European Letter from an MIT Grad, 1931 November 15
Prologue: When J. G. C. received his masters degree in Architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1930 he was awarded a fellowship for a year of study and travel in Europe. He left in February, 1931 and remained there until June, 1932. These letters were written to his family in upstate New York. He became a successful architect in New York City, as well as an excellent painter.
The writer is my grand-uncle, and our family has enjoyed sharing these letters for generations. I think they're interesting because they are a window into the everyday life, travelling style, and speech patterns of a different era, and because in many you can see the effects of World War I and the Great Depression, and hints of preparation for World War II.
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November 15, 1931
Dear dad, mother, and everybody,
I guess I started the last letter to you from Berlin also; finished it in Vienna. So this will be BERLIN #2, and won't be finished in Vienna, in fact I promise to finish it within a week, which for me certainly is something. I never intended to let so much time go by before getting another letter to you, but it just seemed to have slid by before I realized it.
I think I had written about the trip to Budapest, and had returned to Vienna, where we spent several days more, and where we were met by Mrs. H's sister, who would travel with them the rest of the time in Europe. Vienna, like the most of Europe, since Italy didn't seem to have much to offer in the way of sunshine or warm weather, but in spite of that it certainly is a city that is fascinating, and one that I wished I had more time to spend there. It really is quite an up and coming, progressive city now, and from what I hear, it certainly has improved a lot since seven or eight years ago, when it was in terrible shape. It has some of the finest paintings and two very fine art galleries. It just poured all the time we were there which didn't help any but we had a darn good time, just the same which wouldn't have been possible, at least not to such an extent if we had not had the car. We went through a very, very interesting school for people from about five years on up. It teaches them anything along the line of design, and they certainly turn out some interesting things. They just hand the young kids a few big buckets of paint, some big brushes, some huge sheets of wrapping paper and let them start in. The designs they get are swell. Most of them just as you can imagine pictures by six year olds being done, but because of the big heavy lines of the brushes, the color, and the crudeness, they have a wonderfully decorative feeling, and as they get older they turn out some marvellous pieces of work, without the usual "art school" feeling and same characteristics that the millions of other people, in Europe or in America seem to have. Then they are taught the designs of other crafts, such as glass ware, ceramics, cloth, and metal, and they have a shop where these things are sold. The articles really are the swellest things that I've seen anywhere. The school is under the direction of Prof. Josef Hoffmann, one of the best in his line in the world, and very fine at interior decorating. We ran on to him in a cafe and sat and talked with him for about an hour. He was interesting but quite reserved and didn't have the strong personality that Raymond Hood or Erich Mendelsohn have. He was a great deal like Peter Behrems whom I think I said in my last letter I had met here in Berlin, and talked with him about studying under him in his school in Vienna, which I also wrote I had abandoned the thought both because he advised it and because I had this opportunity to get in Mr. Mendelsohn's office.
One very interesting thing in Vienna was a huge apartment house built by the city to house five thousand families. Boy! it Was mammoth. Very nicely laid out, with fine vistas, parks, statues, etc., but, of very poor materials. These countries have their graft like any city in America. This house wasn't half up before it fell down due to the contractor skipping in the specifications, and trying to make more money along with the politicians over worse stuff than they were already obliged to use. There was a big scandal about it, I was told. The world over, I guess, you will find graft. And they certainly have trouble getting building permits, I understand. It takes six months to a
year sometimes, just for a permit for a single room. What would an Empire state Building take?
From Vienna to Munich, Janet S. and I were alone, for the H-s and their entourage remained in Vienna for a week longer, and then took a plane to Venice, from where they were starting on a two months, or ten week trip, to Athens, Constantinople, Damascus, Egypt, Northern Africa, to Sicily, Rome and back to Paris, about the middle of December. Mrs. H. came into a little money so they dedided to take the trip, which they had always planned on but couldn't see how they could afford it. Janet and I started out, and hadn't anymore than gotten outside of Vienna when we ran into a snow storm, the middle of September. Boy, it was cold, but soon turned to rain, and from there to Salzburg, we had only rain, and terrible roads. The mountains around Salzburg are perfectly wonderful, and with the snow storms that had taken place during the last few days, they were perfect, with their huge towering rocks, and capped with brilliant snow, which stood out against a deep blue sky like nothing I'd ever seen before. Going over one mountain, we ran through another storm, and a foot of snow. It reminded me of last year when I was driving home from Boston, and got stuck going over Jacob's Ladder.
Salzburg is one swell town, nestling down among the mountains, and with a nice river rushing along through the middle of it. On one side of the river a very high rock rises, very steeply, and on the top of it sits and old castle or some kind of government buildings, built in Renaissance style, while the town below it is built, in the style characteristic to the towns in Bavaria. It is really a very nice study in contrasts and all in all it is a perfect setting. It is here that Max Rinehart has his school for actors, his summer home, and where each summer he puts on a huge pageant at the plaza out in front of the cathedral. The Duncan sisters also have a very famous dancing school there. Janet was in the school for a summer several years before. The old streets in the town just wind around among the hills and the people are, like all the people in that section, very very cordial. All in all it is a very picturesque town, and one that is well worth another visit.
