The German is a gourmand. There are still English farmers who, while telling you that farming spells starvation, enjoy their seven solid meals a day. Once a year there comes a week's feast throughout Russia, during which many deaths occur from the over-eating of pancakes; but this is a religious festival, and an exception. Taking him all round, the German as a trencherman stands pre-eminent among the nations of the earth. He rises early, and while dressing tosses off a few cups of coffee, together with half a dozen hot buttered rolls. But it is not until ten o'clock that he sits down to anything that can properly be called a meal. At one or half-past takes place his chief dinner. Of this he makes a business, sitting at it for a couple of hours. At four o'clock he goes to the cafe, and eats cakes and drinks chocolate. The evening he devotes to eating generally—not a set meal, or rarely, but a series of snacks,—a bottle of beer and a Belegete-semmel or two at seven, say; another bottle of beer and an Aufschnitt at the theatre between the acts; a small bottle of white wine and a Spiegeleier before going home; then a piece of cheese or sausage, washed down by more beer, previous to turning in for the night.
But he is no gourmet. French cooks and French prices are not the rule at his restaurant. His beer or his inexpensive native white wine he prefers to the most costly clarets or champagnes. And, indeed, it is well for him he does; for one is inclined to think that every time a French grower sells a bottle of wine to a German hotel- or shop-keeper, Sedan is rankling in his mind. It is a foolish revenge, seeing that it is not the German who as a rule drinks it; the punishment falls upon some innocent travelling Englishman. Maybe, however, the French dealer remembers also Waterloo, and feels that in any event he scores.
In Germany expensive entertainments are neither offered nor expected. Everything throughout the Fatherland is homely and friendly. The German has no costly sports to pay for, no showy establishment to maintain, no purse-proud circle to dress for. His chief pleasure, a seat at the opera or concert, can be had for a few marks; and his wife and daughters walk there in home-made dresses, with shawls over their heads. Indeed, throughout the country the absence of all ostentation is to English eyes quite refreshing. Private carriages are few and far between, and even the droschke is made use of only when the quicker and cleaner electric car is not available.
By such means the German retains his independence. The shopkeeper in Germany does not fawn upon his customers. I accompanied an English lady once on a shopping excursion in Munich. She had been accustomed to shopping in London and New York, and she grumbled at everything the man showed her. It was not that she was really dissatisfied; this was her method. She explained that she could get most things cheaper and better elsewhere; not that she really thought she could, merely she held it good for the shopkeeper to say this. She told him that his stock lacked taste—she did not mean to be offensive; as I have explained, it was her method;—that there was no variety about it; that it was not up to date; that it was commonplace; that it looked as if it would not wear. He did not argue with her; he did not contradict her. He put the things back into their respective boxes, replaced the boxes on their respective shelves, walked into the little parlour behind the shop, and closed the door.
"Isn't he ever coming back?" asked the lady, after a couple of minutes had elapsed.
Her tone did not imply a question, so much as an exclamation of mere impatience.
"I doubt it," I replied.
"Why not?" she asked, much astonished.
"I expect," I answered, "you have bored him. In all probability he is at this moment behind that door smoking a pipe and reading the paper."
"What an extraordinary shopkeeper!" said my friend, as she gathered her parcels together and indignantly walked out.
"It is their way," I explained. "There are the goods; if you want them, you can have them. If you do not want them, they would almost rather that you did not come and talk about them."
On another occasion I listened in the smoke-room of a German hotel to a small Englishman telling a tale which, had I been in his place, I should have kept to myself.
"It doesn't do," said the little Englishman, "to try and beat a German down. They don't seem to understand it. I saw a first edition of The Robbers in a shop in the Georg Platz. I went in and asked the price. It was a rum old chap behind the counter. He said: 'Twenty-five marks,' and went on reading. I told him I had seen a better copy only a few days before for twenty—one talks like that when one is bargaining; it is understood. He asked me 'Where?' I told him in a shop at Leipsig. He suggested my returning there and getting it; he did not seem to care whether I bought the book or whether I didn't. I said:
"'What's the least you will take for it?'
