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Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

On to Switzerland

Chateau de Chillon near Montreux
Chateau de Chillon near Montreux.

After five weeks in Paris, I took a train in the Gare de Lyon for Lyon. In order to save time I went to the station two days before I planned to leave and then discovered the ticket was good only on the day I had bought it so I had to go back, find the station master and have him change the date. I didn't know either that I was supposed to keep the ticket until I got to my destination. When the conductor didn't come thru the train to collect it, as is done on American trains, I decided he had forgotten and debated myself whether I should throw it away. Lucky for me I decided to keep it. When I got off the train in Lyon and saw all the passengers going thru a turnstile and handing over their tickets to an official I realized what a narrow squeak I had.

Lyon is built at a point on the Rhone River where the Saone joins it and was founded by the Romans even before Paris was occupied. I took a day to explore it before taking a train up the Rhone Valley to Geneva in Switzerland. I remember that the main business area was on a flat spot between the two rivers and that there was a funicular railway to take you up on the hill to the north where there was a large church. I was on my way to the station to take the train for Geneva when I suddenly realized that my money would not go as far there as it would in France and I had better get myself a new pair of shoes to replace the yellow ones whose soles were practically gone by now. Probably what brought the idea into my mind was passing a small shoe store a few blocks from the station. Although my time was short, I went in and asked to see a pair of shoes. The clerk looked at my feet then took a chocolate brown pair out of its box and asked how I liked them. When I told him they looked OK, he put them back in the box and started wrapping them up. He seemed surprised when I told him I wanted to try them on. I have wondered ever since whether he expected me to buy a pair of shoes without trying them on. They were much too small for me and so were all the other shoes he showed me. I bought a pair finally that I thought I could wear even tho they were too tight, crammed them into by bag without the box and ran for my train. I was never able to wear them very long at a time but it gave me a chance to have my yellow shoes half-soled.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Geneva was check my bag at the railroad station so I wouldn't have anything to carry, then set off to find a small hotel. It didn't take me more than a half hour - most European cities have small hotels near the railroad stations - and as soon as I had checked in I went back to the station for my bag. Even before I got back I discovered that I had lost my baggage check. I went thru all of [my] pockets several times and retraced my steps but it was gone. I had to argue for some time before the clerk in the baggage office would let me have my bag without the check. My hotel was just two or three blocks north of the promenade along the north shore of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and a little west of the United Nations building. The lake is the source of the Rhone River which flows out of it at the west end. I remember a footbridge crossing to the south side of the lake and making an angle at a small island where the river left the lake. The view to the east and south was of snow-covered mountains, the most conspicuous being the "Dents du Midi," probably because they were closer.

From Geneva I went to Lausanne by one of the lake steamers, a very pleasant way to travel. Instead of being on the lakeshore, as Geneva is, Lausanne lies on a plateau above the lake. The only way to get to town from the boat dock is my funicular railway. All I could tell the conductor when he asked my where I was going was, "En haut" (up above.) He gave me a ticket so I presume the answer must have been satisfactory. I spent a couple of hours walking around the business area then went back down the funicular and took the next boat to Montreux at the eastern end of the lake where I found a hotel. Montreux was a much smaller place than either Geneva or Lausanne. I wanted to go to Montreux to see the Chateau de Chillon which is built on a rock in Lac Leman near there. Lord Byron made the castle famous thru his poem "The Prisoner of Chillon" which I had read in English literature class in high school but hadn't thought about since until I saw pictures of the castle put out by the Swiss tourist industry. It was a very interesting place and I explored from the dungeons to the towers. It was in the chateau that I met two interesting ladies from Georgia, Lulu P. Cullen and Ruth E. Watkins. They were both English teachers in Georgia public schools and spoke with a very pronounced southern accent which they insisted was not an accent at all. I was the one who had the accent. I would judge they were in their middle thirties, neither pretty, but full of fun, Lulu a brunette and Ruth a blond. They had given themselves nicknames for their middle initials, Lulu Penurious and Ruth Exemplary and they inquired about my first name middle initial. From then on I was dubbed Albert Magnanimous. We were staying at the same hotel so I joined them for dinner that evening and we talked quite a while afterwards in the lobby.

