At the little gasthaus at Pfalzburg the people appear to understand and anticipate an Englishman's gastronomic peculiarities, for the first time since leaving England I am confronted at the supper-table with excellent steak and tea.
It is raining next morning as I wheel over the rolling hills toward Saverne, a city nestling pleasantly in a little valley beyond those dark wooded heights ahead that form the eastern boundary of the valley of the Rhine. The road is good but hilly, and for several kilometres, before reaching Saverne, winds its way among the pine forests tortuously and steeply down from the elevated divide. The valley, dotted here and there with pleasant villages, is spread out like a marvellously beautiful picture, the ruins of several old castles on neighboring hill-tops adding a charm, as well as a dash of romance.
The rain pours down in torrents as I wheel into Saverne. I pause long enough to patronize a barber shop; also to procure an additional small wrench. Taking my nickelled monkey-wrench into a likely-looking hardware store, I ask the proprietor if he has anything similar. He examines it with lively interest, for, in comparison with the clumsy tools comprising his stock-in-trade, the wrench is as a watch-spring to an old horse-shoe. I purchase a rude tool that might have been fashioned on the anvil of a village blacksmith. From Saverne my road leads over another divide and down into the glorious valley of the Rhine, for a short distance through a narrow defile that reminds me somewhat of a canon in the Sierra Nevada foot-hills; but a fine, broad road, spread with a coating of surface-mud only by this morning's rain, prevents the comparison from assuming definite shape for a cycler. Extensive and beautifully terraced vineyards mark the eastern exit.
The road-beds of this country are hard enough for anything; but a certain proportion of clay in their composition makes a slippery coating in rainy weather. I enter the village of Marienheim and observe the first stork's nest, built on top of a chimney, that I have yet seen in Europe, though I saw plenty of them afterward. The parent stork is perched solemnly over her youthful brood, which one would naturally think would get smoke-dried. A short distance from Marlenheim I descry in the hazy distance the famous spire of Strasburg cathedral looming conspicuously above everything else in all the broad valley; and at 1.30 P.M. I wheel through the massive arched gateway forming part of the city's fortifications, and down the broad but roughly paved streets, the most mud-be-spattered object in all Strasburg. The fortifications surrounding the city are evidently intended strictly for business, and not merely for outward display. The railway station is one of the finest in Europe, and among other conspicuous improvements one notices steam tram-cars. While trundling through the city I am imperatively ordered off the sidewalk by the policeman; and when stopping to inquire of a respectable-looking Strasburger for the Appeuweir road, up steps an individual with one eye and a cast off military cap three sizes too small. After querying, "Appenweir. Englander?" he wheels "about face" with military precision doubtless thus impelled by the magic influence of his headgear - and beckons me to follow. Not knowing what better course to pursue I obey, and after threading the mazes of a dozen streets, composed of buildings ranging in architecture from the much gabled and not unpicturesque structures of mediaeval times to the modern brown-stone front, he pilots me outside the fortifications again, points up the Appenweir road, and after the never neglected formality of touching his cap and extending his palm, returns city-ward.
Crossing the Rhine over a pontoon bridge, I ride along level and, happily, rather less muddy roads, through pleasant suburban villages, near one of which I meet a company of soldiers in undress uniform, strung out carelessly along the road, as though returning from a tramp into the country. As I approach them, pedalling laboriously against a stiff head wind, both myself and the bicycle fairly yellow with clay, both officers and soldiers begin to laugh in a good-natured, bantering sort of manner, and a round dozen of them sing out in chorus "Ah! ah! der Englander." and as I reply, "Yah! yah." in response, and smile as I wheel past them, the laughing and banter go all along the line. The sight of an "Englander" on one of his rambling expeditions of adventure furnishes much amusement to the average German, who, while he cannot help admiring the spirit of enterprise that impels him, fails to comprehend where the enjoyment can possibly come in. The average German would much rather loll around, sipping wine or beer, and smoking cigarettes, than impel a bicycle across a continent.
