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Chapter 9


Sept. 30.

There is so much to be seen around this beautiful place, that I scarcely know where to begin a description of it. I have been wandering among the wild paths that lead up and down the mountain side, or away into the forests and lonely meadows in the lap of the Odenwald. My mind is filled with images of the romantic German scenery, whose real beauty is beginning to displace the imaginary picture which I had painted with the enthusiastic words of Howitt. I seem to stand now upon the Kaiser-stuhl, which rises above Heidelberg, with that magnificent landscape around me, from the Black Forest and Strasburg to Mainz, and from the Vosges in France to the hills of Spessart in Bavaria. What a glorious panorama! and not less rich in associations than in its natural beauty. Below me had moved the barbarian hordes of old, the triumphant followers of Arminius, and the Cohorts of Rome; and later, full many a warlike host bearing the banners of the red cross to the Holy Land,--many a knight returning with his vassals from the field, to lay at the feet of his lady-love the scarf he had worn in a hundred battles and claim the reward of his constancy and devotion. But brighter spirits had also toiled below. That plain had witnessed the presence of Luther, and a host who strove with him to free the world from the chains of a corrupt and oppressive religion. There had also trodden the master spirits of German song--the giant twain, with their scarcely less harmonious brethren: they, too, had gathered inspiration from those scenes--more fervent worship of nature and a deeper love for their beautiful fatherland! Oh! what waves of crime and bloodshed have swept like the waves of a deluge down the valley of the Rhine! War has laid his mailed hand on those desolate towers and ruthlessly torn down what time has spared, yet he could not mar the beauty of the shore, nor could Time himself hurl down the mountains that guard it. And what if I feel a new inspiration on beholding the scene? Now that those ages have swept by, like the red waves of a tide of blood, we see not the darkened earth, but the golden sands which the flood has left behind. Besides, I have come from a new world, where the spirit of man is untrammeled by the mouldering shackles of the past, but in its youthful and joyous freedom, goes on to make itself a noble memory for the ages that are to come!

Then there is the Wolfsbrunnen, which one reaches by a beautiful walk up the bank of the Neckar, to a quiet dell in the side of the mountain. Through this the roads lead up by rustic mills, always in motion, and orchards laden with ripening fruit, to the commencement of the forest, where a quaint stone fountain stands, commemorating the abode of a sorceress of the olden time, who was torn in pieces by a wolf. There is a handsome rustic inn here, where every Sunday afternoon a band plays in the portico, while hundreds of people are scattered around in the cool shadow of the trees, or feeding the splendid trout in the basin formed by the little stream. They generally return to the city by another walk leading along the mountain side, to the eastern terrace of the castle, where they have fine views of the great Rhine plain, terminated by the Alsatian hills, stretching along the western horizon like the long crested swells on the ocean. We can even see these from the windows of our room on the bank of the Neckar; and I often look with interest on one sharp peak, for on its side stands the Castle of Trifels, where Coeur de Lion was imprisoned by the Duke of Austria, and where Blondel, his faithful minstrel, sang the ballad which discovered the retreat of the noble captive.

The people of Heidelberg are rich in places of pleasure and amusement. From the Carl Platz, an open square at the upper end of the city, two paths lead directly up to the castle. By the first walk we ascend a flight of steps to the western gate, passing through which, we enter a delightful garden, between the outer walls of the Castle, and the huge moat which surrounds it. Great linden, oak and beech trees shadow the walk, and in secluded nooks, little mountain streams spring from the side of the wall into stone basins. There is a tower over the moat on the south side, next the mountain, where the portcullis still hangs with its sharp teeth as it was last drawn up; on each side stand two grim knights guarding the entrance. In one of the wooded walks is an old tree brought from America in the year 1618. It is of the kind called arbor vitæ, and uncommonly tall and slender for one of this species; yet it does not seem to thrive well in a foreign soil. I noticed that persons had cut many slips off the lower branches, and I would have been tempted to do the same myself if there had been any I could reach. In the curve of the mountain is a handsome pavilion, surrounded with beds of flowers and fountains; here all classes meet together in the afternoon to sit with their refreshments in the shade, while frequently a fine band of music gives them their invariable recreation. All this, with the scenery around them, leaves nothing unfinished to their present enjoyment. The Germans enjoy life under all circumstances, and in this way they make themselves much happier than we, who have far greater means of being so.

At the end of the terrace built for the princess Elizabeth, of England, is one of the round towers, which was split in twain by the French. Half has fallen entirely away, and the other semicircular shell which joins the terrace and part of the Castle buildings, clings firmly together, although part of its foundation is gone, so that its outer ends actually hang in the air. Some idea of the strength of the castle may be obtained when I state that the walls of this tower are twenty-two feet thick, and that a staircase has been made through them to the top, where one can sit under the lindens growing upon it, or look down from the end on the city below with the pleasant consciousness that the great mass upon which he stands is only prevented from crashing down with him by the solidity of its masonry. On one side, joining the garden, the statue of the Archduke Louis, in his breastplate and flowing beard, looks out from among the ivy.

