Friday, 3 April 2015

Baedekers

One of the set texts that I studied for A-level English Literature was E. M. Forster’s Howards End. I have a distinct memory of the silence that was the response when the class was asked what a Baedeker was. Having recently re-read Howards End, I cannot find such a reference to the eponymous guidebooks published by Karl Baedeker and his sons. It may have come up in discussion of the context of the book, an Edwardian ‘state of the nation’ work after the previous two ‘Baedeker’ novels, Where Angels Fear To Tread and A Room With A View, both of which have significant sections set in Italy, an essential part of the education of certain English classes at the time - and both of which mention Baedeker by name.  Although one of the main characters leaves England in Howards End, the action in the novel firmly remains in England. In Where Angels Fear To Tread, Forster creates a fictitious entry for the town of Monteriano in Baedeker’s "Central Italy" (looking at examples online, the Baedekers for Central Italy are titled specifically Central Italy and Rome.

During the summer after my A-levels, I spent most of my time either reading or drawing. Early summer had been hot and sunny, but July turned rainy, and, having studied Howards End, I read all of Forster's other novels, a couple of them in a day, and his short stories (other readings were Conrad's short stories in their hardback Everyman editions, and a large volume of Edgar Allan Poe).
In Howards End, published in 1910, Forster's perspective on Germany feeds into a history for the Schlegels: their father left the Germany he loved through seeing it becoming distorted as a result of Bismarck's unification: "It was his hope that the clouds of materialism obscuring the Fatherland would part in time, and the mild intellectual light re-emerge".

Looking at Baedekers from the period before the First World War, when Forster wrote all his novels except A Passage To India, among the books' notable approaches is the way that they are laid out: they are written in routes. Prior to air travel fundamentally changing an appreciation of physical space, travel could not escape contiguity: the only way to reach a destination was by moving through the landscape from one's point of origin. Therefore, a guidebook to one particular place - even though this might be the destination -  made less sense in a world confined to surface travel in a linear fashion. Travellers would naturally have an interest in negotiating the spaces and modes of transport in between, and before faster trains, reaching cities in the continent from England would entail several days' duration, so places to stay at nodal points along these linear routes were also of interest. Thus, tracing the routes in Baedeker's The Rhine and Northern Germany (1870), my journey to Wuppertal encompasses:
[Route] 1. From Brussels to Cologne.

By Express in 6 1/2 hrs.; fares 27 fr. 75, 20 fr. 50 c. Custom-house formalities at Cologne (or at Aix-la-Chapelle , if the traveller proceeds no farther). Finest views between Louvain and Liège to the right. District between Liège and Aix-la-Chapelle replete with interest. 
[Then Route 42 from Cologne to Düsseldorf.
[Route] 47. From Düsseldorf to Cassel.

Express in 8 3/4, ordinary trains in 13 hrs.; fares 7 Thlr. 25, 5 Thlr. 18, 3 Thlr. 25 Sgr. District as far as Dortmund and beyond Paderborn picturesque and industrial; structure of the line itself an object of interest. From the convent of Gerresheim (first stat[ion]., fine church of the 12th cent.), Archbishop Gebhard of Cologne abducted the beautiful Countess Agnes of Mansfeld. After passing Erkrath (hydropathic estab.), the train ascends to Hochdahl (large iron-foundry of Eintracht), 494 ft. higher than Düsseldorf.

[...]

Vohwinkel (see above) is a junction of the Prince William line (Steele-Vohwinkel), principally used for the coal traffic.

From Vohwinkel to Steele in 1/4 hr.; fares 27, 20, 13 Sgr. —
Beyond stat[ion]. Aprath the line crrosses the watershed between the Wupper and the Ruhr, and then follows the valley of the Deile. Stat[ion]. Neriges, a resort of pilgrims, with an old chateau; stat[ion]. Langenberg possesses several thriving silk factories. At stat[ion]. Kupferdreh the Ruhrthal is suddenly entered, presenting a striking and picturesque contrast to the narrow sinuosities of the Deilethal. Numerous coal-mines are passed. Where the train crosses the Ruhr, a pleasing glimpse of the valley is obtained. 
[...]

At Sonnborn the train suddenly enters the valley of the Wupper, traverses it, then skirts the hill-side, commanding a view of Elberfeld below.

Elberfeld [...], pop. 65,321 (12,000 Rom. Cath.), and the adjoining town of Barmen [...], with 64,945 inhab., together form a series of streets nearly 6m. in length, intersected by the road, railway, and the Wupper, which is the principal source of the industry of this district. With the exception of some English towns, there is probably no spot in the world so densely populated. Its principal manufactures are cotton, silk, ribbon, and turkey-red dyed goods. Some of the churches and public edifices are handsome, but, like the towns themselves, of very modern date.
Elberfeld and Barmen, already physically joined at this date, would become Wuppertal ("Wupper-Vallery") in a referendum of 1930. I haven't calculated how long the whole journey would have taken, but in 1870, Brussels to Cologne - by express - took six and a half hours. My train was 1 hour and 47 minutes. Wuppertal's principal 'manufacture' is now pharmaceuticals: the giant Bayer factory spreads the distance of a few stops of the Schwebebahn.

