This is a transcription of my grandfather’s account of his time in Germany at the outbreak of WWI. At this point, he has been in Germany for one week and has visited Berlin, Dresden and Nuremberg. His plans for travelling throughout Europe for three weeks were interrupted by the war and he and two travel companions (fellow students at George Washington University) are stranded in Nuremberg Germany because the trains were dedicated to the war effort and moving troops to the front.
What would you do if you were a college student in Europe for the summer and this happened to you? My first thought would be to return to America but that was not an option because the shipping lines were no longer running between the United States and Germany, even if he could have returned to a port city.
Interesting aside – my grandfather and his friends were probably on the last passenger trip of SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. When the war began it was converted to an auxiliary cruiser and sank off the coast of Africa in the Battle of Rio de Oro on August 26, 1914.
We made our daily trip to the consulate. There was no war news of any interest, but the consulate was full of Americans, and we stopped to talk to some of them. Most of them are at the Grand Hotel, among them Alexander H. Revell of Chicago, Chris Heurich the Washington brewer, Mr. Huntington, related to the late Southern Pacific president, and president of the National Geographic Society. They all expect to stay awhile, and all were filling out applications for passports, which the consul has been authorized to issue. We sat in a park to talk things over and decided there was nothing to do but wait. The uncertainty of things is the worst experience – whatever we do is guess work; we don’t know whether to cash all the cheques we can before the banks stop paying (which we expect) or get just enough for present needs, so not to have a lot of worthless paper to change if we should leave Germany suddenly. We decided to get it only as we needed it and that proved to be the right thing to do.
Looks like the boys were stranded in good company. Later in the story, you will learn that meeting these other Americans was a fortuitous event. Christian Heurich was a German immigrant who started the Heurich Brewing company in Washington DC. It was originally located near Dupont Circle but later expanded to a larger facility in Foggy Bottom, which is now the site of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Christian Heurich’s mansion located on New Hampshire Avenue near Dupont Circle in DC has been converted to a museum and is open for tours – Thursday through Saturday. (Reservations are recommended). It is also used for beer tastings and other special events. I definitely want to plan my next trip to DC around an event there. Here’s a link.
In the afternoon we started out to look for a bath. The place we had seen advertised had closed down their pool, so we went around to the YMCA (Christliches Verein Junge Manner). They had no swimming pool, but the porter who spoke fine English, having lived in England a year, took us all over the building and told us a great deal about it. The building is a beauty, 5 years old, cost two million marks. The membership is only 50 pfennigs (12 cents) a month and it is for young men who need it, if they can’t afford the membership fee someone pays it for them.
The rooms in the YMCA were very nice and almost as cheap as where we were, but we didn’t think it would be of enough advantage to move. We talked with one of the secretaries who expected to go next day to fight the Russians, and many of the other secretaries had already gone. The assembly hall was quite a large room with a gallery and pipe organ, but instead of chairs or seats they had tables so people could eat and drink while they were at meeting.
We had a dandy shower bath with soap, towel and individual dressing room at one of the city baths right in the wall, for 10pf ( 2 ½ cents). They have several of these baths around town, another thing America could very well adopt. I think we would use them more than the average German does too. Bruce L’s friend Kramer says you can tell the day of the week in a crowd of Germans by the smell. This was the first real bath we had had since landing, and we felt like new. Started to walk around the wall, eating apples, came to a place where the farmers were bringing their horses to turn them over to the army. We stopped a second to watch and an officer came right up to us and we were arrested again. He took us in a laundry on the bank of the river to get away from the crowd and asked us the usual questions, then led us to another building, and through several more to shake off the crowd. But they saw us when we came out on the street and followed yelling “spion” It made the officer angry but he couldn’t make them back down. He told them we were Americans and not English, but they wouldn’t believe it. We crossed a little foot bridge across the river and a man at the other end blocked the way after us so the kids couldn’t follow, but another crowd collected on the other side. He took us to a different station this time and we had a harder time proving our identity. Finally we showed him on a little map where we had been taken before and he called them up. As soon as he had described us they told him we were alright and he begged our pardon, and let us go, but we couldn’t enjoy the sights much that afternoon, try as we would. We were not the only ones to go through such experiences; we heard of lots of Americans who were arrested almost every day, and they complained to the Consul, so he got the burgemeister to issue an order to arrest strangers only on the strongest suspicions, and made it a misdemeanor for anyone to follow an officer with a prisoner. After that we weren’t annoyed much.