MY FRIEND B. called on me this morning and asked me if I would go to a theatre with him on Monday next.
“Oh, yes! Certainly, old man,” I replied. “Have you got an order then?”
He said: “No; they don’t give orders. We shall have to pay.”
“Pay! Pay to go into a theatre!” I answered in astonishment. “Oh, nonsense! You are joking.”
“My dear fellow,” he rejoined, “do you think I should suggest paying if it were possible to get in by any other means? But the people who run this theatre would not even understand what was meant by a ‘free list’, the uncivilised barbarians! It is of no use pretending to them that you are on the Press; they don’t think anything of the press. It is no good writing to the acting manager, because there is no acting manager. It would be a waste of time offering to exhibit bills, because they don’t have any bills — not of that sort. If you want to go in to see the show, you’ve got to pay. If you don’t pay, you stop outside; that’s their brutal rule.”
“Dear me,” I said, “what a very unpleasant arrangement! And whereabouts is this extraordinary theatre? I don’t think I can ever have been inside it. “
“I don’t think you have,” he replied; it is at Ober-Ammergau — first turning on the left after you leave Ober railway-station, fifty miles from Munich.”
“Um! Rather out of the way for a theatre,” I said. “I should not have thought an outlying house like that could have afforded to give itself airs.”
“The house holds seven thousand people,” answered my friend B., “and money is turned away at each performance. The first production is on Monday next. Will you come?”
I pondered for a moment, looked at my diary, and saw that Aunt Emma was coming to spend Saturday to Wednesday next with us, calculated that if I went I should miss her, and might not see her again for years, and decided that I would go.
To tell the truth, it was the journey more than the play that tempted me. To be a great traveller has always been one of my cherished ambitions. . . So we agreed to start on the Friday, and I am to meet him at Victoria Station at a quarter to eight in the evening.
The young journalist Jerome expects press tickets for the theatre, and is amazed that an “out of the way” theatre can afford not give them out. I am not sure that they are given out today; my newspaper certainly paid for mine. I shouldn’t think the 600 journalists that Farrer mentions in 1890 were so well-taken care of as we were in 2010, with press packs and media facilities to communicate reviews and stories around the world. The auditorium today seats only about 4500, although the season is much longer, and you’ll pay between €30-180 for your ticket.
What to take
I HAVE been a good deal worried today about the question of what luggage to take with me. I met a man this morning, and he said: “Oh, if you are going to Ober-ammergau, mind you take plenty of warm clothing with you. You’ll need all your winter things up there.”
What to take
He said that a friend of his had gone up there some years ago, and had not taken enough warm things with him, and had caught a chill there, and had come home and died. He said: “You be guided by me, and take plenty of warm things with you.”
I met another man later on, and he said: “I hear you are going abroad. Now, tell me, what part of Europe are you going to?”
I replied that I thought it was somewhere about the middle. He said: “Well, now, you take my advice, and get a calico suit and a sunshade. Never mind the look of the thing. You be comfortable. You’ve no idea of the heat on the Continent at this time of the year. English people will persist in travelling about the Continent in the same stuffy clothes that they wear at home. That’s how so many of them get sunstrokes, and are ruined for life.”
I went into the club, and there I met a friend of mine — a newspaper correspondent — who as travelled a good deal, and knows Europe pretty well. I told him what my two other friends had said, and asked him which I was to believe. He said:
“Well, as a matter of fact, they are both right. You see, up in those hilly districts, the weather changes very quickly. In the morning it may be blazing hot, and you will be melting, and in the evening you may be very glad of a flannel shirt and a fur coat.”
“Why, that is exactly the sort of weather we have in England!” I exclaimed. “If that’s all these foreigners can manage in their own country, what right have they to come over here, as they do, and grumble about our weather?”
“Well, as a matter of fact,” he replied, “they haven’t any right; but you can’t stop them — they will do it. No, you take my advice and be prepared for everything. Take a cool suit and some thin things, for if it’s hot, and plenty of warm things in case it is cold.”
When I got home I found Mrs. Briggs there, she having looked in to see how the baby was. She said: “Oh! If you’re going anywhere near Germany, you take a bit of soap with you.”
She said that Mr. Briggs had been called over to Germany once in a hurry, on business, and had forgotten to take a piece of soap with him . . . and came home so dirty that they didn’t know him, and mistook him for the man that was to come to see what was the matter with the kitchen boiler.
Mrs. Briggs also advised me to take some towels with me, as they give you such small towels to wipe on.
I went out after lunch, and met our vicar. He said: “Take a blanket with you.”
He said that not only did the German hotel-keepers never give you sufficient bedclothes to keep you warm of a night, but they never properly aired their sheets. He said that a young friend of his had gone for a tour through Germany once, and had slept in a damp bed, and had caught rheumatic fever, and had come home and died.
His wife joined us at this point. . . She said: “Oh! Take a pillow with you. They don’t give you any pillows — not like our pillows — and it’s so wretched, you’ll never get a decent night’s rest if you don’t take a pillow”. . .
I met our doctor a few yards further on. He said: “Don’t forget to take a bottle of brandy with you. It doesn’t take up much room, and, if you’re not used to German cooking, you’ll find it handy in the night.”
He added that the brandy you get at foreign hotels was mere poison, and that it was really unsafe to travel abroad without a bottle of brandy. He said that a simple thing like a bottle of brandy in your bag might often save your life.
Coming home, I ran against a literary friend of mind. He said: “You’ll have a goodish time in the train old fellow. Are you used to long railway journeys?”
I said: “Well, I’ve travelled down from London into the very heart of Surrey by a South Eastern Express.”
“Oh! That’s a mere nothing, compared with what you’ve got before you now,” he answered. “Look here, I’ll tell you a very good idea of how to pass the time. You take a chessboard with you and a set of men. You’ll thank me for telling you that!”
George dropped in during the evening. He said: “I’ll tell you one thing you’ll have to take with you, old man, and that’s a box of cigars and some tobacco.”
