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Home -> Jerome K. Jerome -> Three Men on the Bummel -> Chapter 14

Three Men on the Bummel - Chapter 14

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14


Which is serious: as becomes a parting chapter--The German from
the Anglo-Saxon's point of view--Providence in buttons and a
helmet--Paradise of the helpless idiot--German conscience: its
aggressiveness--How they hang in Germany, very possibly--What
happens to good Germans when they die?--The military instinct: is
it all-sufficient?--The German as a shopkeeper--How he supports
life--The New Woman, here as everywhere--What can be said against
the Germans, as a people--The Bummel is over and done.

"Anybody could rule this country," said George; "_I_ could rule

We were seated in the garden of the Kaiser Hof at Bonn, looking
down upon the Rhine. It was the last evening of our Bummel; the
early morning train would be the beginning of the end.

"I should write down all I wanted the people to do on a piece of
paper," continued George; "get a good firm to print off so many
copies, have them posted about the towns and villages; and the
thing would be done."

In the placid, docile German of to-day, whose only ambition appears
to be to pay his taxes, and do what he is told to do by those whom
it has pleased Providence to place in authority over him, it is
difficult, one must confess, to detect any trace of his wild
ancestor, to whom individual liberty was as the breath of his
nostrils; who appointed his magistrates to advise, but retained the
right of execution for the tribe; who followed his chief, but would
have scorned to obey him. In Germany to-day one hears a good deal
concerning Socialism, but it is a Socialism that would only be
despotism under another name. Individualism makes no appeal to the
German voter. He is willing, nay, anxious, to be controlled and
regulated in all things. He disputes, not government, but the form
of it. The policeman is to him a religion, and, one feels, will
always remain so. In England we regard our man in blue as a
harmless necessity. By the average citizen he is employed chiefly
as a signpost, though in busy quarters of the town he is considered
useful for taking old ladies across the road. Beyond feeling
thankful to him for these services, I doubt if we take much thought
of him. In Germany, on the other hand, he is worshipped as a
little god and loved as a guardian angel. To the German child he
is a combination of Santa Clans and the Bogie Man. All good things
come from him: Spielplatze to play in, furnished with swings and
giant-strides, sand heaps to fight around, swimming baths, and
fairs. All misbehaviour is punished by him. It is the hope of
every well-meaning German boy and girl to please the police. To be
smiled at by a policeman makes it conceited. A German child that
has been patted on the head by a policeman is not fit to live with;
its self-importance is unbearable.

The German citizen is a soldier, and the policeman is his officer.
The policeman directs him where in the street to walk, and how fast
to walk. At the end of each bridge stands a policeman to tell the
German how to cross it. Were there no policeman there, he would
probably sit down and wait till the river had passed by. At the
railway station the policeman locks him up in the waiting-room,
where he can do no harm to himself. When the proper time arrives,
he fetches him out and hands him over to the guard of the train,
who is only a policeman in another uniform. The guard tells him
where to sit in the train, and when to get out, and sees that he
does get out. In Germany you take no responsibility upon yourself
whatever. Everything is done for you, and done well. You are not
supposed to look after yourself; you are not blamed for being
incapable of looking after yourself; it is the duty of the German
policeman to look after you. That you may be a helpless idiot does
not excuse him should anything happen to you. Wherever you are and
whatever you are doing you are in his charge, and he takes care of
you--good care of you; there is no denying this.

If you lose yourself, he finds you; and if you lose anything
belonging to you, he recovers it for you. If you don't know what
you want, he tells you. If you want anything that is good for you
to have, he gets it for you. Private lawyers are not needed in
Germany. If you want to buy or sell a house or field, the State
makes out the conveyance. If you have been swindled, the State
takes up the case for you. The State marries you, insures you,
will even gamble with you for a trifle.

"You get yourself born," says the German Government to the German
citizen, "we do the rest. Indoors and out of doors, in sickness
and in health, in pleasure and in work, we will tell you what to
do, and we will see to it that you do it. Don't you worry yourself
about anything."

And the German doesn't. Where there is no policeman to be found,
he wanders about till he comes to a police notice posted on a wall.
This he reads; then he goes and does what it says.

I remember in one German town--I forget which; it is immaterial;
the incident could have happened in any--noticing an open gate
leading to a garden in which a concert was being given. There was
nothing to prevent anyone who chose from walking through that gate,
and thus gaining admittance to the concert without paying. In
fact, of the two gates quarter of a mile apart it was the more
convenient. Yet of the crowds that passed, not one attempted to
enter by that gate. They plodded steadily on under a blazing sun
to the other gate, at which a man stood to collect the entrance
money. I have seen German youngsters stand longingly by the margin
of a lonely sheet of ice. They could have skated on that ice for
hours, and nobody have been the wiser. The crowd and the police
were at the other end, more than half a mile away, and round the
corner. Nothing stopped their going on but the knowledge that they
ought not. Things such as these make one pause to seriously wonder
whether the Teuton be a member of the sinful human family or not.
Is it not possible that these placid, gentle folk may in reality be
angels, come down to earth for the sake of a glass of beer, which,
as they must know, can only in Germany be obtained worth the

In Germany the country roads are lined with fruit trees. There is
no voice to stay man or boy from picking and eating the fruit,
except conscience. In England such a state of things would cause
public indignation. Children would die of cholera by the hundred.
The medical profession would be worked off its legs trying to cope
with the natural results of over-indulgence in sour apples and
unripe walnuts. Public opinion would demand that these fruit trees
should be fenced about, and thus rendered harmless. Fruit growers,
to save themselves the expense of walls and palings, would not be
allowed in this manner to spread sickness and death throughout the

