THE STORY OF MY LIFE - VOLUME 3.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE - VOLUME 3.
THE STORY OF MY LIFE FROM CHILDHOOD TO MANHOOD
AFTER THE NIGHT OF REVOLUTION.
When we rose the next morning the firing was over. It was said that all
was quiet and we had the well-known proclamation "To my dear people of
Berlin." The horrors of the past night appeared indeed to have been
the result of an unfortunate mistake. The king himself explained that
the two shots by the troops which had been taken for the signal to
attack the people were from muskets which had gone off by some unlucky
accident--"thank God without injuring any one."
He closed with the words: "Listen to the paternal voice of your king
residents of my loyal and beautiful Berlin; forget what has occurred
as I will forget it with all my heart for the sake of the great future
which by the blessing of God will dawn for Prussia and through
Prussia for Germany. Your affectionate queen and faithful mother who
is very ill joins her heart-felt and tearful entreaties to mine."
The king also pledged his royal word that the troops would be withdrawn
as soon as the Berlin people were ready for peace and removed the
So peace seemed restored for there had been no fighting for hours and
we heard that the troops were already withdrawing.
Our departure for Dresden was out of the question--railway communication
had ceased. The bells which had sounded the tocsin all night with their
brazen tongues seemed after such furious exertion to have no strength
for summoning worshippers to church. All the houses of God were closed
Our longing to get out of doors grew to impatience which was destined to
be satisfied for our mother had a violent headache and we were sent to
get her usual medicine. We reached the Ring pharmacy--a little house in
the Potsdam Platz occupied by the well-known writer Max Ring--in a very
few minutes. We performed our errand with the utmost care gave the
medicine to the cook on our return and hurried off into the city.
When we had left the Mauer- and Friedrichstrasse behind our hearts began
to beat faster and what we saw on the rest of the way through the
longest street of Berlin as far as the Linden was of such a nature that
the mere thought of it awakens in me to this day an ardent hope that I
may never witness such sights again.
Rage hate and destruction had celebrated the maddest orgies on our
path and Death with passionate vehemence had swung his sharpest
scythe. Wild savagery and merciless destruction had blended with the
shrewdest deliberation and skillful knowledge in constructing the bars
which the German avoiding his own good familiar word called barricades.
An elderly gentleman who was explaining their construction pointed out
to us the ingenuity with which some of the barricades had been
strengthened for defence on the one side and left comparatively weak on
the other. Every trench dug where the paving was torn up had its object
and each heap of stones its particular design.
But the ordinary spectator needed a guide to recognize this. At the
first sight his attention was claimed by the confused medley and the
many heart-rending signs of the horrors practised by man on man.
Here was a pool of blood there a bearded corpse; here a blood-stained
weapon there another blackened with powder. Like a caldron where a
witch mixes all manner of strange things for a philter each barricade
consisted of every sort of rubbish together with objects originally
useful. All kinds of overturned vehicles from an omnibus to a
perambulator from a carriage to a hand-cart were everywhere to be
found. Wardrobes commodes chairs boards laths bookshelves bath
tubs and washtubs iron and wooden pipes were piled together and the
interstices filled with sacks of straw and rags mattresses and carriage
cushions. Whence came the planks yonder if they were not stripped from
the floor of some room? Children and promenaders had sat only yesterday
on those benches and the night before that oil lamps or gas flames had
burned on those lamp-posts. The sign-boards on top had invited customers
into shop or inn and the roll of carpet beneath was perhaps to have
covered some floor to-morrow. Oleander shrubs which I was to see later
in rocky vales of Greece or Algeria had possibly been put out here only
the day before into the spring sunshine. The warehouses of the capital
no doubt contained everything that could be needed no matter how or
when but Berlin seemed to me too small for all the trash that was
dragged out of the houses in that March night.
Bloody and terrible pictures rose before our minds and perhaps there was
no need of Assessor Geppert's calling to us sternly "Off home with you
boys!" to turn our feet in that direction.
So home we ran but stopped once for at a fountain either in
Leipzigstrasse or Potsdamstrasse a ball from the artillery had struck in
the wood-work and around it a firm hand had written with chalk in a
semicircle "TO MY DEAR PEOPLE OF BERLIN." On the lower part of the
fountain the king's proclamation to the citizens with the same heading
was posted up.
What a criticism upon it!
The address set forth that a band of miscreants principally foreigners
had by patent falsehood turned the affair in the Schlossplatz to the
furtherance of their evil designs and filled the heated minds of his
dear and faithful people of Berlin with thoughts of vengeance for blood
which was supposed to have been spilled. Thus they had become the
abominable authors of actual bloodshed.
The king really believed in this "band of miscreants" and attributed the
revolution which he called a 'coup monte' (premeditated affair) to
those wretches. His letters to Bunsen are proof of it.
