Once Over Permit Obstacle, Fishing in Baden is Perfect

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Star/September 2, 1922

Triberg-in-Baden, Germany.-If you want to go fishing in the Black Forest, you want to get up about four hours before the first Schwarzwald rooster begins to shift from one leg to the other and decide that it’s time to crow. You need at least that much time to get through the various legal labyrinths in order to get on to the stream before dark.

In the first place the Black Forest is not the sweep of black forest that its name suggests. It is a chain of mountains cut up by railroads, valleys full of rank potato crops, pasture land, brown chalets and gravel-bottomed trout streams, broken out all over with enormous hotels run by Germanized Swiss who have mastered the art of making four beefsteaks grow where only one was cut by the butcher and where you waken up in the morning to find that the falling mark has cut your hotel bill to $3.75 a week and that the price of James E. Pepper Kentucky rye whiskey is 90 cents a bottle.

A Swiss hotelkeeper can raise prices with the easy grace of a Pullman car poker shark backing a pat full house, but the mark can fall faster than even a Swiss in good training can hoist the cost of living. A properly run race between a well-conditioned Swiss hotelkeeper and a fast-falling mark would provide an international financial spectacle that would bring the financial fans to their feet as one man, but my last kronen would go on the mark. In spite of it being the monetary medium that is in daily use in the Einsteinian household, the mark still seems affected by the laws of gravitation.

All of which and none of which has anything to do with the trout fishing in the Black Forest. Triberg consists of a single steep street lined by steep hotels. It is in a steep valley and a cool breeze is said to blow down the valley in wintertime. No one has ever been in Triberg in the wintertime to verify this legend but eight hundred sweltering tourists would gladly lay their right hands over where their hearts ought to be, if their hearts are in the right place, and swear there never has been a breeze of any kind in the summertime.

We landed in Triberg after a five-hour train ride from Freiberg. We had originally planned to walk across the Black Forest but we gave this up when we saw the crowd of German tourists touring in and out of all the roads leading to the woods. Our first disappointment was in finding that the Black Forest was no forest but just a lot of wooded hills and highly cultivated valleys, and our second was in discovering that you couldn’t go fifteen yards along any of the wilder and more secluded roads without running into between six and eight Germans, their heads shaved, their knees bare, cock feathers in their hats, sauerkraut on their breath, the wanderlust in their eyes and a collection of aluminum cooking utensils clashing against their legs as they walked.

As I may have said, we landed in Triberg. It was the end of a five-hour ride with two changes and four hours of standing in the aisle while large and unhappy Germans and their large and marcelled wives pushed by us again and again with profuse apologies, and I don’t know what aims.

“The proprietor will fix it up for you,” said the head porter of the hotel. “He has a friend who has a fishing.”

We went into the bar where the friend who had the fishing and six of his friends were sitting at a table and playing a game that looked like pinochle. The proprietor talked with the friend, who has one of the porcupine-quill haircuts that are all the rage this year, and the friend pounded the table with his fist while the rest of the table roared and laughed.

The proprietor came over to our table.

“They all make jokes,” he said. “He says if you pay him two dollars you can fish all you want for the rest of your life.”

Now we are all very familiar with the German when he starts making jokes about the dollar, and suggests that he be paid for such-and-such in dollars. It is a foul and nefarious habit. If it were allowed to go unchecked, it would soon force all Canadians and Americans back to Sarnia, Ontario, or Kokomo, Indiana. It is a habit that needs to be sat on with all severity. There was a lot of dickering. The friend and his friends ceased laughing. We grew stern and strong and silent. The porter grew placatory. The atmosphere grew tense. We finally compromised by agreeing to pay 1,200 marks for the fishing unseen. We went to bed happy. We were the owner of a fishing in the Black Forest. We turned over in our thirty-seven-cents-a-­night bed in the regal suite of the largest hotel in Triberg and kicked the eiderdown quilt onto the floor. After all, there seemed to be some justice in the world.

In the morning we got our tackle together and went down to breakfast. The porter, who is another Swiss passing as German, came up.

“I have news for you. It is not so easy. You must first obtain the permit of the police. You must get a fischkarte.”

I pass over the next two days. They were spent in the offices of the Kingdom of Baden, now doing business as a republic of sorts, and con­sisted of conversations like the following:
We enter an office where a number of clerks are sitting around while stern-looking soldiers scratch the small of their backs with the pommels of their swords, or is it only saddles that have pommels?

We, Mr. [William] Bird and myself speak. “Vere ist der Burgomeister?”

The clerks eye us and go on writing. The soldiers look out of the window at the large stone monument to the war of 1870. Finally a clerk looks up and points to an inner door. There are a line of people outside. We are at the end of the line and finally get in.
Us, Mr. Bird, who is the European manager of the Consolidated Press, and myself speak: “Bitte, Herr Burgomeister. We wollen der fischkarten. We wollen to gefischen goen.”
The Burgomeister looks at us and says, “Nix. Nein.” That is the only understandable point of his discourse.

“Das fischenkarten,” we explain sweetly.

“Nix,” he says. “Nein,” and points to the door.

We go out. This continues indefinitely.

When we finally, by tracing the person who owned it down at his factory where he makes lightning rods or hairbrushes, found where the fishing was located we were informed by another fine-looking burgomeister that we would have to give up our attempts at getting a fishing license in Triberg altogether and go to Nussbach. We didn’t know where Nussbach was. It looked hopeless. We resolved to fish instead.

The stream was a beauty. The friend who owned it was evidently so busy making hair tonic or shoe buttons in his factory that he never fished him­self and the trout bit as fast as you could wet a line. We took all we wanted and repeated the next day. On the third day my conscience bothered me.

“We ought to go to Nussbach and get that permit to fish,” I suggested. We went to Nussbach with the aid of a map. No one seemed to know where the burgomeister’s office was. Finally we found him in a little shed across the street from the churchyard where a group of schoolboys were being given squad drill. We had been informed as to the dire penalties that were waiting for those who fished without a Badischer permit. Poach­ing was rigorously punished.

Mr. Bird, who answers to the name of Bill, can talk German. But he doesn’t think he can. I, on the contrary, cannot talk German at all, but I think I can. Therefore, I usually dominate the conversation. Mr. Bird says that my system of talking German is to pronounce English with an Italian accent.

“Ve wishen der fischenkarten,” I said, bowing low.

The Burgomeister looked at me over his steel-rimmed spectacles.

“Ja ?” he said.

“Ve wishen der fischenkarten comme 􀀎a,” I said very firmly, showing him the yellow card the friend had loaned us to locate the water.

“Ja,” he said, examining the card. “Das ist gut wasser.”

“Can ve gefischen in it?” I asked.

“Ja, ja,” answered the Burgomeister.

“Come on, Bill,” I said, “let’s go.”

We have been fishing the water ever since. No one has stopped us. Some day, doubtless, we will be arrested. I shall appeal to the Burgomeister of Nussbach. He is a splendid man. But I remember distinctly his having told us we could fish all the good water.

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

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