October 12th, 1929
FROM THE ARCHIVES:Bertie Smyllie, who spent the first World War in a civilian internment camp in Germany, described a return visit to the country in 1929 on the eve of the Wall Street crash. – JOE JOYCE
‘HOW IS Germany getting on?’ This is the question which invariably greets the visitor on his return from a holiday in the Fatherland; and it is a difficult question to answer. I have just come back from a fairly extensive tour [...]. I travelled most of the way in third-class railway carriages, mixing with the people.
There is a new Germany. Nobody who travels in the country to-day can fail to notice the remarkable difference. I was in Germany before the war, and to me now it seems to be a completely new country.
Old landmarks remain. Munich is as beautiful as ever. The Hofbräuhaus has lost nothing of its pre-war hospitality.
In Berlin even the dreadful Siegesallee is unchanged; and one still sees haughty-looking students with freshly-salted Schmisse on their faces. Here and there are relics of the past; but the post-war generation of Germans is obeying the Stresemann [German Foreign Minister] behest: “Honour the past; work for the present; have faith in the future.” You notice the change, subtly but surely, before you are 10 seconds in the country. Every traveller remembers the Customs official of olden days. When he entered your railway carriage at the frontier you felt as if you were, at least, a criminal. Officialdom under the Kaiser was snarling and exceedingly offensive to the stranger. Now all that has disappeared. [...] Everybody seemed to be anxious to help the stranger; yet I saw no trace of servility, or a desire to make a good impression. The German people welcome the visitor to their remarkable country, but the inferiority complex that followed the collapse of 1918 has gone, and one finds a nation at work, not unconscious of its own achievements, yet in no way boastful. [...] It is not to be assumed that the Germans are well off. They are nothing of the kind. The visitor will be impressed by the splendid appearance of the cities and towns. He will marvel at the brilliantly-lit cafés and restaurants. He will envy the people the cleanliness of their children, and the great variety of their entertainments. But he must look below the surface if he is to understand the real Germany of the year of Grace 1929.
To begin with, the average German worker, whether he works with his brain or his hands, is paid considerably less than his “opposite number” in these islands. A skilled worker considers himself lucky if he gets one shilling [12 pence] per hour, while the unfortunate shop assistant or clerk is forced to live on a miserable pittance. An Oberlehrer, who is the equivalent of the headmaster of a high school in England, may get as much as £30 per month, which is considered very high pay; but assistants must be content with a sum at which a Dublin scavenger would turn up his nose.