Among those who read his address "To my Dear People of Berlin" there
were many who were wiser. There had really been no need of foreign
agitators to make them take up arms.
On the morning of the 18th their rejoicing and cheering came from full
hearts but when they saw or learned that the crowd had been fired into
on the Schlossplatz their already heated blood boiled over; the people
so long cheated of their rights who had been put off when half the rest
of Germany had their demands fulfilled could bear it no longer.
I must remind myself again that I am not writing a history of the Berlin
revolution. Nor would my own youthful impressions justify me in forming
an independent opinion as to the motives of that remarkable and somewhat
incomprehensible event; but with the assistance of friends more
intimately acquainted with the circumstances I have of late obtained
a not wholly superficial knowledge of them which with my own
recollections leads me to adopt the opinion of Heinrich von Sybel
concerning the much discussed and still unanswered question whether the
Berlin revolution was the result of a long-prepared conspiracy or the
spontaneous outburst of enthusiasm for liberty among the citizens. He
says: "Both these views are equally well founded for only the united
effort of the two forces could insure a possibility of victory."
Here again the great historian has found the true solution. It was for
the interest of the Poles the French and other revolutionary spirits
to bring about a bloody conflict in Berlin and there were many of them
in the capital that spring among whom must have been men who knew how to
build barricades and organize revolts; and it can hardly be doubted that
at the decisive moment they tried to enhance the vengefulness and
combativeness of the people by strong drink and fiery speeches perhaps
in regard to the dregs of the populace by money. There is weighty
evidence in support of this. But it is still more certain--and though I
was but eleven years old and brought up in a loyal atmosphere I too
felt and experienced it--that before the 18th of March the general
discontent was at the highest point. There was no controlling it.
If the chief of police Von Minutoli asserts that he knew beforehand the
hour when the revolution was to break out this is no special evidence of
foresight; for the first threat the citizens had ventured to utter
against the king was in the address drawn up at the sitting of the
popular assembly in Kopenickstrasse and couched in the following terms
"If this is granted us and granted at once then we will guarantee a
genuine peace." To finish the proposition with a statement of what would
occur in the opposite case was left to his Majesty; the assembly had
simply decided that the "peaceful demonstration of the wishes of the
people" should take place on the 18th at two o'clock several thousand
citizens taking part in it. While the address was handed in and until
the reply was received the ambassadors of the people were to remain
quietly assembled in the Schlossplatz. What was to happen in case the
above-mentioned demands were not granted is nowhere set down but there
is little doubt that many of those present intended to trust to the
fortune of arms. The address contained an ultimatum and Brass is right
in calling it and the meeting in which it originated the starting point
of the revolution. Whoever had considered the matter attentively might
easily say "On the 18th at two o'clock it will be decided either so or
so." The king had come to his determination earlier than that. Sybel
puts it beyond question that he had been forced to it by the situation in
Europe not by threats or the compulsion of a conflict in the streets.
Nevertheless it came to a street fight for the enemies of order were
skillful enough to start a fresh conflagration with the charred beams of
the house whose fire had been put out. But all their efforts would have
been in vain had not the conduct of the Government and the events of the
last few days paved the way.
Among my mother's conservative friends and in her own mind there was a
strong belief that the fighting in Berlin had broken out in consequence
of long-continued stirring of the people by foreign agitators; but I can
affirm that in my later life before I began to reflect particularly on
the subject it always seemed to me when I recalled the time which
preceded the 18th of March as if existing circumstances must have led to
the expectation of an outbreak at any moment.
It is difficult in these days to form an idea of the sharp divisions
which succeeded the night of the revolution in Berlin just as one can
hardly conceive now even in court circles of the whole extent and
enthusiastic strength of the sentiment of Prussian loyalty at that time.
These opposite principles separated friends estranged families long
united in love and made themselves felt even in the Schmidt school
during the short time that we continued to go there.
Our bold excursion over the barricades was unpunished so far as I
remember. Perhaps it was not even noticed for our mother in spite of
her violent headache had to make preparations for the illumination of
our tolerably long row of windows. Not to have lighted the house would
have imperilled the window-panes. To my regret we were not allowed to
see the illumination. I have since thought it a peculiarly amusing trick
of fate that the palace of the Russian embassy--the property of the
autocrat Nicholas--was obliged to celebrate with a brilliant display of
lights the movement for liberty in a sister country.
On Monday the 20th we were sent to school but it was closed and we
took advantage of the circumstance to get into the heart of the city.
The appearance of the town-hall peppered with balls I have never
forgotten. Most of the barricades were cleared away; instead there were
singular inscriptions in chalk on the doors of various public buildings.
