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- The Story of My Life, Volume 2. - 6/7 -
honour to a private individual, but could not suffice for the ruler of a powerful state in difficult times.
Hardly had the king opened the General Assembly in April, 1848, and, for the relief of distress among the poorer classes in the capital, repealed the town dues on corn, when the first actual evidences of discontent broke out. The town tax was so strictly enforced at that time at all the gates of Berlin that even hacks entering the city were stopped and searched for provisions of meat or bread--a search which was usually conducted in a cursory and courteous manner.
In my sister Paula's journal I have an almost daily account of that period, with frequent reference to political events, but it is not my task to write a history of the Berlin revolution.
Those of my sister's records which refer to the revolutionary period begin with a mention of the so-called potato revolution, which occurred ten days after the opening of the General Assembly, though it had no connection with it.
[Excessive prices had been asked for a peck of potatoes, which enraged the purchasers, who threw them into the gutter and laid hands on some of the market-women. The assembled crowd then plundered some bakers' and butchers' shops, and was finally dispersed by the military. A certain Herr Winckler is said to have lost his life. Many windows were broken, etc.]
This riot took place on the 21st of April, and on the 2d of May Paula alludes to a performance at the opera-house, which Ludo and I attended. It was the last appearance of Fran Viardot Garcia as Iphigenia, but I fear Paula is right in saying that the great singer did her best for an ungrateful public, for the attention of the audience was directed chiefly to the king and queen. The latter appeared in the theatre for the first time since a severe illness, the enthusiasm was great, and there was no end to the cries of "Long live the king and queen!" which were repeated between every act.
I relate the circumstance to show with what a devoted and faithful affection the people of Berlin still clung to the royal pair. On the other hand, their regard for the Prince of Prussia, afterward Emperor William, was already shaken. He who alone remained firm when all about the king were wavering, was regarded as the embodiment of military rule, against which a violent opposition was rising.
Our mother was even then devoted to him with a reverence which bordered upon affection, and we children with her.
We felt more familiar with him, too; than with any other members of the ruling house, for Fraulein Lamperi, who was in a measure like one of our own family, was always relating the most attractive stories about him and his noble spouse, whose waiting-woman she had been.
Of Frederick William IV it was generally jokes that were told, some of them very witty ones. We once came in contact with him in a singular way.
Our old cook, Frau Marx, who called herself "the Marxen," was nearly blind, and wished to enter an institution, for which it was necessary to have his Majesty's consent. Many years before, when she was living in a count's family, she had taught the king, as a young prince, to churn, and on the strength of this a petition was drawn up for her by my family. This she handed into the king's carriage, in the palace court-yard, and to his question who she was, she replied, "Why, I'm old Marxen, and your Majesty is my last retreat." This speech was repeated to my mother by the adjutant who came to inquire about the petitioner, and he assured her that his Majesty had been greatly amused by the old woman's singular choice of words, and had repeated it several times to persons about him. Her wish was fulfilled at once.
The memory of those March days of 1848 is impressed on my soul in ineffaceable characters. More beautiful weather I never knew. It seemed as if May had taken the place of its stormy predecessor. From the 13th the sun shone constantly from a cloudless sky, and on the 18th the fruit- trees in our garden were in full bloom. Whoever was not kept in the house by duty or sickness was eager to be out. The public gardens were filled by afternoon, and whoever wanted to address the people had no need to call an audience together. Whatever rancour, indignation, discontent, and sorrow had lurked under ground now came forth, and the buds of longing and joyful expectation hourly unfolded in greater strength and fuller bloom.
The news of the Paris revolution, whose confirmation had reached Berlin in the last few days of February, had caused all this growth and blossoming like sunshine and warm rain. There was no repressing it, and the authorities felt daily more and more that their old measures of restraint were failing.
The accounts from Paris were accompanied by report after report from the rest of Germany, shaking the old structure of absolutism like the repeated shocks of a battering-ram.
Freedom of the press was not yet granted, but tongues had begun to move freely-indeed, often without any restraint. As early as the 7th of March, and in bad weather, too, meetings began to be held in tents. As soon as the fine spring days came we found great crowds listening to bearded orators, who told them of the revolution in Paris and of the addresses to the king--how they had passed hither and thither, and how they had been received. They had all contained very much the same demands--freedom of the press, representatives of the people to be chosen by free election, all religious confessions to be placed on an equal footing in the exercise of political rights, and representation of the people in the German Confederacy.
