European Letter from an MIT Grad, 1931 September 7
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.
Previous Letter | Next Letter
Sept. 7, 1931.
Having done up Frankfort for several days in the rain, we turned north and headed for Hannover, by the way of Gottingen. We were tempted to go back over the same route as we had come down, that is along the Rhine, because it is such a beautiful trip, and we'd seen so much of it through the rain. But I was glad we went the way we did, for it certainly is a very beautiful drive. Throughout the entire trip from Frankfort to Hannover, you go through this beautiful rolling country with hills and woods all around and very fertile fields growing wheat, etc. The people tilling the fields are the typical German peasants, and their farms and small villages are the same today it seems, as they might have been hundreds of years back.
Almost all the small towns through this district are very very charming with the buildings of half-timber, and this half-timber carved with the swellest little figures and animals and colored with bright colors. You certainly can find plenty of the so called "atmosphere" of old Germany along this route and in these towns. At Gottingen where we stayed one night is a famous old university, one of the very oldest in Germany. Just about every German king has studied here, and many famous men throughout the world, including America. Henry W. Longfellow studied there, as did Coleridge, the man who wrote "The Ancient Mariner". It is very interesting to read the menu in the restaurant in the basement of the old Town Hall for on it is a long list of the several hundred very famous men who were students there for the last several hundred years. J.P. Morgan also studied there. Speaking of restaurantrs in the cellar of the Town Hall, most all German towns have them, and they are the best places in town, as a rule to eat, and darn swell. They are called "The Ratskeller" and you can imagine that they are pretty darn picturesque in the cellar of these old buildings. You see nothing better in any movie of a story of the old times in Germany. Also they are generally the meeting place and the general hang-out for the entire town each evening. They probably do the same service for the general public that the big stove in a general store in some small American town does for that town public. Anyway it's a good place to sit and spend the evening listening to the four or five piece orchestra render some old piece. They're not bad either. Everyone in restaurants over here in Germany, no matter how small the restaurant, wears tails, and just about full dress. Employees, and orchestra I mean, not me. In fact all of Germany has a very prosperous look, and from the very beginning I've wondered just how they can yell about being so poor, and the rest of the world being so rich. Everyone here seems to have plenty of money to spend on amusement, go to night clubs, own big cars, and dress better than any other country I have yet seen in Europe, with the exception perhaps of Denmark and Sweden, and there they looked a little better, only because they knew how to wear their clothes better. But all in all, Germany appears to me to be very well off, the people I mean, probably not the government; every cafe and theatre is jammed and there seem to be many more people headed for a good time, and by far the majority of them Germans, than even New York. All that I've heard since I've been here in Germany is how rich everyone in America is and how poor German people are. I'm getting tired of it. And then they take every opportunlty they can to tell you that the Reparations ought to be cancelled and how wrong they are. Maybe they should, I think so myself, but they don't seem to think that I cant do anything about it, and they get sore at me or argue about it. I'm just waiting to find someone who understands English well enough and then I'm going to start in and tell 'em a few things. They're a good bunch, though.
As I was saying about the trip up from Frankfort, the towns were extremely fascinating, and had as much interest just as towns and villages as anyplace else I've struck in Europe. This part is now being written a long way from Berlin, and I've gone through a lot more towns, but I think that trip, and down along the Rhine is the nicest part of Germany of all that I've seen; going to Munich and near the Black Forest, in about two weeks. In some of these old towns you'd pass below an old medieval castle built way up on a peak in the town. The castles were built first and then the town below and around them for protection for the inhabitants of the town who were vassals to the lord owning the castle. Some of these old castles were pretty swell looking places, but we went through none of them. Going through one town we came upon a small troupe, gypsies, I guess. Two of the girls were on very high stilts, and were dressed in some kind of a costume of the country and were dancing on these stilts while their father played a small hand organ. Quite the show. They were giving it in the road outside of one of the few army barracks that Germany is allowed to have. They still have an army, still wear the same helmets and uniforms as during the war, but the army's darn small compared to what you see in every other European country, especially France and Italy. All along the roads here in Germany you are liable to run on to some of these travelling minstrels of whom you read about in olden times. They'll be standing in the middle of the road playing instruments like guitars and mandolins, just as likly as not, out in the middle of the country miles from any habitation, but just playing. Maybe they play like I do and have to stay out there on penalty of death or torture, anyway there they are half the time, whether the Versailles Treaty says they must or not.
We stopped in one little town, Hildescheim, not far from Hannover which is famous for the great number of old half-timbered houses remaining. It really is swell, and has the nicest squares with these old houses built around, the wood all carved and painted with various colors. It is a picture of old Germany back about four hundred years at least as far as the outward appearance of the houses are concerned. While I was crossing the street there, a Ford roadster came whizzing along and I'll be darned if it wasn't Smith and Trevvett, the fellows with whom I was travelling in Italy. Gee, it was good to see them again. They were staying in Hannover that night, so we had a big get-together that evening. Hannover is a fairly interesting city although nothing extra. It did have some interesting work, especially one office building with a planetarium built up on the top. Planetariums seem to be quite the thing in Germany, for almost every large city has one, with lectures given in them every day. We went to the one in Hamburg and it was very fascinating. I've never seen time go by so fast before, a whole year went by in three-quarters of an hour and you travelled from north pole to south pole, quite a trip for twenty-five cents. You want to sign up for it.