A few miles eastward of the Rhine another grim fortress frowns upon peaceful village and broad, green meads, and off yonder to the right is yet another; sure enough, this Franco-German frontier is one vast military camp, with forts, and soldiers, and munitions of war everywhere. When I crossed the Rhine I left Lower Alsace, and am now penetrating the middle Rhine region, where villages are picturesque clusters of gabled cottages - a contrast to the shapeless and ancient-looking stone structures of the French villages. The difference also extends to the inhabitants; the peasant women of France, in either real or affected modesty, would usually pretend not to notice anything extraordinary as I wheeled past, but upon looking back they would almost invariably be seen standing and gazing after my receding figure with unmistakable interest; but the women of these Rhine villages burst out into merry peals of laughter.
Rolling over fair roads into the village of Oberkirch, I conclude to remain for the night, and the first thing undertaken is to disburden the bicycle of its covering of clay. The awkward-looking hostler comes around several times and eyes the proceedings with glances of genuine disapproval, doubtless thinking I am cleaning it myself instead of letting him swab it with a besom with the single purpose in view of dodging the inevitable tip. The proprietor can speak a few words of English. He puts his bald head out of the window above, and asks: "Pe you Herr Shtevens ?"
"Yah, yah," I reply.
" Do you go mit der veld around ?"
"Yah; I goes around mit the world."
"I shoust read about you mit der noospaper."
" Ah, indeed! what newspaper?"
"Die Frankfurter Zeitung. You go around mit der veld."
The landlord looks delighted to have for a guest the man who goes "mit der veld around," and spreads the news. During the evening several people of importance and position drop in to take a curious peep at me and my wheel.
A dampness about the knees, superinduced by wheeling in rubber leggings, causes me to seek the privilege of the kitchen fire upon arrival. After listening to the incessant chatter of the cook for a few moments, I suddenly dispense with all pantomime, and ask in purest English the privilege of drying my clothing in peace and tranquillity by the kitchen fire. The poor woman hurries out, and soon returns with her highly accomplished master, who, comprehending the situation, forthwith tenders me the loan of his Sunday pantaloons for the evening; which offer I gladly accept, notwithstanding the wide disproportion in their size and mine, the landlord being, horizontally, a very large person.
Oberkirch is a pretty village at the entrance to the narrow and charming valley of the River Bench, up which my route leads, into the fir-clad heights of the Black Forest. A few miles farther up the valley I wheel through a small village that nestles amid surroundings the loveliest I have yet seen. Dark, frowning firs intermingled with the lighter green of other vegetation crown the surrounding spurs of the Knibis Mountains; vineyards, small fields of waving rye, and green meadow cover the lower slopes with variegated beauty, at the foot of which huddles the cluster of pretty cottages amid scattered orchards of blossoming fruit-trees. The cheery lute of the herders on the mountains, the carol of birds, and the merry music of dashing mountain-streams fill the fresh morning air with melody. All through this country there are apple-trees, pear-trees, cherry-trees In the fruit season one can scarce open his mouth out-doors without having the goddess Pomona pop in some delicious morsel. The poplar avenues of France have disappeared, but the road is frequently shaded for miles with fruit-trees. I never before saw a spot so lovely-certainly not in combination with a wellnigh perfect road for wheeling. On through Oppenau and Petersthal my way leads - this latter a place of growing importance as a summer resort, several commodious hotels with swimming-baths, mineral waters, etc., being already prepared to receive the anticipated influx of health and pleasure-seeking guests this coming summer - and then up, up, up among the dark pines leading over the Black Forest Mountains. Mile after mile of steep incline has now been trundled, following the Bench River to its source. Ere long the road I have lately traversed is visible far below, winding and twisting up the mountain-slopes. Groups of swarthy peasant women are carrying on their heads baskets of pine cones to the villages below. At a distance the sight of their bright red dresses among the sombre green of the pines is suggestive of the fairies with which legend has peopled the Black Forest.
The summit is reached at last, and two boundary posts apprise the traveller that on this wooded ridge he passes from Baden into Wurtemberg. The descent for miles is agreeably smooth and gradual; the mountain air blows cool and refreshing, with an odor of the pines; the scenery is Black Forest scenery, and what more could be possibly desired than this happy combination of circumstances?
Reaching Freudenstadt about noon, the mountain-climbing, the bracing air, and the pine fragrance cause me to give the good people at the gasthaus an impressive lesson in the effect of cycling on the human appetite. At every town and village I pass through in Wurtemberg the whole juvenile population collects around me in an incredibly short time. The natural impulse of the German small boy appears to be to start running after me, shouting and laughing immoderately, and when passing through some of the larger villages, it is no exaggeration to say that I have had two hundred small Germans, noisy and demonstrative, clattering along behind in their heavy wooden shoes.
