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"The Old World Lies Behind Me." First in the radio series Yearning for America: On
the Trail of German Emigrants. Written by Udo Zindel and Bert Heinrich. Translated
by Mark Meier. Brought to you by SWR
 
 

1. "The Old World Lies Behind Me."
 

Karl Herzog:
New York, July 16, 1848. Dear Father, Brother, and Sisters. Above all, I must
apologize; it has been so long since you have heard from me and I should have
already written from Bremen. It was not my fault, however, for we sailed earlier than I
had expected. It was a rainy and foggy morning (November 6) as we bid farewell to the
German soil and boarded the ship Anna; commanded by Captain Wessels, an
experienced and cautious sailor.

Father:
It began a few years ago with an accidental discovery, completely unexpected. I stood
in the basement with a painful scar, barely healed, from an operation and I wanted to
put my affairs in order. Death had slipped closer to me than I had thought possible.
Now, I wanted to begin a second life with different priorities. But the basement was
crammed too full for a new start. Too many boxes, too much paper, especially for
someone like me, who still stood on wobbly legs.

Thus, I went into the garage, where less junk waited. With the first plunge into the pile, I
grabbed an old, wooden suitcase, a family heirloom that no one had opened. Inside
was a tied-up bundle of letters: remnants of sealing wax, old German handwriting.
Legible only with a magnifying glass and a lot of patience.

Karl Herzog:
On the first day of the voyage, all were lively and well, and our departure from German
soil had not particularly disturbed anyone. By the third day, however,things did not look
so pleasant. A few people had already fallen ill with sea-sickness, which steadily
gained the upper hand until only six of us remained healthy. As far as my condition was
concerned, I was a bit dizzy but otherwise well, and whenever the weather was not too
terribly stormy, I spent my time on deck.

Father:
Lines dashed off quickly; blobs of ink, smeared by an unheeding hand; strokes that
drove forward energetically and intimated an impulsive author who placed little value
on exterior appearances . He signed with "Karl Herzog." My great-great-uncle, whom
everyone had long forgotten.

Father:
Karl addressed the report of his emigration to his father and family at home: "Mr.
Christian Herzog, gardener, Before the Kalwer Gate, Stuttgart, Kingdom of
Württemberg. Via Liverpool Steamer." The letter lay before me, as if the seal had just
been broken, as if the sender had written it directly to later generations. In weeks of
work, I transcribed the lines from the distant land of America; ten letters in all. I began
to entangle myself in a fate that had unfolded 150 years in the past.

Son:
I was thrilled when I heard about your discovery. Both of us - father and son; the one 70,
the other just turned 40 - already had a great deal of distance between us and had
begun to feel like strangers to one another. But now, the same probing questions, the
same passionate curiosity, had taken hold of us both.

Father:
We resolved to search together for traces of Karl Herzog. We would look everywhere:
museums, archives, libraries, in our home country and at the original scenes of the
action, even if that meant the farthest corners of America. Our greatest shared
adventure grew from this idea, late in life and fortuitous as it may have been.

Karl Herzog:
On the tenth day we sighted land in the distance and all believed it to be the
much-longed-for America. It was a bitter disappointment for us, then, to learn it was
merely the Azore Islands. Five stormy weeks of sailing remained. You can imagine,
how boredom plagued me, how I yearned for the land.

Karl Herzog:
On the fifth of January, we were close to the American coast and on January 8, at three
o'clock in the afternoon, we disembarked in New York. It is a majestic city, and I
believe the most beautiful and biggest harbor in the world. Hardly was our ship even
anywhere near the city, when some hagglers and hotel owners pulled up in boats and
by the time we docked, there were more hagglers and hotel owners than passengers
on board our ship. Now at last I was in New York. My first trip was to the German
Society, which was hardly reassuring, for they said there were already 8,000
unemployed foreigners here and the new immigrants arriving daily only increased the
number.

