The Kaiser as Seen in Germany

Ray Stannard Baker

McClure’s/January, 1901

THE American visitor who sees William II. of Germany for the first time is curiously impressed with the influence of the comic paper. He discovers that his imagination in picturing the Kaiser has followed the exaggerations of the caricaturist rather than the sober reality of the photograph, for the German Kaiser is not at all what his caricaturists make him. In the first place, he is not a large man, neither tall, nor inordinately broad of shoulders. Somehow it is the natural bent of the human mind to associate majesty with physical bigness. I believe the old Egyptians represented their Ptolemies and Rameses as giants. And William, who knows the psychology of royalty to the seventh shading, has built high on this feeling. Any one of the seventy-eight court photographers, more or less, in Berlin, will tell you how carefully William always arranges the groupings when he is to have his picture taken in company with others, and a study of the resulting photographs will show how, almost invariably, William looms tall above the shorter men who surround him. A favorite picture represents the Kaiser standing side by side with the famous artist, Menzel, whose four feet, something, of stature give William the frame of a Goth. In one of the galleries there is a portrait of the Kaiser in full naval uniform, standing on the bridge of one of his ships of war. The canvas, which is so hung as to strike the visitor as he enters the doorway, is of enormous size, and the figure of the Emperor stands out of it with gigantic impressiveness. Even in many of his smaller pictures, the cabinet photographs, the camera has been moved so close that the Kaiser’s face nearly fills the plate, thereby giving an extraordinary impression of hugeness. The caricaturists have naturally exaggerated the suggestions given by these various portraits, and it is with something of a shock that one realizes, for the first time, that the Kaiser is, after all, only a man of common stature, or less.

In other ways, also, a first view of the Kaiser impresses one. A photograph gives no hint of color. The Kaiser is a brown-faced man, the brown of wind and weather, of fierce riding on land and of a glaring sun on the sea. His face is thinner than one has pictured, and there is a hint of weariness about the eyes. His hair gives the impression of being thin, and his famous mustache is not so long or so jauntily fierce as one has imagined. There is many a dry goods clerk in Berlin who has out-Kaisered the Kaiser in growing a mustache.

But, owing to the sin of retouching, there is one thing that few of William’s photographs show to advantage, and it is the most impressive characteristic of his face. And that is its singular sternness in repose. Square, iron jaws, thin, firm lips, a certain sharpness and leanness of visage, a penetrating eye, all speak of invincible determination, pride, dignity. Indeed, herein lies the force of personal majesty, for William, however much one may smile at his passion for royal display, has many of those splendid attributes of character which would make a man great in any sphere of life. It would be a large company of Germans, indeed, among whom one would fail to select him instinctively as the leader. A first impression, therefore, may thus be summed up. The Kaiser is less a great king than one has imagined, and more a great man. The longer one remains in Germany, and the more he learns of William and his extraordinary activities, the deeper grows this impression. We Americans have never quite overcome our first prejudices against the Kaiser, bred during the first days of his reign, when the mantle of royalty, and the Hohenzollern mantle at that, was new to his shoulders, and he said and did strange things. But in Europe, where they have grown accustomed to his vagaries, now, indeed, much less pronounced in their manifestations, and have set them down as the expressions of a strong and original individuality, the Kaiser occupies a place of high and genuine esteem. An American who remains long in Germany feels this change in sentiment strongly, and when the Kaiser passes he raises his hat with all the others, not merely because this is royalty, but because it is character and good deeds accomplished.

As might be expected, the Kaiser is most popular in his capital. One hearing a commotion on Unter den Linden, with a flash of white plumes in the distance and the swift clatter of hoofs, may well crowd up to see. A pair of splendid horses, traveling like the wind, two richly uniformed men on the box, and the Kaiser, the Kaiserin, and another lady in the open carriage behind. You observe that the Kaiser sits with his back to the horses, giving the place of honor to his wife, for William has set the highest ideals in courtesy to women—the Anglo-Saxon ideals, which often form a strong contrast to the rougher Teutonic customs. He wears a glistening silver helmet, which he touches with military precision as the people on the streets shout and lift their hats. No cavalcade of guards accompanies the carriage, and there is apparently no effort to guard the lives of its occupants, except in as far as they are protected by the terrific speed at which the horses are always driven. It is one of William’s pleasures to show himself and his family frequently to his people, and the royal carriage may be seen at all hours in the streets of Berlin. The Kaiser’s departure from the palace is always signaled by the fall of a flag, which serves as a notification to the people to prepare for his appearance among them. Nearly every afternoon he rides out, usually in uniform, with some of his staff officers, galloping down the Linden and into the Thiergarten, where he often spends an hour in exercise. The Kaiser appears to better advantage on horseback than when standing, being tall of body. He has a great variety of uniforms, and one may see him many times and never see him clothed twice alike. This is one manifestation of his well-known love of display and pageantry. He loves the outward garb of royalty, the symbols of power, and he uses them without stint. Not long ago an American professor attended a reception in the royal palace, given by the Kaiser to an association of scientists, at which William appeared in the gorgeous robes of royalty, preceded by liveried chamberlains bearing the crown and insignia. It was a most impressive display, and when the professor came away, he said to a friend:

“I am a republican to the backbone, but I believe that if monarchs are necessary, they should be monarchs to the last bit of gold lace, just as William is Kaiser.”

