The following column contains excerpts of a letter from Dr. John Gehring in Berlin, Germany to retired Bethel Judge E.W. Woodbury. Woodbury is staying with his son in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Dr. Gehring and his family are touring in Europe but for the winter of 1891 and 1892 are living in Berlin. Woodbury wrote a letter to the Editor of the Democrat in which he quotes parts of Gehring’s letter. At the end of the letter Judge Woodbury wrote that he sent his apologies to Dr. Gehring because he had not asked his permission to have his letter printed in the Democrat.
March 26, 1892
Fulfilling a promise I made to your readers, last week, I will give you extracts from a letter received from Dr. G. J. Gehring of Bethel since his arrival in Berlin. The doctor needs no introduction from me, yet it may be interesting to your readers to know that Dr. Gehring is of German parentage, a highly educated physician, a professor in a medical hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. His health being much broken, he came to Bethel some years ago, and became acquainted with Mrs. Susie Marion Farnsworth, daughter of Dr. N. T. True, and two congenial souls were united in marriage. He says:
“Though in the heart of the great nation from which I claim lineage, I must nevertheless confess to myself, that New England, and not Germany, is the real Fatherland to which I belong.
We find ourselves in the midst of the most wonderful and interesting civilization, the like of which exists probably nowhere else. The city is an enormous one – a population of 1,750,000, the third in size after London and Paris.
Berlin is a great succession of blocks of buildings, modern, not un-American in architecture at first sight but very much un-American upon close acquaintance. Nearly all the buildings are made of brick and stucco(ed) on the outside. There is very little stone used, and that only for facing and sculptured fronts. Massiveness and solidity are the rule.
The streets and sidewalks are ideal. Every street in the city is paved with either stone or asphalt. The sidewalks are superb, and the entire gigantic system of streets is swept and almost feather dusted continually. The streets are a dream of cleanliness. There is nothing in all America like unto it.
The police system is one that makes an American, accustomed to slack American municipalities, stand aghast with – admiration. The control of the population is completely in the hands of the officials, as are the checkers upon the board in the hands of the player. Not one stranger of any size or age can arrive or depart, but that it is all carefully reported and recorded at headquarters, even down to his age, religious belief, social status and intention.
The science of convenience of living is worked out to a most wonderful degree, and an American must wonder and admire! Social relations, however, as they exist here, and in other parts of Germany, makes one glad he is an American. The lines are drawn to a ridiculously fine degree. Each station cringes to the one immediately above it. Two shoemakers, working side by side, if the one does a class of work that may be superior to that done by the other, draw the strictest social lines, when they are off their benches, and their families do not mix with each other. The general tendency is, that whoever is vested with authority, no matter how petty the position, feels himself to exert all possible dominion and even tyranny, and the public on their side submit to it with a corresponding servility.
The military element is the all prevailing one. Nearly 50,000 soldiers, twice as many as the United States standing army, are quartered in and near the city, and their brilliant uniforms are everywhere. The highest social status is that of the army. Only the army is eligible at court. Civilians, even the highest by reason of wealth or learning, come after the army or titled gentry.
Berlin suffers under the severest kind of ‘home protections.’ Taxes are very high, even exorbitant. Rents are tremendous. The cost of all food products is much higher than in the United States, and wages more than one-half lower. (This latter I mean, with particular reference to the working population of the large cities.) To be sure there ware many rich people in Berlin, there are many parvenus, but the great majority of the people of the middle classes are much poorer than they are with us, and maintain their social status on much smaller income. Generally speaking our middle classes at home, waste as much as would support the same class in Germany. We do not know how to save or live economically. An American can learn the richest lessons of social and domestic economy here, if he only will; although it is likewise true, that the institutions of the country make possible the German thrift and economy, and ours do not.
We do not see only the virtues, however, of Germany, we see also the evils. And they are here as elsewhere. The German domestic life has some things that are undesirable. There is nothing like unto the mental and intellectual equality between husband and wife, as it exists in America. In truth, America stands ahead of all other nations in this. Here the wife is not the husband’s equal, and her intellectual life is less developed. The husband does not talk over his business and other affairs with his wife, but goes off to the society of other men and here his thought or wit or fancy disports itself. The German husband and has no home circle like unto ours, in which to stay at the close of the day in which to read or study, of cultivate the acquaintance of his family. The family, consisting of wife and children, accompanies him to one of the hundreds of great assembly places where they sit down together and listen to music or song; and where the husband smokes, the entire family drinks more less beer, and the ladies thereof do various kinds of knitting and fancy work.”
This, to me, most interesting description of Berlin, the doctor says, he does not write with the thought of describing to me the innumerable new impressions he receives of the customs of the people or the treasures of the great storehouse of learning and of art, but merely to reach his hand across the four thousand miles of land and water and grasp yours. You may get glimpses of the land and people and customs in the limited way they can be written about. He further writes: “We are all busy with study of some kind. We try to improve our opportunities so as to being back minds enriched if we can.” The doctor is a subscriber to the Democrat, and I send to him the kindly greeting of its readers, and my apology for printing these extracts from his very interesting letter without asking his comment.
Pottsville, Penn., March 26, “92