Father:
The adventure of searching for clues began in the Stuttgart city metro, line 14, direction
downtown. Tired, expressionless faces all around, old newspapers and crushed potato
chips on the floor. Yet the daily grind hardly bothered us; we had a city map from 1846
in the pocket, photocopies of an old address book, and a detailed description of the
royal city administration district. Our thoughts were underway in the last years of the
Vormärz, the time running up to Germany's 1848 revolution.

Son:
We set ourselves back in this period of history: storks and swifts nest in the towers of
the royal capital. Smoke from burning wood and coal drifts over the rooftops. The
noise of motors is completely absent -- only voices and footsteps echo in the streets,
hooves clatter on the cobblestone, iron-rimmed carriage wheels bump along behind
them. Church bells ring every quarter of an hour. Sometimes, coming from the direction
of the newly opened train-station, one hears the hoarse, still unfamiliar whistle of a
steam engine.

Father:
Of the 50,000 people living here, many grow their own vegetables and keep chickens,
goats, pigs, or a few bee hives as well. In the inner city sprawls the dark labyrinth of
medieval alleys, smelling of sewage and decay. The few larger squares are flanked by
massive, half-timbered houses and classical buildings with sandstone walls.
Reserved, thrifty elegance, a trace of old-fashioned endurance.

Son:
To the passer-by, this city between terraced vineyards, orchards, and meadows may
have appeared politically inert. Behind the Biedermeier facade, however, another face
lurked.

City Dir.:
For quite some time now, the police have been receiving complaints that the
increasing prices in the taverns are leading to most serious discontent and threats
against the government and upper classes.

Father:
City administrator von Gärtner. I discovered his report in the city archive.

City Dir.:
There is spreading concern that a number of citizens from the lower, poorer working
classes want to take measures against their current plight and, if necessary, even to
help themselves. Above all, the journeymen tailors, the printers, goldsmiths, and
journeymen carpenters belong to the discontented, and any violent outbreaks are likely
to come from their ranks. But as we lacked more specific information about people
and facts, we had to content ourselves with planting undercover agents. Nonetheless,
such agents have only been able to confirm the general presence of that most
disagreeable spirit of rebellion, without being able to extirpate it for lack of sufficient
grounds for suspicion.

Son:
The stop: downtown. A train platform two-floors beneath the Rotebühlplatz: neon lights,
movie posters, advertisements for computer games, CD-players, and exotic vacation
packages. We got out, passed the drug-dealing junkies, and rode the escalator, slowly
squeaking to the surface.

Father:
The only building from the mid-19th century that we found was the hulking block of a
former infantry barracks, now the city revenue office. Whatever else may have been left
of historical buildings had been torn down or reduced to ash and rubble by the
nocturnal bombing raids of World War II. Time travelling has its difficulties.

Son:
We strained ourselves to see the buildings of 1847 in place of a giant intersection - a
heroic act of imagination. There, at the west exit of the city, must have stood the
Kalwer Gate. At the time, it was still closed and opened precisely at fixed hours. The
court architect had just had it moved outward from the city a few years before to create
more room for the rapidly growing population.

Father:
"Before the Kalwer Gate, number 5," in the second floor of a house set back from the
street, lived the Herzog family in 1847. According to our family tree, there were six of
them. The two oldest daughters had married and moved out, the two last-borns had
died in infancy like so many children at that time. Mandatory schooling did not yet exist
when the father, Christian Friedrich, had been young. At fifty-seven years of age, he
could neither read nor write. He had worked many years as the carriage driver for the
king's personal physician and later probably found employment at the court nursery
outside the city gate. It was a family �of a class below the bourgeoisie�, as many of the
better-off residents would have said with barely concealed contempt.

