The Family Letter Blog

Connecting Generations


Leave a comment

Day Two in Berlin – Summer of 1914

July 30, 1914

Woke at 9:30, feeling fine. Breakfast in our hotel – rolls, chocolate, butter and two kinds of preserves. You can guess by this time that we like chocolate. It is much better than we get at home, or else they know how to make it. Butter is a part of the menu just as much as bread, and breakfast is the only meal where you get it without paying extra. They don’t salt their butter and it is delicious. That is the regular breakfast, sometimes honey instead of jam, and after I got used to it, I liked it much. That morning we walked around town and looked at the stores which are one of the most attractive things about Germany. I can imagine a woman would not want to do anything but shop when she went abroad. Everything I can think of is now cheaper in Germany than it is here except fruit, post cards and chewing gum. At noon we saw them change the guard in front of the Emperor’s palace, a little exhibition of German soldiery which always attracts a crowd. Afterward there was a band concert by a military band, and I never heard a band play in such perfect time or tune. We took a few pictures around the palace, visited the Royal Stables, (which looks like a palace) where the Kaiser keeps his 300 horses and as many carriages and sleighs, and then went down to Bruce’s boarding house for dinner. There were two American girls, Misses Tillett from Texas, studying piano, Mr. Kramer from Cedar Falls, studying violin along with Bruce, Mr. Ferguson, a Yale PhD who was studying a few weeks in the University of Berlin, a young Englishman, two young Germans, and Frau Klein and her daughter, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Frau Klein had a fine dinner and she kept the whole table in good humor with her pleasant way of talking. She speaks the most perfect German I have ever listened to, and it would be a great place to learn German, I should think, but Bruce says whenever there are two or three Americans together they can’t learn German rapidly, because they will talk English to each other.

After dinner Bruce and Kramer and we three took the suburban train for Potsdam, about 15 miles away, where the Emperors have had their residences since Frederick the Great. Frederick built Sans Souci – the original palace with the grounds around it, and it is still what he intended it to be, – a place where you can forget every care. I still think it is the most beautiful place of the kind I have seen. I don’t know how many miles the grounds extend but they are all kept in the most perfect condition; forests of these big trees and thick, velvety grass underneath, wonderful flower gardens, fountains, grape vines, fruit trees, etc. We took a dozen pictures but never have found the roll since. We three who had never been there, went through the old palace with its reminders of Frederick the Great and Voltaire, whom he admired so much that he invited him to come and live there, but they soon got enough of each other and couldn’t live together. Just as we were leaving we heard aeroplanes overhead, and five of them passed over on their daily trials. They seem to be farther advanced in flying that we are in the US, airships are much more common. The next day we saw a big Zeppelin flying over Berlin. We saw all of Potsdam, which takes most tourist a day, between four and seven. The way Bruce led us around from one place to another reminded me of Forrest. We had a lunch on the bank of the river Harvel while we were waiting for the boat to take us back to Berlin. Just about sunset it came along and I don’t think I ever enjoyed a ride as much as that one. The Harvel is the prettiest little river imaginable. That exaggeratedly green grass grew right down to the water’s edge, so you could hardly tell where it left off and the water began. All along the shores are pretty little forests, with a spire or tower rising out of them. Everything along the river was ideally beautiful, although there is quite a bit of commerce. Nearer to Berlin are the handsomest houses by far that I have ever seen; white stone or marble, half hidden by trees, with green velvety lawns sloping down to the river, and artistic little boat houses along the bank.

We reached Berlin about 10 p.m. rather cold and hungry, so we told Bruce and Kramer to take us to the best eating place they knew of. They led us to the largest and finest restaurant in Germany, if not the world. “Das Rheingold” which seats 4,000 people, has 450 servants and 150 waiters. It is not expensive but the cooking is the best in the city so Kramer said. The interior is divided into a number of large rooms, all mahogany walls, plush chairs etc. You felt as though you didn’t belong there unless you were dressed for the occasion, but we saw poorly dressed and working people come in as though they were perfectly at home. That is one of the beauties of Germany, – you don’t have to dress up to go anywhere. The well-dressed man is conspicuous in Berlin. We had a fine dinner, with as good beefsteak as I’ve ever tasted in America, for 75 cents apiece.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Summer 1914 – First Stop – Berlin

July 29th 1914

Woke at 9:30. Raining (it rains every day in Berlin) Had breakfast in a rather fashionable café next to our hotel, and walked down Unter den Linden to the White Star office, where Bassett engaged a berth on the Olympic from Cherbourg August 19th. The agent, to whom he had a letter of introduction, told us that we would have to cut out Prague from our itinerary, because all trains stopped on the Austrian border. In front of the office we met Harrington & Motley, two more of our University Club, and they went with us to the American Consulate, where I had a good visit with Harold Quarton, the deputy consul who used to be in GWU with me. The Berlin consulate is a big place and does lots of business, but it has a reputation with the American residents of Berlin of being very stupid and unobliging. From there we took a subway out to Charlottenburg (West Berlin) and walked through the Tiergarten, a big park of 600 acres, to Bayreuther Strasse 2, where we inquired for Herr Lybarger. I waited half an hour till Bruce came in – the other boys went back to get something to eat. Bruce has a moustache and some German mannerisms, but is the same old fellow, I am glad to say. He inquired right away about everyone at home, especially about Grace and her wedding. We talked only a few minutes and arranged to meet at our hotel in the evening and go out to see the sights at night.