The next day this friend had an audience with the Kaiser, and in the course of the conversation told him what the American professor had said. The Kaiser laughed heartily.

“That is exactly what I believe,” he said. “Dom Pedro of Brazil illustrated the folly of trying to be a republican on a throne.”

The pictures of the Kaiser and his family form an admirable indication of the degree of his popularity in various parts of the empire. It is said that the different photographs of the Kaiser now number far into the thousands. At a single shop which I visited in Berlin, there were no fewer than 267 different pictures of the Kaiser, and this did not include the scores upon scores of groups and family pictures in which the Kaiser appears. It is said that the Kaiser averages a picture a day, year in and year out. Of course, weeks will pass when no photograph is taken, at least no official photograph, although the snapshot picture-getter is ever at work; and then there comes a time when dozens of them are made in a day. In Berlin one cannot possibly escape the Kaiser’s face: it is everywhere, in the hotel room where you sleep, in the restaurant where you eat, in almost every shop window, in the picture galleries, in the churches, in the public buildings, and in every illustrated paper. No American presidential candidate ever had his likeness so widely displayed, even at his home town in campaign time. And not only photographs, but paintings, busts in marble, bronze, and bisque, cheap colored prints, medals, bas-reliefs, and every other known form of representing the human face.

This is in Berlin, the center of Prussian loyalty. In the northern provinces of Germany, especially in Pomerania, the pictures of the Kaiser are not so plentiful, and yet they are very numerous. One may see thousands of them in Stettin, where there are tens in Dresden. Indeed, as one goes south from Berlin, the Kaiser’s pictures grow fewer in number, until at Munich one rarely sees any of them displayed—certainly the best evidence of the aloofness of the Bavarians. Judged by the number of his pictures on view, the Kaiser is more popular to-day in Cologne and Aix-la-Chapelle, in the half-French Rhine country, than he is in Bavaria. Indeed, one who hears everything in the Kaiser’s praise in North Germany will get a glimpse of the reverse opinion in South Germany. In many places, like such crowded manufacturing cities as Chemnitz, one hears much said against the Kaiser, although it is not so much against William as it is against the form of government which he represents. And if William fears anything in the world, it is the spirit of socialism which grows rank in these factory towns. In more than one of his speeches has he mentioned socialism as among the things which Germans must conquer with a strong hand.

The greatest criticism of the Kaiser made by his people is that he talks too much. One hears that everywhere. I think the Germans rather admire William for thinking as he does, but they blame him for saying aloud all that he thinks. That is characteristic of the German; he is born a free thinker, but his institutions and the watchful eye of the omniscient police forever keep the lid shut down upon his genuine sentiments. And he is slow of anger and unrivaled in his reverence for authority. It so happens, therefore, that while the Kaiser may often be expressing the real sentiment of his people, he is expressing it too loudly to suit the cautious German type of diplomacy. Another criticism, which is not now heard as frequently, perhaps, as it was a few years ago, condemns what the Germans imagine to be a pro-English attitude on the part of the Kaiser. They cannot forget that their sovereign is by birth half an Englishman, and many there are who look with only half-concealed suspicion on the cordial relations between the Kaiser and his grandmother, the Queen, and his uncle, the Prince of Wales. It is said that the Kaiser is more sensitive to this criticism than to almost any other, and the story of his famous reply, when injured at a regatta some years ago, is still told in Germany. As he saw the blood flowing, he said grimly: “Well, there goes the last drop of my English blood.” In the light of this sentiment one wonders how the average German regards the recent entente between the Germans and the British regarding the Chinese question.

The Kaiser is an excellent English student, speaking and reading the language perfectly, and following English models in many of his most important departures. One does not forget that the Kaiser, as a boy, was especially fond of Captain Marryat’s tales of the sea, and that, in more recent years, he was one of the most enthusiastic admirers of our own Captain Mahan’s great book, “The Influence of Sea Power”—a book which he has used as one of his strongest arguments for a more powerful German navy.