Forster's characters embody differing perspectives on the ubiquitous Baedeker. In Where Angels Fear To Tread it is seen as an essential source of information, as it is also seen by Lucy in A Room With A View: “Taking up Baedeker's Handbook to Northern Italy, she committed to memory the most important dates of Florentine History. For she was determined to enjoy herself on the morrow”; meanwhile Eleanor Lavish, the novelist, is dismissive: "I hope we shall soon emancipate you from Baedeker. He does but touch the surface of things. As to the true Italy—he does not even dream of it. The true Italy is only to be found by patient observation." and:
"Lucy, who wanted to see Santa Croce, suggested, as a possible solution, that they should ask the way there. 'Oh, but that is the word of a craven! And no, you are not, not, NOT to look at your Baedeker. Give it to me; I shan't let you carry it. We will simply drift.'"
E. M. Forster, A Room with a View
Eleanor Lavish, who, by drifting, in this scene effects another meeting between Lucy and the Emersons, is a Situationist avant le lettre.

Cologne to Wuppertal

Eastward bound trains leaving Cologne cross the Hohenzollern bridge over the Rhine. Either side of the railway bridge are two pedestrian walkways. On the southern one, the metal grills over the railings which separate the footpath from the railway tracks are covered in padlocks, so much so that the metal grills can no longer be seen - it appears a solid wall of padlocks (on the other side of the bridge for some reason, the padlocks are many fewer). In Tales From The Fast Trains: Europe at 186 MPH, Tom Chesshyre describes it as:
"an extraordinary fence covered in thousands of locked padlocks, running alongside a footpath. [Their Cologne guide says:] 'It was a craze that began two years ago. Nobody knows why. People lock a padlock and throw the key in the water, so that love will last - like the lock.'"
The book came out in 2011, and this phenomenon, not elaborated upon, apparently dates back to a century ago, in Serbia in the First World War. However, it has gathered incredible popularity in less than a decade, thanks, it seems, to an Italian book and film of 2006 and 2007. It's something I've observed in continental Europe in recent years, in Paris, where it brought down a parapet of the Pont Des Arts bridge, in St Petersburg, in Hamburg, and now in Stockholm. Here I saw a few locks on the fence around the view point at Monteliusvägen. As the tradition dictates, the lovers affix the padlock, then throw the key into the water: from Monteliusvägen, one would need a superhuman throw to land the key in the Riddarfjärden. Perhaps the keys just dropped onto cars on Torkel Knutssonsgatan.

As described in the 1870 Baedeker The Rhine and Northern Germany, the train arrives 'suddenly' into the Wupper valley. On the left hand side of the train at Varresbeck, the Schwebebahn is seen. This caused some interest among other passengers - on both sides of the train - looking out of the windows to see, and for much of the remaining distance, the train runs parallel to the Schwebebahn to Wuppertal Hauptbahnhof.


Wuppertal was, in the 19th century, a populous and built up area. It was limited by its geography: the Wupper valley is narrow with steep sides, which controlled the expansion of the towns along its length which make it up; other nearby conurbations in the Rhine-Ruhr area were better able to expand, especially in industrial capacity. The unique Schwebebahn ('floating' or 'hovering railway') was opened in 1901. The system was designed by Eugen Langen to sell to Berlin. For much of its length it is suspended above the Wupper river itself: in an already built up area, finding the space to construct a light rail system would have been difficult, as the geology would also make tunnelling for an underground metro prohibitively expensive. The Schwebebahn makes use of the open space over the river, and then departs from the river's course at the western end from Sonnborner Strasse to Vohwinkel.

From one end at Oberbarmen, to Vohwinkel, the journey takes about half an hour, and the trains are regular, when I was in Wuppertal on Sunday, trains appeared every 6-8 minutes and were well used by local people and tourists alike - there were a number of other people, mostly men, taking photographs of, and on the train. As it travels between 8-12 metres above the river and the streets, it provides good views of the town. The section I mostly travelled on, from the main station to the end at Vohwinkel, passes alongside the vast Bayer complex, which runs for the length of the Schwebebahn for three stations - at places on both sides of the river - where aspirin was first synthesised.

Taking to the Schwebebahn for the first time, one is struck by the narrowness of the train, and how it moves. As it comes to a stop, especially after coming around a bend, the train rocks from side to side. There is a notice warning passengers about this, in German only. The trains comprise two carriages, joined in a flexible fashion as are many contemporary light trains. Inside there is room for two transverse seats in rows in the main sections of the carriages with an aisle along one side. The aisle gives out onto the doors, which are on one side of the train only: station platforms are always on the right of the direction of travel, and the trains travel around a loop at the end of the line to return in the reverse direction. In Alice In The Cities, one does not quite get a sense of the narrowness of the carriages. As the trains always travel in the same directions, there is only a drivers' cab at the front: at the back of the train, there are three seats in a row underneath the rear window. As with the front of the Docklands Light Railway trains in London, these seats are very popular - especially with children.