He said that the German cigar — the better class of German cigar — was of the brand that is technically known over here as the “Penny Pickwick — Spring Crop”; and he thought that I should not have time, during the short stay I contemplated making in the country, to acquire a taste for its flavour.
My sister-in-law came in later on in the evening . . . and brought with her a box with her about the size of a tea-chest. She said: “Now, you slip that in your bag: you’ll be glad of that. There’s everything there for making yourself a cup of tea.”
When B. calls in and sees what Jerome has assembled as his luggage, adding a camera, at the request of the secretary of the Photographic Club, who wants a negative of the statue of the dying gladiator in the Munich Sculpture Gallery, and a few things that he decides might be necessary — writing paper, a bottle of ink, a dictionary, a few books of reference, a few volumes of Goethe, a sponge, and a small portable bath — he is horrified. Jerome points out that most of the things are life-preserving: “If people go into Germany without these things, they come home and die.” B., “indifferent to danger and risk”, insists on a different approach: “a tooth-brush, a comb, a pair of socks, and a shirt. That’s all you’ll want.”
It is true that, when I first went to Germany, soap and towels weren’t standard issue for travellers: it was considered to be more hygienic to use your own; but now soap and towels will be there for you. The whiff of cigars is definitely a Victorian scent that today’s pilgrim will not miss, and your phone will be your camera, your laptop or iPad will be your writing paper, ink, reference books, even your Goethe.
The essence of pilgrimage is surely a willingness to travel light, with just the scallop-shell of quiet, and so on (not that quiet will be anything other than inner tranquillity on the train, at least). I contented myself with a small packet of tea and a vacuum flask, refilled with hot water by kindly people at stations or in the buffet cars. But, as you’ll read later on, the first man’s advice was one I should have heeded. I’ve never been colder in my life than during my short stay in Oberammergau.
How to get there
FINDING out and arranging our trains has been a fearful work. I have left the whole business with B. and he has lost two stone over it. I used to think at one time that my own dear native Bradshaw was a sufficiently hard nut for the human intellect to crack; or, to transpose the simile, that Bradshaw was sufficient to crack an ordinary human nut. But dear old Bradshaw is an axiom in Euclid for stone-wall obviousness, compared with a through Continental time-table. Every morning B. has sat down with the book before him, and, grasping his head between his hands, has tried to understand it without going mad.
How to get there
“Here we are,” he has said. “This is the train that will do for us. Leaves Munich at 1.45; gets to Heidelberg at 4 — just in time for a cup of tea.”
“Gets to Heidelberg at 4?” I exclaim. “Does the whole distance in two-and-a-quarter hours? Why, we were all night coming down!”
“Well, there you are,” he says, pointing to the time-table. “Munich, depart 1.45; Heidelberg, arrive 4.”
“Yes,” I say, looking over his shoulder; “but don’t you see the 4 is in thick type? That means 4 in the morning.”
“Oh, ah, yes,” he replies. “I never noticed that. Yes, of course. No! it can’t be that either. Why, that would make the journey fourteen hours. It can’t take fourteen hours. No, of course not. That’s not meant for thick type, that 4. That’s thin type got a little thick, that’s all.”
“Well, it can’t be 4 this afternoon,” I argue. “It must be 4 tomorrow afternoon! That’s just what a German express train would like to do — take a whole day over a six hour’s job!”
He puzzles for a while, and then breaks out with: “Oh! I see it now. How stupid of me! That train that gets to Heidelberg at 4 comes from Berlin.”
He seemed quite delighted with this discovery.
“What’s the good of it to us, then?” I ask.
That depresses him.
“No, it is not much good, I’m afraid,” he agrees. “It seems to go straight from Berlin to Heidelberg without stopping at Munich at all. Where then, where does the 1.45 go to? It must go somewhere.”
Five minutes more elapse, and then he exclaims: “Drat this 1.45! It doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Munich depart 1.45, and that’s all. It must go somewhere!”
Apparently, however, it does not. It seems to be a train that starts out from Munich at 1.45, and goes off on the loose. Possibly, it is a young, romantic train, fond of mystery. It won’t say where it’s going to. It probably does not even know itself. It goes off in search of adventure.
“I shall start off,” it says to itself, “at 1.45 punctually, and just go on anyhow, without thinking about it, and see where I get to.”
Or maybe it is a conceited, headstrong young train. It will not be guided or advised. The traffic superintendent wants it to go to St. Petersburg or to Paris. The old-grey-headed station-master argues with it, and tries to persuade it to go to Constantinople, or even to Jerusalem if it likes that better — urges it to, at all events, make up its mind where it is going — warns it of the danger to young trains of having no fixed aim or object in life. . .
B. abandons this 1.45 as hopeless and incorrigible, and continues his search.
“Hulloa! What’ this?” he exclaims. “How will this do us? Leaves Munich at 4, gets to Heidelberg at 4.15. That’s quick work. Something wrong there. That won’t do. You can’t get from Munich to Heidelberg in a quarter of an hour. Oh! I see it. That 4 o’clock goes to Brussels, and then on to Heidelberg afterwards. Gets in there at 4.15 tomorrow, I suppose. I wonder why it goes round by Brussels, though? Then it seems to stop at Prague for ever so long. Oh, damn this timetable!”
Then he finds another train that starts at 2.15, and seems to be an ideal train. He gets quite enthusiastic over this train.
“This is the train for us, old man,” he says. “This is a splendid train, really. It doesn’t stop anywhere.”
“Does it get anywhere?” I ask.
“Of course it gets somewhere,” he replies indignantly. “It’s an express! Munich,” he murmurs, tracing its course through the timetable, “depart 2.15. First and second class only. Nuremberg? No; it doesn’t stop at Nuremberg. Wurtzburg? No. Frankfort for Strasburg. No. Cologne, Antwerp, Calais? Well, where does it stop? Confound it! It must stop somewhere. Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen? No. Upon my soul, this is another train that does not go anywhere! It starts from Munich at 2.15, and that’s all. It doesn’t do anything else.”
It seems to be a habit of Munich trains to start off in this purposeless way. Apparently, their sole object is to get away from the town. They don’t care where they go to; they don’t care what becomes of them, so long as they escape from Munich.