Bruce Lybarger was a friend of my grandfather from his home town of Osage, Iowa. After studying violin in Berlin he returned to Osage and taught violin at Cedar Valley Seminary. It seems he knew just where to go to show his hometown boys the sights of Berlin.

That afternoon we took a trip in a sightseeing car, all through the main part of the city and Charlottenburg, where the emperors have a palace, and the famous Mausoleum is. The Berlin parks and palace grounds are the most beautiful I have ever seen. The trees all seem to grow about 100 high, and they are so close together that it is almost dark under them, but some how they make the grass grow thick and smooth everywhere.

Bruce came up about 9. He said there was no use starting out before 10 because there was very little doing before midnight, but we went out to a little open air park to see the illuminated water-fall – a series of cascades with colored lights shining through them. Bruce has been around to most of the cafes with people who have wanted to see them – he had taken Dr. Savre around just a week or so before, and he knows how to do it alright. We would have had a hard time without him. He came to Berlin about a year ago not knowing a word of German, he said, and at first had an awful time getting around, but without studying he has picked up enough words and expressions to pass as a German when he wants to. About ten o’clock we went into the Picadilly Café, the largest and most popular. It is an enormous building, with a wide gallery running all around, and the floor covered with little tables, all of which were occupied. At one end, between the ground floor and gallery there was a fine 30 piece orchestra, which was worth a big price to hear. We finally found a table and ordered drinks for the privilege of sitting there. It was an interesting sight, I could have willingly sat there all night simply watching the people; laborers, soldiers, business men, young sports, young couples drinking out of the same glass (that’s a sign they are engaged) , women dressed to kill, sitting alone unless they could get someone to sit with them and buy their beer. People sit for hours in these cafes on 1 glass of beer and talk and listen to the music. The waiters get no salary, but a 10% tip from everyone, and in some places they pay for the privilege of working. A custom that Bruce told us about might very well be adopted in the U.S. I think – every person pays for himself. It amounts to almost an insult to treat a man you are with, or even a woman. I suppose that is the origin of “Dutch treat.” Bruce says that the American music students, girls, in his pension (boarding house) sometimes ask the men to take them to the opera, each paying for him (or her) self. They can’t go alone, and everyone feels perfectly free to ask the other, and refuse if it isn’t convenient. He says it resembles a family more than any similar place he has been.

We left the Picadilly after an hour or so and went to the National, which Bruce says is the worst. I didn’t see anything very bad or tempting about it. There were about a dozen fat, old, hard looking women sitting alone at tables with their arms and breasts bare, smoking cigarettes, and looking coldly around for victims. They didn’t even look at us which was a compliment I thought, and we sat off in an alcove and watched, as most of the other patrons seemed to be doing. One old gray haired man seemed to have “fallen” for one, she was sitting on his lap trying her charms on him. It was nothing but disgusting. We drank chocolate and ate “kuchen,” our favorite dish in Germany. They have the most wonderful kuchen, or cakes, that any small boy ever dreamed of. It is like paradise to walk down the street and see the windows full of all sizes, colors and kinds of cakes, or it would be if you could taste them all. I wanted to send some home and if I ever go again I shall.

The next café we went to was a brand new, large one, and the most beautiful of all I thought, – big round brass pillars, marble walls, the balcony inlaid with onyx, windows of stained glass, big cut glass chandeliers, etc., etc. They also had as good an orchestra as any in town, with a famous Russian violinist leader. We had apple cakes and whipped cream here, and it entitled us to a seat all night if we cared to stay, but about 12:30 we went to the Ice Casino, a big building where they skate to music between eats or drinks. The ice wasn’t working at that time, though, and it was turned into a dance hall. We got a table near the edge of the floor and watched them dance. Bassett asked one of the German girls to dance with him and she did. Everyone watched them out of the corner of their eyes to see how Americans danced and we could have owned the house if we had wanted to. About two o’clock, we decided we had seen enough for one night, and as the cars had stopped running Bruce called a taxi cab and we rode to our hotel for about 25 cents apiece – two or three miles. The whole evening cost us a little over a dollar apiece. A real Berliner would do it for one-fourth that much and get a good deal more pleasure out of it. That is a mild example of the notorious “night life” that is supposed to equal that of Paris, – if it isn’t the Kaiser will pass a law making it so. It doesn’t seem to me it suits the German’s temperament – he sits through it all with a stolid face. The places where they do seem to be enjoying themselves are in the small beer halls where they can get a quart of beer for six cents and a big slab of cheese and rye bread for two cents, and sit and talk and sing “Die Wacht am Rhein” all night long.