Wurtemburg, by this route at least, is a decidedly hilly country, and the roads are far inferior to those of both England and France. There will be, perhaps, three kilometres of trundling up through wooded heights leading out of a small valley, then, after several kilometres over undulating, stony upland roads, a long and not always smooth descent into another small valley, this programme, several times repeated, constituting the journey of the clay. The small villages of the peasantry are frequently on the uplands, but the larger towns are invariably in the valleys, sheltered by wooded heights, perched among the crags of the most inaccessible of which are frequently seen the ruins of an old castle. Scores of little boys of eight or ten are breaking stones by the road-side, at which I somewhat marvel, since there is a compulsory school law in Germany; but perhaps to-day is a holiday; or maybe, after school hours, it is customary for these unhappy youngsters to repair to the road-sides and blister their hands with cracking flints.
"Hungry as a buzz-saw" I roll into the sleepy old town of Rothenburg at six o'clock, and, repairing to the principal hotel, order supper. Several flunkeys of different degrees of usefulness come in and bow obsequiously from time to time, as I sit around, expecting supper to appear every minute. At seven o'clock the waiter comes in, bows profoundly, and lays the table-cloth; at 7.15 he appears again, this time with a plate, knife, and fork, doing more bowing and scraping as he lays them on the table. Another half-hour rolls by, when, doubtless observing my growing impatience as he happens in at intervals to close a shutter or re-regulate the gas, he produces a small illustrated paper, and, bowing profoundly; lays it before me. I feel very much like making him swallow it, but resigning myself to what appears to be inevitable fate, I wait and wait, and at precisely 8.15 he produces a plate of soup; at 8.30 the kalbscotolet is brought on, and at 8.45 a small plate of mixed biscuits. During the meal I call for another piece of bread, and behold there is a hurrying to and fro, and a resounding of feet scurrying along the stone corridors of the rambling old building, and ten minutes later I receive a small roll. At the opposite end of the long table upon which I am writing some half-dozen ancient and honorable Rothenburgers are having what they doubtless consider a "howling time." Confronting each is a huge tankard of foaming lager, and the one doubtless enjoying himself the most and making the greatest success of exciting the envy and admiration of those around him is a certain ponderous individual who sits from hour to hour in a half comatose condition, barely keeping a large porcelain pipe from going out, and at fifteen-minute intervals taking a telling pull at the lager. Were it not for an occasional blink of the eyelids and the periodical visitation of the tankard to his lips, it would be difficult to tell whether he were awake or sleeping, the act of smoking being barely perceptible to the naked eye.
In the morning I am quite naturally afraid to order anything to eat here for fear of having to wait until mid-day, or thereabouts, before getting it; so, after being the unappreciative recipient of several more bows, more deferential and profound if anything than the bows of yesterday eve, I wheel twelve kilometres to Tubingen for breakfast. It showers occasionally during the forenoon, and after about thirty-five kilometres of hilly country it begins to descend in torrents, compelling me to follow the example of several peasants in seeking the shelter of a thick pine copse. We are soon driven out of it, however, and donning my gossamer rubber suit, I push on to Alberbergen, where I indulge in rye bread and milk, and otherwise while away the hours until three o'clock, when, the rain ceasing, I pull out through the mud for Blaubeuren.
Down the beautiful valley of one of the Danube's tributaries I ride on Sunday morning, pedalling to the music of Blaubeuren's church-bells. After waiting until ten o'clock, partly to allow the roads to dry a little, I conclude to wait no longer, and so pull out toward the important and quite beautiful city of Ulm. The character of the country now changes, and with it likewise the characteristics of the people, who verily seem to have stamped upon their features the peculiarities of the region they inhabit. My road eastward of Blaubeuren follows down a narrow, winding valley, beside the rippling head-waters of the Danube, and eighteen kilometres of variable road brings me to the strongly fortified city of Ulm, the place I should have reached yesterday, except for the inclemency of the weather, and where I cross from Wurtemberg into Bavaria. On the uninviting uplands of Central Wurtemberg one looks in vain among the peasant women for a prepossessing countenance or a graceful figure, but along the smiling valleys of Bavaria, the women, though usually with figures disproportionately broad, nevertheless carry themselves with a certain gracefulness; and, while far from the American or English idea of beautiful, are several degrees more so than their relatives of the part of Wilrtemberg I have traversed. I stop but a few minutes at Ulm, to test a mug of its lager and inquire the details of the road to Augsburg, yet during that short time I find myself an object of no little curiosity to the citizens, for the fame of my undertaking has pervaded Ulm.