“For heaven’s sake,” they say to themselves, “let us get away from this place. Don’t let us bother about where we shall go; we can decide that when we are once fairly outside. Let’s get out of Munich; that’s the great thing.”
B. begins to grow quite frightened. He says: “We shall never be able to leave this city. There are no trains out of Munich at all. It’s a plot to keep us here, that’s what it is. We shall never be able to get away. We shall never see dear old England again!”
I can well relate to B.’s perplexity if I transpose the internet for his Bradshaw. There’s no doubt that, rightly or wrongly, the British now envy the Germans their famously fast, efficient, and punctual train service as much as Jerome K. Jerome mocks it unmercifully as quite the opposite.
Leaving someone far more skilled than I to negotiate the purchase of my ticket on the internet, all I had to do was present myself at Eurostar punctually and with my passport, and the rest was taken care of, from the couchette that I boarded in Paris to the very smart little train that leaves Munich for Oberammergau, climbing through the loveliest scenery. The sadness is that whenever the next British pilgrims set out for Oberammergau, they may well have had to obtain a visa to do so. Some things don’t change for the better.
The pilgrims find a railway carriage containing luggage but no persons
I HAVE often read of a man’s better nature being suddenly awakened. The business is generally accomplished by an organ-grinder or a little child (I would back the latter, at all events – give it a fair chance – to awaken anything in this world that was not stone deaf, or that had not been dead for more than twenty-four hours); and if an organ-grinder or a little child had been around Ostend station that morning, things might have been different.
Just as we were in the middle of our villainy, the organ-grinder or the child would have struck up, and we should have burst into tears, and have rushed from the carriage, and have falled upon each other’s necks outside on the platform, and have wept, and waited for the next train.
As it was, after looking carefully round to see that nobody was watching us, we slipped quickly into the carriage, and, making room for ourselves among the luggage there, sat down and tried to look innocent and easy.
B. said that the best thing we could do, when the other people came, would be to pretend to be dead asleep, and too stupid to understand anything.
I replied that as far as I was concerned, I thought I could convey the desired impression without stooping to deceit at all, and prepared to make myself comfortable.
A few seconds later another man got into the carriage. He also made room for himself among the luggage and sat down.
“I am afraid that seat’s taken, sir,” said B. when he had recovered his surprise at the man’s coolness. “In fact, all the seats in this carriage are taken.”
“I can’t help that,” replied the ruffian, cynically. “I’ve got to get to Cologne some time today, and there seems no other way of doing it that I can see.”
“Yes, but so has the gentleman whose seat you have taken got to get there,” I remonstrated; “What about him?” You are thinking only of yourself!”
My sense of right and justice was beginning to assert itself, and I felt quite indignant with the fellow. Two minutes ago, as I have explained, I could contemplate the taking of another man’s seat with equanimity. Now, such an act seemed to me shameful. The truth is that my better nature never sleeps for long. Leave it alone and it wakens of its own accord. Heaven help me! I am a sinful, worldly man, I know; but there is good at the bottom of me. It wants hauling up, but it’s there.
This man had aroused it. I now saw the sinfulness of taking another passenger’s place in a railway-carriage.
But I could not make the other man see it. I felt that some service was due from me to Justice, in compensation of the wrong I had done here a few moments ago, and I argued most eloquently.
My rhetoric was, however, quite thrown away.
“Oh! It’s only a vice-consul,” he said: “here’s his name on the bag. There’s plenty of room for him in with the guard. “
It was no use my defending the sacred cause of Right before a man who held sentiments like that; so, having lodged a protest against his behaviour, and thus eased my conscience, I leant back and dozed the doze of the just.
Five minutes before the train started, the rightful owners of the carriage came up and crowded in. They seemed surprised at finding only five vacant seats available between seven of them, and commenced to quarrel vigorously among themselves.
B. an I and the unjust man in the corner tried to calm them, but passion ran too high at first for the voice of Reason to be heard. Each comingation of five, possible among them, accused he remaing two of endeavouring to obtain seats by fraud, and each one more than hinted that the other six were liars. …
Finding that there seemed to be no chance of their ever agreeing among themselves, they appealed to us. We unhesitatingly decided in havour of the five thinnest, who thereupon, evidently regarding the matter as finally settled, sat down, and told the other two to get out.
Devotees of Three Men in a Boat will remember with relish the unwitting success that the possessor a fine, smelly cheese had in discouraging passengers from entering their cubicle, or the technique of leaning out of the compartment’s window and beckoning in fellow-passengers with maniacal smiles. Part of the romance of overnight Continental train travel, though, is that you are still allocated a compartment for six, with a banquette each side, exceedingly upright as old-fashioned train seats ever were. At a given time, and usually far too early, the guard comes through the train, transformed from policeman to tender nursemaid, entering each compartment, pulling down the seat, pulling up the back rest, clearing the luggage rack, dispensing the narrowest, thinnest whitest sheets, inadequate pillow and cosy-looking scarlet blankets and wishing you all goodnight. How all six persons — usually an interesting assortment of strangers of all genders, nationalities and ages — then negotiate their change into night attire, common curfew, and arrangement of luggage, to settle into the intimacy of a night together, is always worth observation.
WE WASHED ourselves in the Rhine at Cologne (we had not had a wash since we had left our happy home in England). We started with the idea of washing ourselves at the hotel; but on seeing the basin and water and towel provided, I decided not to waste my time playing with them. As well might Hercules have attempted to tidy up the Augean stables with a squirt.
We appealed to the chambermaid. We explained to her that we wanted to wash — to clean ourselves — not to blow bubbles. Could we not have bigger basins and more water and more extensive towels? The chambermaid (a staid old lady of about fifty) did not think anything better could be done for us by the hotel fraternity of Cologne, and seemed to think the river was more what we wanted.
I fancied that the old soul was speaking sarcastically, but B. said “No” she was thinking of the baths alongside the river, and suggested that we should go there. I agreed. It seemed to me that the river — the Rhine — would, if anything could, meet the case. There ought to be plenty of water in it now, after the heavy spring rains.