There is little to be seen about the Castle except the walls themselves. The guide conducted us through passages, in which were heaped many of the enormous cannon balls which it had received in sieges, to some chambers in the foundation. This was the oldest part of the Castle, built in the thirteenth century. We also visited the chapel, which is in a tolerable state of preservation. A kind of narrow bridge crosses it, over which we walked, looking down on the empty pulpit and deserted shrines. We then went into the cellar to see the celebrated Tun. In a large vault are kept several enormous hogsheads, one of which is three hundred years old, but they are nothing in comparison with the tun, which itself fills a whole vault. It is as high as a common two story house; on the top is a platform upon which the people used to dance after it was filled, to which one ascends by two flights of steps. I forgot exactly how many casks it holds, but I believe eight hundred. It has been empty for fifty years.

We are very pleasantly situated here. My friends, who arrived a day before me, hired three rooms (with the assistance of a courier) in a large house on the banks of the Neckar. We pay for them, with attendance, thirty florins--about twelve dollars--a month, and Frau Dr. Grosch, our polite and talkative landlady, gives us a student's breakfast--coffee and biscuit--for about seven cents apiece. We are often much amused to hear her endeavors to make us understand. As if to convey her meaning plainer, she raises both thumbs and forefingers to her mouth and pulls out the words like a long string; her tongue goes so fast that it keeps my mind always on a painful stretch to comprehend an idea here and there. Dr. S----, from whom we take lessons in German, has kindly consented to our dining with his family for the sake of practice in speaking. We have taken several long walks with them along the banks of the Neckar, but I should be puzzled to repeat any of the conversations that took place. The language, however, is fast growing more familiar, since women are the principal teachers.

Opposite my window rises the Heiligenberg, on the other side of the Neckar. The lower part of it is rich with vineyards, and many cottages stand embosomed in shrubbery among them. Sometimes we see groups of maidens standing under the grape arbors, and every morning the peasant women go toiling up the steep paths with baskets on their heads, to labor among the vines. On the Neckar below us, the fishermen glide about in their boats, sink their square nets fastened to a long pole, and haul them up with the glittering fish, of which the stream is full. I often lean out of the window late at night, when the mountains above are wrapped in dusky obscurity, and listen to the low, musical ripple of the river. It tells to my excited fancy a knightly legend of the old German time. Then comes the bell, rung for closing the inns, breaking the spell with its deep clang, which vibrates far away on the night air, till it has roused all the echoes of the Odenwald. I then shut the window, turn into the narrow box which the Germans call a bed, and in a few minutes am wandering in America. Half way up the Heiligenberg runs a beautiful walk, dividing the vineyards from the forest above. This is called the Philosopher's Way, because it was the favorite ramble of the old Professors of the University. It can be reached by a toilsome, winding path among the vines, called the Snake-way, and when one has ascended to it he is well rewarded by the lovely view. In the evening, when the sun has got behind the mountain, it is delightful to sit on the stone steps and watch the golden light creeping up the side of the Kaiser-stuhl, till at last twilight begins to darken in the valley and a mantle of mist gathers above the Neckar.

We ascended the mountain a few days ago. There is a path which leads up through the forest, but we took the shortest way, directly up the side, though it was at an angle of nearly fifty degrees. It was hard enough work, scrambling through the thick broom and heather, and over stumps and stones. In one of the stone-heaps I dislodged a large orange-colored salamander, seven or eight inches long. They are sometimes found on these mountains, as well as a very large kind of lizard, called the eidechse, which the Germans say is perfectly harmless, and if one whistles or plays a pipe, will come and play around him. The view from the top reminded me of that from Catskill Mountain House, but is on a smaller scale. The mountains stretch off sideways, confining the view to but half the horizon, and in the middle of the picture the Hudson is well represented by the lengthened windings of the "abounding Rhine." Nestled at the base below us, was the little village of Handschuhheim, one of the oldest in this part of Germany. The castle of its former lords has nearly all fallen down, but the massive solidity of the walls which yet stand, proves its antiquity. A few years ago, a part of the outer walls which was remarked to have a hollow sound, was taken down, when there fell from a deep niche built therein, a skeleton, clad in a suit of the old German armor. We followed a road through the woods to the peak on which stand the ruins of St. Michael's chapel, which was built in the tenth century and inhabited for a long time by a sect of white monks. There is now but a single tower remaining, and all around is grown over with tall bushes and weeds. It had a wild and romantic look, and I sat on a rock and sketched at it, till it grew dark, when we got down the mountain the best way we could.

We lately visited the great University Library. You walk through one hall after another, filled with books of all kinds, from the monkish manuscript of the middle ages, to the most elegant print of the present day. There is something to me more impressive in a library like this than a solemn Cathedral. I think involuntarily of the hundreds of mighty spirits who speak from these three hundred thousand volumes--of the toils and privations with which genius has ever struggled, and of his glorious reward. As in a church, one feels as it were, the presence of God; not because the place has been hallowed by his worship, but because all around stand the inspirations of his spirit, breathed through the mind of genius, to men. And if the mortal remains of saints and heroes do not repose within its walls, the great and good of the whole earth are there, speaking their counsels to the searcher for truth, with voices whose last reverberation will die away only when the globe falls into ruin.