At the beginning of Leipzigstrasse at the main entrance of the Ministry
of War we read the words "National Property." Elsewhere and
particularly at the palace of the Prince of Prussia was "Property of the
Citizens" or "Property of the entire Nation."
An excited throng had gathered in front of the plain and simple palace to
whose high ground-floor windows troops of loyal and grateful Germans have
often looked up with love and admiration to see the beloved countenance
of the grey-haired imperial hero. That day we stood among the crowd and
listened to the speech of a student who addressed us from the great
balcony amid a storm of applause. Whether it was the same honest fellow
who besought the people to desist from their design of burning the
prince's palace because the library would be imperilled I do not know
bat the answer "Leave the poor boys their books" is authentic.
And it is also true unhappily that it was difficult to save from
destruction the house of the man whose Hohenzollern blood asserted itself
justly against the weakness of his royal brother. Through those days of
terror he was what he always had been and would remain an upright man
and soldier in the highest and noblest meaning of the words.
What we saw and heard in the palace and its courts swarming with
citizens and students was so low and revolting that I dislike to think
Some of the lifeless heroes were just being borne past on litters
greeted by the wine-flushed faces of armed students and citizens. The
teachers who had overtaken us on the way recognized among them college
friends who praised the delicious vintage supplied by the palace guards.
My brother and I were also fated to see Frederick William IV. ride down
the Behrenstrasse and the Unter den Linden with a large black red and
yellow band around his arm.
The burial of those who had fallen during the night of the revolution was
one of the most imposing ceremonies ever witnessed in Berlin. We boys
were permitted to look at it only for a short time yet the whole
impression of the procession which we really ought not to have been
allowed to see has lingered in my memory.
It was wonderful weather as warm as summer and the vast escort which
accompanied the two hundred coffins of the champions of freedom to their
last resting-place seemed endless. We were forbidden to go on the
platform in front of the Neuenkirche where they were placed but the
spectacle must have produced a strange yet deeply pathetic impression.
Pastor Sydow who represented the Protestant clergy as the Prelate Roland
did the Catholics and the Rabbi Dr. Sachs the Jews afterwards told me
that the multitude of coffins adorned with the rarest flowers and
lavishly draped with black presented an image of mournful splendour
never to be forgotten and I can easily believe it.
This funeral remains in my memory as an endless line of coffins and
black-garbed men with banners and hats bound with crape bearing flowers
emblems of guilds and trade symbols. Mounted standard bearers
gentlemen in robes--the professors of the university--and students in
holiday attire mingled in the motley yet solemn train.
How many tears were shed over those coffins which contained the earthly
remains of many a young life once rich in hopes and glowing with warm
enthusiasm many a quiet heart which had throbbed joyously for man's
noblest possession! The interment in the Friedrichshain where four
hundred singers raised their voices and a band of music composed of the
hautboy players of many regiments poured mighty volumes of sound over the
open graves of the dead must have been alike dignified and majestic.
But the opposition between the contending parties was still too great
and the demand upon the king to salute the dead had aroused such anger in
my mother's circle that she kept aloof from these magnificent and in
themselves perfectly justifiable funeral obsequies. It seemed almost
unendurable that the king had constrained himself to stand on the balcony
of the palace with his head bared holding his helmet in his hand while
the procession passed.
The effect of this act upon the loyal citizens of Berlin can scarcely be
described. I have seen men--even our humble Kurschner--weep during the
account of it by eye-witnesses.
Whoever knew Frederick William IV. also knew that neither genuine
reconciliation nor respect for the fallen champions of liberty induced
him to show this outward token of respect which was to him the deepest
The insincerity of the sovereign's agreement with the ideas events and
men of his day was evident in the reaction which appeared only too soon.
His conviction showed itself under different forms but remained
unchanged both in political and religious affairs.
During the interval life had assumed a new aspect. The minority had
become the majority and many a son of a strictly conservative man was
forbidden to oppose the "red." Only no one needed to conceal his loyalty
to the king for at that time the democrats still shared it. A good word
for the Prince of Prussia on the contrary inevitably led to a brawl
but we did not shrink from it and thank Heaven we were among the
This intrusion of politics into the school-room and the whole tense life
of the capital was extremely undesirable and if continued could not
fail to have an injurious influence upon immature lads; so my mother
hastily decided that instead of waiting until the next year we should
go to Keilhau at once.
She has often said that this was the most difficult resolve of her life
but it was also one of the best since it removed us from the motley
confusing impressions of the city and the petting we received at home
and transferred us to the surroundings most suitable for boys of our age.
The first of the greater divisions of my life closes with the Easter
which follows the Berlin revolution of March 1848.
Not until I attained years of maturity did I perceive that these
conflicts which long after I heard execrated in certain quarters as a
blot upon Prussian history rather deserved the warmest gratitude of the
nation. During those beautiful spring days no matter by what hands--
among them were the noblest and purest--were sown the seeds of the
dignity and freedom of public life which we now enjoy.