When I saw it, I felt satisfied. I said to B: “That’s all right, old man; that’s the sort of thing we need. That is just the sized river I feel I can get myself clean in this afternoon.
I have heard a good deal in praise of the Rhine, and I am glad to be able to speak well of it myself. I found it most refreshing.
I was, however, sorry that we had washed in it afterwards. I have heard from friends who have travelled since in Germany that we completely spoiled that river for the rest of the season. Parties who usually go up the Rhine by steamer have, after looking at the river, gone by train this year. The boat agents have tried to persuade them that the Rhine is always that colour. . .
Washing in the train
IT IS difficult to wash in these little places, because the cars shake so; and when you have got both your hands and half your head in the basin, and are unable to protect yourself, the sides of the room, and the water-tap and the soap-dish, and other cowardly things, take a mean advantage of your helplessness to punch you as hard as ever they can; and when you back away from these, the door swings open and slaps you from behind.
I succeeded, however, in getting myself fairly wet all over, even if I did nothing else, and then I looked about for a towel. Of course, there was no towel. That is the trick. The idea of the railway authorities is to lure the passenger, by providing him with soap and water and a basin, into getting himself thoroughly soaked, and then to let it dawn on him that there is no towel. That is their notion of fun!
I thought of the handkerchiefs in my bag, but to get to them I should have to pass compartments containing ladies, and I was only in early morning dress.
So I had to wipe myself with a newspaper which I happened to have in my pocket, and a more unsatisfactory thing to dry oneself upon I cannot conceive.
I woke up B. when I got back to the carriage, and persuaded him to go and have a wash; and in listening to the distandt sound of his remarks when he likewise discovered that there was no towel, the recollection of my own discomfiture passed gentle away.
Ah! How true it is, as good people tell us that in thinking of the sorrows of others, we learn to forget our own!
Bathing in Heidleberg’s Hotel Royal
WE WERE each shown into a little marble bathroom in which I felt like a bit out of a picture by Alma Tadema.
The bath was very refreshing; but I should have enjoyed the whole thing much better if they had provided me with something more suitable to wipe upon than a thin linen sheet. There Germans hold very curious notions as to the needs and requirements of a wet man. I wish they would occasionally wash and bath themselves, and then they would, perhaps, obtain more practical ideas upon the subject. I have wiped upon a sheet in case of emergency, and so I have upon a pair of socks; but there is no doubt that the proper thing is a towel. To dry oneself upon a sheet needs special training and unsual agility. A Nautch Girl or a Dancing Dervish would, no doubt, get hrough the performance with credit. They would twirl the sheet gracefully round their head, draw it lightly across their back, twist it in waving folds round their legs, wrap themselves for a moment in its whilring maze, and then lightly skip away from it dry and smiling.
But that is not the manner in which the dripping, untaught Briton attempts to wipe himself upon a sheet… The great delight of the sheet, as a whole, is to trip him up whenever he attempts to move, so as to hear what he says when he sits down suddenly on the stone floor; and if it can throw him into the bath again just as he has finished wiping himself, it feels that life is worth living after all.
Remembering an indignant postcard from a niece on a school trip to Paris in the 1980s, I’ll admit that the British have always been appalled by Continental facilities. And, yes, even seasoned travllers could be caught out by the reluctance of Continental hotels to provide a towel or even soap. Even those of us who appreciated the fecal notes of Bouquet de Paris, along with coffee and garlic fried in butter, flowers, and baguettes, wouldn’t defend the pissoir and the interior facilities of the 1960s and 1970s as enticing. Perhaps Florence Nightingale, whose germ theory was outdated but whose sanitation measures were impeccable, and saved countless lives, raised the aspirations of sanitary ware in most British homes. Now her cleanliness-is-godliness dictum has been universally adopted by the Churches.
But today’s traveller will be ashamed of our rather unimaginative public facilities. Many councils have closed most of them, with the excuse of security. (They are costly to maintain.) The vast palaces of marble, sparkling to a mirror finish in most Continental public places, show our motorway sevices and hotels in a poor light, frankly. We’re only just beginning to catch up. Perhaps we need another edition of the Jonathan Routh 1969 bestseller, The Good Loo Guide; Where to go in London, to inspire us. I’d contribute the plush and mahogany splendour of the Saddlers’ Livery Company Hall.
As for the gymnastic challenge of washing on the sleeper down to Munich — well, yes. Nothing much has changed there. The most cunningly designed and immaculately presented space will quickly degenerate into a cesspit of human dirt, hair, excrement, vomit, as shaken-up human bodies attempt, with varying degrees of commitment, to leave the facilities as they find them. It’s part of the fun.
The pilgrim waits for B at Victoria station and falls to musing:
What a wonderful piece of Socialism modern civilisation has become! — not the Socialism of the so-called Socialists — a system modelled apparently upon the methods of the convict prison — a system under which each miserable sinner is to be compelled to labour, like a beast of burden, for no personal benefit to himself, but only for the good of the community — a world where there are to be no men, but only numbers — where there is to be no ambition and no hope and no fear, — but the Socialism of free men, working side by side in the common workshop, each one for the wage to which his skill and energy entitle him; the Socialism of responsible, thinking individuals, not of State-directed automata.
Here was I, in exchange for the result of some of my labour, going to be taken by Society for a treat, to the middle of Europe and back. Railway lines had been laid over the whole 700 or 800 miles to facilitate my progress; bridges had been built, and tunnels made; an army of engineers, and guards, and signal-men, and porters, and clerks were waiting to take charge of me, and to see to my comfort and safety. All I had to do was to tell Society (here represented by a railway booking-clerk) where I wanted to go, and to step into a carriage; all the rest would be done for me. Books and papers had been written and printed; so that if I wished to beguile the journey by reading, I could do so. At various places on the route, thoughtful Society had taken care to be ready for me with all kinds of refreshment (her sandwiches might be a little fresher, but maybe she thinks new bread injurious for me). When I am tired of travelling and want to rest, I find Society waiting for me with dinner and a comfortable bed, with hot and cold water to wash in and towels to wipe upon; . . . will look after me and take care of me and protect me like a mother — as no mother ever could.