A few nights ago there was a wedding of peasants across the river. In order to celebrate it particularly, the guests went to the house where it was given, by torchlight. The night was quite dark, and the bright red torches glowed on the surface of the Neckar, as the two couriers galloped along the banks to the bridegroom's house. Here, after much shouting and confusion, the procession was arranged, the two riders started back again with their torches, and the wagons containing the guests followed after with their flickering lights glancing on the water, till they disappeared around the foot of the mountain. The choosing of Conscripts also took place lately. The law requires one person out of every hundred to become a soldier, and this, in the city of Heidelberg, amounts to nearly 150. It was a sad spectacle. The young men, or rather boys, who were chosen, went about the city with cockades fastened on their hats, shouting and singing, many of them quite intoxicated. I could not help pitying them because of the dismal, mechanical life they are doomed to follow. Many were rough, ignorant peasants, to whom nearly any kind of life would be agreeable; but there were some whose countenances spoke otherwise, and I thought involuntarily, that their drunken gaiety was only affected to conceal their real feelings with regard to the lot which had fallen upon them.

We are gradually becoming accustomed to the German style of living, which is very different from our own. Their cookery is new to us, but is, nevertheless, good. We have every day a different kind of soup, so I have supposed they keep a regular list of three hundred and sixty-five, one for every day in the year! Then we have potatoes "done up" in oil and vinegar, veal flavored with orange peel, barley pudding, and all sorts of pancakes, boiled artichokes, and always rye bread, in loaves a yard long! Nevertheless, we thrive on such diet, and I have rarely enjoyed more sound and refreshing sleep than in their narrow and coffin-like beds, uncomfortable as they seem. Many of the German customs are amusing. We never see oxen working here, but always cows, sometimes a single one in a cart, and sometimes two fastened together by a yoke across their horns. The women labor constantly in the fields; from our window we can hear the nut-brown maidens singing their cheerful songs among the vineyards on the mountain side. Their costume, too, is odd enough. Below the light-fitting vest they wear such a number of short skirts, one above another, that it reminds one of an animated hogshead, with a head and shoulders starting out from the top. I have heard it gravely asserted that the wealth of a German damsel may be known by counting the number of her "kirtles." An acquaintance of mine remarked, that it would be an excellent costume for falling down a precipice!

We have just returned from a second visit to Frankfort, where the great annual fair filled the streets with noise and bustle. On our way back, we stopped at the village of Zwingenberg, which lies at the foot of the Melibochus, for the purpose of visiting some of the scenery of the Odenwald. Passing the night at the inn there, we slept with one bed under and two above, and started early in the morning to climb up the side of the Melibochus. After a long walk through the forests, which were beginning to change their summer foliage for a brighter garment, we reached the summit and ascended the stone tower which stands upon it. This view gives one a better idea of the Odenwald, than that from the Kaiser-stuhl at Heidelberg. In the soft autumn atmosphere it looked even more beautiful. After an hour in that heaven of uplifted thought, into which we step from the mountain-top, our minds went with the path downward to earth, and we descended the eastern side into the wild region which contains the Felsenmeer, or Sea of Rocks.

We met on the way a student from Fulda--a fine specimen of that free-spirited class, and a man whose smothered aspiration was betrayed in the flashing of his eye, as he spoke of the present painful and oppressed condition of Germany. We talked so busily together that without noticing the path, which had been bringing us on, up hill and down, through forest and over rock, we came at last to a halt in a valley among the mountains. Making inquiries there, we found we had gone wrong, and must ascend by a different path the mountain we had just come down. Near the summit of this, in a wild pine wood, was the Felsenmeer--a great collection of rocks heaped together like pebbles on the sea shore, and worn and rounded as if by the action of water: so much do they resemble waves, that one standing at the bottom and looking up, cannot resist the idea, that they will flow down upon him. It must have been a mighty tide whose receding waves left these masses piled up together! The same formation continues at intervals, to the foot, of the mountains. It reminded me of a glacier of rocks instead of ice. A little higher up, lies a massive block of granite called the "Giant's Column." It is thirty-two feet long and three to four feet in diameter, and still bears the mark of the chisel. When or by whom it was made, remains a mystery. Some have supposed it was intended to be erected for the worship of the Sun, by the wild Teutonic tribes who inhabited this forest; it is more probably the work of the Romans. A project was once started, to erect it as a monument on the battle-field of Leipsic, but it was found too difficult to carry into execution.

After dining at the little village of Reichelsdorf in the valley below, where the merry landlord charged my friend two kreutzers less than myself because he was not so tall, we visited the Castle of Schönberg, and joined the Bergstrasse again. We walked the rest of the way here; long before we arrived, the moon shone down on us over the mountains, and when we turned around the foot of the Heiligenberg, the mist descending in the valley of the Neckar, rested like a light cloud on the church spires.

Bayard Taylor