2 Comments

The Outbreak of World War One

Over the next few weeks, if you’d like to experience the outbreak of WWI from the perspective of an American student (my grandfather who was 24 at the time) who was planning a tour of Europe but got stranded in Nuremburg, Germany when the war began, check in to this blog.

I have transcribed the letter he wrote to his parents when he returned to the United States after his three week odyssey and will post each day as he experienced it. I am amazed by his resilience and his remarkable ability to put a positive spin on what must have been a disappointing trip.

We begin with his letter to his folks and his arrival in Germany on July 28th after crossing the Atlantic on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse:

Washington, D. C. September 5, 1914

Dear Folks:

It is 1:30 p.m., and I will see how much I can write all alone here in the office before supper time. I am going to make three copies so I can send one to Forrest and Frank at the same time. (That reminds me, I had better make an extra one for Dean at the same time.) Then you can keep them as long as you want to. I hardly know how to tell everything, unless I just follow my diary, although that isn’t a very systematic way to describe things. You have all read the letter I wrote on ship board, so I will begin with July 28th the day we landed in Bremen.

July 28, 1914

Our porter waked us early (that was the only thing he did on the whole trip to earn his tip) and we went on deck to watch for the first sight of Germany. It was cloudy and rather dark, but we could see a low stretch of land on our right (starboard, I should say) about 6 or 7 miles away. It was very shallow, for there were light houses and light ships and buoys right beside us to mark the channel. Northern Germany has no decent ports at all, it is so flat and sandy. About 9:30 we stopped and a lighter took us all off, – 800 third class passengers and baggage. The Germans were overjoyed at the sight of their native land, though it started to rain hard as soon as we got on the lighter, and we landed at Bremerhaven two hours later in the rain. Bremen is not the port, it is 35 miles above where the big steamers land, and passengers are taken up there by train from Bremerhaven. Being low tide, we couldn’t even land at Bremerhaven, but had to stay about ten miles out.

I was the second one off the boat, and the first one to go through Customs inspection, which consisted of opening my suit case and bag and shutting them, – no questions asked. We had hot chocolate and coffee cake in the waiting room and about 11 o’clock the train took us up to Bremen. The sun came out, and our first glimpse of Germany was more than satisfactory. The country is low and somewhat marshy, but pretty. There were big herds of Holstein cows in almost every pasture, and I suppose dairying is the principal industry around Bremen, though there were quite large rye fields, which looked good. It didn’t look at all like America – – as soon as you began to think it did, along would come a pretty stone house with a red tile roof, windows full of flowers, lace curtains, and immaculately clean doorsteps and front yards; or a shed (always of brick or stone) with a thatched roof, green with moss. My first impression of the country was that it is pretty and prosperous. I didn’t see a single hut or shack or poor looking building. The only thing that didn’t look right was to see the women loading the wagons, plowing the potatoes, and doing the hardest work while the men did the easier work.

At Bremen we went up to the hotel with Rogers and Edwards who were going to buy bicycles and ride up the Rhine leisurely, reaching Geneva, Switzerland in about a month. (I would like to know where they are now.) We thought we would stay till evening, and all the “University Club” of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse would have dinner together in the Rathaus, but we found that a train left for Berlin right away, so we told them all good-bye and got on. That was a dandy ride, through the prettiest country in Germany, except the Rhine; maybe it looked so because it was the first we had seen for so long. The land certainly looked and felt good, though it rocked under my feet for a day. Our train made about 50 miles an hour for about 5 ½ hours (pretty good for a toy train) and it cost us about 1 cent a mile. We came out just as clean as we went in. I like the German trains. In every compartment there is a good map showing just where you are going. We had a delicious dinner on the train: soup, veal, potatoes, gravy, vegetable compote, chocolate and rolls for less than 70 cents. A woman and little girl sat in our compartment. The little girl wanted awfully to talk to us but she couldn’t say a word of English and she laughed at the way we tried to talk German.

We arrived in Berlin about dark and took a droschke to the Hotel Stadt Weimar, which had been recommended to us by Mrs. Roemmele on the boat. It was a very good place, the best possible location in Berlin, right near the intersection of the two principal streets. The crowds were beginning to gather on Unter den Linden. They were singing The Watch on the Rhine, the Austrian National Hymn and something to the tune of “My Country tis of Thee,” and we supposed it was all about the war between Austria and Servia. The crowds and noise kept increasing and the police on horseback had to keep chasing them up and down the street so they wouldn’t block the traffic. We took a little walk and when we tried to come back the police wouldn’t let us cross Unter den Linden. We walked back and tried another street, and they put us back. One of them told us it was too late to get back to our hotel, and we began to think we were out for all night, but we finally did get back and were satisfied to watch the crowd from our balcony after that. Our rooms looked like they might have been made for entertaining the royalty – a great large room with two fine beds, large dressers, wardrobe, etc. and a smaller room with the same furnishings – little electric lamps on a stand beside your bed so you could lie there and read. It was so nice we hated to go to sleep, but when we got inside and pulled the soft, light eider down quilt over us, we couldn’t stay awake a minute.