Son:
Karl Herzog, the older of the two sons, was 27. He stood 1.76 m tall, as we later
learned, and had brown hair, gray eyes, a ruddy face. He had the courage and
self-confidence to break from his father's profession and to learn type-setting instead -
a demanding, sophisticated trade in the publishing city of Stuttgart. His cohort wore the
fashionable keppis, pointed caps that the authorities hated as symbols of political
activism and radical ideas.

Father:
Only few people dared to say it, but the old regime had long outlived itself. Radical
democrats increasingly raised their voices and demanded basic human rights and
freedom of conscience. They demanded an end to censorship, wanted appeals courts,
and a republic with a parliament and written constitution; they called for the abolition of
class privileges. Among the innumerable documents from the German Vormärz, we
found a flyer of the "German People's Club," a collection of democratic thinkers from
the petty bourgeoisie:

Reader:
The poorest and the most unfortunate people now are those, who toil not just the most,
but also under the worst conditions. These are the craftsman, the factory worker, and
the farmer. How can it be, you may ask, that we live in such a backward world, a world
in which the lowest has become the highest, and millions of laborers must starve, so
that a few wealthy idlers can gorge themselves? The answer, we tell you, is that the
idlers have discovered a great secret: the secret of how they can let you work for them,
without your even noticing it; the secret of how to make you believe that they do you a
favor and great act of kindness, whenever they let you pour forth your sweat to sustain
their gluttony. Consider, what this secret may be.

Son:
The legal theorist and doctor of philosophy Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, a
manufacturer's son, had been doggedly pondering this secret for years. They were just
months away from publishing the Communist Manifesto.

Son:
For several days, the rumors of a coming rebellion have been circulating in Stuttgart. In
spite of the tense atmosphere, Karl Herzog wanders the inner city's narrow alleys on
the evening of May 3, 1847. We will never know exactly where he was going.

A crowd assembles in the dusk. It increases with every second, shouting, whistling,
and clamoring relentlessly before the "newly and richly built house" of a baker named
Mayer, or so the later military report recounts. The hypocritical pietist and bourgeoisie
dignitary is loathed by the needy of the city. Although ever more of them are going
hungry, he has been baking less bread for the past several days. His oven is being
repaired, Mayer claims.

Father:
The starving suspect him of merely delaying till the city council raises the bread prices.
They reproach him with �profiteering� and �callous disregard for the poor.� Actually,
they had only intended to punish him with an episode of �cats' music� this evening: a
concert of whistles accompanied by beating pots and pans, a loud admonition, that
would have hit an honorary like him hard. Yet the first stone soon flies through Mayer's
windows. A few fanatics even want to get their hands on the baker himself. Loud calls
ring through the night: "Long live freedom! Long live the republic!"

City Dir.:
In response to the report that had been promptly delivered to this city director, he
assembled the waiting militia men as well as the civil guard, which had mustered
before the town hall under the mayor's leadership, and hastened to the scene of the
disturbance. The entire street was full of people when he arrived. A small crowd stood
next to Mayer´s door, attempting to break it down and thus to penetrate into the house
proper. The militia, police, and civil guard immediately moved against the mass,
arresting the stone-throwers and dispersing the rest, and thus clearing the area before
Mayer's home. Since the rioters had increased in number and maintained an
incessant state of turmoil, and since the civil guard was bombarded with rocks,
immediate military help was required.

Son:
Squadrons of cavalry and infantry regiments move out from nearby barracks. They are
armed for war, with sabers, rifles, bayonets, live ammunition. The division commander,
lieutenant-general Prince Friedrich von Württemberg, does not mess around:

Prince von Württemberg:
After just a quarter of an hour, the undersigned was informed that individual officers as
well as individual soldiers and policemen had been struck by stones. Simultaneously,
from the street that leads toward the granary, broke forth a large mob, screaming and
rampaging. They pressed toward both the military police deployed before Mayer's
house as well as a detachment from the 4th Cavalry Regiment, which had recently
arrived. At the sight of this approaching tumult, the undersigned gave his units the
command to charge the rabble and to scatter them with the flat of the blade.

