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A German Agricultural Fair by G. H. P.

1875

From the 27th to the 30th of September all Stuttgart flocks to Cannstatt for the Volksfest; and this year every good Würtemberger was bound to feel an additional interest in the fête on account of the opening ceremony, the inauguration of a statue to the late king, Wilhelm I.—and "well beloved," one is tempted to add from the way in which his people still speak of him. "The old king" and "this one" they say with an inflection of voice anything but flattering to the latter. Our landlady assures us that let the weather look as threatening as it would, the sun always contrived to burst out when in former times the late king rode into the arena to give the prizes; and she is evidently by no means certain it will not pour all three days of the fair this year. However, to judge from the skies, "this one" is not so bad as he might be: the sun shines propitious on him too, and consequently on us as we set forth to see what we can see. The second is the great day, as the prizes are then distributed; but already on Monday the booths and shows were on the field, and Cannstatt was gay with banners and wreaths and garlands of green. The carpenters were still hard at work hammering at seats for us to occupy next day, but the wonderful triumphal arch stood quite completed and worthy of sincere admiration. No one knows who has not seen it worked into an architectural design how beautiful a string of onions can be, how gorgeous a row of vegetable-marrows, how delicate a cluster of turnips. It sounds puerile, but it was lovely nevertheless. Imagine a temple-like construction all composed of odorous pine, with an arched portal on either hand, and then every line and curve, every niche and pillar and balustrade, defined with glowing fruit. It was looped in festoons and hung in tassels of red and white and gold: the arms of Wüuuml;rtemberg even were traced in yellow corn, while above it all rose a graceful column, a mosaic from base to summit of every fruit that autumn can bring to perfection.

That was the great show: after that, mammoth cucumbers and carrots or rows of agricultural implements did not detain us long. The next best thing was to see the booths and the crowd on the outskirts of the exhibition. There the circus was in full blast, and triumphant, brazen-throated opposition to all smaller attractions that had ventured into that neighborhood. The performing dogs in red petticoats were reduced to making an appearance before their tent to entice spectators, and Harlequin and Columbine had to shout themselves hoarse inviting people to come in and split with laughter for sixpence. Those who did not aspire to a seat under painted canvas gathered round a melancholy bear dancing a pas seul on the grass with heartbroken gravity. Then came the Schützhallen, where the marksmen stationed themselves three feet from the target and cracked away at it with no other visible effect than that produced on a monkey doing its tricks close by: at every shot the poor little creature stopped fiddling and looked over its shoulder with a distressed air of "If I'm not hit this time!" Hand-organs, penny trumpets and rattles quite drowned the voice of a street-songstress with a large assortment of vocal music before her, from which she was giving the public a selection. Whether the songs had any reference to the pictures that formed her background we did not discover, but, at all events, the latter were tragic in the extreme. "The twenty-four-year-old murderer of his mother and six brothers and sisters" was there portrayed in a neat suit of black, with a hatchet in his hand and a very irresolute expression of countenance, while the various members of his family, seen through the open bedroom doors, awaited their fate in peaceful slumber. The booths, with toys, gingerbread, sausages, cheese and light literature tastefully intermingled, went on and on like the restaurants that lined each side of the long avenue. Around primitive tables family parties clinked foaming glasses and hailed with demonstrative hospitality any stray cousin who chanced that way. In one of the last of these improvised Trinkhallen we came upon a young man and maiden who had the place quite to themselves. Her brown parasol kept the sun off them both, and it was of no sort of consequence that they had nothing more interesting than the back of a shed to look at. Future prospects were the only ones they cared for: the present had no need of anything but a faint beeriness, conducive to day-dreaming.