My next stop was Interlaken, a typical tourist town, from where a cog railroad climbs up the steep slope to the icefield next to the snow-covered peak of the Jungfrau. Getting to Interlaken from Montreux involved changing trains several times as Interlaken was in a different valley. The ingenious Swiss, instead of building a railroad to go around a mountain thru a pass, would build a funicular to go over it and the passengers would catch another train on the other side. Both the funicular and the train were electrified but the cars seemed small, tho neat with large windows.

I can't remember whether Lulu P and Ruth E went to Interlaken or not but I recall very well changing my itinerary so I could take the same train into Zurich that they did. They had planned their trip in Europe in detail before they left Georgia and had all of their tickets whereas I didn't make up my mind about the next place I would visit until I looked at the map. Zurich was, I think, the largest city in Switzerland. I noticed immediately that most of the names on the signs, the streets and so on, were German rather than French, as they had been in Geneva. As the two women and I sat in the lobby of the small hotel we had picked, waiting for our baggage to arrive from the station, Lulu noticed a sign above my head which read "Bitte nicht rauchen" and remarked "Look, they say it's going to be a bittah night." (Bitte nicht rauchen - Please don't smoke.) I took the first chance I got to try out my German and stopped the porter and general factotum to ask, "Das gëpack ist noch nicht gekommen?" (The baggage hasn't come yet?) He answered, "Noch nicht." I was not only trying out my German, of course, I was also attempting to impress my two companions. Lulu, at least, was duly impressed. "I heard you nick nocking," she said when I insisted I didn't know much German. Today, that is about all I can remember of my stay in Zurich. My southern friends headed for Italy when they left Zurich after which they were to go to England. They would arrive in London at the same time I would [be] on my way home so I gave them Raymond's address and asked them to get in touch with me there.

From Zurich I took a train to Konstanz (Constance) on the western shore of Lake Constance (Bodensee in German), a lake as large as Lake Geneva and just as beautiful. I only spent a day there, mostly strolling along the promenades along the lake shore with the crowds of German tourists. If I had been a beer drinker I might have found someone to talk to at one of the numerous open-air restaurants on the quays and sidewalks where tourists interrupted their strolling to sit drinking beer and conversing. I was still a teetotaler then, however, and was afraid of what beer might do to me.

I left Switzerland by taking a steamer across the Bodensee to Friedrichshafen in Bavaria, continuing on by train to Munich (München), the largest town in south Germany. It was in Munich that Adolf Hitler had started his rise to power but that was some time in the future. I ate lunch at noon in Friedrichshafen and decided I would wait until I got to Munich before eating my evening meal but it was much farther than I had anticipated and as it began getting dark I began getting hungry. I went to the dining car to see if I could get something to eat but the head waiter, the only man around, told me they were closed as it would only be about a half hour before the train arrived in Munich. I started to leave but he called me back and told me he could fix me a "Butterbrodt." The Butterbrodt turned out to be a delicious sandwich. I had barely finished it before the train pulled into the station.

After two or three days exploring Munich by chara banc, street cars and on foot, I took a night train for Berlin. I would have preferred to have gone during daylight but my time was getting rather short and by taking a sleeping car I would save one night in a hotel. In European trains the berths are cross-wise instead of running lengthwise as in American trains. I occupied a compartment with a man about fifty years old who carried a sample case like a traveling salesman and spent his time working on his accounts. The only word he spoke to me was after we were both in bed (I had the lower berth.) as he turned the light off he asked "Schlaff?" and I answered "Ja." In the morning, after we were dressed and bedding removed, the porter brought our breakfast, rolls and coffee and a soft-boiled egg, on a tray.

