Collection: Geschwind Papers

Author: Leopold Haase

Recipient: Charles Haase

Description: Letter from Leopold Haase, a fur trader in Reval, Russia (now Tallinn, Estonia), to his cousin Charles Haase, a furrier living in Richmond, Virginia, written in fall 1906. The letter was written on October 4 according to the Julian calendar in use in Reval, but on October 17 according to the Gregorian calendar in use in the United States.

Leopold Haase to Charles Haase, October 17, 1906

English Text

Reval, 4/17 Oct. 06 My dear dear Charles! Good Lord! - Is the Russian still alive after all? That's what you'll probably think when you receive this letter. Yes, my dear old Charles, I'm still here! But I have endured much, very much since last writing you (my cursory postcards don't count). I had already been plagued for what seems like years by fatigue and lethargy, even before the dreadful period of our revolutionary unrest, when I fell ever more into decline. I had lost all pleasure in my life and work, and became quite a dissatisfied fellow. An old ear ailment had also worsened, my memory had decreased. In addition I suffered from a veritable sleeping sickness; wherever I sat down I fell asleep. And all, all these things weighed down on nerves already shaken by these frightful times. It was at the beginning of June that I made the quick decision to pack up my wife and head for Berlin to get a change of air and to divert my inner man. I also wanted a cure for my ears, and sought out one of the leading ear specialists, Prof. Passoff. When same had examined me, he said: Please come back again tomorrow and bring with you a urine analysis, which can be done in my name at such-and-such laboratory. I was handed the analysis report in a sealed envelope addressed to him, and carried same the next morning back to him. - How shocked I was when the Professor told me: "I could already see it in your eyes yesterday, that you have a 'high' blood sugar count. You have 5-7/10%, that's high!" he said, and added, "I'm an ear specialist, but even a specialist can't treat your ears until your high blood sugar [Zuckerkrankheit, German for diabetes] has been taken care of, because it's possible that the first condition developed from the last." I was thunderstruck, for while I had considered many eventualities, I never dreamed I'd be a sugar manufacturer! The Professor recommended another Professor (Kraus), whom I then visited. Same did his own analysis, and said I should go to Karlsbad as soon as possible, and present myself to Professor Kalisch, very well known to himself. And so it transpired. All the plans that I had so carefully worked out with my wife, they all flew out the window! And new ones were quickly hammered together. My wife went to Herrenalb in the Black Forest, a splendid fresh-air resort where she has already been several times, while I took my sugar factory to Karlsbad. There a very strictly enforced diet was prescribed for me, consisting mainly of eggs and ham, plus some ham and eggs. I was allowed to enjoy bread only according to the plan and even then just morsels. Further: water and more water! Hot spring water and cold mineral water. And nothing else. But imagine! After a week, to the amazement even of my doctor, my sugar level was completely normal. I was of course delighted, and would have skipped out of Karlsbad right off, but: "Don't jump the gun!" said the doctor to me, "you want to be sure that your condition doesn't return, - therefore, stay here another few weeks! Drink our water faithfully, obey the diet, and your whole body will be reconstituted! revitalized! rejuvenated!" No sooner said than done! Since my sugar problem had vanished, but my ears were still troubling me, I decided to kill two birds with one stone while I was in Karlsbad. I had my ears treated concurrently by Karlsbad's most highly reputed ear specialist. Nearly every day I got plowed from nose to ear canal with a nasal catheter, had my throat marinated, and then the canal from nose to ear was cleaned and polished like a lantern glass with cotton tampons on a long wire. And this went on for about four weeks. Well, I can tell you - "nice" describes something other than this!- What happened to my bodily condition in all this, you can well imagine, when I tell you that I originally wore 45-centimeter collars, then had to switch to 44 and finally to 43, and even these were too large. As I was embarrassed to be seen in my clothes, I had to have two suits made for me. If it hadn't been accompanied by physical weakness, I'd have been quite satisfied with my boyish figure, for life was really easier and more comfortable thus.- I was on the whole rather apathetic in Karlsbad, and participated in the high life and goings on only as much as one generally might do for the sake of curiosity. The resort is splendidly situated in a long stretched-out valley and is surrounded by mountains. The traffic was enormous! Particularly in the main season, at which time I was there. Supposedly there were 60,000 cure patients there in the course of the summer, and more than that many again as tourists and visitors. The wealth that can be seen there, side by side with all the bitter poverty among the people, defies description. There are in particular many poor Polish Jews; but then again such ostentation in overstuffed Jewish wives - who display their bodily amplitude covered in diamonds - that it arouses disgust in non-fanciers of such charms - you can see all the nations of the earth here. Old fools with padded calves [?], alpinists and gigolos playing, like monkeys in human form among beasts of burden. The big-bellied fat Pater with peevish face, wanting to wash away his bulk, and the Jewish cadger who comes running as if he had a public auction in prospect, who runs over everyone, hurrying as if ravenous to the fountain.