Janet had a German girl friend, (who had been with the Duncan school ever since she was eight years old, and had lived in America, so spoke perfect English), who lives in Salzburg. She got some fellow who knows as much English as I knew German, and we started out to see the place. It was plenty of fun, and we finally ended up in this old "keller" for supper. A "keller" is a cellar where you eat. Remember I told you about the "Ratskeller". Well, this old place is in the basement of an old monastery where the monks used to make and drink their beer. Those places certainly are the most fascinating and picturesque places that you can imagine. You went down some old stone steps, worn by the ages, and many monks bare feet, plus a few million other people like us, and you came upon, what might be termed a business street, for several corridors. Here you bought your weiners, cheese, sardines, herring, pickles, butter, bread, and anything else you thought you could eat, a whole meal for about twenty cents, then continued around the corner and got an old bee-mug off the shelves, went over to the water trough and washed it out, got your beer up at an old keg, and went on into this huge hall, to unwrap, your stuff, open the sardines, and start in eating or throwing the food at each other, whichever you preferred. First we ate, then we threw. It was marvellous to see some of the old ducks sitting around the tables which were reserved for them as they came night after night for years and years. That seems to be the custom all through that section, the regular customers have their one table and if anybody else tried to sit there before those old ducks had arrived there'd be another war. We had one good meal and then finally started to put stuff in the other peoples beer. I finally ended up with two beer mats, all the silver ware, two left over hot dogs, a half a biscuit and an empty sardine tin in mine, so I quit, I just refused to finish the beer. Don't worry, mother, about all these beer halls, I've been telling you about. You probably think I'm a regular drunkard. It's about the only thing you can drink around most parts, the water not being so hot, and besides with the type of food you get it's by far the best stuff to have with it. And one glass of beer knocks you out just about as far as a bottle of sasparilla (can't spell it so we'll say coca-cola) does, that you get out of the Frigidaire. So let all your fears have a rest and I'll still return the sober youth that I was when I climbed on the boat. In France and Italy we drink wine, cause there again it's the only safe stuff to drink. Now I'm speaking in relation to water, and not to any of this stuff that comes over from Canada, to the head of the Genesee County Fair. So don't worry when I write about beer halls, cause I'm going to write more, and tell you lots about 'em. It's the place to see how the people in this country live; you can't see it on the streets, in the theatres, or any where else but right in a big hall, 'cause that is the place the Germans live, it is their national institution, and the kids start to drink beer before they can lift a glass. No foolin' I've seen kids stand up in their chairs, and tip the glass over to 'em because it was too big and they were too small. Swell place, and interesting as the deuce. They all drink too much though, I mean over too many years because they all get very very fat, with big red bloated faces, but they don't give a darn and head for the town Beer-hall every night.
We were in one in Prague where the poor people went, and boy all the things the different men tried to sell you, shoehorns, tapes, hunting knives, razors, celluloid dolls, peeled radishes and millions of other things. I traded all evening with one duck, buying something from him, then on his next trip back selling it to him. I bought and sold all night with a total at the end of nothing to carry away with me and a loss of three cents. We had everyone in the place interested in the transactions. Another fellow came along with one of these shocking machines with two handles on it. You take the handles and he turns the crank. There were lights attached to it, ye11ow, green, blue, purple, and red. As the current got stronger another light would go on. I tried the thing and light after light shone, as he turned faster and faster until finally the red one came on and he stopped and blew a little tin whistle to let everyone know there was a guy who took all the current. I'll always remember that evening.
Did I ever tell you about the German hair cut, Don, Joe and I got? I think I did, but didn't tell you how we wanted to get the stuff practically shaved off like all the Germans wear their hair. We had a bet who would get the shortest hair cut. They clipped and clipped and finally in spite of all our entreaties they would cut no more. I'm afraid they thought we would kill them when we finally saw ourselves.
The fellows that were cutting our hair didn't have anymore than half an inch but refused to cut ours as short as that. Must be a decoration that only a German can wear. Don won the bet with hair one inch long, I was next with an inch and one eighth. Boy! were we sights when we returned to the hotel. Mrs. H. wouldn't eat with us for two days, and refused to be seen with us unless we wore our hats, all very much to our enjoyment.
When we left Salzburg we headed directly for Munich, taking this German fellow with us, the one who had been to the Keller the night before. He owns a sporting goods store and had to go to some little village set in among the mountains where they make skis, in order to buy his winter stock. We cut around through the mountains in some of the prettiest places imaginable. One very nice little town we passed through had a large monastary set right on the edge of a cliff high up in the air. Those monks surely knew how to pick a site. We would go around little lakes, calm and as smooth as a mirror reflecting the small village which would be across it, and then the high snow capped mountain that would rise behind the village. Perfectly beautiful, every inch of it. And the nice part about it all was that the rain had finally given up, and it had come off nice and warm, sunny, and springlike, which continued for over three weeks, the finest weather I'd seen since Venice, boy oh boy, and in just exactly the swellest part of Europe to enjoy weather like that, among the mountains and the lakes of Southern Germany, Bavaria. With out nice weather in a section like that you just pass through it without giving it much notice, but with weather like we got, you just kind of live again. With bad weather in Italy you still continue to see and get a lot out of the country, but not so in northern Europe.
I remained in Munich for ten days, staying with the S. family, where I certainly was treated swell. Mrs. S. is one peach, and they did everything for me, including mending my socks and sewing buttons on, which I didn't resent in the slightest. Mr. S. died last year, and they are living in Munich while the younger boy and girl go to an American school there. Besides Mrs. S. and Janet, there is Mrs. S's mother, and then the two kids, Sandy and Gil, and then a Bavarian girl as the maid. She has been to America with them for several years, and her mother had been Mr. S's governess when he was a kid. So it was just one big happy family. There is another son, Jarvis who is now in America in Taft School in Connecticut preparing to go to Amherst. It certainly was nice to be taken in that way, and to be treated like one of the family and for the first time since I left America I had a lot of American meals, and an American breakfast with scrambled eggs. While I was there I got a lot of sketches ready to send to Mendelsohn as he had requested. Then I spent quite a bit of time in the Deutsches Museum which is one of the swellest things in the world. It's all mechanical, and you can go in and see and play with models of everything imaginable, from steam engines, to windmills, power plants, airplanes, automobiles, pipe organs, movies, radios, X-rays, chemistry, architecture, looms, presses, telescopes, and millions of other things. They all work and all you have to do is to push a button and play all you want to. One thing they have there is a full size coal mine that goes down for about four floors in the ground. Did I have fun, I ask you. I ran around like a little kid, playing with this thing and with that, from place to place, there being so many things and so much to play with and so much that I wanted to play with that I just didn't know which button to push next. But after several days, I finally got most of 'em pushed.