The Kaiser is much too great a man, and the claims of his expanding country are too insistent, to permit him to specialize in any great degree in his interests, and yet he is but a man, and certain lines of activity engross his attention more than others. Upon his accession to the throne his enthusiasms were chiefly military; he loved his army, and he longed passionately to use it. This interest still continues to a degree, and yet it may be said that at present the Kaiser’s greatest hobby is his new navy. He has enough English blood in him to make him passionately fond of the sea and of sea life, and his leanings toward all that is martial make him the natural sponsor of a great navy.

And it has required all the determination, tact, and enthusiasm of William, the man, as well as all the immense power of William, the Kaiser, to convince the Germans that a great navy was a necessity to the nation, and then to persuade them to pay for it. If William were an American, he would be classed in politics Republican with strong sentiments of imperialism and expansion, a supporter of the doctrine of high protective tariffs and sound money, and a steady champion of a larger army and navy. His enemies might even accuse him of a fondness for trusts. He has been compared in character and aims to Theodore Roosevelt, and the similarity of the two men in restless energy, honesty, wide general culture and information, as well as admiration of things martial, is certainly most striking. Years ago the Kaiser began studying the naval question in every one of its phases, and thus he continued until he was intimately familiar with the navies of the world, as well as with the naval attitude of each nation. Indeed, he is said to know by name the chief war-vessels of every country, with the tonnage, armament, and equipment of each. With this knowledge in hand he began a mighty campaign of education among his people. He invited members of the Reichstag repeatedly to the palace, showed them lantern pictures of the great vessels of the world, and gave them lectures on naval affairs; and the moral that he invariably preached was, “Germany must have a great navy.” He argued from the point of view of commerce, of industry, of expansion, of sentiment and patriotism, and he finally succeeded in getting nearly all he wanted, only to find that he wanted more; and so the work is still going forward.

War anywhere in the world mounts like strong wine to William’s head. He hears afar the sounds of strife, and he longs to be there to see. And sometimes he grows so excited that, like a small boy at a fire, he can’t help shouting, and then the world wonders over his curious cablegrams of sympathy or encouragement. There was no more fascinated observer of our war with Spain than William of Germany; he watched every phase, he studied every manoeuver, and later he used this information with effect in persuading his obdurate legislators that Germany must at least have a navy equal to that of the United States.

More recently he has been interested in submarine boats, and when the English pounded the old “Belle Isle” to pieces he was one of the most eager of inquirers as to the exact effect of the shells on the sides of the old hulk and in her hold. Indeed, as soon as the bare report of the tests had been telegraphed to Berlin, William was discussing them eagerly with the foreign military attaches. He is, by the way, a great favorite with the foreign attaches. He treats them with bluff bonhomie, entertains them frequently, pumps them dry, and sends them away in all their lean emptiness feeling that William is the greatest man on earth. At his palace at Potsdam he has many conspicuous naval ornaments, among them models of battleships, Krupp guns, and so on. He has painted a picture of merit, “Fight Between Battleships,” and it has seemed sometimes as if he lived and moved and had his being in ships. And not only ships of war enlist his enthusiasm, and ships of pleasure, although he is a great yachtsman, but there is no stronger supporter of the new and wonderfully progressive merchant navy of Germany than the Kaiser. He knows to the last sheerlegs the equipment of every German shipyard. Last winter he was present at the launching of the splendid new fast liner, the “Deutschland,” at Stettin, and when she ran on a bar he hurried warships to drag her off. We find the Kaiser visiting the Berlin decorator who is making the interior furnishings of the new vessel, and giving his suggestions for changes. He telegraphs his sympathy to the North German Lloyd Company when its New York docks are burned, he encourages subsidies for German ships, and he plans for their instant conversion in case of war to powerful cruisers—for in the end everything stands upon its serviceability to Germany in arms. No detail escapes him or fails to interest him. I shall not soon forget a little anecdote told me by Captain Albers. When the great liner, the “Furst Bismarck,” was finished, the Kaiser came on board with Prince Henry to inspect her. He approved everything until he saw the tables in the dining-room. Then he said to Captain Albers: “I should think a man who had been at sea as long as you would not allow a cabinet-maker to give you square-cornered tables on shipboard.” After the Kaiser left, the table-corners were quickly rounded off. Two years later the Kaiser again came aboard the vessel, and when he saw the tables he said: “I see you have rounded off the corners. That is good.” He had not forgotten even a thing as small as this.