Son:
It is not the first rebellion of this kind. There have already been uprisings in the
Prussian states and in Nuremberg. In Ulm, starving citizens violently aired their
grievances a few days earlier. Discontent ferments in Tübingen and Esslingen, not to
mention the adjacent Grand Duchy of Baden.

Prince von Württemberg:
Now, from this street a great number of stones continued to fly at the troops, whereby
the undersigned also felt himself hit. The command was given to advance with
ever-greater resolve and to club the rioters with bared weapons at any sign of physical
resistance. In two minutes, the troops had cleared the street from this end to the
granary. Yet at the same time, a new storm broke from the left, from the last, narrow
side-street above Mayer's house. It was repulsed in the same manner as before, but
stones were once again hurled and loud curses and insults were heard, such as �Down
with the military!�, �Down with the dogs!�, �Down with the knaves!� etc.

Father:
The rebels destroy the gas lantern street lighting to find refuge from the soldiers
beneath the cloak of darkness. Several brash revolutionairs erect barricades on a
bridge over the Nesenbach. For a while, they hold out, swinging with commandeered
fence pickets against the forward-pressing sabers and bayonets. The soldiers are now
waging all-out war in the royal city. When the king, who appears briefly in the skirmish,
is bombarded with rocks they reply by firing a volley into the crowd without warning.
The bullets strike dozens of people on this May evening; a young lad dies from his
wounds. . .

City Dir.:
 . . . it is the shoe-makers apprentice Wilhelm Hoffman from Buchheim, near Frankfurt
am Main, who was 21 years old and had been working here since ten weeks ago. His
master speaks well of him; as one hears, however, he was an active participant in the
tumult. The body will be interred this week.

Son:
Until the wee hours of the morning, the infantry and cavalry hunt down everything that
moves in the alleys of the old part of town. They club, they stab. People are
indiscriminately arrested and dragged away. Police officer Hoffman later tells the
Royal Criminal Court:

Hoffman:
Around 11 o'clock at night, I moved onto the market place, where I met militiaman
Braun. Then the way led me to Eberhard Street, where the 6th Regiment was
positioned. There I had to pick up another one and transport him back to the police. It
was Karl Herzog.

Father:
Karl Herzog doesn't come home this evening, nor the next, nor the one after next. He is
in custody for questioning, along with dozens of other young men. We don't know
exactly why. At the address �Before the Kalwer Gate,� number 5, in the back house,
they must not have known much more than we do now. There would have been great
worry and dread, crying, cursing, quarreling. The oldest son in chains, his future
threatened; the family's untarnished reputation sullied. When will the less sympathetic
neighbors begin to blab about Karl and his kin? Tomorrow? In a few days? A few
weeks?

Son:
On the morning after the uprising, the royal New Palace at the heart of Stuttgart is
flanked by loaded cannons. Even in the well-to-do circles, which are otherwise hardly
concerned with politics, the mood is one of shock over the state's hard-line reaction.
Sixty-two honorable citizens, leading liberals among them, meet on the same day in
the �Saint Petersburg Restaurant� to sign a protest letter. They decry the �irresponsible
and infuriating disdain� of the government's proceedings �against even those who
were completely uninvolved.� They ask �that the military immediately observe the
strictest moderation and legality, so that, at least from this side of the affair, all cause
for further incidents will be avoided.� The enraged citizens append a long list of
reprehensible acts, which documents the military's brutality in the previous night:

Citizen 1:
Carpenter Mathäs: in the evening, around nine o'clock, following the command
�Forward! Beat the lads down!�, a cavalry squadron mercilessly rained blows upon
completely defenseless, fleeing people.

Citizen 2:
Tailor Rebmann: one of his workers, returning home alone on the streets, was set upon
by a swarm of cavalry and so badly mauled that he will be unable to work for the rest of
his life.