The roads of Bavaria possess the one solitary merit of hardness, otherwise they would be simply abominable, the Bavarian idea of road-making evidently being to spread unlimited quantities of loose stones over the surface. For miles a wheelman is compelled to follow along narrow, wheel-worn tracks, incessantly dodging loose stones, or otherwise to pedal his way cautiously along the edges of the roadway. I am now wheeling through the greatest beer-drinking, sausage-consuming country in the world; hop- gardens are a prominent feature of the landscape, and long links of sausages are dangling in nearly every window. The quantities of these viands I see consumed to-day are something astonishing, though the celebration of the Whitsuntide holidays is probably augmentative of the amount.
The strains of instrumental music come floating over the level bottom of the Lech valley as, toward eventide, I approach the beautiful environs of Augsburg, and ride past several beer-gardens, where merry crowds of Augsburgers are congregated, quaffing foaming lager, eating sausages, and drinking inspiration from the music of military bands. "Where is the headquarters of the Augsburg Velocipede Club?" I inquire of a promising-looking youth as, after covering one hundred and twenty kilometres since ten o'clock, I wheel into the city. The club's headquarters are at a prominent cafe and beer-garden in the south-eastern suburbs, and repairing thither I find an accommodating individual who can speak English, and who willingly accepts the office of interpreter between me and the proprietor of the garden. Seated amid hundreds of soldiers, Augsburg civilians, and peasants from the surrounding country, and with them extracting genuine enjoyment from a tankard of foaming Augsburg lager, I am informed that most of the members of the club are celebrating the Whitsuntide holidays by touring about the surrounding country, but that I am very welcome to Augsburg, and I am conducted to the Hotel Mohrenkopf (Moor's Head Hotel), and invited to consider myself the guest of the club as long as I care to remain in Augsburg-the Bavarians are nothing if not practical.
Mr. Josef Kling, the president of the club, accompanies me as far out as Friedburg on Monday morning; it is the last day of the holidays, and the Bavarians are apparently bent on making the most of it. The suburban beer-gardens are already filled with people, and for some distance out of the city the roads are thronged with holiday-making Augsburgers repairing to various pleasure resorts in the neighboring country, and the peasantry streaming cityward from the villages, their faces beaming in anticipation of unlimited quantities of beer. About every tenth person among the outgoing Augsburgers is carrying an accordion; some playing merrily as they walk along, others preferring to carry theirs in blissful meditation on the good time in store immediately ahead, while a thoughtful majority have large umbrellas strapped to their backs. Music and song are heard on every hand, and as we wheel along together in silence, enforced by an ignorance of each other's language, whichever way one looks, people in holiday attire and holiday faces are moving hither and thither.
Some of the peasants are fearfully and wonderfully attired: the men wear high top-boots, polished from the sole to the uppermost hair's breadth of leather; black, broad-brimmed felt hats, frequently with a peacock's feather a yard long stuck through the band, the stem protruding forward, and the end of the feather behind; and their coats and waistcoats are adorned with long rows of large, ancestral buttons. I am now in the Swabian district, and these buttons that form so conspicuous a part of the holiday attire are made of silver coins, and not infrequently have been handed down from generation to generation for several centuries, they being, in fact, family heirlooms. The costumes of the Swabish peasant women are picturesque in the extreme: their finest dresses and that wondrous head-gear of brass, silver, or gold - the Schwabische Bauernfrauenhaube (Swabish farmer-woman hat) - being, like the buttons of the men, family heirlooms. Some of these wonderful ancestral dresses, I am told, contain no less than one hundred and fifty yards of heavy material, gathered and closely pleated in innumerable perpendicular folds, frequently over a foot thick, making the form therein incased appear ridiculously broad and squatty. The waistbands of the dresses are up in the region of the shoulder-blades; the upper portion of the sleeves are likewise padded out to fearful proportions.
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