But in Germany a boy will walk for miles down a lonely road, hedged
with fruit trees, to buy a pennyworth of pears in the village at
the other end. To pass these unprotected fruit trees, drooping
under their burden of ripe fruit, strikes the Anglo-Saxon mind as a
wicked waste of opportunity, a flouting of the blessed gifts of

I do not know if it be so, but from what I have observed of the
German character I should not be surprised to hear that when a man
in Germany is condemned to death he is given a piece of rope, and
told to go and hang himself. It would save the State much trouble
and expense, and I can see that German criminal taking that piece
of rope home with him, reading up carefully the police
instructions, and proceeding to carry them out in his own back

The Germans are a good people. On the whole, the best people
perhaps in the world; an amiable, unselfish, kindly people. I am
positive that the vast majority of them go to Heaven. Indeed,
comparing them with the other Christian nations of the earth, one
is forced to the conclusion that Heaven will be chiefly of German
manufacture. But I cannot understand how they get there. That the
soul of any single individual German has sufficient initiative to
fly up by itself and knock at St. Peter's door, I cannot believe.
My own opinion is that they are taken there in small companies, and
passed in under the charge of a dead policeman.

Carlyle said of the Prussians, and it is true of the whole German
nation, that one of their chief virtues was their power of being
drilled. Of the Germans you might say they are a people who will
go anywhere, and do anything, they are told. Drill him for the
work and send him out to Africa or Asia under charge of somebody in
uniform, and he is bound to make an excellent colonist, facing
difficulties as he would face the devil himself, if ordered. But
it is not easy to conceive of him as a pioneer. Left to run
himself, one feels he would soon fade away and die, not from any
lack of intelligence, but from sheer want of presumption.

The German has so long been the soldier of Europe, that the
military instinct has entered into his blood. The military virtues
he possesses in abundance; but he also suffers from the drawbacks
of the military training. It was told me of a German servant,
lately released from the barracks, that he was instructed by his
master to deliver a letter to a certain house, and to wait there
for the answer. The hours passed by, and the man did not return.
His master, anxious and surprised, followed. He found the man
where he had been sent, the answer in his hand. He was waiting for
further orders. The story sounds exaggerated, but personally I can
credit it.

The curious thing is that the same man, who as an individual is as
helpless as a child, becomes, the moment he puts on the uniform, an
intelligent being, capable of responsibility and initiative. The
German can rule others, and be ruled by others, but he cannot rule
himself. The cure would appear to be to train every German for an
officer, and then put him under himself. It is certain he would
order himself about with discretion and judgment, and see to it
that he himself obeyed himself with smartness and precision.

For the direction of German character into these channels, the
schools, of course, are chiefly responsible. Their everlasting
teaching is duty. It is a fine ideal for any people; but before
buckling to it, one would wish to have a clear understanding as to
what this "duty" is. The German idea of it would appear to be:
"blind obedience to everything in buttons." It is the antithesis
of the Anglo-Saxon scheme; but as both the Anglo-Saxon and the
Teuton are prospering, there must be good in both methods.
Hitherto, the German has had the blessed fortune to be
exceptionally well governed; if this continue, it will go well with
him. When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance
something goes wrong with the governing machine. But maybe his
method has the advantage of producing a continuous supply of good
governors; it would certainly seem so.

As a trader, I am inclined to think the German will, unless his
temperament considerably change, remain always a long way behind
his Anglo-Saxon competitor; and this by reason of his virtues. To
him life is something more important than a mere race for wealth.
A country that closes its banks and post-offices for two hours in
the middle of the day, while it goes home and enjoys a comfortable
meal in the bosom of its family, with, perhaps, forty winks by way
of dessert, cannot hope, and possibly has no wish, to compete with
a people that takes its meals standing, and sleeps with a telephone
over its bed. In Germany there is not, at all events as yet,
sufficient distinction between the classes to make the struggle for
position the life and death affair it is in England. Beyond the
landed aristocracy, whose boundaries are impregnable, grade hardly
counts. Frau Professor and Frau Candlestickmaker meet at the
Weekly Kaffee-Klatsch and exchange scandal on terms of mutual
equality. The livery-stable keeper and the doctor hobnob together
at their favourite beer hall. The wealthy master builder, when he
prepares his roomy waggon for an excursion into the country,
invites his foreman and his tailor to join him with their families.
Each brings his share of drink and provisions, and returning home
they sing in chorus the same songs. So long as this state of
things endures, a man is not induced to sacrifice the best years of
his life to win a fortune for his dotage. His tastes, and, more to
the point still, his wife's, remain inexpensive. He likes to see
his flat or villa furnished with much red plush upholstery and a
profusion of gilt and lacquer. But that is his idea; and maybe it
is in no worse taste than is a mixture of bastard Elizabethan with
imitation Louis XV, the whole lit by electric light, and smothered
with photographs. Possibly, he will have his outer walls painted
by the local artist: a sanguinary battle, a good deal interfered
with by the front door, taking place below, while Bismarck, as an
angel, flutters vaguely about the bedroom windows. But for his Old
Masters he is quite content to go to the public galleries; and "the
Celebrity at Home" not having as yet taken its place amongst the
institutions of the Fatherland, he is not impelled to waste his,
money turning his house into an old curiosity shop.

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

"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

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."

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