Citizen 1:
Saddle-maker Ruoff: he stood at the open window of his home on Saint Leonard's
Place, number 10, without looking outside. As an infantry unit came down from Pfarr
Street, a soldier thrust his bayonet through the window without any provocation
whatsoever. Ruoff escaped the encounter with a not insignificant head wound.

Citizen 2:
Barber Maisenhölder: around 10:30 in the evening, he left the house of his future
father-in-law and headed home. As he crossed Haupstätter Street, completely devoid
of any people, he fell victim to a cavalryman who suddenly charged upon him.
Maisenhölder was so viciously stabbed with a lance near the armpit that he could
hardly drag himself further and fell unconscious as soon as he had reached his home.
The surgeon Braunmüller, who was summoned immediately, explained that his patient
would have died had he not promptly treated the wound, as an artery had been pierced
and Maisenhölder had suffered a severe loss of blood.

Son:
The arrogance of the ruling power speaks through the reaction to the list of grievances:
the signatories were reprimanded for �denying the proper respect due a city director.�
The police disseminate a list of their names in order to denounce them. The king and
the government of Baden-Württemberg expressly praise the officers who participated
in the street-fighting with much publicity and pay the soldiers an extra day's wage. A
state of emergency is declared for Stuttgart. The officials begin the search for a
supposed communist conspiracy.

Father:
Whoever was convicted had to pay the cost of the trial himself and often received a
draconian punishment on top of it. In the court records, I read of a postal assistant, who
was charged with calling the King �a whore's son� and a �fornicator.� He was
sentenced to a year �in the work house with additional privations� for insulting the
throne. His suffering began with �eight days of uninterrupted confinement in the dark
with simultaneously diminished food rations every day.� One case among many.

Son:
The conservatives quickly put their spin on the story of the bloody events. A mere one
day after the tumult, they circulated rumors, that shady, liberal figures skulking behind
the scenes fomented the turmoil. These ringleaders were even said to have paid
workers to take part in the rioting. Nonetheless, the conservatives - opponents of every
reform - gained new supporters and political ground with their fiction. Even moderate
liberals swung to the right under the pressure; they saw themselves compelled to
separate themselves from the �proletariat;� they suddenly wanted to prove their loyalty
and their love of law and order.

Father:
The royal city administration used the climate of general suspicion to evict political
undesirables and unemployed persons from other regions, as both groups lacked the
protective rights of full citizenship. I spent days digging in the archives for more details
about this long-forgotten political scandal. A few days after the �bread riots,� which
entered the annals of Stuttgart as the most important event of the Vormärz, 34 people
were expelled �on account of excesses.� The following �excesses� apparently applied
to ten of them:

Distribution of dangerous literature
Insulting the military
Inflammatory statements
Suspicion of participation in a riot

For the other 24, I found, among other things:

Lack of financial solvency
Lack of employment
Idle stay in the city

City Dir.:
Stadler, Maria; from Esslingen; 73 years old.
Name of the provider of lodging : Riedel, widow of the court organist; Wilhelm Square 9
Current standing: can no longer earn money and receives support. Must leave.

Father:
The rulers proceeded with such callous disregard, that some of the more genteel
citizens pitied the evicted. Countess Sophie von Seckendorff wrote the royal city
administrators on July 22, 1847:

Countess Seckendorff: Maria Stadler is in utter despair, for she is to leave Stuttgart.
She is an old lady who bothers nobody, needs nothing but bread from the soup kitchen
every fortnight. She lives with her sister, who is herself in her 70th year and whom
Maria helps very much. Since she has been here for over 30 years, Ms. Stadler will
find it extremely difficult to leave, and since I believe that this decree was certainly not
meant to be so strictly applied, and since exceptions should surely be made for old
people who have not the luxury of time to settle in elsewhere, I dare to ask on behalf of
Maria Stadler, that she be allowed to remain.