I was in Berlin almost ten years after the Kaiser had abdicated and Germany had become a republic. It was still all one country, however, and Berlin was the most important city. There was no East Berlin and West Berlin and I was able to visit all of the places, the buildings, parks and monuments, I had read about when I was studying German in high school. With the help of a small German English dictionary I carried in my pocket plus a map of the city I had little trouble getting to where I wanted to go. Like London, Berlin had thousands of double-decker busses running to all parts of the city and, when I could, I always took a front seat on the upper deck. Like the London busses too, the fare depended on the distance to traveled, so you had to tell the conductor where you were going as you got on the bus.

The Reichstag building on Unter den Linden was still the center of the German government as the capitol building is in Washington for the American government. The Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) is now the chief entry to East Berlin from the west. When I was there it was the heart of the city with heavy traffic streaming thru it in both directions. I remember asking a policeman on Unter den Linden how to get out to the Zoological Gardens where I wanted to hear a concert. He let loose a whole stream of German words so fast I couldn't make head nor tail of his answer. I spent the whole Sunday afternoon out there.

The palace of Sans Souci at Potsdam, a few miles west of Berlin, was built by the Prussian kings in imitation of the palace at Versailles in France. Like Versailles, it is a pleasant spot for Berliners to spend a Sunday. I remember just one room in the palace because it was decorated with hundreds of mussel shells set into the walls. Castle and grounds had been begun in 1745 for Frederick II. It was occupied by the royal family mostly in the summer; the winter palace, which I also visited, was located on Unter den Linden just east of the Brandenburg Gate. To protect the fancy hardwood floors, visitors were required to wear felt slippers over our shoes. There was so much wax on the floors I think I could have skated.

When I left Berlin, I headed back west toward Belgium, stopping for a day or two in Cologne, or Koln, as the Germans called it, for the purpose of visiting the famous cathedral. The trip took several hours between Berlin and Cologne, longer than I had expected, and was rather uncomfortable as I had bought a third class ticket where the seats were of wood with no upholstering. I spent a lot of my time standing in the aisle at the side looking out the window. A middle-aged woman with a lot of baggage and several children occupied the seat opposite me. She got off before we came to Cologne and I helped her get her baggage off the train. My German was too limited for me to converse much and she didn't give me any encouragement to talk. A man I tried to talk to in the aisle showed me a newspaper headline about an earthquake in England that day. It couldn't have been much of an earthquake. When I mentioned it to Raymond later in London, he hadn't known anything about it. The third class coach was open like coaches in American trains but the aisle ran on one side of the train instead of down the center.

The cathedral, with its twin gothic towers, loomed up much higher than any other building as the train crossed the bridge over the Rhine from the east. The train passed just to one side of it and came to rest in the big covered station just to the west. As usual, I found a small, inexpensive hotel nearby and after registering and washing up went out to find a restaurant.

Cologne already at that time had a pedestrian mall in the principal shopping area not far from the river where no motorized traffic was permitted, probably one of the first cities to develop the idea. It was still there when Yvette and I visited Cologne with Annette Juckwer after I retired from teaching. It made good sense there where the streets were so narrow. Pedestrian malls didn't develop in the U.S. until something had to be done to remove motor traffic from the shopping areas.

One of my big problems since I had left Paris was keeping my clothes clean. The "Laundromat," where you could put a coin in a slot in a washing machine and wash your own clothes, did not come into use until after the second world war. I could keep my socks and underwear clean by washing them in the washbowl in my room and hanging them on the towel rack to dry during the day, but my shirts, which were all white, were a different story. By the time I got to Cologne I was out of clean clothes so I decided to buy new shirts, underwear and socks and send my dirty ones to England and ask Leeta to wash them. I made up a package and took it to the post office. They wouldn't accept it because it was going out of the country and my package didn't have the proper papers to pass customs. The post office didn't have the proper forms; I was told to go to a stationery store to buy them. When I got back to the most office, one of the employees helped me fill them out. I don't know what Raymond and Leeta thought when a package arrived from Germany marked "Schmutzige Kleide" (dirty clothes).

Table of Contents
On to Paris
Belgium and Holland

Last modified on 21 March 2017 @ 19:10