- Usually I went for my first 3 glasses of mineral water at a quarter to 6(!) in the morning. I mingled with the poor folk, because I enjoy the types, I made my observations (and have made many such) and amused myself this way and that. This is very educational! - The antithesis appeared a few hours later, with the Creme de la Creme - they didn"t drink at the fountain, but rather let themselves be served, or - drank Champagne. Oh, what a parade! at evening from 8-9 o"clock! They have two electrically lighted areas that illuminate the green meadow, which is the main promenade of the elite. Some of the arc lights give off a reddish light, and the remainder a pale yellow, almost white light. The effect is stunning, especially as the light reaches right and left through the valley and spreads up to the mountaintops as in an amphitheater. Forest and heights appear enchanted and mystical. With increasing darkness, the scene's contours vanish, and then the intense afterglow on the mountaintops makes them seem to hang in the heavens. I was sometimes reminded of Broadway in New York, which in the evenings resembles a vast whirling Carnival celebration, in certain areas where the advertising lights appear high up on the skyscrapers, as if hanging from the sky. In Constantinople too I've seen, during Ramadan, decorative lights hung on lines strung from one minaret to another, seemingly attached to the firmament. But now back to Karlsbad - nonetheless the parade in itself presents a peculiarly wondrous vision. The extravagant prodigality practiced here is astonishing to see. In the two-colored light with its near-magical effect, the unspeakably numerous diamonds and other jewels present a sparkling and glittering spectacle of the greatest splendor. If one were to draw private comparisons with the misery that passes here at 6 o'clock in the morning, then one might well experience appropriately socialistic perceptions, were it not to be taken into account how very, very many people earn their bread through just this very luxury. Oh the trend of our time! - with its overly-hasty over-refinement - where will it lead us? Will we always be able to satisfy the (apparently) justified desires - brought on by this over-refinement? Enough of the green meadow in Karlsbad. That place with its goings on sometimes filled me with a bitterness steeped in melancholy and I later avoided this necessary evil by other, circuitous paths. I could write much, very much more about my five weeks in Karlsbad, but will let this suffice. I'll just mention that I hiked far and wide through this lovely neighborhood, and also made a side trip to the very lovely Marienbad. There I visited the magnificent porcelain and glass works, saw and learned a lot. I've been to Gisshuebel too, where the famous Sauerbrunnen (mineral water) comes from, and drank this tasty water straight from the spring. Unfortunately the weather, though warm wasn't always sunny and clear, but nevertheless I used my photographic apparatus (a Kodak bought there) rather much. I'll send proof of this soon, for I owe my dear Beckh, from whom I've gotten so many pictures. My sugar ailment was completely gone, throat and ears had improved even though they were not yet fully cured, since this ailment was a chronic one. And so I left Karlsbad, lighter in purse and person (about 15 kilos), nimble and spry. I weighed 79-80 kilos in full hiking regalia, and had weighed 96 beforehand. It was starting to look like fall, the University in Munich had closed, and so I met my wife and son in Sandersleben. My son had left Munich and gone to see his mother at Herrenalb, had recuperated from studying and beer-drinking for a few days, and then they came to my dear native town, where I met them. I had taken up quarters at Hotel Bear, and planned to remain about 2 weeks to acquire the so-called Karlsbad Post-cure in Sandersleben's peace and quiet, refreshed and revived by happy youthful reminiscences. My boyhood friend Schleussner, who had already passed on his cabinetry and furniture business to his son, was my true and hearty comrade there, and so I showed my son all those favorite playgrounds still alive in my mind's eye, and all the other remarkable and beloved spots of my youth. Sad to say it rained often here too. We went up on the Schiessberg for a cup of coffee and enjoyed the beautiful view of our dear little home town, so wonderfully situated in the valley of the Wipper River. We sought out other lovely spots the sight of which made my heart rejoice as in my childhood. It gave me great pleasure to show my son all those insignificant marvels and point out where and how I spent my happy childhood. Alas, I found so many changes, and missed entirely certain romantic nooks which had fallen victim to human greed. Those beautiful meadows below the Freklebener Wood, where we had rolled our colored Easter eggs down the hill in races every year, which served large and small folk as a playground, where we played ball and shot our arrows, all this during blossom time when thousands and thousands of lovely butterflies danced over pasture, field and meadow - all, all vanished! - sugar beets now grow over it all.- Little groves and thickets, they're gone. Sugar beets and more sugar beets, but they don't interest me, even though I was myself until just a short time ago - a sugar factory! That beautiful path along the Wipper, snaking in splendid loops through the bottoms down to Frekleben, is gone. Although the Wipper is still thickly lined by stately elms, willow trees and underbrush, wonderfully shaded like an arbor, the path is gone, sugar beets are growing on it! And so it continues. Up on the Tapp stand houses and more houses without number. There's also a small Catholic church on the Tapp now; that many Catholics have come to Sandersleben with all the factory workers. And I can recall from my childhood when only 2 Catholic families lived in Sandersleben, a scissors-grinder and sieve-maker named Muenzel and a linen-weaver whose name I've forgotten; they had to go over to Aschersleben for all the rites of their faith. Our beautiful Protestant church, with its lovely, noble, tall, pointed tower in which the tower warden lived, whom we boys visited so gladly and so often just because he lived so high up, and on whom we played so many jokes, - the church has been remodeled inside. The choir gallery around the walls, where we boys with (or without) pious intensity let our voices ring out from high youthfulness to solemn bass during church services, this gallery with its councilmen's