These demands were discussed with fiery zeal, and the royal promise, just given, of calling together the Assembly again and issuing a law on the press, after the Confederate Diet should have been moved to a similar measure, was condemned in strong terms as an insufficient and half-way procedure--a payment on account, in order to gain time.
On the 15th the particulars of the Vienna revolution and Metternich's flight reached Berlin; and we, too, learned the news, and heard our mother and her friends asking anxiously, "How will this end?"
Unspeakable excitement had taken possession of young and old--at home, in the street, and at school--for blood had already flowed in the city. On the 13th, cavalry had dispersed a crowd in the vicinity of the palace, and the same thing was repeated on the two following days. Fortunately, few were injured; but rumour, ever ready to increase and enhance the horrible desire of many fanatics to stir up the fire of discontent, had conspired to make wounded men dead ones, and slight injuries severe.
These exaggerations ran through the city, arousing indignation; and the correspondents of foreign papers, knowing that readers often like best what is most incredible, had sent the accounts to the provinces and foreign countries.
But blood had flowed. Hatred of the soldiery, to which, however, some among the insurgents had once been proud to belong, grew with fateful rapidity, and was still further inflamed by those who saw in the military the brazen wall that stood between them and the fulfillment of their most ardent wishes.
A spark might spring the open and overcharged mine into the air; an ill- chosen or misunderstood expression, a thoughtless act, might bring about an explosion.
The greatest danger threatened from fresh conflicts between the army and the people, and it was to the fear of this that various young or elderly gentlemen owed their office of going about wherever a crowd was assembled and urging the populace to keep the peace. They were distinguished by a white band around the arm bearing the words, "Commissioner of Protection," and a white rod a foot and a half long designed to awaken the respect accorded by the English to their constables. We recognized many well-known men; but the Berlin populace, called by Goethe insolent, is not easily impressed, and we saw constables surrounded by street boys like an owl with a train of little birds fluttering teasingly around it. Even grown persons called them nicknames and jeered at their sticks, which they styled "cues" and "tooth-picks."
A large number of students, too, had expressed their readiness to join this protective commission, either as constables or deputies, and had received the wand and band at the City Hall.
How painful the exercise of their vocation was made to them it would be difficult to describe. News from Austria and South Germany, where the people's cause seemed to be advancing with giant strides to the desired goal, hourly increased the offensive strength of the excited populace.
On the afternoon of the 16th the Potsdam Platz, only a few hundred steps from our house, was filled with shouting and listening throngs, crowded around the sculptor Streichenberg, his blond-bearded friend, and other violently gesticulating leaders. This multitude received constant reenforcements from the city and through Bellevuestrasse. On the left, at the end of the beautiful street with its rows of budding chestnut- trees, lay "Kemperhof," a pleasure resort where we had often listened to the music of a band clad in green hunting costume. Many must have come thence, for I find that on the 16th an assemblage was held there from which grew the far more important one on the morning of the 17th, with its decisive conclusion in Kopenickerstrasse.
At this meeting, on the afternoon of the 17th, it was decided to set on foot a peaceful manifestation of the wishes of the people, and a new address to the king was drawn up. It was settled that on the 28th of March, at two o'clock, thousands of citizens with the badges of the protective commission should appear before the palace and send in a deputation to his Majesty with a document which should clearly convey the principal requirements of the people.
What they were to represent to the king as urgently necessary was: The withdrawal of the military force, the organization of an armed citizen guard, the granting of an unconditional freedom of the press, which had been promised for a lifetime, and the calling of the General Assembly. I shall return to the address later.
THE EIGHTEENTH OF MARCH.
THE 17th passed so quietly that hopes of a peaceable outcome of the fateful conflict began to awake. My own recollections confirm this.
People believed so positively that the difficulty would be adjusted, that in the forenoon of the 18th my mother sent my eldest sister Martha to her drawing-lesson, which was given at General Baeyer's, in the Friedrichstrasse.
Ludo and I went to school, and when it was over the many joyful faces in
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