All that she asks in return is, that I shall do the work she has given me to do. As a man works, so Society deals by him.
To me, Society says: “You sit at your desk and write, that is all I want you to do. You are not good for much, but you can spin out yards of what you and your friends, I suppose, call literature; and some people seem to enjoy reading it. Very well: you sit there and write this literature, or whatever it is, and keep your mind fixed on that. I will see to everything else for you. I will provide you with writing materials, and books of wit and humour, and paste and scissors, and everything else that may be necessary to you in your trade; and I will feed you and clothe you and lodge you, an I will take you about to places that you wish to go to; and I will see that you have plenty of tobacco, and all other things practicable that you may desire — provided that you work well. The more work you do, and the better work you do, the better I shall look after you. You write — that is all I want you to do.
“But,” I say to Society, “I don’t like work; I don’t want to work. Why should I be a slave and work?”
“All right,” answers Society, “don’t work. I’m not forcing you. All I say is, that if you don’t work for me, I shall not work for you. No work from you, no dinner from me — no holidays, no tobacco.”
And I decide to be a slave and work.
Society has no notion of paying all men equally. Her great object is to encourage brain. The man who merely works by his muscles she regards as very little superior to the horse or the ox, and provides for him just a little better. But the moment he begins to use his head, and from the labourer rises to the artisan, she beings to raise his wages.
Of course hers is a very imperfect method of encouraging thought. She is of the world, and takes a worldly standard of cleverness. To the shallow, showy writer, I fear, she generally pays far more than to the deep and brilliant thinking; and clever roguery seems often more to her liking than honest worth. But her scheme is a right and sound one; her aims and intentions are clear; her methods, on the whole, work fairly well; and every year she grows in judgment.
One day she will arrive at perfect wisdom, and will pay each man according to his deserts.
But do not be alarmed. This will not happen in our time.
My pilgrimage in 2010 began at Eurostar, King’s Cross, rather than Victoria, and those were the days when you could merely stroll into a station and buy a train ticket from a human being for a single price. For the next performance, the British, I presume, will also need a visa. Society has created a great deal more bureaucratic work for more people since 1890.
She has also complicated her old rough and ready methods of the sharing of wealth. Today’s armchair pilgrims are wondering urgently how well the taken-for-granted NHS workers are remunerated, and if she will remember and reward them better when this crisis is past and their value is forgotten. I don’t mean the populist “doctors and nurses” rhetoric, but all those who work for the NHS, cleaning, sorting, portering. But by the same token, aren’t we realising that doctors and nurses themselves are only as useful to us as their children’s minders and nannies and teachers are to them? And by extension, the anonymous Chinese producers of their car parts, the lorry drivers who bring petrol supplies, the food industry, and so on and on? Shall we remember that there are no privileged occupations, but that we are all dependent on one another?
The pilgrim prepares for sleep
TO THE blasé English bed-goer, accustomed all this life to the same old hackneyed style of bed night after night, there is something very pleasantly piquant about the experience of trying to sleep in a German bed. He does not know it is a bed at first. He thinks that someone has been going round the room, collecting all the sacks and cushions and anti-macassars and such articles that he has happened to find about, and has piled them up on a wooden tray ready for moving. He rings for the chambermaid and explains to her that she has shown him into the wrong room. He wanted a bedroom.
She says, “This is a bedroom.”
He says, “Where’s the bed?”
“There!” she says, pointing to the box on which the sacks and anti-macassars and cushions lie piled.
“That!” he cries. “How am I going to sleep in that?”
The chambermaid does not know how he is going to sleep there, having seen a gentleman go to sleep anywhere, and knowing how they set about; but suggests that he might try lying down flat, and shutting his eyes.
“But it is not long enough,” he says.
The chambermaid thinks he will be able to manage, if he tucks his legs up.
He sees that he will not get anything better, and that he must put up with it.
“Oh, very well!” he says. “Look sharp and get it made then.”
She says, “It is made.” . . . The girls assures him that there is no mistake about the matter at all. There is the bed, made according to German notions of how a bed should be made. He can make the best of it and try to go to sleep upon it, or he can be sulky and go to sleep on the floor.
He is very much surprised. It looks to him the sort of bed that a man would make for himself on coming home late from a party. But it is no use arguing the matter with the girl.
“All right,” he says; “bring me a pillow, and I’ll risk it!”
The chambermaid explains that there are two pillows on the bed already, indicating as she does so, two flat cushions, each one a yard square, placed one on top of the other at one end of the mixture.
“These!” exclaims the weary traveller, beginning to feel that he does not want to go to bed at all. “These are not pillows! I want something to put my head on; not a thing that comes down to the middle of my back! Don’t tell me that I’ve got to sleep on these things!”
But the girl does tell him so, and also implies that she has something else to do than to stand there all day talking bed-gossip with him.
“Well, just show me how to start,” he says, “which way you get into it, and then I won’t keep you any longer; I’ll puzzle out the rest for myself.”
She explains the trick to him and leaves, and he undresses and crawls in.
The pillows give him a good deal of worry. He does not know whether he is meant to sit on them or merely to lean up against them. In experimenting upon this point, he bumps his head against the top board of the bedstead. At this, he says, “Oh!” and shoots himself down to the bottom of the bed. Here all his ten toes simultaniously come into sharp contact with the board at the bottom.
Nothing irritates a man more than being rapped over the toes, especially if he feels that he has done nothing to deserve it. He says, “Oh, damn!” this time, and spasmodically doubles up his legs, thus giving his knees a violent blow against the board at the side fo the bed. (The German bedstead, be it remembered, is built in the form of a shallow, open box, and the victim is thus completely surrounded by solid pieces of wood with sharp edges. I do not know what species of wood it is that is employed. It is extremely hard, and gives forth a curious musical sound when struck sharply with a bone.)