Next came Hamburg with its great harbor, and swell lake right in the middle of the city. It really is a very beautiful place with this lake, with small sail boats sailing from one end to the other. It is a great deal like the Charles River Basin in Boston, only it is much prettier because it has parks with big trees coming down to it and the building have all been designed with the lake taken into consideration, which is something that no one can say about The Basin.
Hamburg had some very interesting work, including some very nice huge housing layouts, and several very swell, no not very swell but good modern buildings. The airport is one of the nicest that I've seen over here in Europe, with a huge terrace on which one can sit and drink coffee or those things that Volstead hasn't touched over here, and watch all the huge planes come and go. In Europe air travel is on a much more developed basis than in America, and consequently a great deal cheaper. There are huge planes landing and taking off every half hour or even more often, in fact in Berlin, about every eight or ten minutes one would come in or take off. Any way, there we sat watching all the activities, with the swell airport stretched out in front of us, when some one made the suggestion that we fly to Copenhagen, which by car, due to the long round about route necessary because of water and all -- take a look at a map -- was a trip of four days about, and expensive because of ferries. Of course third class train fare would be much cheaper but we wanted the experience and figured that over that part of the country it would be as pretty as any we could find anywhere. We inquired; two and a half hours by air, about fourteen dollars. It would easily have cost ten dollars by car, and through country that we weren't particularly interested in spending eight days travelling through. So we went, just like that. Left most of our luggage at the hotel, parked "Aggie" underneath the wings of several tri-motored planes in the hangar, wondered if we'd find some small "Aggie" with tri-motors when we came back, and took the nine o'clock plane for Copenhagen. The trip was perfectly swell, had every kind of weather imaginable in that short time. When we arrived at the airport the sun was shining, climbed in, I had a seat right behind the two pilots and off we went. It was a single motor, eight passenger and two pilot, cabin plane. The take off was perfectly great, and we were soon flying low over some swell country that would have been impossible to have seen by car. It was Vickey's and Joe's first trip in a plane and they were thrilled. It was the first time that I had flown since Mitchell Field three years ago, so I wasn't exactly what you might call bored. Very soon we ran into some cloudy weather, and then into a very hard rain storm. It was a lot of fun flying through the rain, and the wind tossed us around a little bit, we hit a few air pockets, flew along about a hundred miles an hour, most of the time at an altitude of only a thousand feet because of the weather, and then when we came to cross over the huge expanse of water climbed to about four thousand feet. We flew through some very thick clouds, and then climbed up above them into the prettiest sight I've ever seen. We flew along just skimming the tops of the huge billowy clouds, The clouds went for miles at just the same level, and looked like just miles and miles of cotton balls. It is impossible to really describe the thing as it deserves, I'm no poet, look at my English marks. If it were describing some girl's eyes I could compare them with the mountains, the sky, and most everything in nature until it would sound like a weather report coming out of Harvard's department on Shakespeare, but seeing I'm not we'll let it go as just being "damned swell". We flew so low over some of the farms that the cows and pigs and chickens went running for shelter. All the peasants would stop, lean on their hay rakes, and watch the plane until it disappeared. The land in Denmark was even flatter than in Holland, and thousands of small lakes and bays where the North Sea came shooting its nose into places. There were many fishing boats out, and you could see nets stretched for long distances in the sea, all marked by their floats. We flew over a swell cruiser of the Danish navy, and every now and then we came upon small power boats way out from land. Finally we came into
sight of Copenhagen, circled over the city, then headed for the field, circled that for the proper direction of the wind and came into a perfect landing, hardly knowing when the wheels touched the ground. All in all it was a perfect trip and an experience that was well worth the small difference in price. It took but a few minutes to get through the customs, it never takes more than a moment at any time, and we were headed for the city. I went through, forgetting to give them my passport, and they forgetting to ask for it, so I never did get a stamp from Denmark put in it. As far as they're concerned I was never in the place; as far as I'm concerned, I'm darn glad I went.
Copenhagen is a nice old city, with a character all its own. The canals, with their fishing boats lined up along the street, and the men on them with baskets of live eels selling them to old ladies, who poke around in the mess until they find their favorite, are something that I'd seen nowhere else. Like so many of these cities here in Europe, the huge ocean ships come right up to within a stone's throw of the streets with their cafes and all. It is a city that two days will suffice for seeing it thoroughly. It has a couple of nice museums, and a new modern church that is quite unique. Anyway, we got up one morning at 4:30 to catch a train, boat and train for Stockholm.
