The Family Letter Blog

Connecting Generations

Day 4 – August 1, 1914

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My grandfather and his friends are beginning a summer trip to Europe that is about to be drastically changed by World War One. They’ve enjoyed about four days as summer tourists – including this one, but things are about to change. Here is his entry from his second full day in Dresden, Germany.

He and his two travel companions arrived in Brehmenhaven on July 28th and immediately took the train to Berlin. After spending July 29th and 30th in Berlin they arrived in Dresden on the evening of July 31st.

August 1st

Woke at 8 o’clock with the sun shining in our window (for the first time since we landed) and the birds singing in our garden. The waiter brought a delicious breakfast: coffee and little round rolls, butter and grape jelly, and spread it out on a table in our room, so we were ready to start sightseeing soon after nine. After going to the bank and cashing three checks between us, we spend the rest of the forenoon in the Zwinger, which many think is the finest art gallery in Europe. Bassett and I had one of the best times of the trip, but I don’t know whether Jim enjoyed it so much or not. There are many great paintings there, but the greatest of all, in a high room by itself, with a soft light coming in the window, is Rafael’s original Sistine Madonna. It is the face of the mother that is the most wonderful thing, — I tried to look at other parts of the picture but my eyes always came back to the face. It is sad, but full of love and sweetness, and a look as though something wonderful had happened to her. The baby’s face is like the mother’s and unlike other pictures of the time and other of Rafael’s pictures, it looks like a baby, and not like a diminutive man.

(You can see the painting and learn a bit more about it here.)

By luck we happened into a dandy little restaurant just at dinner time, — one of the characteristic German places that we had been looking for all the time, with a lively Bohemian orchestra playing Austrian tunes, and a jolly little waitress anxious to please us. So Bassett decided to make this his “seasick dinner.” We had made an agreement on the boat that the first one seasick must buy the first dinner when we got to land, but we hadn’t had time for a real dinner alone up to this time. It was a fine dinner, with roast chicken, Russian salad, and caviar, something only millionaires eat at home. It cost us a quarter, I think. You know what it is – the eggs of a certain kind of fish that comes only from Russia. I didn’t get such a longing for it that I have to have it now though. We enjoyed that dinner much more than eating in the gilded palaces of Berlin.

After dinner we tried to get into the Castle to see, among other things, the famous “Green Vault” in which is the most valuable collection of jewels in the world. But a big tall Saxon soldier at the gate thought we were trying to take pictures of the castle, and he almost “charged bayonets” on us. Check this link for a recent story on the Green Vault. We couldn’t explain to him that we didn’t want to take photographs but only see the inside of the castle. They were beginning to watch things pretty closely then. We saw a sightseeing auto standing still, with three Americans (from Dayton Ohio) sitting in it, so we got in and the six of us had a long ride around town to ourselves. Got a fine idea of the beauty of the city. It has the prettiest municipal and royal buildings and the finest residences (except those on the Harvel near Berlin) I have ever seen. On the outskirts of the city are little cottages in garden plots, 50 or 60 feet square, on which a family supports itself. The city owns them and rents them to the poor people for 8 or 10 marks a year – an admirable way to take care of the poor, I think.

We were riding through the New City, where the barracks are, and we noticed that all the soldiers seemed to be feeling good about something. One of them came out and got in the car (he was a cousin of the driver) and told us that it had just been reported that Russia had withdrawn its troops from the Austrian border, and that the trouble was therefore over. We all cheered and the soldiers and officers stuck their heads out of the windows and cheered and sang and showed undoubtedly that they were glad, — as was everyone else. When we got home we started up the street just to watch the shop windows, which are the most attractive I ever saw anywhere, far better than Berlin. The boys bought some little Dresden china souvenirs but I didn’t see anything I could carry without breaking. I bought a German house apron (which I will send to mother as soon as I have time to unpack my bag). Mrs. Roemmele on the K.W der Grosse had told me to be sure to get one for my mother. I don’t believe I got what she meant, I didn’t see anything remarkable about it except the price, which was about 35 cents. The greatest bargain I ever picked up though was a pair of field glasses, as good as I ever looked through, for M. 12.50 just $3. An old man on the boat coming over had told me I could get fine glasses for anything above $5, but these were just as good as some that cost M- 17. They are small enough to use as theater glasses, but out on the ocean I could see a ship before anyone, and read the name several miles away. I wanted to buy some of the famous German cameras which are so good and cheap, but I already had my Brownie which was satisfactory. Cutlery, gold and silver things, stones (especially garnets which come from Bohemia right nearby), linen goods, umbrellas and walking sticks were the hardest things to walk by, they were all so good looking and ridiculously cheap. I was just on my way to get a garnet tie pin for Forrest and Frank and Dean when the King (of Saxony) went by in his auto and we all rushed out with the crowd to get a look at him. Did I mention seeing the Kaiser just before we left Berlin, coming in from Potsdam in his car? The crowd went wild each time, and it seemed a little more enthusiasm than the occasion demanded, but a few minutes later the clerk that I bought the apron of, who spoke a little English went by, and he showed us the latest “extra” which said that the Czar had not stopped mobilizing and the Kaiser would therefore order the mobilization of the German army, and war would probably be declared Monday.

We couldn’t understand the full significance of it at first, of course; I don’t yet. But the young clerk kindly explained that everything would be badly upset, – we might not be able to get money, the price of food might go up, the railroads would probably stop running, and Germany would be no place for sightseeing anymore. So we stopped buying things and went right to our rooms and packed our suitcases. Went to bed early that night and Sunday morning were ready to start for Switzerland.

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Author: kakingsbury

I finally took the leap and started a blog in mid-March 2014. I currently maintain three blogs "All Things Kalen" "The Family Letter Blog" and "Trovando Famiglia." Trovando Famiglia is about my husband's family, particularly the original four Giorgio brothers who immigrated to western Pennsylvania from San Vito Chietino, Italy in the late 1800s. The Giorgio boys and their descendants have been the focus of my genealogical research over the past two years. The blog allows me to share family stories and photographs. Thanks for checking me out!

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