The words "March conquests" have been uttered by jeering lips but I
think at the present time there are few among the more far-sighted
conservatives who would like to dispense with them. To me and thank
Heaven to the majority of Germans life deprived of them would seem
unendurable. My mother afterward learned to share this opinion though
like ourselves in whose hearts she early implanted it she retained to
her last hour her loyalty to the king.
Keilhau! How much is comprised in that one short word!
It recalls to my memory the pure happiness of the fairest period of
boyhood a throng of honoured beloved and merry figures and hundreds
of stirring bright and amusing scenes in a period of life rich in
instruction and amusement as well as the stage so lavishly endowed by
Nature on which they were performed. Jean Paul has termed melancholy the
blending of joy and pain and it was doubtless a kindred feeling which
filled my heart in the days before my departure and induced me to be
particularly good and obliging to every body in the house. My mother
took us once more to my father's grave in the Dreifaltigkeits cemetery
where I made many good resolutions. Only the best reports should reach
home from Keilhau and I had already obtained excellent ones in Berlin.
On the evening of our departure there were numerous kisses and farewell
glances at all that was left behind; but when we were seated in the car
with my mother rushing through the landscape adorned with the most
luxuriant spring foliage my heart suddenly expanded and the pleasure of
travel and delight in the many new scenes before me destroyed every other
The first vineyard I saw at Naumburg--I had long forgotten those on the
Rhine--interested me deeply; the Rudelsburg at Kosen the ruins of a real
ancient castle pleased me no less because I had never heard Franz
"Beside the Saale's verdant strand
Once stood full many a castle grand
But roofless ruins are they all;
The wind sweeps through from hall to hall;
Slow drift the clouds above"
which refers to this charming part of the Thuringian hill country. We
were soon to learn to sing it at Keilhau. Weimar was the first goal of
this journey. We had heard much of our classic poets; nay I knew
Schiller's Bell and some of Goethe's poems by heart and we had heard
them mentioned with deep reverence. Now we were to see their home
and a strange emotion took possession of me when we entered it.
Every detail of this first journey has remained stamped on my memory.
I even know what we ordered for supper at the hotel where we spent the
night. But my mother had a severe headache so we saw none of the sights
of Weimar except the Goethe house in the city and the other one in the
park. I cannot tell what my feelings were they are too strongly blended
with later impressions. I only know that the latter especially seemed to
me very small. I had imagined the "Goethe House" like the palace of the
Prince of Prussia or Prince Radziwill in Wilhelmstrasse. The Grand
Duke's palace on the contrary appeared aristocratic and stately. We
looked at it very closely because it was the birthplace of the Princess
of Prussia of whom Fraulein Lamperi had told us so much.
The next morning my mother was well again. The railroad connecting
Weimar and Rudolstadt near which Keilhau is located was built long
after so we continued our journey in an open carriage and reached
Rudolstadt about noon.
After we had rested a short time the carriage which was to take us to
Keilhau drove up.
As we were getting in an old gentleman approached who instantly made a
strong impression upon me. In outward appearance he bore a marked
resemblance to Wilhelm Grimm. I should have noticed him among hundreds;
for long grey locks parted in the middle floated around a nobly formed
head his massive yet refined features bore the stamp of a most kindly
nature and his eyes were the mirror of a pure childlike soul. The rare
charm of their sunny sparkle when his warm heart expanded to pleasure or
his keen intellect had succeeded in solving any problem comes back
vividly to my memory as I write and they beamed brightly enough when he
perceived our companion. They were old acquaintances for my mother had
been to Keilhau several times on Martin's account. She addressed him by
the name of Middendorf and we recognized him as one of the heads of the
institute of whom we had heard many pleasant things.
He had driven to Rudolstadt with the "old bay" but he willingly accepted
a seat in our carriage.
We had scarcely left the street with the hotel behind us when he began
to speak of Schiller and pointed out the mountain which bore his name
and to which in his "Walk" he had cried:
"Hail! oh my Mount with radiant crimson peak."
Then he told us of the Lengefeld sisters whom the poet had so often met
here and one of whom Charlotte afterward became his wife. All this
was done in a way which had no touch of pedagogy or of anything specially
prepared for children yet every word was easily understood and
interested us. Besides his voice had a deep musical tone to which
my ear was susceptible at an early age. He understood children of our
disposition and knew what pleased them.
In Schaale the first village through which we passed he said pointing
to the stream which flowed into the Saale close by: "Look boys now we
are coming into our own neighbourhood the valley of the Schaal. It owes
its name to this brook which rises in our own meadows and I suppose you
would like to know why our village is called Keilhau?"
While speaking he pointed up the stream and briefly described its