Travelogue Berlin Cotinued – Early 1900′s

On leaving the Bauer it is amusing to dip for a few moments into the tumult of rip-roaring Friedrichstrasse and sweep along with merchants, government clerks, shop girls, artists, soldiers, and all the rest of the jovial, motley company. Out in the middle of the street students go rushing by, boisterously inviting trouble and waving their hats and the husky bludgeons they call canes. Conveyances of all descriptions are coming and going – Droschken, stages, double-decked omnibuses, motor-cars, et al. The corner of Leipzigerstrasse is a whirlpool through which traffic moves like so much drifting pack-ice. Trolley cars pass gingerly by to come to a stop at the iron posts marked “Haltestellen.” One notes that the little “isles of safety” in the middle of the street have each its representative of the omnipresent police, dressed up like major-generals in military long coats and nickel-pointed helmets. They could tell you that Leipzigerstrasse is just as crowded all the way to the tumultuous Potsdam Gate, where on each sharp corner of the five radiating streets ponderous hotels project into the maelstrom like pieces of toast on spits. I say the policemen could tell you that, if they wanted to, but the probability is they would only wave excited hands and shout “Verboten!”

And that makes you realize that about everything you want to do in Berlin is forbidden for some reason or other. No yarn of the Mormons ever conveyed an idea of such perpetual, unwinking vigilance as is second nature to this police force. Soon after arriving you become uncomfortably conscious of being secretly and unremittingly watched, but while this rankles for a while you eventually become acclimated, as it were, and pass into a hardened stage of moral irresponsibility where you are scrupulously circumspect and not a little sly. Since the police have elected to play the role of your conscience you determine to go about without one, like Peter Schlemihl and his shadow, in the balmy confidence that whatever you are up to must be all right or the authorities would have notified you that it was “verboten” and had you up at headquarters for one of those myriad fines that range from two cents up.

Parenthetically, again, it is the people’s fault. They are government-mad; intoxicated with bureaucracy. Not for all the gold reserve at Spandau would they abate one jot of this supervision. There is a law for everything. Some one has said that for every pfennig the German pays in taxes he expects and receives a pfennig’s worth of government. You see it on every hand. Each bus and car is placarded to announce its exact seating capacity, as well as the precise amount of standing-room on the platforms; once that space is occupied it would not stop for you, though you go on your knees. Have you ever taken notice of the little metallic racks at each end of a Berlin street car? That is where you leave the cigar you may be smoking when you enter; putting it anywhere else is absolutely “verboten.” It is the spirit of the time. Berlin is a “touch-the-button” town – a machine-made community of deadly rote and rule. System is the thing. Street numbers have arrows indicating which way they run; letter boxes are cleared every fifteen minutes; a letter goes by the pneumatic RohrPost with the`speed of a telegram; packages are sent by the parcel delivery more quickly and more cheaply than by express; hotels have electric elevators and vacuum cleaning. It is so all over Germany. Who ever sees a picture of Dusseldorf, these days, without a Zeppelin airship in the background? How eloquent it is of the thoroughness of this people whose boastful “Made in Germany” is expressive of the rankest materialism, that their warlike capital should be distinguished for the quality and quantity of its artistic feeling, and excel, besides, in usefulness, as exemplified in scores of museums that are admittedly the most instructive of any in the world.

As the last of daylight disappears, Friedrichstrasse’s shops blaze out brilliantly in every guise of electricity, the present pet scientific rage. The window dressings are highly attractive, but seldom the interiors behind them. Americans are finding home products in the kodak and sewing-machine stores, in penny-in-theslot establishments, and at alleged American sodafountains and bars – all displayed for sale in business buildings that are better built than the battlements of Jericho. People need not go out of a single block on Friedrichstrasse to secure every comfort they require, for in so small a space one finds fashionable hotels, hotels garnis, pensions, or the exemplary hospices affected by ladies traveling alone; where also you may dine at establishments to suit your purse – at extravagant cost, or on the lightest of repasts at a Conditorei, or on a heavy seven-course dinner at a popular restaurant for twenty cents, with a glass of beer in the bargain. One finds the dance halls largely supported by foreigners and tourists, of which latter America sends fully forty thousand annually. It is also speedily apparent that the undertow of the feverish stream brings its wreckage to the surface, where the rouged cheek and carmined lip betray the presence of fiercer kinds of “questing bestes” than ever were recorded in the “Morte d’Arthur.”