After this he lies perfectly still for a while, wondering where he is going to be hit next. Find that nothing happens, he begins to regain confidence, and ventures to gently feel around with his left leg and take stock of his position.
For clothes, he has only a very thin blanket and sheet, and beneath these he feels decidedly chilly. The bed is warm enough, so far as it goes, but there is not enough of it. He draws it up round his chin, and then his feet begin to freeze. He pushes it down over his feet, and then all the top part of him shivers.
He tries to roll up into a ball, so as to get the whole of himself underneath it, but does not succeed; there is always some of him left outside in the cold….
Another vexation that he has to contend with is, that every time he moves a limb or breathes extra hard, the bed (which is only of down) tumbles off on to the florr.
You cannot lean out of a German bed to pick up anything off the floor, owing to its box-like formation; so he has to scramble out after it, and of course every time he does this he barks both his shins twice against the sides of the bed.
When he has performed this feat for about the tenth time, he concludes that it was madness for him, a mere raw amateur at the business to think that he could manage a complicated, tricky bed of this sort, that must take even an experienced man all he knows to sleep in it; and gets out and camps on the floor.
Almost all the entries in the pilgrim’s diary of 1890 are immediately recognisable to the frustrated pilgrim of 2020, except the astonishment at the German bed. The box frame and Federbett that confronted Jerome K Jerome were exactly the alarming facility offered to me in 1968, as a nine-year old on my first visit to Austria: the square pillows, common in France too, and then a gap and a towering white marshmallow dome of feathers, which I had never seen before, all presented in a wooden frame that you had to climb into, after carefully shaking the dome out into a rectangular Federbett that nestled lightly round you all night, and reappeared the next day, beaten by the chambermaid into the perfect snowball at the end of the bed. We were converted. My mother somehow discovered and ordered us both a crisp, salmon-pink “Puffin Downlette” as soon as we were home, and set about sewing covers for them.
By 2010, of course, it is woollen blankets and candlewick bedspreads that are rare sights. The Western world has wholeheartedly adopted the Federbett or duvet, albeit in its modern, rectangular, quilted form. But the German bed-frame has been superseded by the standard divan bed, and the English rectangular pillow.
Silence and church-visiting
Both pilgrims visit Cologne Cathedral, despite B.’s susceptibilities to visiting churches
Church visiting, and the alternative
WE HAD half-an-hour to spare between dinner and the starting of our train, and B. suggested that we should go into the cathedral. That is B.’s one weakness, churches. I have the greatest difficulty in getting him past a church-door. We are walking along a street, arm in arm, talking as rationally and even as virtuously as need be, when all at once I find that B. has become silent and abstracted.
I know what it is; he has caught sight of a church. I pretend not to notice any change in him, and endeavour to hurry him on. He lags more and more behind, however, and at last stops altogether.
“Come, come,” I say to him encouragingly, “pull yourself together, and be a man. Don’t think about it. Put it behind you, and determine that you won’t be conquered. Come, we shall be round the corner in another minute, where you won’t be able to see it. Take my hand, and let’s run!”
He makes a few feeble steps forward with me, and then stops again.
“It’s no good, old man,” he says, with a sickly smile, so full of pathos that it is impossible to find it in one’s heart to feel anything but pity for him. “I can’t help it. I have given way to this sort of thing too long. It is too late to reform now. You go on and get a drink somewhere; I’ll join you again in a few minutes. Don’t worry about me; it’s no good.”
And back he goes with tottering steps, while I sadly pass on into the nearest café, and, over a glass of absinthe or cognac, thank Providence that I learnt to control my craving for churches in early youth, and so am not now like this poor B.
In a little while he comes in, and sits down beside me. There is a wild, unhealthy excitement in his eye, and, under a defiant air of unnatural gaiety, he attempts to hid his consciousness of guilt.
“It was a lovely altar-cloth,” he whispers to me, with an enthusiasm that only makes one sorrow for him the more, so utterly impossible does it cause all hope of cure to seem. “And they’ve got a coffin in the north crypt that is simply a poem. I never enjoyed a sarcophagus more in all my life.”
I do not say much at the time; it would be useless. But after the day is done, and we are standing by our little beds, and all around is as silent as one can expect it to be in an hotel where people seem to be arriving all night long with heavy luggage, and to be all, more or less, in trouble, I argue with him, and gently reprove him. . .
Not knowing, then, that this weakness of his for churches was so strong, I made no objection to the proposed visit to Cologne Cathedral, and, accordingly, towards it we wended our way. B. has seen it before, and knows all about it. He tells me it was begun about the middle of the thirteenth century and was only completed ten years ago. It seems to me that there must have been gross delay on the part of the builder. Why, a plumber would be ashamed to take as long as that over a job! . .
There is little be said about a cathedral. Except to the professional sightseer, one is very much like another. Their beauty to me lies, not in the paintings and sculpture they give houseroom to, nor in the bones and bric-a-brac piled up in their cellars, but in themselves — their echoing vastness, their deep silence.
Above the little homes of men, above the noisy teeming streets, they rise like some soft strain of perfect music, clearing its way aid the jangle of discordant notes. Here, where the voices of the world sound faint; here, where the city’s glamour comes not it, it is good to rest for a while — if only the pestering guides would leave one alone — and think.
There is much help in Silence. From its touch we gain renewed life. Silence is to the Soul what his Mother Earth was to Briareus. From contact with it we rise healed of our hurts and strengthened for the fight.
Amid the babel of the schools we stand bewildered and affrighted. Silence gives us peace and hope. Silence teaches us no creed, only that God’s arms are round the universe.
How small and unimportant seem all our fretful troubls and ambitions when we stand with them in our hand before the great calm face of Silence! We smile at them ourselves, and are ashamed.
Silence teaches us how little we are – how great we are. In the world’s market-places we are tinkers, tailors, apothecaries, thieves — respectable or otherwise, as the case may be — mere atoms of a mighty machine — mere insects in a vast hive.
It is only in Silence that it comes home to us that we are something much greater than this — that we are men, with all the universe and all eternity before us.