Munich has the one war memorial in the world I guess that is different and doesn't wave on high in stone the glories of war. It really hits you in the heart to stand and look at it, and is what I think a war memorial should be. It's in this huge sunken square to begin with and then all you see at first is a huge slab of rock held up by many low slabs of stone about two feet between them, and leaving an opening about three feet in height. These stick out from the huge rock far enough so that steps start down and there is head room under the large stone, for people to walk down inside as if it were a dug-out. There on a big flat slab is a German soldier lying in bronze. Gee, it is certainly impressive. On the stone walls surrounding this sunken plaza are carved the names of all the fellows from Munich who were killed in the war, some thirty to fifty thousand I guess. Just one city. And gee, the sad part about it is that you just can't imagine these people from Bavaria as much as hurting a fly. They are very peace loving people, and are far from being like their countrymen around Berlin, whom I havn't the sympathy towards. If they had won, we would now be in a worse condition than Germany is, and with darn little chance of ever getting on our feet, but if the Bavarians had had anything to say about it they would have called off the War, and gone back to their beer halls and never even said "boo" to anyone. They certainly do win their way into peoples hearts, I think, but I've heard other opinions from others so I guess it's just a matter of how you happen to strike things. Everyone does agree though that they certainly aren't anything but peace loving, at least as far as the rest of the world is concerned. They have plenty of fights among themselves, and hate the Prussians like the Prussians hate the Poles. Nice conditions over here. If one nation had its way it would wipe every other nation off the face of the earth, and take it all themselves. They certainly do love each other. Once they get another people as the under dog they won't give them anymore chance to come back than humanity of other nations demands. Witness the pact that Germany and Austria tried to sign last spring to develop trade between each other, giving free duty across the border on food, and clothing and commercial things, that France immediately stepped on and said no soap, for no reason other than she gave, as that would stimulate their commerce too much.
We took in quite a few typical beer houses in Munich -- the whole family, and in some they have big bands that just see how much noise they can make and how little music. It's swell! Then in some you find a show going on with the comedians taking off the Prussians, and ridiculing them in every possible way. One place, the most famous Comedian of that kind in Germany, gave a speech representing a town board meeting, in which several of the leading citizens spoke. The question before the board was where to put a new out-house that they were going to build for the town. It was a wow, with the butcher, in front of whose shop they were proposing to put it, protesting and suggesting it go in front of Louie the cheese maker's place, and then the fight between these two, with a dignified speech from the mayor, and then a speech from one of Hitler's party, the fascisti of Germany, who hate the Jews, and he suggested it go in front of Abie's house. The thing finally broke up in a riot as most board meetings do, with the remark from the mayor that the town would regret having come to no decision and would soon feel the need for the edifice. Mrs. S. translated it all for me. But gee, dad, you would have split if you could have seen it. Speaking of funny things, have you seen the Marx Brothers yet, in Monkey Business? Gee, I thought I would pass out when I saw it in Paris. I saw only half of it 'cause my eyes were closed the rest of the time, I was laughing so hard. You want to see it when you get the chance. More about beer halls -- when you go in and sit down to one of these long tables with everybody else,you must say "good evening" to them all. When the band strikes up some piece they like and with a good swing to it, they'll all put their arms around each other and sing and swing from side to side in time with the music. You just have to see one of those places, to realize what they are like and then you'd miss half of Germany if you failed to go to one or several. Munich of course is the center of them all, and the world's most famous ones are there, and they certainly are some places. You'll see too, some day, and you'll like 'em too.
From Munich to Paris, I was all alone, but I surely covered some ground in a short time there. Left Munich and went to Nurnberg, which is that famous old town with all the old part still standing in its original character, something that you can't find in many places. It's a town that one should not miss, and has more fascinating things in a square mile than any other place of which I know. It has an old wall around the town which is in a very good state of preservation, with its old battle towers, and way up on one hill is a swell old castle still in very fine shape. About one hundred feet from it is another castle built by the ruler of that section to keep his eye on the King of the country who had built the other one. There they sat and watched each other and fought every now and then. In one they had the worst torture chamber I've ever seen, with about a thousand different ways of getting a guy to kick the bucket. One thing called the "Iron Virgin" had a hollow section just large enough to allow a man to stand in it. The front swung back and there were long spikes all over it, and two very formidable ones right where the eyes were. They'd put a guy in there and start shutting the door little by little, letting the laws of physics and of personal health take their course. Nice way to kick in. There were some very nice legends told conerning these castles, too. The old bridges, the old houses leaning over the river, the market places, the old churches, all certainly give atmospere to the town and make you think maybe you are back a few hundred years -- until you almost get hit by a ford. I wandered all over the place until after mid-night, and then up early in the morning to see the modern part. The huge stadium and athletic field there is the finest in Europe. The design won first prize for designs for stadiums at the 1928 Olympics in Stockholm. They have a huge swimming pool, about two hundred feet long, then a smaller pool for kids, and then a wading pool, with huge terraces all around; two very swell restaurants and cafes, a wonderful section for playing and watching tennis, the stadium for the football matches, and another huge field for the kids to have their games, and where they hold the exhibitions of setting-up exercises, and all set in a beautiful park among the trees and grass and woods, and on one side the finest lake imaginable where they have lake swimming, and boating. These Germans certainly know how to take their athletics, how to fix up places for them, and how much they get out of them. They certainly are one healthy race, and getting healthier every day. The women aren't exactly what an American calls the nice slim type, but they certainly can run, and throw, and play football, and do the work of a horse if they were called upon. And at the same time, Berlin has, next to Stockholm (I place that first because Greta Garbo is my idea of a swell looking woman), the best looking and prettiest girls in Europe, although they are not the same girls as the athletes.