Out again under the rustling trees of the Linden one strolls on in increasing delight. In the growing zest of the evening the prosperous crowds toss pfennigs to the begging old “Linden Angels” and patronize the flowervenders and newsboys. Of the Linden’s fivefold boulevard, the outer streets are rumbling with heavy wagons and cabs, the drive with carriages, the bridle-path is lively with belated riders and the broad middle promenade is overflowing with pedestrians. Good Americans, on passing the United States Embassy headquarters, at the corner of Schadowstrasse, raise their hats in a sudden welling of patriotic reverence, and very likely with a wistful sympathy for the heimweh that must frequently oppress the two thousand members of the American colony that tarry in the pleasant environs of Victoria Louise Platz. Diplomats are coming and going on aristocratic Wilhelmstrasse, which sweeps southward at this point, and where the lights are beginning to sparkle before the double line of government department buildings, royal palaces, and foreign embassy houses. The famous palace of mellow gray stone, in which the Iron Chancellor lived and held court like a king in the heyday of his power, shrouds itself proudly in the deep green of its garden of thick shrubbery.

But all this fails to hold the stroller’s attention when he glances about and sees he is at the end of the Linden and that a dozen steps will carry him to a sudden widening into stately Pariser-Platz, at the bottom of which, flanked by fountained lateral lawns and light-flecked in the twilight blur, rises one of Berlin’s chiefest features – the famed Brandenburg Gate. When the Berlin exile is homesick this is the picture he always sees- the imposing five-arched gateway, creamy against the misty deep green of the Tiergarten tree-tops, the dignified fronts of surrounding embassy houses, flowered grass plots on either hand, leaping fountains, the long lines of the trees of the Linden, and through the gateway-portals glimpses of colonnades and white statues in the cool, dusky allees of the park.

It is an inspiring spot. The classic grace of Greece is present in the gate itself, – a copy of the Athenian Propylaea, – and the eventualities of warfare are suggested in Schadow’s bronze Quadriga above it, which the envious Napoleon carried off to his Paris. These old trees of the Linden know much of the turning of the wheel of fortune; they shook to the tread of the conquering legions of Napoleon the Great, after Jena, when Queen Louise and her little ten-year-old son fled in want and humiliation; but they also rocked, threescore and five years later, to the shouting of the armies of a united and triumphant Germany when that same little boy, become Emperor William I, returned from the annihilation of Napoleon the Little.

Any German student, adequately inspired, will tell the legend of the Quadriga; how the Goddess of Victory each New Year’s Eve drives her chariot and four up the Linden, pays her respects to Frederick the Great on his bronze horse and is back in her place by 1 A.M. And that is the night, by the way, that the Great Elector rides his charger all over the city, taking note of the year’s changes, and returns to his position on the Kurfiirsten Brucke before the stroke of one. Out of the same Nibelungen Land comes the legend of the White Lady that goes moaning through the Royal Palace when a Hohenzollern is about to die. Now we are on Berlin traditions, it maybe said that there is more agreeable flesh and blood to the custom of receiving bouquets from the witches of the Blocksberg on Walpurgis Nacht (May 1), and an altogether human foundation for the ancient torch dances at Hohenzollern weddings, of which Carlyle has given so enthusiastic a description.