The German navy and the advance of German shipping are without doubt the Kaiser’s strongest interests at present. Connected with this hobby, and growing out of it, is his deep enthusiasm for what is now the most striking feature of German development—commercial and industrial expansion. No other monarch in Europe takes such a keen interest in the industrial affairs and in the extension of the export business of his domain as William. This interest has arisen largely from the Kaiser’s notable talent for taking a broad view of affairs, a talent developed by travel in other countries, and by persistently endeavoring to look upon Germany through foreign eyes. He and other great Germans have not been slow to see that the future prosperity of the country, with its ever-growing population and its ever-insufficient agricultural production, must needs depend largely on its success as a manufacturer and trader. Hence the Kaiser has taken the greatest interest in spreading industrial and technical education, and not long ago he shocked the conservative educational elements of the German universities by paying special respect and attention to the technical schools. For years without number all academic honors and degrees have fallen to the men who have come from the universities. Now degrees are given to certain technical-school graduates, and they are placed on the same level, in many respects, with the aristocrats of the universities. The Kaiser himself attended the recent celebration of this departure at the famous technical High School at Charlottenburg. Those who know how conservative Germany is in educational affairs appreciate the almost revolutionary effect of this departure.

Besides encouraging more skilled workmen, the Kaiser is not less interested in finding places where the goods which they manufacture may find profitable sale. Hence the strenuous efforts to encourage the building of merchant ships to carry German goods, and the all-but-feverish desire on the part of the Kaiser for foreign possessions and foreign spheres of influence. The Kaiser is a shrewd and far-sighted man, and he sees clearly that the great coming struggle among the nations is a struggle for commerce. Virgin continents and islands have now all been occupied, the United States has at last supplied her own vast necessities, and is preparing to enter the foreign market with huge surpluses of manufactured goods, and that nation will prosper most which secures and holds the best markets. Hence the scramble for China; hence the Kaiser’s eagerness for more territory, no matter where located.

One of the most significant and impressive recent movements in Germany is the colonial exhibition. Nearly every town of any prominence has had one of these exhibitions, or is about to have one. They are given under the auspices of the best families of the place, with the ladies of society in charge of the booths. I attended one of the exhibitions at Jena. It occupied a large hall, and it consisted of sample products from German colonies, of maps showing the location of foreign German possessions, and of innumerable photographs of scenery, colonial life, and so on. Circulars describing the colonies, inviting immigration, and giving all manner of statistical information, were distributed free. As a side department there was a naval and shipping exhibit, which made the usual strong plea for more ships, giving in colored diagrams all manner of statistical information as to German exports and imports, and as to German ships, with comparisons with the fleets of other countries. It is probable that no other country ever made such a campaign of education in commerce and industrial expansion. And behind it all looms the irrepressibly active Kaiser, with his vast schemes for the advancement of his country. He will have a great navy, and great shipping interests, and great colonial possessions, if he has to bring every peasant in the empire to his palace and convince him with lantern pictures and chalk talks. For the common citizen of Germany, who pays the taxes, must first be convinced—at least, that is the theory!

These two things—his navy and his desire for commercial expansion—must be set down as the Kaiser’s greatest interests. William has been accused of having a universal interest, of being a sort of kingly dabbler in everything. An emperor must, of necessity, possess wide interests, and yet one who watches the Kaiser’s activities will soon perceive that, after all, he is like other men; he has his great passions and his lesser ones. He cares little, for instance, for science or for horseracing. He loves travel; he entertains high respect for religion, a religion of his own stern Mosaic kind; he dabbles in art and music. He cares nothing for social affairs, unless they have some specific purpose, or unless they reach the stage of pageantry in which he is the central figure. But among all his lesser likings nothing occupies such a place as statuary. He is preeminently a monument-lover. Not long ago he said to a friend: “There are thirty-four sculptors in Berlin.” He knew every one of them personally, and he knew all about their work. Nothing pleases him better than to visit their studios and to be photographed there among clay sketches. Everyone knows of his astonishing adornment of the great central drive through the Thiergarten with a magnificent row of statuary, each group representing one of his ancestors and two of that ancestor’s foremost counselors. This statuary is all in white marble, magnificently done, and erected at the Kaiser’s personal expense. Indeed, the Kaiser has watched and criticized each statue as it grew under the sculptor’s hand, and has presided at the unveiling of each. It is characteristic, also, of the Kaiser that he has selected a place for a statue of himself, which shall match those of his ancestors.

This work has been done not only because the Kaiser is a lover of statuary, but because he loves his capital city and wishes to see it beautified; and more than that, he believes that such representations of the great men of the nation have a profound educational influence on the people. They are visible symbols of what patriotic men can do. The Kaiser is ever a profound educator. I shall not soon forget my visit to one of these new statues on a Friday afternoon. From afar I saw a great crowd of children gathered around it, and as I approached I saw that it was a school-class, and the master was standing there in front, telling the story of the king and his two counselors, while the mute statues gave it a reality that impressed it indelibly upon their minds. I learned that this method of teaching German history was pursued to a great extent in Berlin, and whatever may be said of the Kaiser’s vanity in thus setting up a row of his ancestors for worship, one cannot but feel that he had another and a profoundly useful purpose in the work.