"'I have told you once,' he answered; 'twenty-five marks.' He was an irritable old chap.
"I said: 'It's not worth it.'
"'I never said it was, did I?' he snapped.
"I said: 'I'll give you ten marks for it.' I thought, maybe, he would end by taking twenty.
"He rose. I took it he was coming round the counter to get the book out. Instead, he came straight up to me. He was a biggish sort of man. He took me by the two shoulders, walked me out into the street, and closed the door behind me with a bang. I was never more surprised in all my life.
"Maybe the book was worth twenty-five marks," I suggested.
"Of course it was," he replied; "well worth it. But what a notion of business!"
If anything change the German character, it will be the German woman. She herself is changing rapidly—advancing, as we call it. Ten years ago no German woman caring for her reputation, hoping for a husband, would have dared to ride a bicycle: to-day they spin about the country in their thousands. The old folks shake their heads at them; but the young men, I notice, overtake them and ride beside them. Not long ago it was considered unwomanly in Germany for a lady to be able to do the outside edge. Her proper skating attitude was thought to be that of clinging limpness to some male relative. Now she practises eights in a corner by herself, until some young man comes along to help her. She plays tennis, and, from a point of safety, I have even noticed her driving a dog-cart.
Brilliantly educated she always has been. At eighteen she speaks two or three languages, and has forgotten more than the average Englishwoman has ever read. Hitherto, this education has been utterly useless to her. On marriage she has retired into the kitchen, and made haste to clear her brain of everything else, in order to leave room for bad cooking. But suppose it begins to dawn upon her that a woman need not sacrifice her whole existence to household drudgery any more than a man need make himself nothing else than a business machine. Suppose she develop an ambition to take part in the social and national life. Then the influence of such a partner, healthy in body and therefore vigorous in mind, is bound to be both lasting and far-reaching.
For it must be borne in mind that the German man is exceptionally sentimental, and most easily influenced by his women folk. It is said of him, he is the best of lovers, the worst of husbands. This has been the woman's fault. Once married, the German woman has done more than put romance behind her; she has taken a carpet-beater and driven it out of the house. As a girl, she never understood dressing; as a wife, she takes off such clothes even as she had, and proceeds to wrap herself up in any odd articles she may happen to find about the house; at all events, this is the impression she produces. The figure that might often be that of a Juno, the complexion that would sometimes do credit to a healthy angel, she proceeds of malice and intent to spoil. She sells her birth-right of admiration and devotion for a mess of sweets. Every afternoon you may see her at the cafe, loading herself with rich cream- covered cakes, washed down by copious draughts of chocolate. In a short time she becomes fat, pasty, placid, and utterly uninteresting.
When the German woman gives up her afternoon coffee and her evening beer, takes sufficient exercise to retain her shape, and continues to read after marriage something else than the cookery-book, the German Government will find it has a new and unknown force to deal with. And everywhere throughout Germany one is confronted by unmistakable signs that the old German Frauen are giving place to the newer Damen.
Concerning what will then happen one feels curious. For the German nation is still young, and its maturity is of importance to the world. They are a good people, a lovable people, who should help much to make the world better.
The worst that can be said against them is that they have their failings. They themselves do not know this; they consider themselves perfect, which is foolish of them. They even go so far as to think themselves superior to the Anglo-Saxon: this is incomprehensible. One feels they must be pretending.
"They have their points," said George; "but their tobacco is a national sin. I'm going to bed."
We rose, and leaning over the low stone parapet, watched the dancing lights upon the soft, dark river.
"It has been a pleasant Bummel, on the whole," said Harris; "I shall be glad to get back, and yet I am sorry it is over, if you understand me."
"What is a 'Bummel'?" said George. "How would you translate it?"
"A 'Bummel'," I explained, "I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started. Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days. But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on the running of the sand. We nod and smile to many as we pass; with some we stop and talk awhile; and with a few we walk a little way. We have been much interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant time, and are sorry when 'tis over."