From Nurnberg I beat it across country to Rothenberg, another town like Nurnberg, only built in the hills and on the side of a hill, and being just a tiny little place, where Nurnberg was a large city (not all old however). Rothenberg is small enough and far enough off the beaten path so that it still continues in the way and manner of several hundred years ago, with the exception of a few Kodak signs placed all over the village. But of all the picturesque towns in Germany that are famous I think that is the best. You can see it in no time at all though. I got there just in time to miss seeing one of these famous clocks perform. I remember several years ago about reading in the National Geographic about some little town with a certain clock that did certain things. All of these towns have these kind of clocks with mechanical figures, but this one really is famous. It seems that back in 1490 and something or sometime like that (that sounds like a good date, but not as good as some I've had) some big war lord laid seige to the town. (Don't I sound as if I could tell good fairy tales?) After many months and heavy losses he finally succeded in capturing it. He was kinda sore at having his best horse shot out from under him several times, (several horses, that is -- just, one horse to a "shot-out") so he decided to play an old meanie. What do you think he decided to do? You wouldn't like to have me tell you? All right then I'll tell you. He decided to kill 'em all. I told you he was an old meanie. And here's where the National German Institution comes in, mother. They, the women, who in spite of all the faults of their husbands (like the horses, only one husband to a woman) needed someone to scrub the front porches, put up and take down the screens in the summer and fall, beat rugs at housecleaning time, have someone to fix the flat tires on the old war chariot & all the other few things husbands are good for (don't think I'll ever be one, they only seem to be good for nothing according to all the funny papers), well, these women got the old war lord meanie to call at the BEER HALL, what do you think of that, mother. You see, beer halls are good for something. They got him feeling pretty good, and he finally decided to let the guys go home again to help with the dishes if there was someone in the crowd who could drink, with one gulp, a big loving cup full of beer. I think the cup had been won by the town's "Ship Wreck Kelly" of that century for sitting on the top of a flag pole. He'd sat there for several months, afraid to come down for his wife was at the bottom of the pole. He finally came down for she died. Anyway we're at the cup now. One old bird took the thing and down she went, the contents, not the cup. The old meanie was very, very much surprised, in fact he was flabbergasted, absolutely dumbfounded, but he kept his word and the men were free men again, at least as far as this one guy was concerned. Maybe when they got back to tending the baby they wished the guy hadn't drunk the beer. (N.B. a few of the above sentences are not recorded as having taken place but the editor thinks that something like that must have happened, so there they are. Don't look 'em up or maybe you will find I am a liar). The general story is that, anyway. My gol, I guess way back I was telling about a clock or something. Let's see, just where does that enter the story. Oh, yes, every day at noon, two windows open in the town hall where this incident took place and out, come the two men. One guy drinks the beer and the other holds up his hands in great, very great, surprise. Can you imagine it, and the clock is famous just for that. But that's the story, and if you don't believe me, see if I care.
I then cut over through some very much out of the way country on the way to Stuttgart, going through some of the most delightful sections I had yet hit, and seeing Bavarian farms as they really are, off the beaten path. They surely are nice little things, several house groups all built together in a small settlement. It was well worth the few extra miles, and two flat tires I had for my trouble, because of there very seldom being any other cars around those parts to pick up the spare nails lying all over the road. Got in Stuttgart in the early afternoon, and saw a great deal of the town. It is one of the very few towns in Germany that one should not miss for modern architecture. It probably has more good stuff in relation to its size than any other town in Europe. It certainly had some nice things, including two very fine department stores, one by Mendelsohn, and an excellent theatre, and one of the finest railroad stations in Europe. Then farther out it had a swell huge cafe set up on a high hill. What anyone did with such a large one, and so far out I don't know, but it looked darn swell sitting up there anyway, and you could see it from far off, and the view from up on its terrace was marvelous.
Went to the movies in Stuttgart that night to see the theatre, almost went to sleep waiting for the main picture, and then saw the finest picture I've seen in Europe. It was called "Mountain in Flames" and if it ever comes to America, which it probably will you must see it. It is about the fighting in the Italian and Austrian Alps during the war, between the Italian and the Austrian armies. There is very little plot to it, but the pictures are almost entirely pictures of actual fighting taken by both governments and lent for the making of the picture. There are the most beautiful snow and mountain scenes in it I've ever seen, and skiing that makes you wonder how it can be true. The Italians blow up an entire mountain, with the Austrian encampment on it, but not before the Austrians had become aware of the huge tunnel that the Italians were digging through the mountain over a period of a couple months, and escaped just in time, all of which is an actual occurence in the War. You must not fail to see it, if it comes; it may be under a different title, most American movies over here are, so, just keep your eyes open.
When I left Stuttgart in the morning you couldn't see one hundred feet ahead of you the fog was so terrible down among the hills. It cleared before long though so I decided to take a trip through the famous Black Forest, and down near Switzerland. That sounds like a lot but you must remember distances aren't so far between countries over here. It just meant another day, and there was one little town which was very famous that I wanted to see, just for its cathedral, Freiberg. The trip and the town, and the cathedral were well worth driving miles and miles to see. The Black Forest reminded me a lot of driving through the Delaware Water Gap, with the mountains around, of course much forest, and the swellest old houses set on the side of the hills, half way up a hill, along the roaring streams, everywhere with a very decided Bavarian and Swiss character about them. Got to Freiberg in time to climb the cathedral tower and watch the sun set over the surrounding country side, and mountains. Gee, dad, and mother, you just have to see these places sometime, and take Christine and Ginny, and you'll have to see 'em with Lucille, too, Robert. You'll never forget them. Had dinner in the town Keller that night, just another beer hall mother, boy am I an old drunkard, wow!, and it was a darn good meal,too. Sat at a table with a couple of young fellows and when they heard me struggling with the waitress about the menu, they began talking with me. Can you imagine me carrying on a conversation in German? Well, I can't, can't imagine it, and can't carry one on, but for an hour we talked back and forth, and had a swell time. That was my last night in Germany.
The next morning I was on my way early to Stroussburg, the French frontier. I understand it is a very beautiful drive, but I saw nothing of it, for the fog was the worst I've ever driven through, and didn't clear until I was well in France, in the afternoon. Had to keep my eyes open all the time for some poor peasant driving his oxen along in the middle of the road, and sleeping at the same time, and let me tell you white oxen in a fog, are about as easy to see as a polar bear in a snow storm. If the teacher asked me to draw a picture of either one I would hand in a piece of white paper.
Of all the mean public officials in the world I think the French are the worst. The peasants are swell to you, but the Parisians and the guys in the government service are the most unaccomodating and nasty people I've ever encountered. Of course there are exceptions to them and exceptions the other way in other countries, but everyone seems to be of the same opinion, whether they love France or not, that the men at the borders, and anywhere with any power are pretty darn mean. And let me tell you, of all the bad places, Stroussburg is the worst. I had to take in every last thing and have it examined, and then after carefully looking at my International License, and watching me put it away in the bottom of the trunk,(which I had to unpack and then untie, and unroll every thing and every package I had in there, and there was plenty of Don H's stuff he had carefully wrapped up for me to take back to Paris,) after watching me put it in the bottom of the trunk as I would need it no longer being back in France, and watching me repack the trunk which took fifteen minutes, the guy calmly steps up and wants to take another look at the Int'al License. Boy! of all the times I could have cheerfully committed murder, and ripped a guys insides out, that time certainly would have taken a First Medal. Was I sore, and all for no reason whatsoever on that guys part, just to be mean. I had heard how mean they were at that place so I had been very careful to do everything just as they said, but I exploded at that point and used my English to my best knowledge. One of the fellows in our crowd at Paris, came through there one time. He does a lot of water colors, and when you do them out in the country you work on a block of paper like a tablet, only the sheets are fastened all the way around and stretched on so if they are loose they are no good. What does one guy do to him but start ripping off this expensive paper, sheet by sheet, until he grabbed it out of his hand. Then the guy wanted him to take all his tubes of paint and squeeze them out so he could see that he didn't have diamonds, or dope, or cigarettes, or maybe an automobile or two hidden away inside them. There again the guy kicked. Now do you think I can think the guys at that border are anything but darn lousy?