It is in Silence we hear the voice of Truth. The temples and the marts of men echo all night and day to the clamour of lies and shams and quackeries. But in Silence falsehood cannot live. You cannot float a lie on Silence. A lie has to be puffed aloft, and kept from falling by men’s breath. Leave a lie on the bosom of Silence, and it sinks. A truth floats there fair and stately, like some stout ship upon a deep ocean. Silence buoys her up lovingly, for all men to see. Not until she has grown worn-out and rotten, and is no longer a truth, will the waters of Silence close over her.
Silence is the only real thing we can lay hold of in this world of passing dreams. Time is a shadow that will vanish with the twilight of humanity; but Silence is a part of the eternal. All things that are true and lasting have been taught to men’s hearts by Silence.
Among all nations, there should be vast temples raised where the people might worship Silence and listen to it, for it is the voice of God.
These fair churches and cathedrals that men have reared around them throughout the world, have been built as homes for mere creeds — this one for Protestantism, that one for Romanism, another for Mahomedanism. But God’s Silence dwells in all alike, only driven forth at times by the tinkling of bells and the mumbling of prayers; and, in them, it is good to sit awhile and have communion with her.
The silence that Jerome K. Jerome speaks of is not the absence of noise, but a conscious listening to a voice that is completely different from the cacophony of voices, welcome or not, within our minds. That is why so many people find it vital to tune into it within the walls of empty churches.
What the 1890 pilgrims saw
THE crowded audience that sat beside us in the theatre yesterday saw Christ of Nazareth nearer than any book, however inspired, could bring him to them; clearer than any words, however eloquent, could show him. They saw the sorrow of his patient face. They heard his deep tones calling to them. They saw him in the hour of his so-called triumph, wending his way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, the multitude that thronged round him waving their branches of green palms and shouting loud hosannas.
What a poor scene of triumph! — a poor-clad, pale-faced man, mounted upon the back of a shuffling, unwilling little grey donkey, passing slowly through the byways of a city, busy upon other things. Beside him, a little band of worn, anxious men, clad in thread-bare garments — fishermen, petty clerks, and the like; and, following, a noisy rabble, shouting as crowds in all lands and in all times shout, and as dogs bark, they know not why — because others are shouting, or barking. And that scene marks the highest triumph won while he lived on earth by the village carpenter of Galilee, about whom the world has been fighting and thinking and talking so hard for the last eighteen hundred years.
They saw him, angry and indignant, driving out the desecrators from the temple. They saw the rabble, who a few brief moments before had followed him, shouting “Hosanna,” slinking away from him to shout with his foes.
They saw the high priests in their robes of white, with the rabbis and doctors, all the great and learned in the land, sitting late into the night beneath the vaulted roof of the Sanhedrin’s council-hall, plotting his death.
They saw him supping with his disciples in the house of Simon. They saw poor, loving Mary Magdalen wash his feet with costly ointment, that might have been sold for three hundred pence, and the money given to the poor — “and us”. Judas was so thoughtful of the poor, so eager that other people should sell all they had, and give the money to the poor — “and us”. Methinks that, even in this nineteenth century, one can still hear from any a tub and platform the voice of Judas, complaining of all waste, and pleading for the poor — “and us”.
They were present at the parting of Mary and Jesus by Bethany, and it will be many a day before the memory of that scene ceases to vibrate in their hearts. It is the scene that brings the humanness of the great tragedy most closely home to us. Jesus is going to face sorrow and death at Jerusalem. Mary’s instinct tells her that this is so, and she pleads to him to stay.
Poor Mary! To others he is the Christ, the Saviour of mankind, setting forth upon his mighty mission to redeem the world. To loving Mary Mother, he is her son: the baby she has suckled at her breast, the little one she has crooned to sleep upon her lap, whose little cheek has lain against her heart, whose little feet have made sweet music through the poor home at Bethany: he is her boy, her child; she would wrap her mother’s arms around him, and hold him safe against all the world, against even heaven itself.
Never, in any human drama, have I witnessed a more moving scene than this. Never has the voice of any actress (and I have seen some of the greatest, if any great ones are living) stirred my heart as did the voice of Rosa Lang, the Burgomaster’s daughter. It was not the voice of one woman, it was the voice of Motherdom, gathered together from the world over. . . As I sat in the theatre, listening to the wondrous tones of this mountain peasant-woman . . . it seemed to me that I was indeed listening to the voice of “the mother of the world”, of mother Nature herself.
They saw him, as they had often seen him in pictures, sitting for the last time with his disciples at supper. But yesterday they saw him, not a mute, moveless figure, posed in conventional, meaningless attitude, but a living, loving man, sitting in fellowship with the dear friends that against all the world had believed in him, and had followed his poor fortunes, talking with them for the last sweet time, comforting them.
They heard him bless the bread and wine that they themselves to this day take in remembrance of him.
They saw his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the human shrinking from the cup of pain. They saw the false friend Judas betray him with a kiss. . .
They saw him, pale and silent, dragged now before the priests of his own countrymen, and now before the Roman Governor, while the voice of the people — the people who had cried “Hosanna” to him — shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They saw him bleeding from the crown of thorns. They saw him, still followed by the barking mob, sink beneath the burden of his cross. They saw the woman wipe the bloody sweat from off his face.
They saw the last, long, silent look between the mother and the son, as, journeying upward to his death, he passed her in the narrow way through which he once had ridden in brief-lived triumph. They heard her low sob as she turned away, leaning on Mary Magdalene. They saw him nailed upon the cross between the thieves. They saw the blood start from his side. They heard his last cry to his God. They saw him rise victorious over death!
Jerome’s comment about Rosa Lang is another reminder that the play offers us the universal within the particular. But this is not his own voice: the style moves from an authentically robust defence of the Oberammergau project — “Christ was a common man. He lived a common life. . .” — to the high-flown prose that Victorian readers would have expected. This section is printed in inverted commas, as what he would write as a reviewer. Reading it is a curiously post-modern experience, but it accords precisely with the reaction of this 2010 pilgrim.
