On The Rhine

HAVING caught our ” bird’s-eye” view of Cologne, which contains much that is admirable, and much that is not admirable yet possessing a certain interest, we embark on one of the numerous steamers that are constantly plying on the Rhine, the most picturesque river in Europe. Some of these steamers are of considerable size, and well built and equipped, but neither here, nor elsewhere in the Old World, are found inland steamers at all approaching our Hudson river and Sound boats, either in size, speed, convenience, or magnificence. I showed one of our floating palaces recently to an English gentleman–a guest—who examined it with the greatest interest, and readily admitted that there was at least one thing in which the Americans had not only not stolen their ideas from English-men but had surpassed all their achievements.

A consideration which has, no doubt, largely determined the size of these Rhine steamers is the fact that the banks of the river are thickly studded with cities and villages, necessitating frequent landings, while many of our steamers run hundreds of miles without once landing. Hence the tonnage, in either case, is produced through the action of the law of demand and supply.

We see our baggage deposited on the deck of the steamer, and are kindly assured that it will be cared for, but ascertain that this civility is not prompted by an unselfish interest in our welfare, for, shortly after the boat leaves, an official presents us a formal bill of ninety pfennigs (twenty-two and a half cents) for its care. We feel that this is rather an extraordinary demand, and look helplessly at the baggage (one trunk, three valises, and a shawl-strap). Nobody seemed to be doing anything to them or for them. We look from the baggage to the bill, and from the bill to the baggage.

“Ninety pfennigs,” demanded the man

” What for ?”

” For taking care of the baggage.”

” Oh ! let the baggage alone,” we replied ; “it is all right, and will take care of itself.”

The man becomes very much excited and assures us that the baggage cannot possibly take care of itself, that something will happen to it. ” Besides,” he added, ” this is the rule.”

Remembering that all rules have exceptions, it occurs to us that we may possibly be the exception to this one, and under the circumstances decline to honor this draft upon our resources. Whereupon he leaves us, rather disgusted, and in a few minutes we are waited upon by a no less important official than the captain himself, who presents the case with much dignity and circumspection, arguing that it may rain and our things will get wet, or they may in some way get displaced. We tell him we will take the entire risk. Whereupon he summons all the remaining arguments lie can think of, arraying them in the most convincing sequence ; and as we feel, by this time, that by their combined efforts they have earned the ninety pfennigs, and that we have their full value in experience, we duly honor the draft. Whereupon pleasant relations are re-established, as we perceive by the triumphal gleam of satisfaction seen flitting across the faces of the officials, and by the general relaxation of the facial muscles all around. The pertinacity which the officials, high and low, exhibit, in this country, in fulfilling every jot and tittle of established rules, is marvellous, especially when any money is involved.

The current is very rapid, and particularly so at this season, when the rains are frequent and the snow is melting in the mountains ; hence our progress is slow, giving us ample time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and observe our fellow-passengers and the various incidents connected with the trip.

The passengers and freight are landed at the small towns in rowboats, which come from the shore, bringing those who desire to embark on the steamboat. Whole groups of market-women, who have been to Cologne with their pro-duce, are landed in this manner, and in some cases an extra boat is entirely filled with their baskets. Family parties and many larger groups, officers and soldiers, either by them-selves or accompanied by their sweethearts, are constantly coming and going, and while aboard enjoy themselves to the utmost over a bottle of wine with bread and cheese.

We lunch and dine on the steamer, à-la-carte, completing a most enjoyable trip by landing at Coblentz at 9 P.M. This charming little triangular city lies at the junction of the Moselle and the Rhine, and in the embrace of commanding heights which surround it on all sides, the highest being on the other side of the larger river and crowned with a picturesque old castle.

The latter is in full view from the window of our hotel, which is on the banks of the Rhine, as are most of the leading hostelries, both here and elsewhere on the noted stream. From the same point of view we can see hundreds of acres of vineyards producing the famous Rhine wine, which is most delicious when drunk here in its purity, but of which we receive so little in America that has not in some way been debased or, indeed, is not wholly a counterfeit.

Just below and in full view is a most extra-ordinary bridge across the river, comprised of a series of pontoons securely anchored in the swift stream, sustaining a wide and substantial platform, over which surges a constant stream of foot-passengers and vehicles of all descriptions. Every few moments an opening has to be made in this bridge to allow the steamers and other craft to pass. Two sections of the bridge, each borne on two of the pontoons, are separated from the main structure by the force of the current, and propelled by a small steam-engine to one side just below the bridge, being prevented from floating down the rapid current by means of chains evidently anchored at the bottom of the river. It is amusing to see the scramble to get across before the break occurs, and to watch the tide of pedestrians and vehicles surge on and pass each other as soon as the gap has been filled.

Desiring to taste the genuine German beer, and being directed to a special restaurant for that purpose, we find it a typical German establishment. Only one kind of beer is served, and a limited number of dishes in the way of edibles. The array of elaborate and ponderous beer-mugs, hung by their handles on the wall, ex-tending almost from floor to ceiling behind the counter, is quite overwhelming, and when three of them are set before us, filled with the foaming beverage, one of our party remarks that he did not order the Atlantic Ocean, and the young woman says she feels like a fly about to fall into a pail of milk. The immense size of these mugs creates in our minds a doubt as to whether this is a wholesale or a retail transaction. But we find, on doing our “level best” to solve the problem, that we so far fail to sound the depths of our ponderous tankards as to be compelled to take our position in the retail ranks, while our neighbors all around us are, without exception, in the wholesale line, for they succeed to a man —and woman too—in touching bottom. Indeed, many of them sound the depth of several specimens of the same sort, and we leave them, in a halo of smoke and good cheer, calling for more.