chairs, hereditary seats, and the pews of the old full-blooded Sanderslebeners, where the seat of my dear departed father was - it's all gone! Bare high walls remain. They wanted to improve, to modernize, and they instead removed all that was intimate, homely, and comforting. The old carved gallery and seats are gone - I could have wept. It has become as unadorned and austere as the Trappist church at the 3 fountains that I saw in Rome. - the church now can seat less of the devout than before, and many of these seats were unoccupied, although I recall that formerly all the seats were taken on Sundays. Those ancient lindens behind the church are still as before. Oh, what splendid games we played in their shadow, and - tanned each other's hides too! Oh, how glorious it was! Even though sometimes clothes were ripped to shreds and were "stitched up" with father's cane! The old Jewish temple's walls are still as worn and full of holes; the straw hanging down and the feathers sticking out of the holes still announce that sparrows build their nests here and carry on a large and sociable family life as they did then. Which we boys occasionally delighted in disturbing, when at eventide the sparrow father dreamt on the sparrow mother's bosom, by bringing up the long ladder, on which we then climbed up to them. Our good old school, in which were laid the foundations for the edifice of our knowledge, so plain and simple yet so salutary to our practical perceptions, where we learned more songbook verses than anything else, stands there just as it always was. Only now there stands between the school and church a stately oak which shades a war memorial. There are more pubs and dance-cafes than there used to be. But otherwise it's homey and charming. I could tell you a lot more verbally but as I tend to get carried away with the details when I write, I'll let this description suffice. But I know that even this cursory report on our fair little home town will awaken the most delightful memories for you - in my mind's eye I can see your dear face light up. We also visited Leopold Haase. We even, all three of us, stayed overnight with him. He's a good fellow and still the same. His wife was away on holiday visiting her brother, who leases the Wartburg in Eisenach. He is supposed to be quite rich. My late brother Herrmann's daughter, who lives in Magdeburg and has a pretty good job there, came to Sandersleben just to see us. She is a slender girl. With a real Haase face. I also visited my nephew Paul, son of my late brother Karl, in Leipzig. He is an upright decent person. He is a confectioner and spent a year here in Reval. He's engaged to a fine girl and would like to become independent, to which end I've promised him my support. God knows, not everyone is a success. The children of my brothers are all in poor circumstances. I must often help them out, which I do gladly, as long as they don't come [underline] too often [/underline], and are upright about it. So you can see that the time in Sandersleben was a real pleasure. But then we got an urgent message from Reval that ruined everything and caused me to begin our return to Reval at once. Instead of two weeks I stayed in Sandersleben only 5 days. I had namely been telegraphed that my sister-in-law who was overseeing things at home, was critically ill, so we left for Berlin at once. But I just couldn't forego making the trip from Sandersleben to Berlin by way of Hildesheim, as I wanted to show Hildesheim, the old ancestral home of our family (as you well know) to my son and my wife. On the next day, then, we were in Hildesheim, standing in Wool Weavers' Street. admiring the house in which our old ancestor, erstwhile captain of the Hildesheim city militia, had dwelt. Memory and emotion swelled up in my breast, as inspired by joy I showed my family this wondrously beautiful city, cloaked in its mantle of antiquity. We stayed a day and a night in Hildesheim, then went on to Berlin where I had two days worth of shopping to take care of. During all this time dispatches were passing back and forth between me and Reval, with news that became ever graver, at the last even hopeless. This had a very detrimental effect on my already spent physical condition, and I really suffered from it. But there was nothing we could do, except catch the next steamer from Luebeck direct to Reval, where we three arrived after a two-day trip. My appearance had deteriorated so much, that everyone who saw me was quite shocked. My sister-in-law had been placed in the hospital, since a very risky operation had been performed on her. Her life was in the greatest danger. Since then 6 weeks have passed. My sister-in-law didn't die, but we've kept her in the hospital up to now, where she's nearly recovered, and the great operation wound is almost healed. I've perked up a bit also, and have lately become quite active again. A large backlog of work was piled up waiting for me, and I was also pretty feeble and worn out, so I haven't written a line to anyone with whom I correspond. So now you know the reason for my long silence. Pass all this on to your folks, to Henry, Willy and John and their families, to Mr Beckh, Millers and families, not to mention Helen and Lessie. And I'm sending through you my best regards to your dear son Charles and his family. An especially hearty greeting to you and Mamachen as well. As ever your Leopold P.S. My son Eckart was here until last Saturday, and on that day took the ship to Germany to continue his law studies. He's a fine cultivated fellow, but reserved and unassuming. If he stays that way I'll be more than satisfied with him. My son in Petersburg plans to remarry, which I certainly approve, since he has a successful business and can support a wife. I won't speak of the political monstrosities here, same are just too disagreeable. It's a known fact, that if a man sits in a sewer long enough, with time he gets used to the smell. You can get used to anything, even to the contempt for human life that every period of terror brings with it. I would really appreciate having a likeness of your Charles. How does your John like married life? Did he marry as you would have liked?-

Original text