Stroussburg of course is Alsace-Lorraine which has been swapped back and forth between the French and Germans so often that the people aren't quite sure what kind of a newspaper they are going to find in the morning when they look on their front porches. (They don't have front porches there, so I don't know where they find their morning paper.) At present they speak more German than French, in fact one sentence will have some of both in it. I don't think, also, contrary to the stories that loyal Frenchmen or Germans tell, that they give a darn where their capital is, Berlin or Paris. Probably right now they're glad it's Paris, in fact their position is almost an ideal one, when there is a war between the two countries, the one that wins takes Alsace-Lorraine and consequently the loser has to pay for the damages that were inflicted by both sides, and the winner is sitting pretty until the next war, and every time of course this section is taken over by the winner, so they never have to worry, they're always winners. It a nice old town though, with some nice streets and quite a nice old cathedral. There is a little statue by the cathedral of a little old man looking up at the heavy tower. The story goes that back when it was first built, this man went everyday to the cathedral and stood in that place and watched the tower. One day a man who happened to be a sculptor asked him why it was he stood and looked at it every day. The fellow replied that it seemed to him the columns holding up the tower were too slight and he was just standing around until it fell. The sculptor said it would stand a long time, but the fellow replied he was going to stand there until it tumbled. So the sculptor went home and made this figure, and there it stands now still waiting for the tower to fall. Good story, don't know how true it is. There are a lot of interesting stories like that about almost every old church around, but I can't remember them all, to say nothing of writing them all.
The trip over the mountains that separate Alsace-Lorraine from the rest of France was a very beautiful one much to my surprise, because people have told me that the ride by train was the most uninteresting trip possible. The train must take an awful funny route because it was swell country, but terrible roads. Just outside of Nancy I came upon a party of Americans, eating by the roadside, two girls and a young fellow and his wife. I had gone down a hill behind them in Germany and told them their brakes were burning. This time I stopped and we talked for some time. One of the girls was studying architecture in Columbia and had gone to summer school in Tech so knew so many people in Tech Arch. School that I knew. They were riding in a roadster and certainly were crowded so I took a lot of their things in the Ford, seeing we were both going back to Paris. Had a bite to eat together in Nancy and then I went on. Stayed in Verdun that night and in the morning I went all over the battlefields.
Boy, what a mess -- for miles and miles nothing but shell holes, trenches, dug-outs, barbed wire, busted down rusty guns and tanks, and all over-grown with weeds and scrub. It looks exactly like pictures of the Bad Lands in America, only much worse. I don't think the land will every be good for anything again, because all the fertility of the soil has been destroyed by the poison gases. You know it is here that the hardest battles of the war were fought, and here that the French stopped them, with "They shall not pass." Both the Germans and the French had huge forts made of reinforced concrete scattered all over this section, and gun turrets with solid steel coverings three feet thick. These things were all blown to pieces, and some of the steel coverings have the ends of three inch and five inch shells stuck right in them. And then of course there are thousands and thousands of graves in the cemeteries. These cemeteries stretching over acres and acres with their thousands of white crosses leave something in your mind that you will never forget. It is here on the side of a hill, that the famous Trench of Bayonets is, where early one morning in 1910, a company of French troops was waiting to go over the top, when a shell exploded, caving in the entire trench and burying them all alive, standing up and with their bayonets and the ends of their rifles sticking out of the ground. There they still are, guns twisted, bayonets broken off from fighting after that in that section, but never touched the bodies I mean and now there is a monument built over the trench to protect it from the weather. This was given by Americans. Personally I can't see how things could remain the same for two more years of fighting but they say it is exactly as it was when it happened. It's too bad that they have made such towns as Verdun, and Ypres, etc. that could and should remain sacred just plain tourist centers, like Niagara Falls, with pretty painted souvenirs all over in every store. But it can't be helped, it is a tourist center, so naturally the town takes on the appearance.
Chateau-Thierry isn't much to look at, in fact none of the towns that have been rebuilt since the war are things of very pleasant sights. And the people had such opportunities to do something nice, I mean at least not ugly. It would have been no more expensive to have made a new building good looking by placing the windows and doors in the right places than the way they did, in fact less expensive because they've gone to extra expense to put on a touch of this or that trying to build a house like the old charming French houses, only this time out of rough cement blocks like they make in that place out East Main Street near Harvester Ave. It certainly is terrible and lousy, all at the same time. The next time anyone ever says anything about how terrible an American factory town looks I'm just going to refer them to these new French towns.
Between Verdun and Paris I stopped at Reims for awhile and took a look at the cathedral which was all shot to pieces during the war. It is the only cathedral that was destroyed, the Germans taking care not to hit those in the war zones, but the French used this one for an observation tower so the Germans took a few shots at it, with quite destructive effect. They are reconstructing it now, but of course can never replace the delicate carvings, the fine statues, and the feeling that age and age alone can give a building, so it is now very cold and umimpressive looking. You know the French did a dumb thing during the war. They took all the stain glass out of the different cathedrals that were any where near the war zone, and stored them piece by piece in a safe place. No, mother, it isn't like you've done when you've hidden your pocket book sometimes, so well you couldn't find it yourself when you came to want it, they knew where the glass was, but they had forgotten to number or mark the pieces, so now they have millions of pieces, and don't know where they belong. It's a swell job for somebody who used to like to put puzzles together when they were kids, and a million dollars for anyone who succeeds in getting them together, even half of them, I guess.