Beyond the gate, we face a beautiful picture. The sweeping arc of the Anlagen, rimmed with marble benches, balustrades, and statues, is spirited with pleasure seekers, and its thick lines of lights are all glowing brightly, and carriages and cabs are speeding noiselessly across it. An attractive dilemma presents, as to whether we choose to reach the adjoining Konigs-Platz by the embowered and vernal Path of Peace – the tree-arched Friedens-Allee through this corner of the Tiergarten – or by the celebrated War-Way – the Sieges-Allee – between the double lines of the thirty-two marble groups portraying the rulers of the House of Brandenburg. There are advantages to either; the first is shorter and supremely sylvan, but the second presents an opportunity of settling for one’s self the violent difference of opinion as to the artistic merits of this elaborate gift of the Kaiser to his capital. Each of the groups of the latter has a heroic statue of a Prussian ruler half encircled by a marble bench whose ends are Hermes busts of eminent men of that period. We are entitled to an opinion. Some pronounce it incomparable; others think it pompous and insipid, and very much like a stone cutter’s yard.

In either event one soon reaches the Konigs-Platz, and beholds envisioned the power and glory of the Fatherland. At no hour does it appear to such advantage as at twilight. The dusky shadows lie heavy about the great circular field of trees and shrubbery, shrouding the sculptured mass of the vast Reichstag building until its huge glass dome looms like a colossal moon in a lake of emerald. Bismarck and Von Moltke rise above their statuegroups like demigods of bronze, and the lofty Column of Victory, studded with captured cannon, rears its brisk and lightly-poised angel to acclaim the glories of Germany to an invisible world among the skies. Kroll’s neighboring summer garden is gay in hundreds of colored lights that glow in the grass plots and dim arbors and hang like pendent fruit from the branches of the trees. The dusk deepens into gloom, and twilight plays Whistler-tricks with fountain spray and statue. Distant domes pass, in night wizardry, for ghostly war-tents of Von Moltke. Faint vapors steal among the trees of the lower levels, and the dark of dim retreats is deeper for the brilliance of groups of lights that fade surrounding foliage into shades of pale olive. Music drifts softly over from Kroll’s, and the subdued hum of engulfing Berlin conveys a pleasant sense of companionship and a feeling of admiration and affection.

In the vivid appreciation of all we have just been seeing, one thinks in amazement, What a people! Harveyized against everything but progress, they are bending their tremendous energy to the enormous task of transforming Berlin from the capital of a kingdom into the capital of an empire. To see what they are accomplishing is to whip one’s wastrel forces and holystone his resolution. Here is energy and power of a kind to move mountains. Foreign critics bite their nails in envy and decry Berlin as “a parvenu among capitals “; they say it lacks distinction, is solemnly conscious of its new dignity, is “big without being cosmopolitan, and imposing without being impressive.” That it is garishly modern is true enough, as in the light of its sudden apotheosis it could not have otherwise been, and its own people are first to admit frequent grave errors in artistic taste. But taken all in all, a fairer, more substantial or more worthy city has never before been reared in the same length of time in the history of mankind. Nor is the end yet. The soaring impetus of the capital waxes with its own effort; gathers strength with each fresh achievement. Germany may be pardoned for taking pride in having risen as a world power to the very van of the nations, with her war-lord one of the foremost figures of the era. That his capital is his special pride is well known, and there are many who feel that he has gone far to realizing his expressed determination to make Berlin the most beautiful city of Europe.

One rests in the Konigs-Platz, at the foot of Bismarck’s statue, and regards with wonder the stern features of that man of “blood and iron,” to whose prescience and indomitable resolution these vast results are so largely due. The best of Bismarck is not dead, but lives and increases in the activities of his countrymen. As was said of another, “Would you see his monument, look about you.” The destiny Germany is working out is the one he bequeathed her; all this fair fruition is the flower of his seeding. The Kaiser may continue his idolatry of his grandfather by sowing the empire with statues of the war emperor, but the people do not for a moment forget that the man who previsioned and compelled these results was he at the feet of whose grim statue we uncover in deep respect in the evening calm of the KonigsPlatz. The hand was the hand of Bismarck.