The trip to Stockholm was through some very pretty country. It was as close to being like Canada up around Lake of Bays as anything I've ever seen before, except Canada itself. It had Canada's lumber camps, no coal around there so the whole country burns wood; it had Canada's thousands of small pretty lakes, with the woods coming right down to the water's edge, its rocks and all. Even the roads looked the same, darn rotten. The trip was a very pretty one, and not at all tiresome as I had thought third class for twelve hours or more might prove to be. We pulled into Stockholm about five thirty that night, through one of the prettiest approaches I've seen to any city. It was a wonderful time to enter the place, and from the very first moment we saw it we were all perfectly crazy about it. It is a city unlike any other I've ever seen. It is built all on islands in this fresh water lake, and the different islands are connected by bridges and a good system of passenger ferries running between them. There is an old part of the city where the royal castle is, along with the old churches, and the old streets. Like all old cities, or old parts of cities here in Europe it is something that you can wander all over and never get tired of it. The royal castle holds a very prominent position, of course, and is real good-looking building, which is not always the case in many royal buildings throughout Europe. The very first night there I wandered all over the city getting most beautifully lost, and not finding my way back until one in the morning. That's really the way to see a city, you never miss a thing, you can't help it. Stockholm has some very interesting architecture, and some fine buildings, but the most wonderful of them all, and one that to me is the best building of modern times, is the town hall. The design of it was studied over a period of over thirty years, and the finesse with which it has been done, both in design and in workmanship is something that you find very seldom in the present day. I spent half my time that I was in Stockholm hanging around it, climbing its huge tower, and going through it from one end to another. Joe M. and I managed to get taken through all by ourselves while the general public have to go through in bunches of a couple of hundred. The man was so proud of it all, and everything we came to he said, "that is Swedish maple; that is Swedish marble; that is Swedish drapery; a Swedish artist painted that, a Swedish sculptor did that," but the prize came when he was showing us the huge bronze doors that rolled back for entrance into the huge "Gold Room" which is the banqueting hall. The doors weigh a ton a piece, and slide back very easily. He gave them a healthy push and threw out his chest, Mr. Olsen it was, and said proudly, "They roll on Swedish ball-bearings". His next best crack of the day was in showing us some columns which were of red marble. He said, "We haven't got red marble in Sweden so those columns are imitation marble made by Swedish workmen." Before he got through one would almost think that the Swedes had something to do with making Stockholm's Town Hall. But anyway, the entire city is something that is darn swell, and grows on you, and makes you want to stay. I want to go back there someday and really see the country, not for architecture alone, but just as Sweden as a country. It is perfectly beautiful that which I did see. In winter it must be great. The water is all frozen, and they have skating, and ice-boating all around through the city on the lake. The town hall has such a wonderful site, because it is situated right at the water's edge, with all the fishing boats and boats loaded high with corded lumber tied up all around it. It is really things like that that make European cities so picturesque and interesting. Going back a little bit, and telling more about the town hall. The "Gold Room" is the most striking thing you can imagine just plastered from top to bottom, from one end to the other with gold mosaics. The figures in them are crude but swell, and as Stockholm was built around about twenty legends, and has at least that many patron saints, from the one for the fishermen to the one that watches over the destiny of stray cats, they had plenty of stories to draw pictures about all over these gold walls. And there they are in a manner that is fascinating as the deuce. One end of the room has a huge figure representing Stockholm, and on either side of it, there are drawings representing the various countries of the world, the east on one side, the west on the other; for instance Spain has a bull fighter, Italy a man with a donkey, Britain has a huge ship as mistress of the sea, while America has the funniest skyline of New york, just a bunch of cubes, and cheese boxes, with a small American flag flying from the top of one of them. It is all very amusing and something that you can sit and study for a long time and enjoy. This room has the most beautiful table imaginable, all inlaid with ebony. There are low stools around it, everything in such good taste and with such a richness. With the table and stools both low, and very broad, it gives a scale of grandeur to the room that one can only comprehend by seeing it. It is swell. That building alone was worth the entire trip up there.
The latitude where we were was the same as part of Alaska, and you certainly knew it both by temperature at night, and by the shortness of the day. Where we were in Italy or Sicily in April, and on Standard time, it wouldn't get dark until nine or nine-thirty. Here in Stockholm, on daylight time in the middle of August it was dark by six-thirty. The people were great up there too, and maybe you don't think there were some swell looking girls, just hundreds of Greta Garbos running around in the streets. They really looked as if they had had a bath too, which is something so many of the girls in Europe dont have the appearance of having had. They were to me the best looking girls I've seen yet in Europe, except some American girls I've seen around now and then. Denmark has girls just as swell too. But all in all they can't be beat by any other countries in Europe. One day while I was making a sketch an old duck came around and talked for half the morning. He'd been in the States for twelve years and was crazy to talk with some American. He owned one of those lumberboats I was telling you about and invited me over to have tea and meet the wife and kids. I didn't go, but the next day Don was sketching and the same fellow found him and took him over. The whole country was great from beginning to end, and the people just as nice as could be. There wasn't any of this "dumb Swede" type that seem to be so prevalent in movies and in funny pictures, no more than you see in any country. Just a good clean, healthy looking bunch of people throughout. I always will hold one thing against them though, they drive on the left side, and for a couple of days there I nearly got picked off about twenty times. I'd finally get so I'd look to the right instead of the left as I stepped off the curb, but darn if I ever got so I'd change my direction of looking when I got to the middle of the street, and about that time along would come a Buick at fifty miles an hour and dust my pants. But I'm still here and doing the same thing to strangers in this country (I'm now in Vienna) where they also drive on the left. But I have the car here so I've gotten used to this left hand stuff. Buicks and Fords and Chevrolets are the most consistently popular cars in Europe. Each country has different favorites where you will see many of one kind such as Hudsons and Essex in Belgium, Reos in Sweden, Chryslers in Germany, etc., but in all of them you will find many many Buicks, Fords, and Chevies. All over Europe, except in Italy where Mussolini won't allow a foreign language to be spoken on the stage, you can hear English talkies. They always have printed captions and explanations right across the picture in the language of that country, but they still run the talkies, because so much of the thing depends on the music, the sound effects, and even the talking even though it is not understood. So it makes it great for any English speaking person to go to the movies, and especially with these Laurel and Hardy comedies. Gee, those things are the funniest things going and I'll laugh at them until I cry. Saw one the other night in Prague in Czechoslovakia and I laughed so hard some old crank ahead of me got up and swore at me in Bohemian. I just laughed all the louder.