When I got back to Paris there were several things I wanted to do, but I had hardly gotten back there when Louis Skidmore, head of the World's Fair Office in Chicago landed for ten days to look over the Exposition, take pictures, movies, and notes, on it in relation to studying things for the Chicago Fair. He was an old Tech Fellow, and I had met him when I was in Hood's office. He wanted someone to help him so for about eight days we went out every day, and many nights, taking pictures, and notes, even then he didn't get all the stuff he wanted but had to sail back, so he wouldn't be losing his job. It seems that there are about fifty people after it & all jobs in America....On the same boat that Skid and Mrs. Skid went on, Whitie T., and Russ S., my two side kicks in Italy sailed. Gee, in one week over ten people I knew around Paris went back. Europe is losing its best people fast.
Speaking of swell people, I dropped in on Mr. C., Mrs. S's brother one afternoon. (Got a ticket for parking by a bus stop in the course of the visit, but which I got out of by acting just dumb as the deuce and speaking the worst French I've ever spoken, the gendarme finally gave up in despair and told me to get the H--- out, which I did, still acting dumb and surprised)....
One night Skid and I drove out to Chantilly where a Mr. Richard Hood has a home. It seems that he is the black sheep (on his own say so) of the Hood Rubber Co. family. He's about sixty or sixty-five. Way back when Ray Hood was in school in Paris, this man who was hanging around another section of Paris, (having been over here ever since he was about thirty) heard that there was an R. Hood around the place where the architects all hang out, so down he came and from then on has taken every fellow who has been around there, or known Hood, in the gang as he calls it. He's a little bit cracked, and admits it, but is funnier than the deuce. He has a French wife who insults you when you come out to his place, and is insulted if you don't insult her back again. She likes to entertain down-and-out dukes and counts, and he won't give her the money to do it, while for his part he is all the time entertaining American fellows like us, at his house, having them for dinner, etc. and she is sore because they come and eat up all the food and give nothing in return. This has been going on for years and they are both right, only it is funny as the deuce to sit there and listen to them argue, and then be insulted and feel perfectly free to insult back again. You want to try it sometime, it's a lot of fun, no one gets sore and everyone has a big time. Well, every time anyone has come out there Unk, as he is called, asked them what they would do to the house. Of course knowing him they all give crazy ideas, and he, the darn fool goes right ahead and carries them out so that now after several years of that he has the wildest house you ever saw, and thinks it funny as the deuce. He thinks rightly. I'll have to tell you about it when I come home for it certainly can't be described on paper. It just rambles all over, and with just a tiny fixing up, could be a marvellous place. It has terrace after terrace so no matter what floor you walk out from, and there are five of them, you walk out on a grass terrace, the second Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And what he has made there has been made of the very finest materials, but the details certainly are comical, such as grave stones for a balustrade, and Chinese steps up the side of the house. It is great! All the crazy ideas of crazy architectural students in their weaker moments, and there are plenty of them, and they have plenty of such moments. He named the place "Laughing Thoughts" because no Frenchman has ever been able to pronounce "gh" words. He thinks that's funny too; so do I. So there! The whole evening and night was an occasion never to be forgotten. It seems to me that I've mentioned quite a few things that are never to be forgotten since I've been writing letters home. Well, I think most of them will stick. Hope so.
Just as soon as we got the Skidmores off on the boat train, four of us started off for a little trip through Burgundy, the section of France that is famous for its wine. We thought we would take advantage of the marvellous weather that we'd been having ever since I was in Munich, but it seemed to fathom our thoughts, for it began raining that day, and turned cold. But that didn't stop us, and off we went, Andy A., Woody S., (the boy of the paint tube episode at Stroussburg), Guenther, this year's Paris Prize man, and myself. Joe had to stay for some work. The trip, in spite of the cold was one swell thing, and we saw some very fine country that was typically France, with some marvellous people. Went to Sens, then on to a little town by the name of Auxerre, which was built on a hill with a river below it and a peach of a cathedral right on the tip of the hill. Gee, it was a pretty place. Woody and Andy made several water colors on the trip, ten apiece, but as for me I don't like sketching enough to freeze in the process, and it was darn cold on the hills, below freezing much of the time. We went to and stayed at a little place called Vezelay, just a small town up on the top of one small mountain sitting all alone by itself in this plain. It has only about five hundred people and two streets, so that each house sets on the side of the step hill and looks out over the plain. It reminded me a great deal of San Marino and San Gimigano in Italy, both of which I've described in previous letters. A town like those certainly can't be beat for being a swell place. The cathedral, one of the finest examples of Romanesque in Europe, sets right at the end of the town with huge terraces at the apse sloping down the mountain side, and looking off towards the west. Gee, it was full moon when we were there, and perfectly grand. One night we walked down the mountain to the next town in the moonlight. The next town by the way was absolutely the darkest place I've ever been in, the dirt of centuries lying there in the narrow crooked streets, and the few people who still remained in the town, having the same appearance as the town itself. An American architect living in Paris, bought and fixed over in a very fine manner, a little house out in Vezelay, and he goes out week-ends from Paris which is about 120 miles away. It certainly is one nice place to have a home like that to go to, to get away from your work and the city. We stayed in a little inn, whose only heat on these cold nights came from a huge fireplace in the main room. Around this half the town gathered at night and all the dogs. We just sat around with the rest of the Frenchmen, and read and talked. When we'd go to bed, the old lady of the inn, would have put in our beds, big bottles made of earthen ware, filled with hot water, which due to their construction and probably used for centuries, held the heat all night long. It reminded me mother of the times when I used to sleep out on the sleeping porch and you would put a hot water bottle in the bed and I would immediately kick it out. I gave my bottle to Guenther who had a cold any way and didn't care if he did get another bottle.