Jerome’s appreciation of the naturalism of the play, however, was not shared by me. I had recently seen an amateur performance of Godspell and would soon see another of Jesus Christ, Superstar. In comparison with the human naturalism of both of the musicals, the Passionspiele present the Passion with the luxurious richness and devotion of an Old Master painting, in contrast with the lively humanity of a Craigie Aitchison crucifixion, or the powerful violence of the Coventry Cathedral crucifix. That is not to say that one portrayal is better than another, but the devotion and professionalism of Oberammergau (and those poor rags cost the wardrobe department 1400 Marks that year, Ackermann tells us proudly — because only the best is good enough) lacked something that I found inspiring in the others.
The Passion Play?
The pilgrims consider
I am lying in bed, or, to speak more truthfully, I am sitting up on a green satin, lace-covered pillow, writing these notes. A green satin, lace-covered bed is on the floor beside me. It is about eleven o’clock in the morning. B. is sitting up in his bed a few feet off, smoking a pipe. . .
It is very pleasant here. An overflow performance is being given in the theatre to-day for the benefit of those people who could not gain admittance yesterday, and, through the open windows, we can hear the rhythmic chant of the chorus. Mellowed by the distance, the wailing cadence of the plaintive songs, mingled with the shrill Haydnistic strains of the orchestra, falls with a mournful sweetness on our ears.
We ourselves saw the play yesterday, and we are now discussing it. I am explaining to B. the difficulty I experience in writing an account of it for my diary. I tell him that I really do not know what to say about it.
He smokes for a little while in silence, and then, taking the pipe from his lips, he says:
“Does it matter very much what you say about it?”
I find much relief in that thought. It at once lifts from my shoulders the oppressive feeling of responsibility that was weighing me down. After all, what does it matter what I say? What does it matter what any of us says about anything? Nobody takes much notice of it, luckily for everybody. This reflection must be of great comfort to editors and critics. A conscientious man who really felt that his words would carry weight and influence with them would be almost afraid to speak at all. It is the man who knows that it will not make an ounce of difference to anyone what he says, that can grow eloquent and vehement and positive. It will not make any different to anybody or anything what I say about the Ober-Ammergau Passion Play. So I shall just say what I want to say.
But what do I want to say? [B. suggests that he should begin by describing Oberammergau, and then the origins of the Passion Play.]
“Tell them that during the thirty years’ war a terrible plague (as if half a dozen different armies, marching up and down their country, fighting each other about the Lord only knows what, and living on them while doing it, was not plague enough) swept over Bavaria, devastating each town and hamlet. Of all the highland villages, Ober-Ammergau by means of a strictly enforced quarantine alone kept, for a while, the black foe at bay. No soul was allowed to leave the village; no living thing to enter it.
“But one dark night Caspar Shuchler, an inhabitant of Ober-Ammergau, who had been away working in the plague-stricken neighbouring village of Eschenlohe, creeping low on his belly, passed the drowsy sentinels, and gained his home, and saw what for many a day he had been hungering for — a sight of his wife and bairns. It was a selfish act to do, and he and his fellow-villagers paid dearly for it. Three days after he had entered his house he and all his family lay dead, and the plague was raging through the valley, and nothing seemed able to stay its course.
“When human means fail, we feel it is only fair to give Heaven a chance. The good people who dwelt by the side of the Ammer vowed that, if the plague left them, they would, every ten years, perform a Passion Play. The celestial powers seem to have at once closed with this offer. The plague disappeared as if by magic, and every recurring tenth year since, the Ober-Ammergauites have kept their promise and played their Passion Play.
They act it to this day as a pious observance. Before each performance all the characters gather together on the stage around their pastor, and, kneeling, pray for a blessing upon the work then about to commence. The profits that are made, after paying the performers a wage that just compensates them for their loss of time — wood-carver Maier, who plays the Christ, only receives about fifty pounds for the whole of the thirty or so performances given during the season, so say nothing of the winter’s rehearsals — is put aside for the benefit of the community, and the rest for the benefit of the Church.
From burgomaster down to shepherd lad, from the Mary and the Jesus down to the meanest super, all work for the love of their religion, not for money. Each one feels that he is helping forward the cause of Christianity.”
“And I could also speak of grand old Daisenberger, the gentle, simple old priest, ‘the father of the valley,’ who now lies in silence among his children that he loved so well. It was he, you know, that shaped the rude burlesque of a coarser age into the impressive reverential drama that we saw yesterday. . .”
“Yes,” assented B. “You can put in that if you like. There is no harm in it. And then you can go on to speak of the play itself, and give your impressions of it. Never mind their being silly. They will be all the better for that. Silly remarks are generally more interesting than sensible ones” . . . “Come,” he says, kindly, trying to lead me on, “what did you think about it?”
“Well,” I reply, after musing for a while,” I think that a play of eighteen acts and some forty scenes, which commences at eight o’clock in the morning, and continues, with an interval of an hour and a half for dinner, until six o’clock in the evening, is too long. I think the piece wants cutting.”
The play now runs from 2.30 to 10 p.m., but I was unprepared for two things, and none of us, in 2010, were prepared for the very coldest May on record. That year, Martin Norz, twice Jesus, must have been relieved to be recast as Judas, because the two new Jesuses (there are two chosen each time now, as there are two Marys), Frederik Mayet and Andreas Richter, hung naked on the cross, in a desperate cold that had the cosily-wrapped audience racked. They did it without once shivering, or showing, in the dead Christ, the slightest tremor. Trembling for their survival, that was easily what impressed me most about the whole performance.
I was also unprepared for a vast audience that paid the most devout attention that I have ever seen; there were only two aisles for exit. I had a flask of hot tea with me, which mitigated the effects of exposure to begin with, but then presented me with a growing sense of discomfort. I looked along the row of rapt faces stretching far away to my right and left, and calculated the possibility of a dash through, a scramble over, a faint, a creeping under . . . but I could not bring myself to intrude this shamingly basic animal need on the once-in-a-lifetime spiritual ecstasy evinced by the strangers around me. In the end, I remembered Tycho Brahe, and gave up my soul to God and my body to death-by-ruptured-bladder.