One very interesting thing that I saw while in Stockholm was the changing of the Royal Guard. It takes place every noon in the huge court by the palace. It is a very picturesque thing, with about two hundred men participating. About a hundred infantry or guards all dressed up in bright uniforms, shiny helmets, and all, about forty men on the most beautiful horses you ever saw, and these guys all decked out too, and then a band of about forty pieces. It really is quite a ceremony and takes three quarters of an hour to get it all over with. It is well worth seeing. I got quite a lot of movies of it. Hope they come out. Speaking of them, don't get very high hopes on swell pictures, movies, of the trip. There is a great deal of skill in taking good pictures with the movie camera, that is to make them worth while looking at, getting the right movements, speed of changing from one point to another, from one object to another, etc. I saw my films the other day in Berlin that I'd taken on this trip north. They were just passable, that's all, some not good, other parts fine and most of it just mediocre. I hate to think what my first three films taken in Italy are going to look like. Boy! they're going to be pretty sorry I'm afraid. Anyway they'll give you some idea of what I've taken them of. It's really very hard to take a great many pictures because you don't want to see just street scenes, city squares, buildings, etc. So sometimes I go for a couple of weeks and don't take a picture.
We took the night train back, sitting up all night. It was a beautiful moonlight night, full moon, and it was a gorgeous ride back through all these lakes, woods, etc. There is a swell three day trip back across Sweden through the Goya Canal. You want to take that if you ever get up there. Wish I had had the time and money. That night coming back on the train, dad, reminded me of yours and my trip to Lake of Bays and those moonlight nights out by the lake. Remember them? Managed to grab a couple of winks of sleep but the time really went by very fast. Got into Malmo about six-thirty in the morning. Took the boat over to Copenhagen, and had till four to roam around that city some more. We then took the small boat that sailed for Lubeck, Germany. It wasn't at all a bad trip, although our bunks were pretty sorry excuses. However, we did ride and eat first class even though we were second class. Got into Lubeck the next morning at six and had most of that day in that place. Lubeck is a very charming town and has a great deal of interest for the traveler. I'm glad we didn't miss it. Next we grabbed a train for Hamburg again, and then went and got "Aggie". She started right off with a bang so we didn't treat her so badly after all. It isn't every Ford that can have air planes, and especially tri-motored ones as room mates all the time. We spent quite some time in the Hagenback Zoo in Hamburg which is a darn interesting place. The walks are all lined with parrots sitting there on cross arms with no cages. You can go play with them, feed them or handle them if you want. The bears were swell as were also the penguins. Gee, those birds are the funniest things that I've ever seen. Polar bears are my passion anyway so I could watch them all day. This zoo is one of the best going I understand and very very well displayed. The next day we packed up and headed for Berlin.