Our next night's stop (four days to this point) was in a little town called Langres, which was an old Roman town, and one of the few towns in history that I think was never taken, due to its position on the side of a hill, and its exceedingly high walls. You could drive a car around the top of the walls, if you could get one up there. But it was a mighty fine sight looking off for miles from the different points on the walls. On a clear day you could see Mont Blanc in Switzerland 150 miles away, so we were told, and several other things at incredibly long distances. Here again was a very picturesque town, and the first place we'd struck on the trip that had things in the hotel that were at all modern or up to date, so we all celebrated and had a shave and all put on clean shirts. Quite an occasion. The next morning was very foggy, so we couldn't pursue our distance gazing as we had the day before. We then got headed back for Paris, going through Dijon, and on up to a small very fine town about sixty miles from Paris, called Provens, which like Salzburg is built in two towns, one at the base of the hill and the other, with the cathedral, and Caesar's Tower, and old prison and dungeon up on the top of the hill. It was raining again by this time so we didn't spend much time in this place. I should like to go back again sometime though.
One thing I forgot to mention about Unk Hood's house. He has a couple of bathrooms which are the wonder of the country-side. A modern bath is something very few French or Europeans ever heard of anyway so these have a double reason to be looked at with amazement. Each fixture in them is of a different color, such as a pink tub, a jet black toilet, a lavendar wash bowl, and a green shower. Then in another place he would have a deep red bowl, so that when you washed your hands it would look as if you were washing in blood. It certainly was a night mare, but it wasn't all his fault. He waited nine months for the company in Paris to get some white fixtures and finally told them to send out what they had in stock. Why they ever make such colors, I don't know but they surely are wows. He thinks they're great though, because they are so funny. He admits everything is funny and loves it just for that reason, and all the more so because it makes his wife so mad.
When I got back to Paris from the trip to Burgundy, there was a letter waiting there for me from Mendelsohn telling me he had some stuff in the office that I could work with him, and study with him. So the next week was spent in getting the car fixed up to leave in storage, and then I got a chance to rent it for a month, so that was taken care of. Then I had to unpack and repack to come here to Germany, had to see some people whom I wanted to see before I left, and went to a couple of exhibitions and the big Autumn Salon where all the artists, or rather the best ones exhibit their years work. It was very fine, and there were some fine interior decorations by some of the best interior decorators. I looked up a girl who was the room-mate in Wells of Ginnie K., that girl whom we went to see when I passed through Newark on my way to Philadelphia several years ago, Robert. She is studying during her Junior year at the Sorbonne and is a peach of a girl. Brought her over to our quarter and introduced her to all the gang and then we all went out together on my last night, in Paris. My train went at 10:00 p.m. and at nine we hadn't eaten yet, so we finally landed in a place, I grabbed an omlette, and left the party at twenty of ten with Joe, to drive across Paris to catch the train. Joe brought the car back and took care of the girl, at least I hope so, I haven't heard about either since I've been here. Maybe he took them both and beat it. By the way, mother, her name is Harriet, also; the only good looking girl besides my mother I've ever known with that name. Some day if I get to know her better maybe I can call her "Hattie"; think maybe, Hattie? Or maybe you don't advise it. By the way, do you spell Harriet with one "T" or two "T's"?
While I was in Paris the last week, Dick W., an old school buddy of mine was there also, along with his wife who was a co-ed at Tech the same time I was there. So those two, Joe and I ran around a lot to-gether. They sailed two days after I left. She cooked us a swell fried chicken dinner one night in the hotel room, just because I'd kidded her a day before about her not being able to cook. Boy, she was some swell cook, let me tell you. My last morning there I carted a car full of yelling Frenchmen through the streets of Paris to some school or other way outside of the city. They were all fellows from the atelier and as I knew most of them, they grabbed me when I came to get the car, and I had to take 'em before they'd let me move, Frenchmen, Americans, Japs, and even a Harvard guy.
As I was saying, I started for the train, and if I've driven before at all well, that piece of work was a masterpiece. I left French taxi drivers standing in the middle of the street bewildered, and made the train with three minutes to spare, three minutes that I could have spent eating another ommelette (is it spelled right yet?). Then the train pulled out and I proceeded to make myself as comfortable as possible on a hard wood seat for the night. Students never travel anything but third class in Europe, which means no sleepers, but I've done it several times before so I'm used to it. Mendelsohn happened to be on the same train as I but I didn't know it until we got to Berlin, because he didn't ride the shiny wood the way I did. The night would have been fine only they seem to have built the borders of the different countries too close together, and beginning about one o'clock, just when I could begin to sleep, in came the French guys to see that you were really getting out of their country. One time up was O.K., but just about when I'd be getting back to sleep again, in came the Belgium guys to take a look at my passport picture and have a laugh. At any time but two o'clock in the morning my passport picture is funny to me, (it's pretty darn funny even at that time), but I resent having a guy wake me up to look at the picture and then laugh at me. However, I stood that O.K., then another attempt at getting to sleep, then in came some more men of King Albert and wanted to know if I was smuggling Chinese or other things into their country. I've always liked King Albert before but I'm being to have my dislike for him after all that disturbance what with having your picture laughed at, imagine, my picture! (the guy in the passport office in Boston said he'd seen thousands but that was the worst he'd ever seen), and then more waking up. Once more out straight on the pine bench, and about that time we were getting near Germany, and I was getting near the end of my patience, but they had to go and repeat the process all over again -- even to the laughing; my picture must be funny. Rode all the next day and got into Berlin at six-thirty at night, over twenty hours, but it was a good train. The train was direct from Paris, to Poland and then on to Russia somewhere near Siberia, so it had the funniest writing all over it, some that looked like cwxzkjybrwqzxskipkxz xqp@#k?pqbgl#zxTQrSiq said something about not leaning out of the window or you might damage the bridge work, both the company's and your own. Then another sentence equally enjoyable said something about the engineer serving tea to all Bolsheviks in the water tank of the coal car at Thursday, October, Northeast. It was a very entertaining ride, and very instructive, for I learned from my bench mate, a German, how to travel. When it came time to go to bed he opens up a little bag and pulls out a pillow to sit on, then he brings out the baloney and eats a very fine midnight lunch. It reminded me of the times I used to raid the ice-box, mother. Then with that all finished and his mouth wiped off, he opens the magic bag again and pulls out a blanket. If he'd only had one more bag I'm sure he would have pulled out a big gas range to cook his baloney on, and then a big brass bed, to really set his pillow and blanket off in the style that such utensils should be displayed. But I had the laugh on him, for in spite of all his modern methods, and in spite of my primitive ones, I had just as good a sleep, (none at all) as he did, because custom officers were thicker than flies. Well, I guess I've gotten the trip over with and I'm now in Berlin, both in story and in reality. Are you tired yet and want me to quit or shall I go on. I want you to know I've typed steadily since noon, and all this in one day. (It's now 10:00 p.m.).