Father:
I couldn't stop wondering about Karl's part in the riot, about his fate on that night. I went
to the central state archive of Baden-Württemberg in Ludwigsburg. Holy halls, where
centuries of government documents and records are stored. An unfathomable flood of
memories transformed to paper.

Expecting little, I sat before a bundled stack of papers from 1847. I opened the top
most of the thick packets and leafed through the first pages - difficult terrain for an
amateur historian: once again, this old German handwriting, cramped and scribbled,
hardly decipherable. With the courage of one who has nothing to lose, I reached into
the pile - and read, after just this first foray, �Index of the Royal Criminal Office of the
Individuals Separated Out and Sentenced in the Course of the Main Investigation� -
again, one of those coincidences:

Criminal Judge Bechler:
Herzog, Karl. Typesetter from here. (He was under arrest from 5 May until 25 June.)
After the commencement of proceedings on account of suspicion of participation on
the riot, he was convicted on the basis of information attained on 25 June of resisting
arrest and, after due consideration of the time he had spent in custody for questioning,
was sentenced to an additional six weeks in prison.

Hence, he was not an instigator, none of the big mouths who reviled the king or swung
a slat from a picket fence against bayonets. He must have somehow stumbled into the
military's nocturnal hunt, was stopped and recognized as an apprentice of a suspicious
trade. They declared him under arrest, he fumed with indignation, maybe went too far,
and defended himself as they grabbed him. It couldn't have been much more than that.
It was enough for a quarter of a year in jail.

Son:
He was uprooted, �ripped from his entire existence,� as he would later write. The
blemish of a prison sentence gnawed at him; he might have even lost his job as a
type-setter. His resolve to move to the United States of America, the land of freedom,
grew during his four weeks in the jail cell. Stuttgart was no place for him to remain.

Father:
I hoped for a personal explanation that would tell us where he stood on the matter, even
if it were only his testimony in court. Next to the reference to the arrest of one Karl
Herzog, a criminal court judge had penned: �have given details of this point in special
folio Roman numeral 36.� A faint trail, indeed.

Again, I perused stacks of paper in the central state archive and decoded the
convoluted bureaucratic German until it swam before my eyes. At the end of one long
day, I bumped into special folio Roman numeral 36. A nervous anticipation of
discovery filled me. I lifted the lid from the box of documents - nothing. It was
completely empty. Peculiar, said an archivist; the man eludes us, we can't grab him.

Son:
When Karl Herzog is released from prison, in the first days of August 1847, he´s got
his plan made: He acquires the necessary money for an emigration, asks the advise of
familiy and friends, applies for a passport, buys a passage from Bremerhaven to New
York City, packs a few personal belongings, and bequeathes, gives away or sells the rest.

Father:
It is October 18, 1847. The harvest has already begun in the vineyards. The cracking of
guns, fired to scare birds from the grapes, drifts down into the city. The aroma of wine
and apple cider rises from the cellar vaults. A few friends and family accompany Karl
Herzog to the Post Square, where the express carriages depart. Since he can hardly
speak even broken English, his nine-year old half-sister Marie Sophie leaves him with
these parting words, �Then you'll just have to speak German until you learn English!�

Son:
A few days later, on his 28th birthday, he is underway somewhere in the patchwork of
the German principalities, moving toward Bremerhaven. He leaves German soil three
weeks later on board the three-masted ship Anna; 102 other emigrants travel with him;
from Bavaria, Hesse, Nassau, Saxony, Hanover, Prussia, and Schaumburg-Lippe. In
the far-away land of California, 14 years later, Karl Herzog will still remember the
well-meant advice of little Marie Sophie.
 

Part 1.   The Old World Lies Behind Me
Part 2.   German Islands in a Sea of Strangers
Part 3.   Go West, Young Man
Part 4.   Deserts, Boundless like an Ocean
Part 5:   Goldrush and Yellow Fever
Part 6:   And at the End of this Madness - A Battlefield
 

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