I liked Berlin from the very first, and think it one of the best cities in Europe. Many people don't care for it very much but I liked it a great deal. It is a beautiful city with all its parks, its drives, and everything else. It has some beautiful buildings belonging to the govermment, and the Under den Linden which is the main boulevard is one of the prettiest streets in any city in Europe. It has the greatest amount of modern architectmre of any city and is very proud of it all. There really are some very fine buildings in modern there with some swell interiors. We went through the most of them. Ran on to Smith and Trevvett again in Berlin, and also Smith's sister and her husband. The bunch of us played around together, had dinner together most every time, and had a peach of a few days. Smithy and I tore all over Berlin together seeing this thing and that when the others got tired. It was great to go seeing architecture with Smithy again. He was the most interested one in Italy, too, so we used to go a lot together there also. He left for Paris leaving Trevvett in Berlin. His sister's husband is studying at Oxford this winter, so those two are going over there, and Smith sails for home about the first of November. Hate to see him go; he hates to go. Nothing in sight in the line of a job there and anyway Europe is Europe and why go home, says Smith. But when there is no money to stay on there is nothing else to do. Joe M. also had to head back for Paris to start work again for the fall at the Ecole. I hated to see Joe leave the party but school is school. Got hit in the rear bumper by a taxi in Berlin. He broke his; has my number; he was to blame swinging blindly out of a side street as taxis will whether they burn German gas or Bowery gas. Don't know whether I'll hear from him or not. The last day in Berlin I was very busy. Had an appointment with Peter B. the architect from Vienna whom I'd mentioned in other letters as having a school and with whom I'd like to study for a few months. He was very nice and treated me very fine. He's one of the best of European architects and his school is very fine. But I'm afraid that it would be worth very little to me to study only three months with him seeing that it would be nothing more than about the same stuff I had at Tech, just a different way of studying the problem. He thought the same thing and told me that the best experience I could have would be to work for a good architect for a couple of months or so. Also I was told that Peter B. is in his Berlin office most all the time and gives very very little time at his school, leaving it all in the hands of an assistant, so there again it isn't what I'd want so guess that idea is out. Then I had an appointment with Erich Mendelsohn who is considered Europe's greatest modern architect. His work is absolutely great and anything he touches his hand to is darn good. He was very very nice to me. Showed me about everything he had in the office, showed me some sketches he had made while he was in the trenches, sketches for huge projects that be had in mind all during the war, and then autographed a book on his work that I had. We just "bulled" around for over an hour and had a grand talk about everything in the world from architecture to swimming. He called people up so that I might get in places to see things that otherwise would have been impossible, was going to let me go through his home which is very modern, and just treated me royally from beginning to end. I feel great because he is the one guy that all architectural students want to be like, want to talk to and never have a chance. I just called him up and asked him and he said "Yes."So there I was.
Speaking of zoos back farther, Berlin has a very fine one too. One of the features of it is the portion for kids where they have the baby animals, and the kids can go in and play with them, mostly tigers and lions, and have their picture taken with them. Think of letting any of your five year old kids, or say four and a half, go in and maul a tiger and lion around. Yet, there they are, true as life. We got there just in time to watch them feed the sea lions, seals, etc., and it surely was great to watch those things chase the keeper all over after the fish, follow him way up on top of some rocks fifteen feet above the water and then take dives from there after the fish as he threw them down. One big grand-father weighing about a ton did the biggest splash of the day. Then they had one old boy in a pool by himself that must have weighed at least ten tons, no exaggeration, wait until you see my picture of him. He was like Goliath, the largest one in captivity owned by Ringling Brothers. He was at least twenty feet long and four to five feet high when he really got filled up with air which he inhaled about every ten minutes with much noise and to the delight of everyone near him. But to watch him exhale was even better. They had some of the swellest bears here too. And a big black panther that was a prize. The lions didn't seem to like their captivity and told the world about it. But the bears had the best time going and seemed to enjoy every minute of it. One big brown bear was ten feet tall when he'd stand up at the command of anyone offering him food. It didn't make any difference whether you spoke German or not, all you had to do was to show him the food, make a motion and up he'd go. If you didn't give it to him then he'd give you the most distainful look you ever got in your life, he thought he had earned it.
Went out to Potsdam one afternoon where all the royal palaces are. They don't come up to Versailles in any way, shape or manner, but are very nice just the same, although disappointing in most ways. Einstein's Tower (done by Mendelsohn) is out at Potsdam also, and we got up to that. Einstein was away so there wasn't any chance of seeing him. Potsdam itself though lies in a very beautiful country with many lakes and many sailing
yatch boats on them. (Oh, I can spell "yacht").
Left Berlin headed in a round about way to hit several places that had some good new buildings. Stayed in Magdeburg that night. Magdeburg had a lot of nice buildings left over from an old exposition. It seems to me that there isn't a city in Germany that hasn't had an exposition within the last five years. When they run out of excuses for really having one, they hold it in the name of "Better Babies Week" or "Eat more Hot-Dogs". They build new buildings just for it and then continue to have the grounds open years after the thing has closed and the people go wander around there like a big park even though there isn't a thing that is open or anything of an exposition except a few dirty white washed buildings. Anyway, Magdeburg has one also, and quite interesting. We left there headed for the southern part, through Dessau, with an interesting school. And on to Leipzig. The fair grounds at Leipzig where they hold the merchandise fairs, twice a year, the largest fairs in the world, were huge and looked as if the fairs might be darn interesting. They come in March and in August. Also, in Leipsig there is one of the largest war memorials I've ever seen. It is for the war with Napoleon, and evidently there was a very large and important battle fought around there. I don't know my history well enough to say anything about it. Next we headed for Chemnitz which certainly didn't give one a very secure feeling for the streets were just filled with muttering "Reds". The police stood around on every corner in groups of ten or twelve with rifles strapped over their shoulders, stood in almost every doorway and kept every single person under their eye. The town is an industrial place and from all appearances the people must be pretty wretched, the worst I've seen in Germany. We didn't stay there any longer than we could help; saw a huge department store done by Mendelsohn, and left for Dresden. All the country side from Hamburg till this time had been very uninteresting, but along here it began getting into some Alps or other, anyway within just a few miles it got very pretty and a very nice trip. Saxony, this part of Germany, is a typical section all its own, with its own people, dialect, architecture, and costumes.
