Lady Harriet Jephson

Altheim, Germany

Altheim, Germany

The Germans seem depressed, no flags, no bands, and although there is a notice posted up in the town to say that the Crown Prince has achieved another victory, there is evidently something unsatisfactory in the background to counterbalance this. I draw deductions from the “Frankfurter Zeitung,” which has a bitter article entitled “Torheiten” (Folly), and which speaks of the “Kindische Freudengeheul” (childish howls of joy) of the English and French Press, because “ein parr Kalonnen deutscher Soldaten ein Stuck weges zurückgezogen haben” (two columns of German soldiers had withdrawn a bit of the way back). Then the writer contrasts the boastful words (“prahlender wörte”) of England with the self-restraint and pious calm and virtuous behaviour of Germany. One has only to look at the postcards in the Park Strasse to see which of the combatants is boastful. England is drawn as ignominiously lying on the ground (when she isn’t running away) and Germany invariably is kicking or thrashing her.

People are less friendly than at first, though the bath attendants, people in the Inhalatorium, and doctors are most kind. I had tea at Müller’s with Miss H—— the other day. There were at least thirty empty chairs in the tea-room, but a German woman marched up to the chair on which I had laid my daily newspaper, and ordered me to take it off, as she must have my chair! She was stout and ugly, and had a way of doing her hair which, as a writer says, “alone would have proved impeccable virtue in the face of incriminating circumstantial evidence.” For all their “Kultur” Germans are gross, and to the last degree inartistic. Their “nouveau art” is repulsive; their dressing outrageously ugly, and their cooking atrocious. I have watched them here year after year tramping up and down the shady walks stolidly drinking, wearing garments of ingeniously devised ugliness and blind to “l’inutile beauté.” There is no variety of type nor individuality of person in either men or women. These worthy Hausfrauen have no grace of dainty frills, diaphanous lace or rustling petticoats. They are obviously and incontestably of the class described by a witty writer to whom “a lace petticoat is as much a badge of infamy as a cigarette on the stage.” The German proletariat cannot be susceptible to externals, else the universal sad-coloured skirt, the ill-fitting blouse and the ugly hat worn by his women-folk could not find favour in his eyes.

Life in Altheim has changed under war conditions. The Kur Haus is closed, there are no teas on the Terrace or promenadings to the strains of Grieg or Strauss, or theatrical performances. The German Kur-Gäste have left, and only the Russian, English and a few Belgian prisoners of war remain. Russians here are chiefly of a very low class. Most of the women go about bareheaded, and all are rough and unkempt and dirty-looking. I fancy some of them have suffered much privation, but happily their order of release has come. They will have to travel by Denmark, Sweden and across to Petrograd. The weather is autumnal, and they have only summer clothes, like us. We cannot help them, having so little money ourselves. I have had to borrow twice, and tried to sell my jewellery without success, but I have developed a latent and unsuspected talent for laundry work. The pretty summer shops in the Park Strasse are now closed, and the sound of beating mattresses is heard everywhere; the blinds of most of the villas are drawn down, and the families having no longer lodgers have descended to their winter quarters on the ground floor. Only a few einspänners are left, as both Kutschers and horses are gone to meet a “Heldentod” for their Fatherland.

One sees white-capped nurses and Red Cross Ambulance men and wounded and bandaged warriors everywhere. When recovered, the soldiers get three days leave to visit their families, and then return to the Front. Poor souls! Shops are chiefly tended by women nowadays, and the German Frau is not a capable shopkeeper like the French woman. A “Drogerie” here is presided over by the wife of the man who owns it, in his absence at the war. She is a gentle, rather pretty creature, but amazingly slow and stupid. If tooth-powder be asked for, she mounts a ladder, searches among a hundred bottles, shakes her head despairingly, and wonders where her “Mann” has put it. Outside her Küche and house, the German woman does not shine, but she is a faithful unselfish wife, and a good and affectionate mother. Mr. Ives thinks we shall certainly get away next week. I hope so! The weather is cold and rainy, and there is no fire-place in my room.

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