The undoubted fact that the German beer is made from malt and hops, and that most of the American beers are comparatively innocent of those useful ingredients—a variety of life destroying drugs being substituted therefor—surely ought to prompt our countrymen either to let the noxious stuff alone severely, or to inaugurate such legislation as will compel the manufacture of a pure article. There can be little doubt that impure beer is the direct cause of much of the liver and kidney disease that is now so prevalent in America.

In driving through the park, in which the Coblentz palace is situated, we notice a little red flag floating from the cupola, which we are in-formed indicates the presence of the Empress Augusta, whose summer residence this is. The stranger is made aware of this at every turn. Our landlord says : ” The empress is here.” The banker on whom we called for our letters says : ” The empress is here,” Even the stolid coachman relaxes his solemn dignity as he sits upright upon his box, and turns his stately head with the announcement : ” The empress is here.” By this time we are fully aware that ” the em-press is here ! ” But, all the same, the refrain ” the empress is here” surges in upon us from all sides.

The Empress Augusta, who is the widow of the late venerable Emperor William, seems to command the respect and affection of everybody, and there are not a few marks of ber kindness of heart scattered through the region. During a ride over the hills, partially occupied by the buildings used as barracks for the soldiers in training, we pass a neat cemetery containing a large number of the bodies of French soldiers who died while confined as prisoners during the late Franco-German war. This was done by her prompting and at her expense.

An American is here reminded at every turn that this is a military nation, by the soldiers in training at the barracks, by the marching and countermarching of military companies through the city, and by the tramp, tramp he daily hears from the window of his hotel as the files of soldiers cross and recross the bridge of boats, recalling vividly the enactment of similar scenes in his own country during the period of the civil war.

The great difference between this country and our own is shown by the fact that here the above scenes are of daily occurrence, year in and year out, and that all able-bodied citizens are, in one way or another, members of the army, while in America such a scene has occurred but once in a lifetime.

Our army now is but a pitiful handful of 25,-000 men, and nothing more aptly illustrates the genius of our institutions than the fact—so well demonstrated during our late war—that brigades, divisions, and corps can be suddenly created from the citizens, and in a few months of drilling and fighting become welded in a veteran force, capable of as effective service in the field as that of the European armies, which are the result of their exhaustive methods continued through generations.

Many amusing incidents occur among the soldiers in their street parades and marchings. We saw recently a little squad dawdling along in their uniforms through the heat, the most ambitionless, hot, weary, or lazy souls, dragging one foot after the other as if a cannon-ball were tied to each. ” Poor fellows ! ” we thought, “how plainly every line about them tells the oppression and misery of the whole brutal system ! ” When all at once, to our amazement, they stiffened up like ramrods, flung one leg out in front at an angle of forty-five degrees with force enough to kick down a rampart, and then brought the heel of this ironclad member down upon the pavement like a blacksmith’s hammer, the sparks flying in all directions. We looked on in amazement, wondering what had happened to them, when in the distance appeared a diminutive corporal, the occasion of the whole excitement. The same awe of their superiors runs through the entire German army. A common soldier having his boots blacked will instantly stand aside, before the operation is completed, as a corporal steps up. He in turn gives place to an officer, and in a few minutes three of these accommodating individuals are standing in a row, bolt upright, with their trowsers turned up and each with one boot blacked. When the fourth has been served he passes along with dignity, and each of the other three takes his turn in regular order until the common soldier is finally reached.

All of our party are in some way invalids, and, having letters to an eminent physician of Coblentz who has acquired a critical knowledge of the remedial qualities of the various mineral springs on the Continent in their application to the different forms of chronic diseases, we are here for the purpose of consulting him. He is the physician of the empress and resides at the palace. We climb a labyrinth of stairs, to find that he is engaged with the venerable widow. A second similar effort is rewarded with no better success. This time he is in attendance upon one of the ladies of her majesty’s household. Our third attempt is successful. Having previously left our letters, we come by appointment, and are received with the greatest cordiality by as fine a specimen of a gentleman of the old school as it has ever been our good fortune to meet. He is, although seventy years of age, unusually youthful in appearance and agile in his movements. He has a fine, classical profile. His expressive eyes quite prepare one for the sallies of wit and humor that seem so natural to him, and his whole, bearing inspires calmness and repose. He is simple and unaffected in proportion to his wisdom and knowledge. As we are informed, lie is a man almost without wants, living in a most inexpensive way, though daily surrounded by the life of the court. Indeed, it is said that when the titled ladies desire to present him some token of their appreciation of his qualities as a man and of his services in their behalf, they are at a loss to find anything in the world that he needs.

The modern medical autocrat receives you in grand state, examines and dismisses you in a few minutes, and charges you a fee that perhaps reduces you to the verge of bankruptcy, while this painstaking, conscientious man gives you hours, if need be, finds out your condition and prescribes the best course of treatment, and charges so moderate a fee that you feel almost ashamed to tender it to him. He has been physician to the empress for thirty-six years, and the fact that her majesty has attained the age of seventy-seven, and that there are seventy-seven, “more or less according to the number on ‘em,” venerable ladies-in-waiting attached to her household, all seventy-seven years old or thereabouts, and that they all have been in the doctor’ s care during these thirty-six years, with all the little ailments incident to court and palace life, makes one wonder that he is not at least seventy-seven years old himself–if not one hundred and seventy-seven—instead of the vivacious, young-appearing man he is.

During an interview of three hours the doctor makes a critical examination of each of our party, and decides that it is necessary to part us for the time being. One, with recalcitrant liver and kidneys, he orders to Carlsbad, and the other two, for sundry complications, dyspepsia, rheumatism, etc., to Baden by Zurich, Switzerland. We part regretfully and go on our separate ways.