When I got here to Berlin, Hutch, the fourth member of the gang in Italy was here with two other fellows, all architects from Harvard. You'd have known we were architects and from rival schools if you could have heard us arguing the next day in a restaurant, three to one, wow! They all met me at the station and in due course of time I found a room. Since then I've moved, however, to a place where I think I shall stay, if I can stand the woman's talking, while I'm in Berlin. I pay less than $10.00 (ten) per month for room and breakfast. Not a mansion, no running water, but you pay plenty for either or both in this land.
When I was here before I was paying a little more per week than I am now per month. This way I can save money in more ways than one. Mendelsohn's office is way out in the suburbs so I'm living not far from it, which means I won't get into the city very often to spend money, and I can get some needed work done. Witness this lesson. Maybe you figure by the time you've struggled through this much of the letter that I'm living too far out, and better get in a little closer where I won't spend so much time on a letter. Throw it away if you're tired of it, or put the rest off to read next summer's vacation, I still have quite a bit to write, but am fast becoming convinced that maybe I should end this one soon and write the rest in another one and send it out in a week or so.
H. is in love, but we don't tell him anything about it. He has lost his appetite, can't think of anything else, so forgets he can't eat and orders a big meal. Then we eat it for him, so we're all satisfied, he, because there's no other girl in the world like her, only I'm beginning to suspect he thinks the same about two of them, and we, because we don't care whether there is or not, as long as he orders big meals. Wish I could find some more guys in love, this would be a cheap world, at least for the guy who wasn't in love. When I get so I let the steak covered with gravy lie idle because of some girl, it's going to be a darn cold day. He's a good egg, though, only a "wee, bit precious" at times. He'd give you his shirt off his back, even if he wasn't in love.
I've now got to a point where I speak quite fluently, that is I can walk in a store and say, "Can you speak English" and I can always understand their "nein", and so I turn around and walk out, again. I continue this practice until I find a store where they say "yes". Usually it isn't the kind of a store I want but I buy something just the same just 'cause they can speak. The English language is a great language. I'm now starting on Russian, but I haven't very great ambitions of becoming a public speaker in Russia, I haven't any red flannels. I once could say, or rather write in Chinese, "The chicken lays an egg" but I'll never be a Chinesee farmer so I guess I'll forget how to say it.
I did learn how to say in German though "The dog bites the man" because Mendelsohn's dog bit his head draftsman, and sent him over to the "krankenhaus" (hospital) -- I'm just showing off. Mendelsohn speaks a little English, the other fellow in the office (there are just two of us now that the dog got busy -- maybe if I get so's I can speak German I can talk the dog into getting rid of Mendelsohn too) speaks a little -- the dog none. But I'm rapidly teaching them English, -- the first two. I've found that is the best way of going through Europe, teach them your language. And now after a few days of trying to teach me German, they both have given up and are seeing my viewpoint much better. They did try to teach me a few words of Russian though. I know one, Ford, that's a universal word, and to anyone who reads this letter and knows automobiles, that isn't a pun either. One thing I can learn quite readily in the office though is slang. I can say lousy in German now so they can understand me; all you have to do is to be a darn good spitter and be able to survive being spit at. That's half of learning to speak good German, having your tonsils hold up for one long sentence of spitting. I can say "Wieberheld" which means "ladykiller", you know, a shiek, not a blue beard. Then of course there is "Ich liebe dicht" which I'm not going to tell you the meaning of. See if you can translate it -- Ich means I, liebe means love, dicht, means you. Can you do it? if so you may have the afternoon off. Oh yes, I learned the word for "Oh yeah", and can say it to perfection. Then a bug is called a wall-paper flounder. You really should hear us tell jokes; a little German, a little English, a little French, many motions and a great many diagrams. If you can think of anything more foolish than trying to explain the point of a joke after it's been told, especially to some people whose sense of humor is entirely foreign to yours, I'd like to know what it is unless it is maybe a rocking-chair endurance contest. But there we are telling stories and doing our best to get across the point. But after some hard work we're almost always successful, at least somebody will laugh just to call off the explanation. I'm still wondering at some of the jokes they told me, but boy did I laugh; like to split my sides.... But really and truly I am studying this language and can say a few simple things in it. More as the time goes on. Guess I'll go I to bed now and write more tomorrow night. 'Night!
Boy, am I taking this letter writing to the family in a serious manner! Just ask me, nineteen pages and still going strong. This happens to be the next night, but I think I'll finish it this time.
This new place I'm in isn't the swellest place I've stayed at, in Europe or anywhere else, but saving money is saving money, so I'm satisfied. The only drawback to the whole thing is the woman in the family. Boy can she talk! German, French, English, Hog-Latin, and monkey talk all in the same sentence. Right now she seems to have found an equal in some long lost relative of hers outside my door. They're both going at it, neither caring what the other is yelling, as long as they can yell too. So there they are, a duet in German, -- when I talk with her, it's a monologue. I'd tell her to quit talking, only now for four days that I've been here I haven't, been able to get the words in between hers. Some day I'm going to sneak up behind her when she doesn't expect me and yell it out before she can take a breath and start in. No foolin', she inhales and then lets loose for ten minutes just on that one breath, before I've "come to" she's had a new breath and continued so what can I do? I'll bet she'll be embarassed to find someone's gotten a word in she didn't expect if I can only find my chance. I'm carefully laying out a method of attack. If that doesn't work I'm going to take the easiest course and just brain her. She'll ask me a question, and answer it before I can even begin to think. Then immediately will come another question. My gol, here she comes again knocking at my door, wanting to lay my pajamas out, or tell me not to forget to leave my shoes outside the door for the maid to shine. Every night she wants me not to forget -- just as if I could with her telling me at least three times every evening. ...Just in case you haven't realized it yet, my landlady talks too much...
Getting serious again, you know day by day, I get more and more contentment out of the fact that I'm an American. Gee, it's great to be from that country, and great, to know that you're going back to it. There just isn't a place on earth that can compare it. If you took the six best countries in Europe, took out the very best things about 'em and put them in one, I'd still thank my lucky stars I was nothing but an A