Dresden is a swell old city, with more beautiful old buildings for the size of the city than any other place of which I know. It certainly showed that there was power there before the war. It has a museum also that is darn good, having Raphael's Sistine Madonna in it. It of course wouldn't be a German city without its Exposition, so they have one, a very swell one at that, on health showing every thing from granulated eye-lids to a hospital ambulance in a motor cycle. (One tire was flatter 'n anything I'd ever seen before). One of the buildings had pickled everything, so you could just see how beautiful you really were in the North, East, South and West. Let me tell you humans are swell looking things pickled in alcohol, either in life or in a museum -- ugh! Anyway, they had all kinds of machines that you could play with and watch and see how your heart worked, what and why your lungs did things, what happened to the stray peach pit you couldn't find, why last years winter cloths have to be given to the small son. It was very interesting from beginning to end, if you like that stuff.
I wasn't particularly keen about it.
At Dresden we met Janet S., an American girl who was in the gang in Paris, and whose family are now living in Munich. She is going to travel with us for a couple of weeks or so, at least until we get back to Munich. She's a peach of a girl, and about the swellest looking thing you ever saw. We'd mentioned it when we were all in Paris that it would be great if we could arrange things that way. She had to go to Munich all summer, and hated the place, and loved Paris so she was all for joining us for a while too. She's lived in Europe for the last four years, and had gone to school here for several years before that. When Joe was leaving we knew we'd have plenty of room so's not to crowd everybody. It would have been great to have had her earlier in the trip, but her mother wanted her to stay with her.
Anyway she says she's having a swell time now, the best of all the summer, so I'm awfully glad she could come. As I said before, we had one big gang in Paris, that always went around together, daytime, swimming, meals, and evenings, mostly all architects, or their friends. She's seen them come and go, being there for so long a time, and knows just about everybody from Tech who ever did get across.
While I was driving around the streets of Dresden the first night I passed a fellow who was going very slowly. He got mad and told the cop at the next corner. In the meantime I'd gotten tangled up in traffic and the cop came over, talked a long streak of something or other to me, I looked dumb and told him in my best German I couldn't understand, and we just sat and looked at each other. Finally he yelled "Eine mark", and I understood that he was fining me one mark for something or other. So I said, "One mark," and he with big grin 'cause he had finally gotten through my head what he was trying to tell me, said, "Yah vol", which in plain English means, "you bet!" or "O.K." So I paid him the one mark ($.24) to the amusement of the crowd that had gathered, his amusement and certainly to ours. He gave me a receipt, and then started in on the crowd, asking what they thought it was there, a show? I later found out it was for passing that slow guy; no passing at all in the city. I was perplexed for the rest of the time in the city as to how much it would cost me to pass a bicycle, and there are plenty of them.
We left Dresden and headed for Prague. Immediately the roads got terrible. Boy, old Czechoslovakia surely can boast of the greatest percentage of lousy roads of any country I've been in, and I've been on some bad ones. Some of them are good, a couple of miles excellent, but all the rest would do justice to some back woods place. However the country was a beautiful thing to drive through, a lot like driving through the Catskills, or Mohawk Trail. The people were the most primitive people I'd seen up to that time. It was peculiar, coming across the border where the peasants at least looked as if they were keeping up with the times as best that peasants can do, and entering this country where the people looked as if they were living in the middle ages. Their homes, their farm buildings, their methods and utensils were all of that period. It was very interesting. And then just as a contrast, when we arrived at Prague we found it both at the same time, a city with very charming old stuff, and sections, and a city that was very up-to-date, and modern, and very much wide awake and busy. Prague is a great old place and if it is ever possible for anyone to get there you just mustn't miss it. The wide river runs through the center of the city, and it has some swell old bridges with some swell old towers at the ends of them, crossing the river at many streets. You look across the river and up on the high hill some distance away and there is the old palace and government buildings with a swell old gothic cathedral sticking its spires up from among this great mass of buildings of all periods. It can't be described or compared with anything in America because with our methods of tearing down old buildings, and not building around them like they do in Europe, we have nothing of this feeling in the States. The nearest we get to it is Beacon Hill but that is far from it too.
The Cathedral was a great old place to wander around in, and then there was another hill farther on over-looking the city that was very nice. The winding steps going up and up and up were just like so many places in Italy. But boy, oh boy, if there ever was a language that looked as if it didn't mean a thing in the world it is their language. It is the most unintelligentible looking thing in the world.
If you took some funny looking words in English and wrote them backwards you would begin to get something along that line, but still far from it. There just doesn't seem to be a single word that borders on any thing, in any other language. Most people speak English or German or French anyway, so you can always get along. The last night there we went up to a nice restaurant over the river, and very modern and got a good, in fact a swell meal, the only one we'd had since we'd been in the country. We had tried every kind of place but everywhere we got terrible food. This place was great though, and all the nicer because they had a good orchestra, and we got in some dances. Here in Europe almost every good restaurant has an orchestra, not especially good but anyway they have music and you can dance if you feel so inclined, which we did that night. Got some terrible gas for the buggy in Czechoslovakia, and for a couple of hundred of kilos it was pretty tough going.
