box. Not the uniformed, imperial mail-carrier, with the customary yellow mail-wagon, but the old-time chap of a hundred or more years past. “As large as life and twice as natural,” so Scoffy enthusiastically exclaimed; “just like the old prints you see in books—beaver, horn, bells on his horses, all complete, even to the sprig of green in his hat.” How he got here and what he was, we could not fathom; perhaps some local post and parcel de-livery claimed him for its own.

Way down the road we could hear him cracking his whip with a sound like a pistol shot. To make the scene complete, there lacked but his horn’s musical “Muss i’ denn, muss i’ denn zum Stadtele ‘naus, Stadtele ‘naus, and du mein Schatz bleibst hier?” or some such air, and a girl’s answering “Juché !” or yodel, from the near field or woodland—which so often greeted us as we sped by. For these gay fellows played an important part in the picturesque life of their day; they carried news and gossip from village to village, delivered mail and parcels, carried messages and performed errands, or transported travelers in their post chaise, then the only means of rapid transit except horseback riding. Many a pretty girl kept eager watch on the village street for the approach of this jolly, teasing young mercury, who brought her good cheer in the form of a message or, possibly, in his own person.

Scoffy tells of driving through remote mountain districts of Bavaria, in what was there called an “extra post,” with just such a postilion. This man knew everybody he passed; had a word for the near-by and a bugle call for those at a distance. He played a number of folksongs; then (his repertoire exhausted) produced leaflets of sheet music, stuck them into a clip of his horn and continued playing. The peasants thought Scoffy must be a grand seigneur to be traveling “extra post,” and all doffed their hats and said “Good morning, Excellency.”

A world of romance clings to the postilion and his post chaise; much is bright and pleasant; more, thrilling and adventurous ; while not a little is sad. To this last, belongs that sweet old song:

“Sept ihr drei Rosse vor dem Wagen, and diesen jungen Postilion?

Von weitem höret man ihn klagen, and seines Glockleins dumpfen Ton.”

The road to Weimar was the best we had traversed this day, always excepting roads through forests and forestry districts, which are invariably excellent. It was still broad daylight when we arrived and we could easily have pushed on to Erfurt. Bobbie felt rather relieved, I wager, to have reached a stopping place, for it is no slight task to hold the wheel over 137 miles of hilly and largely indifferent road. The maps called for 131.4 miles. Our experience showed that the in-crease of actual road-work over book mileage is a negligible quantity—about four per cent.—provided you exclude large cities where you spend a day or two and do much driving.

This was our longest run to date, but we did not average much over fifteen miles an hour, which shows how easily a scorcher could make his 20o miles a day. However, he would neither see as much as we did, nor keep as clear of collisions with the authorities and, perhaps, of collision with vehicles. Of course, if a man started at 6 a. m., and drove till dusk (about nine o’clock) he might cover his 200 miles and additional sightseeing comfortably; I should pity the chauffeur in such a case, as well as the man likely to forego sleep to plan the route. Moreover, meals at odd hours and the care of the car would cause inconvenience and friction. Eight or nine hours on the road is sufficient, even with a break in the journey, if you wish to appredate travel and have it remain a pleasure. A hundred miles a day is a good average, a hundred and twenty a high one; if you hire a car you will surely have to pay extra for averaging over a hundred. With a private car an occasional forced run is sometimes necessary to carry out a program, and is likely to occur where a long, uninteresting stretch of country leads from one center of interest to another. We were not obliged to make any in Germany.

Weimar, the old seat of the grand dukes of Saxe-Weimar, virtually witnessed the birth of German literature. Before Goethe, one might say, all was archaic or at best mediocre—especially prose. The reason Germany was so backward in this respect is not far to seek; the gradual decay of the Holy Roman Empire, the consequent civil wars and, eventually, the century of religious wars due to the Reformation, wasted the country’s material resources and upset the intellectual tenor of the people to such an extent that arts and sciences stagnated.

The clever Grand Duchess Anna Amalia determined to surround her son, young Grand Duke Carl August, with the greatest minds of the age. The grand duke, appreciating her motive, also became a liberal, unfailing friend and patron of the arts, as did his successors. Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Wieland lived and worked here; the local court theatre was one of the first to present works of Wagner, and Liszt—a favorite of Grand Duke Carl Alexander—turned out many talented pupils who spread Weimar’s fame broadcast.

The charm of the little court attracted foreigners as well; there was quite an English colony. Henry Robinson, a close friend of Lamb and Wordsworth, sojourned here; Samuel Naylor visited here; Thackeray’s friend Lewes—afterward Goethe’s biographer—was drawn here by Thackeray, who had spent some of the happiest days of his early life in this delightful town. In later years, particularly since the establishment of the Goethe and Schiller archives and of the Goethe National Museum, scholars of all nations have traveled to this home of genius. Bayard Taylor studied here while working at his translation of Faust, and lectured on American literature. Indeed, the avidity with which Germans have translated and read the works of Irving, Cooper, Shakespeare, Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, and many other American and English writers, may doubtless be credited largely to the influence of Weimar; their familiarity with our literature has always been a surprise to me who, since child-hood days, have possessed editions in German of the Leatherstocking Tales and other works, all published before my birth.

The works of Scott are said to have exerted considerable influence on German romantic novelists ; on the other hand, some claim to see the influence of Goethe in Poe’s “House of Usher” and other tales.

Aside from these matters, Weimar is a charming town. We stopped at the Russischer Hof, pleasantly situated upon a parklike street on the site of the old wall and moat. At this season there was no difficulty in procuring the best rooms; among them, the one especially devoted to royalty—with a little dais where Mater held court with satisfaction and success. Early next morning we made a circuit of the town, viewing most of the celebrated buildings; it really would have paid to spend a full day in Weimar, in order to go through these and to visit the grand-ducal burial vault where Goethe and Schiller lie side by side with their royal patrons. There are many interesting dwellings ranging from that of the philosopher Nietsche all the way back to the Cranachs’. The altarpiece in the Stadtkirche is one of the elder Cranach’s best works; connected with modern Weimar’s artistic fame are Lenbach, Böcklin and Hildebrand.

We curtailed our stay as much as possible, so the Youth was obliged to cut short his search for “good” postal cards in a way he declared was most cruel. Ten o’clock found us again traveling over fine roads through most delightful scenery towards Erfurt.