As we get into the carriage again our coachman says we must see the new statue. Accordingly, we drive through the town and halt before it in the square. It is very fine, glowing like gold from the mint. The king sits his charger well, and gazes majestically at nothing in particular: still, one must be a little critical, and we imagine the horse's tail is not quite right. But then is not the whisk of a tail in bronze almost impossible to conceive of? If the artist suffers no severer censure than that, he will probably call himself a happy man. The inscription on the pedestal of the statue reads, "From his grateful people." High and low have contributed to it, and gladly. "That was a man!" says our driver. He was a soldier under him, and knows. And in fact the old king seems to have been always doing something for the country, so that the gratitude is not without a cause. The inhabitants of Cannstatt have special reason to remember him kindly: he himself was grateful to them and showed it. In the troublous times of 1848 he was sadly in need of money: Ludwigsburg (another satellite of Stuttgart) refused it, while Cannstatt came up to the mark handsomely. The royal creditor never forgot that. He instituted the Volksfest as a sort of memorial, and Cannstatt is proud and prosperous, while Ludwigsburg is like a city of the dead. So the coachman affirms; and once conversation is opened between us it flows without intermission. His head is over his shoulder all the way as we roll back to the city under the beautiful trees of the palace grounds. "If the old king had been living, Würtemberg would never have joined in the last war: he would have told Prussia to fight it out by herself." Apropos of the war, we ask what he thinks of Bismarck. He evidently thinks a great deal of him, though not perhaps in the generally accepted sense of that expression. He states as a fact that there are limits, leaving it to us to understand that the chancellor of the empire has overstepped them. He declares further that a Prussian, and especially a Berliner, is always to him an obnoxious member of society through his insisting on knowing everything (except his own place) better than anybody else. "Now, there was the Prussian general before this last one," he continues, changing from politics to court-gossip (naturally, since 1870, military matters in Würtemberg flourish under Prussian auspices): "the first ball he went to at the palace he asked the queen to dance! Our queen!! And then he took his whole family, and they sat in chairs that never were meant for them, so that the king had to say to him next day, "Mr. General, first come I, and then my ministers, and then this one, and then that one, and then you." He went back to Berlin soon after. It is pleasanter to sit one's self down where one doesn't belong than to be set down by somebody else." Our driver chuckles, and then bursts out afresh, "Asking the queen to dance!" He certainly has perfect faith in his own stories.

We saw the successor of that presumptuous military man next day among the greater and lesser lights that revolve around the throne of Würtemberg. We ourselves were stationary, crowded into the foremost of the tiers of seats that rose surrounding the immense enclosure, and in the best place for observation, close by the royal pavilion. The hills, bright in the sun and velvet in shadow, made a natural amphitheatre beyond, a little church with its pretty tower looked picturesquely down from a neighboring height, and the whole place was gay with flags and branches, glittering uniforms and gorgeous liveries. We were to see the hohe Herrschaften come in at the farthest entrance and drive around directly before our seats. As the trumpets flourish and the first magnificence sweeps by we hear all about us, "The princess Vera," and "No, the duchess of Uhra," and "Is it?" "Isn't it?" "Which is it?" till we finally settle down to the serene conclusion that it is either one or the other. There is no mistaking the queen, however, with the outriders, six superb black horses and postilions in scarlet and gold. The Majesty herself looks pale and resigned, bending to the right and left in answer to the bows and hochs. Our neighbors "the Weimars" come in full force. A superfluous prince of that family appears to have drifted to these regions, and makes our street aristocratic for us. Young Weimar looks uncommonly well in his hussar uniform, and the old prince and his wife and daughter are resplendent. We met them later that same day in town, but they had taken off their best clothes, and truth compels us sadly to admit that we should hardly have known them.

In the course of time, after various false alarms on our part, the band confidently strikes up "God Save the King!" and there is a flashing and prancing in the distance that creates a great stir. The citizen guard, a stately body of burghers, rides out with the king on this day of all the year, and comes caracoling by in fine style, he in the midst bowing and smiling. And now, after the Herrschaften—hohe and höchste—come the animals. First, horses haughtily stepping, and then splendid bulls with wreaths on their horns and garlands round their—waists shall we say?—are led before the king, standing at the foot of the steps and handing the prizes to the farmers, who present themselves, ducking and scraping. It seems a shame to tie up the creatures' legs so, and put rings through their noses: some have even a cloth bound over their heads; and if all these precautionary measures are necessary, it ought to be a relief when the procession of mild cows begins, They look out amiably from under the floral crowns that have slipped low on their brows, or turn with half-conscious pride to the handsome little calves that trot beside them. The sheep, seeking to attract too early the notice of royalty, dash out in a flock, and are driven back with jeering and hooting, as they deserve to be. Then the pigs stagger by: their garlands are excessively unbecoming. Such of the family of swine as are too young to stagger are wheeled in handcarts in the rear; and so the ceremonies are closed, except for a couple of races which take place immediately, and with no great éclat. The burgher races these are called, while on the third and last day are the officers' races. The rain prevented our attending them, and we consoled ourselves, hearing it intimated by those who had been at Ascot and Longchamps that we had not lost a great deal.