We drove from Prague to Vienna in one day, which again was a very pretty trip. Had quite a time finding a hotel that wouldn't break us and finally had to go to a more expensive one for that night. Let me tell you that living expenses here in northern Europe, and as far south as, and including Austria, are a deuce of a lot more than France, Italy, Belgium, and I understand, Spain. Boy, it really costs as much to live here, at least to get accomodations that are clean as it cost me to live in New York in my most expensive weeks. It seemed that as we went on, things got more and more expensive. I had always heard that Vienna was cheap, but it was much more expensive than Berlin which I've always understood to be very expensive. It may be just the things that we happened to find in both places, but we certainly do a lot of shopping around and choose carefully.
Vienna is a beautiful city though, and it certainly lives up to every bit of its reputation. It must have been magnificent in the days before the war, with all its uniforms and carriages, and all the activity belonging to Franz Josef's court. He believed in royalty and I guess did everything to keep it alive, with the people for the most part backing him and wanting it. Now after the war all is changed of course and just the settings remain, like a stage with all the actors gone, or replaced with actors that have no color or characteristics. The government buildings are beautiful, and the royal palace is one of the best that I've seen anywhere, at least as far as the facade goes. I haven't yet seen Versailles, but expect to when I get back to Paris, and expect that that will over shadow anything else, both exterior and interior. The main part of the city is built around a "ring" with all the important buildings, both government and commercial on it or just off of it. The shopping district has a very prosperous air although the city and Austria in general is in very bad condition, probably the worst of any European country, at least compared to what their condition was before the war. It is comimg right along though it seems to me, and is a very delightful city to remain in. Also it has some of the best in the world in music, and the arts. I want to hear some of it.
Vienna has some very good things in modern buildings, also, and some of their housing developments here, are the best that I've seen. It has a very interesting crematorium, with a different style than one is accustomed to see in cemeteries. Cremating seems to be the thing to do over here because every city seems to have a crematorium. They are interesting things to study even though the subject does sound a little morbid. Talking of things like that, we saw a huge funeral of two of the victims in a riot between Communists and Republicans which happened a few days ago. It surely was an impressive sight even though the participants of the procession were composed in the most part of not the highest and best element in Vienna. They seem to take their politics seriously over here and carry and use a few guns just to get across their point with the usual result of a few less of the other party. The huge columns of uniformed men, goose-stepping to the slow beat of the funeral band, the two caskets in solid silver with their grim-faced guards, the do-or-die look on every body and the tenseness of the crowd all helped to get across the feeling that somebody or other meant business. I guess every one expected that some trouble would start from the other party but with the streets completely filled with guards of this party no one made a move, and let them bury their men in peace. You certainly get to think about a lot about war and its aftermath over here in these different countries, and you can't help but feel that it is too bad every country can't help the other, cancel all debts and hard feelings and try to live as one country rather than many individual ones. After all everyone belongs to the human race, and these fellows are just like us, and gave up just as much if not more in the trenches. It certainly gets you to see the results of a thing like the war, and yet they all seem to be unwilling to forget about the last one and to think a great deal about the next one. Too bad!
We've just returned from a trip to Budapest, Hungary, which is the farthest east I'll get on this trip I guess, but which has so much of the influence and feeling of the near East that they don't seem to be of the same people as we are, and as the people of western Europe are. You've all seen pictures in the movies with the settings in the Russian countries, Siberia, etc., and back many many years, with the snow storms and men riding around in cutters, with the fur hats and big heavy overcoats on, and big flowing beards, and dark hair and deep set eyes. Well, that is the Hungarians exactly. They are Magyars and descendants of Attila the Hunn, and of the hordes from the east, China, etc., that overran Europe back in the time just before Charlemagne in the eighth century, and before. Their dress and all, even the policemen's hats are of that style. With a little imagination you can see everyone of these fellows mounted on a horse running like mad swinging huge cutlasses and stopped by nothing. Did you ever see the picture "Michael Strogoff"? Well, there are the people exactly.
It was a very interesting country, and an especially interesting city. The entire thing I think had more interest for the short time I was there than anyplace else I've yet struck as far as people were concerned. The minute you crossed the border you began going through towns of entirely different feeling than any just a mile or so on the other side of the border. The towns were filled with peasants, children all dressed in peasant costumes that you can see by picking up any National Geographic Magazine, and hundreds of geese and pigs, running wild and loose. I nearly ran down pigs on four different occasions and was always going through a flock of geese. There are millions of them everywhere, in streets, houses, ponds, and church yards and on grass.
