S’lim Issue 2 – Berlin (April 2016)

Talking about the gray city.

Hard and Cold – Editorial
Neither Prenzlauer Berg Nor Marzahn: Lichtenberg-Hohenschönhausen – Sebastian Möring
Glückskarte von Berlin – Chow Yik
Entering Apartments – Maaret Louhelainen
Einige Berliner – Rurik Wasastjerna
Misplacements – Oscar Chan Yik Long
Excerpts from “Berlin” in The New Baedeker; Being – Casual Notes of an Irresponsible Traveller (1910) – Harry Thurston Peck

Excerpts from Berlin

The New Baedeker; Being – Casual Notes of an Irresponsible Traveller (1910) by Harry Thurston Peck

It is delightful of a summer morning to wake and hear the notes of a bugle in the Tiergarten below one’s window. Looking out, one sees a group of Uhlans riding between the strips of greenery, the little pennons fluttering from their lances, and their splendid horses moving all together. The perfect training of the German cavalry is wonderful. At a
distance they seem like a row of lead soldiers, cast all in exactly the same mould. Each lance is held at precisely the same angle. Each rider has precisely the same seat upon his steed. Each horse, even, lifts his hoofs at precisely the same instant as each other horse. And when you see fifty thousand cavalry and infantry at some great review on the Tempelhoferfeld, it is just the same. A column of a thousand men seems not to be composed of individuals. It might have been carved as a whole out of some blue and red material, and its movements are as regular as those of a machine. In fact, an intelligent machine is the ideal of the ruling German — not the highest possible ideal, but one of which the realisation is astonishing wherever you observe it — in the army, the police, the post-office, the universities, or the imperial court. Perhaps, after a little, you weary of its mechanism. Spontaneity, individuality, personality, have all been thrown into the hopper of a huge official mill, and have come out a finished product which lives and works and thinks according to a formula.

It is the eternal presence of the German soldier that differentiates Berlin from an American city of its size ; for all else here is modern — the ornate palace of the Reichstag, the glorified Luna Park display of the Siegesallee, the brand-new Protestant cathedral or Domkirche, the avenue of the Linden itself, lined with glittering shops and restaurants, the Leipzigerstrasse, crowded by trams and vans and bustling burghers. There is a brown-stone-front effect to the Schloss which recalls New York; and though the Schloss Bridge, with its statues overlooking the little river, is beautiful, it has not the effect of mellow age. To be sure, there are many places here which are redolent of history, but it is very modern history. One looks at the column in the Belle Alliance Platz, and it takes you no further back than Waterloo. The building that nestles under a great Mansard roof and encompasses a garden in the Wilhelmstrasse gives you a thrill when you remember that in its offices the mighty Bismarck, with his Reichshund crouched beside him, created a great empire, and gave law to Continental Europe until the day when his “ young master “ sent an aide-de-camp to turn him out. But this was only a few years ago. We all remember it; and the Man of Blood and Iron might himself appear upon the steps without seeming like a visitant from another world.

Yes, Berlin is very new — an infant among European capitals — and even old Fritz upon his lumpy horse is not an ancient, since his end came only after we Americans had won our freedom. Compare the German capital with Paris or Vienna or Brussels, not to speak of Rome, and it seems almost as new as Cincinnati or Detroit. The distinctive and pictorial interest of it comes first of all from the swarming soldiery — from the bright helmets, spiked or plumed, the glitter of gold lace, the blue and crimson uniforms, the white jack-boots, and the clank of sabres everywhere. A dozen times an hour you see
some gorgeous warrior stiffen suddenly and salute, as he perceives another of his kind somewhere within the regulation distance. It is most attractive for a time; and the bugle of the Uhlans in the morning is but the overture, the thrilling note with which the martial drama of the day begins.

Yet after a little while, the everlasting army officer gets upon your nerves. His lordly and all-conquering air, his supercilious pose, his assumption that he has the right of way, no matter where you meet him, his refusal to swerve a hair’s breadth as he stalks along the broadest trottoir — somehow you feel that there is a great deal too much of him. And then you hear stories of his insolence to women, his bullying of civilians, the grim tales of the barrack-yards where simple country boys are tortured by the drill-sergeant with inconceivable brutality, and now and then a darker and more sinister revelation of the moral rottenness which is festering like a plaguespot underneath the brave display of gorgeous uniforms and rigid ceremonial. It is not necessary to read
such books as that of Bilse or such journals as the Zukunft. Any German can relate to you out of his own personal knowledge things as sickening as these. And after that, the schneidig Offizier, as he swaggers by you on the Linden, nose in air, and regarding you with contempt, is not provocative of admiration. (pp. 59-63)

…Some day, if God is very good to me, I shall be sitting at my window in the Pariser Platz and looking out across the Tiergarten toward Charlottenburg. But there will be no Uhlans and no bugle calls. A strange hush will have fallen on Berlin. Shutters will be closed and curtains drawn along the Linden, and the whole great avenue will be as still as death. At the Brandenburger Thor a few mounted officers of the police in their dark uniforms will be sitting their horses, immobile and gloomy. (pp. 73-74)

…But now they have massed themselves about the Tor. Far as the eye can reach are regiments of sturdy infantry filling the whole vast area of the Tiergarten. Before them, surrounded by a brilliant staif , rides a general whose name is now perhaps unknown to Europe and the world, but who on that day will be the greatest man on earth. As he nears the Thor, the glorious tricolour Is unfurled, surmounted it may be — for who can tell — by the Napoleonic eagle. And then, following the rising thunder of a thousand drums, there bursts forth a crash of music — thrilling, maddening, divine. I feel the words that are behind:

Amour sacre de la patrie, Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs —
Liberie, Liberte cherie, Combats avec tes defensem-s !
Sous nos drapeux que la Victoire
Accoure a tes males accents; Que nos ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire !
Aux armes, citoyens ! Formez vos bataillons !
Marchons ! Qu’un sapg impur abreuve nos sillons !

And as the music swells and billows into a tempest of martial melody, rolling up the Linden and flooding it with a glorious sea of sound, I, at my window, shall lean far out and cry aloud with an infinite exultation:

Vive la France !
(pp. 74-75)