German Journalists a Strange Collection

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Daily Star/May 8, 1922

Genoa.-If it is true that the funnier-looking a newspaperman is the better work he does, there were some world-beaters at the Genoa Conference.

Applying the same rule, the Germans must be the greatest newspaper people on earth. Continuing under the same assumption, there is one German journalist who must be so good that it is a shame for him to take the money. That man haunts me still. At that I would rather he haunted me still than made any noise about it.

In the Casa della Stampa, literally translated as House of the Press, where some 300 journalists and twice that many camp followers of the press pounded child-sized typewriters, stood up to the bar, looked over one another’s shoulders, asked one another, “Whadja hear at the Hotel de Genes?” and argued and swore at the Italian telegraph operator as they breasted the long counter that looked much more like a bar than the bar did-this particular German stood out like Paderewski’s head in a bunch of ostrich eggs.

He had red hair, as red as a burning hemlock tree, a pale, wan, drawn face and he wore knickerbockers. No matter what happened-whether it was the German-Russian treaty explosion that set the correspondents in rows in front of the telegraph counter like travelers at a quick-lunch station during a five-minute stop; or the Allies’ reproof of Germany that nearly broke up the conference and started typewriters clicking like Helen of Troy launching ships-this cadaverous, flaming German stood wanly aloof. He was above the battle, above interest, above everything. I only heard him speak once-and his voice was exactly like a peacock’s.

Whatever type of German journalism he represented, its extreme opposite was present in the person of Theodore Wolff, editor of the Berliner Tageblatt. Wolff, gray-haired, with protruding lips, a permanent scowl and a mustache that still turned up in spite of close cropping, scowled away at telegraph blanks all day long and wrote rapidly in a tiny, microscopic fist. Wolff’s snarling efficiency though was offset by the receding-faced German correspondent and the bobbed-haired German correspondent.

The receding-faced German had a face that turned in like a pancake that has had a fist pushed into it. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles and peered around nearsightedly. As I was coming upstairs from the telegraph office with a copy of the Russian-German treaty in my pocket, he peered at me anxiously. “Well, what do you know?” he asked. “Nothing but the treaty,” I answered.

“But the treaty is not given out till tomorrow,” he said. “I can promise you that. It is direct from our delegation.”

When I showed him the treaty, which had been given out in mimeo­graphed form by the Russians and which the English correspondents had been busy analyzing and dissecting for two hours past, he said mournfully, “Just think of that. Our delegation is wrong again!”

The bobbed-haired German had bobbed hair. It was cut like Molla Bjurstedt’s, with a bang in front, and he wandered fatly around, fat­cheeked, fat-bodied and fat-headed. No doubt he was harmless; but it was very hard on newspapermen who were concentrating on an article in the overcrowded, noisy press room of the Casa della Stampa to look up and suddenly see either the thin, obviously dying-on-his-feet German; the German with the beat-in face and the peering look, or the fat German with the bobbed hair, directly in front of their typewriters.

And they all wore knickerbockers. I med to like knickerbockers for the country; they were such a fine, comfortable wealthy-feeling way of clothing your legs. But somehow I feel differently now; they could never feel the same again.

(Source: Dateline: Toronto. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985)

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