Imagine being a college student spending a few weeks of your summer vacation on a trip through Europe. You’ve worked hard to safe enough money for the trip and when you arrive in Germany, it is on the eve of Germany’s declaration of War against Russia. You soon learn that all trains in Germany will stop running to support the movement of troops. You’re not quite sure what to do or exactly when or how you’re going to get home.
Here is my grandfather’s account of that situation as written to his parents after his safe return to the United States. My grandfather, Joseph B. Kingsbury was travelling with two friends from George Washington University – Bassett and Jim. I am not sure of their full names but the three of them had planned a trip of about three weeks that would have included Prague and Paris. The plans changed almost daily as they learned more about the War developments.
I’m planning to post an entry each day that will eventually correspond to the current dates of this year, 103 years later. I’m almost caught up. If you’re just beginning to read this blog, earlier posts will fill you in on the names – but for a quick reference –
Bruce – is an acquaintance from my grandfather’s home town of Osage Iowa who had been studying violin in Berlin for the past year when my grandfather and his friends arrived.
Quarton is someone who worked in the American Consul’s office in Berlin and my grandfather had a letter of introduction to him and met with him on arrival to get an idea of what to expect over the coming days. I suppose it was hard for anyone to know exactly what was going to happen.
July 31, 1914
This morning Bassett and I went up and saw some of the museums while Jim went shopping. We saw some good pictures in the National Museum and the Kaiser Friederich Museum, and went in the cathedral. I had forgotten we’d learned anything about the war scare until we got to Dresden, but I find it in my diary, “An extra at 2 p.m. says that Russia is mobilizing her forces and
Germany may have to go at war at any time. If Russia goes in, Germany must side with Austria, France with Russia, and England where her own interests say. Things look serious. I asked Quarton and he said go ahead on your trip.” So we went to the station and Bruce saw us off at 4:30 p.m., for Dresden. Bruce leaves tomorrow for the Baltic Sea for a month’s fishing and camping. He is all worn out from a year’s violin study under professor Moser, – 5 or 6 hours of practice a day – one lesson a week for 30 M. His expenses are 300 M ($75) a month.
In this passage in the letter to his parents, I think my grandfather is quoting from his travel diary:
“After four days I am more than satisfied with Germany and Berlin. I like Germany and the Germans. We could learn many things from them. What has impressed me most is (1) Everything is done with an eye for beauty and permanence, the builders are artists. I have not seen an ugly looking building yet, nor one that looked poorly built. Berlin is immaculately clean. Every morning all streets are washed (and dried with a bath towel?) In the suburbs they have a way of beautifying the car tracks – they make the grass grow right up to and between the rails. (2) The people look happier and certainly are better natured and more polite than Americans. Shop keepers treat you so courteously you are almost embarrassed. Everyone lifts his hat on leaving a store and says “Good Day” or “Adieu.” To hear some German women talk is almost like a mother talking to a baby, not foolish or insincere, – most sympathetic and expressive voices I’ve ever heard. I think I said that Berlin is a beautiful city. The residential part of the city is almost solid 4 or 5 story white or cream colored stone houses, with artistic entrances and staircases. One family usually has a whole floor of the house, and the rooms are as large as three in an American apartment or flat. They all have such fine furniture.
We reached Dresden about 7 o’clock and went to the Hotel du Nord, which Kramer had told us about and got the nicest room that we ever had. It was about 35 feet long and 15 feet wide, with three circassian walnut beds, end to end. Windows to the south and east looked out on a yard full of trees and grass. Best of all they had American (or English) plumbing, at least the closet said “Tornado” on it and it was the first and only one we struck that would flush. That’s one thing on which Germany is far behind – plumbing, another thing is electric lights.
We immediately went out on the street and took an auto bus, the best looking and most comfortable one I ever saw, and the most polite big conductor, to the river where we walked around a little, and about dark we went up on the Bruhl’sche terrace called the Balcony of Europe to hear a concert. I must stop right here to say that Dresden is the most attractive, nicest city in Germany (so far as I know) It is so popular with Americans that they have an “American Quarter” of the city. American stores (Regal Shoes, Arrow cellars, etc) and we were constantly meeting Americans on the street. Lots of them were just coming in from the Austrian ‘bads,’ – Carlsbad, and other watering places, on account of the war scare. We were always too much in a hurry to stop and talk with them, but most of them looked agreeable enough to talk to. This “Bruhlsche Terrace” is one of the prettiest places imaginable, the park overlooking the river, with thick green trees, grass, walks and benches, but the chief thing in it is the Hotel Belvedere, a very nice restaurant, where we heard the best orchestra in Germany and ate sandwiches and drank chocolate. I remember how good I felt that evening – as though everything had been beyond my highest expectations and everything was turning out in the finest way possible to make our trip a success.