Never before have I seen the people of a country live up so closely to what I've always thought they would from reading and seeing pictures of such places. Their characteristics stood out in every way and in very marked degrees, I thought. It really was remarkable. The trip to Budapest was a very pretty one along the Danube, which by the way looks much greener or browner than blue. However, it is quite a swell river, and when it reaches Budapest it and the city do themselves proud. Never have I seen a city with quite the setting that Budapest has. You enter the city and run along the river, on one side is Buda and on the other Pest. That's not fooling, it is true, Buda and Pest. You look across the river to the parliament buildings which are wonderful in themselves, and which have a marvellous setting. The style of architecture that is used in them give them a wonderful sense of grandeur. Then you cross over and look back to where hills rise very rapidly above the river, and on the one in the center of the town is stretched the royal palace which sets there with a great deal of majesty. We went through the palace which I think is a very swell thing, and which has some beautiful interiors. You should see the ball rooms, and then try and imagine them before the War, when a ball was going on, with Franz Josef sitting on the royal throne and the uniforms of the three thousand guests mingling all over the place. It certainly must have been beautiful for Franz Josef was an Emperor who believed in such things and had great affairs with ambassadors from every country in the world attending with their court. I should like to have been able to have seen a sight like that. The only place that is now possible is "Roxy's".
Then farther down the river, half or three quarters of a mile is another hill, rising very quickly out of the river. On this is placed the old fort, which is lighted up at night and which stands out in the dark with its flood lights like a Broadway sign, or a miniature golf course. It is very beautiful though, and at the same time the hill with the royal church and its buildings, on the other side of the Royal Palace is lighted up. At night it is a very impressive thing. Looks like a page in a Fairy story book, or else a stage set for such a story. We went up by the fort at night and looked over Budapest with all its lights, and the swell curve of the boulevard lights following the river, with an island or two stuck in it here and there. The sight of the city by night either from up on that hill or up on a hill which is the highest point in that part of the country and a little ways out from Budapest, but from where you can see the city wonderfully at night, are sights that you just can't describe on paper or by words. It is something that no other city seems to have or to be able to attain, because of the beautiful river, the wonderful curve in it at just the right place in relation to the bridges and the government buildings and then the broad flat plain dotted with millions of lights stretching out far beyond and back into the distance so far that they gradually disappear, and all twinkling like so many fireflies. That's Budapest. The shops are very nice and of course have original Hungarian costumes and jewelry in them, all of which is very beautiful. You should see some of the magnificient swords and belts of jewels that old families have brought into the jewelry shops and sold because they have needed the money. Jewels and workmanship that you just can't comprehend and you get such a feeling of pity for the family that had to sell it. Most of them have been in the families since the sixteenth centuries and must be worth small fortunes, just one set, because they contain every kind of jewel and many of them. The men in those days surely liked to deck themselves out, and it must have been quite an honor to have had your head split open with a diamond and ruby and sapphire studded sword. I might enjoy that myself, that is if there were enough diamonds to really put me up among the elite. The language there wasn't quite the hopeless looking thing that the language of the Czechoslovaics was. It didn't mean anything to me but it did look as if it might mean something to somebody. It borders quite a bit on Italian in many words. The music in all the cafes is quite grand, being the original Hungarian Gypsy music. Gee, it almost makes you cry to hear a good orchestra play one of those pieces. The music and the way they play it sounds as if they are being terribly hurt and going through untold suffering. It really is marvellous though to sit and listen to. One cafe we were in was broadcasting at that time on a world wide hook-up. The leader of the orchestra was an eighteen year old boy who could play like a fool. Gee, he was marvellous. He came over and played to us quite a bit; seemed to take quite a liking to us.
Budapest and Vienna are hotbeds for Communists and there is plenty of trouble arising all the time around this section. You no doubt have read in the papers lately about that terrible bombing of the train between Budapest and Vienna. Gee, it was a horriple thing and of course only innocent passengers were all the victims, about twenty-seven of them. We didn't go out to the wreck although we were only a few miles away from it. The more foreigners stay away from such things I guess the better it is for them. Saw plenty of pictures of the wreck, the victims and all, and it certainly was a horrible sight. There were pictures of the victims pinned in the wreckage with an arm or leg or hand sticking out as if trying to get some help, and the cars themselves were just reduced to splinters. Some English and Americans were among the victims. Feeling is pretty high, and I understand that to-day they caught one of the men who bombed it. We're back in Vienna again with an uneventful trip back, and will now stay here a few days, finishing up Vienna and meeting Mrs. H's sister who will arrive from Venice in a couple of days, (Sept. 23.) I'll go on from this point in my next letter.
In my talk with Erich Mendelsohn we discussed various ways of teaching architecture and in learning it. I said that I should like very much to study in a good German school for a few months or get into a good office. I then asked him what the chance was of getting into his office. I apparently hit him at just the right time, because he said he would think it over and let me know later on. He said that he was just about to sign a contract with the Russian Government for the designs for almost an entire city, Theatre seating 15,000 persons, gyms, community buildings, town hall, factories, homes, business district and in fact everything that is in a town. He said he might be able to use me and let me play around on it. Nothing was said about pay, but of course I would get nothing, because it was understood that it would be like me going to school, only under his tutorship at all times, a much more valuable experience than anything else in Europe after seeing as much as I have. It would be marvellous if I can make it. The next thing would be to get enough money to live on that extra time, about three months. Do you think I can make it, dad? I received a letter today asking me to send him some of my sketches so I think there is a good chance of his accepting me. Gee, it would be a marvellous chance.