From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 1, pages 19-24


The first bench extended from the door on the left-hand side to the opposite corner. The sheriffs sat next to the door and the chief magistrate sat in the corner. The chief magistrate was the only person to have a small table in front of him. The landed gentry sat on the second bench, which extended from the chief magistrate's's left to the wall with windows. The tradesmen sat on the third bench, which extended past the wall with windows. There was a desk in the center of the room for the man, who recorded the proceedings.

One time we were in the Römer and we mixed in with the crowd at a town hearing. The election and crowning of a king was the most fascinating of all. We knew we had to curry the favor of the door keeper in order to be allowed to climb up the king's staircase, which had been newly painted with a fresco and was closed off with a gate. The election chamber, carpeted in purple and adorned with gold cornices, truly impressed us. With keen interest we noticed the artwork on the doors in which small children or genies, dressed in royal robes embossed with the imperial insignia, played. It was our fondest hope one day to see a coronation with our own eyes. * It took much effort for anyone to get us out of the large imperial hall once we had managed to sneak our way in there and we considered anyone our truest friend if he would tell us stories of the deeds of the various kaisers as we passed the area which held their portraits high up on the walls.

We heard many fairy tale-like stories concerning Charlemagne. Items of historical interest for us first began with Rudolf von Hapsburg, who had brought an end to so much confusion with his courage. Charles IV also drew our attention.


We had already heard about the Golden Bull and Penal Court Decree * and even how he had not required the people of Frankfurt to pay for their allegiance to his royal counter-emperor, Günther von Schwarzburg. We heard Maximilian praised as a friend to humanity and the citizenry. It had been prophecized that he would be the last emperor from a German royal house. Unfortunately this turned out to be true because after his death the election vacillated between the King of Spain, Charles V, and the King of France, Francis I. Over the years people have added even more import to this prophecy: one can see that there is still one place left in the hall for a portrait of an emperor. This may seem coincidental however it still fills the patriotic with apprehension.

When we made our exit from the hall, we did not fail to go to the cathedral and pay a visit to the grave of Günther, who was esteemed by friend and foe alike. * A memorial headstone covering the grave was erected in the chancel. The nearby doors, which led to where the conclaves were held, remained closed to us for a long time until we finally knew how to obtain permission from the authorizing committee in order to enter this important area. We would have done better to continue using our imaginations to picture the area. * It was a remarkable place in the annals of German history where powerful princes came together to decide important matters, yet the room itself was not impressively decorated. One merely found exposed beams and posts, scaffolding and whatever other contraptions people decided to set aside. The power of our imagination was even more excited and our hearts were filled with expectation as


we received permission to attend a showing given to an aristocratic foreigner of the Golden Bull in the town hall. The boy gladly listened with much curiosity to the stories told him by his friends, his relatives and acquaintences. These were the stories of the last two coronations to take place within a brief period of time. There wasn't a Frankfurter beyond a certain age, who did not know the sequence of events and their import and who didn't consider them the high points of their lives. The coronation of Charles VII was a magnificent affair and the French ambassador gave a costly yet tastefully sumptuous banquet to celebrate the event. This made subsequent events even sadder for the good kaiser because he could not afford to maintain his residence in Munich and had to rely on the hospitality of residents of his empire's cities.

The coronation of Francis I may not have been as splendid but it was certainly glorified by the presence of the Empress Maria Theresia, whose beauty seemed to make as great an impression upon the men as the serious, majestic figure and blue eyes of Charles VII made upon the ladies. Both sexes competed to bring the boy the most favorable idea of these two royal personages. All the descriptions and stories were told in happy and comfortable good humor. For the moment the Aachen Peace Accord had brought an end to all warfare and, just as they had spoken of the ceremonies, people talked with great ease about the past military campaigns, the Battle of Dettingen *, and what the most remarkable events of the past years might be; and everything seemed important and risky as it tended to be


after a peace treaty * was signed as if it were merely to serve as entertainment for happy and carefree people.

People may have spent half a year limited by such patriotic thoughts however the arrival of the markets brought them out of it. And these markets elicited incredible fermentations in the minds of children. In little time a new city sprang forth with the construction of many stalls within the city. The surge of motion, the unloading and unpacking of wares immediately excited the conscious mind with irresistable curiosity and limitless desire for childish possessions, which a growing boy tried to satisfy within the meagre means of his change purse. At the same time it imparted an image of how the world brought forth everything that people needed and how the residents of various classes interacted with one another.

These events, happening each spring and fall, * were celebrated with special festivities and they seemed all the more important because they dated back to the old times and they represented the journey we had taken from those times up to the present. On Geleitstag [Escort Day] * everyone rose to their feet, pressed through the Fahrgasse to the bridge and went over to Sachsenhausen. All windows were filled with spectators because the day never passed without some remarkable event. It seemed as though the crowd was there just to press in around itself and the individual members were there merely to look at one another. The events of the day became the topic for discussion as night fell and more was believed than was seen.

In the old, unsettled times *, when people committed crimes as they pleased or exercised their rights upon whim,


the tradesmen operating the stalls at the market were pestered and harangued to such an extent by waylayers that the princes and other men of powerful status had their dependents escorted under armed guard into Frankfurt. However the citizens of the imperial city were not willing to turn over their district so they went out to oppose the visitors. Many a dispute broke out regarding how far the escort could advance or whether it could come into the city at all. This situation did not exist just at places of business and trade fairs but also whenever people of high status arrived in wartime or in peace, especially on election days. Encounters often became violent when citizens would not permit an escort to press in along with its lord. Negotiations were held and agreements reached with each side retaining certain rights. Eventually after centuries of dissension people gave up on the practice, which had been so arduously carried on for so long, as they began to see it as useless or at the very least superfluous.

Until that time the civilian cavalry, divided into groups with superior officers in the lead, rode to various gates each day and sought out any horsemen or hussars, who had imperial standing and were entitled to escort. These men and their leaders were received and entertained. The cavalry waited until nightfall and then entered the city with the visitors once there were few spectators to notice. Many times the civilian cavalryman had trouble managing his horse or staying mounted.


The most important entourages came to the bridge gate and for this reason this place was the most congested. The Nuremberg mail coach was the last to receive escort deep in the night. According to folklore they say that there must always have been an old crone sitting in the coach because the street children used to issue shrill cries upon its approach. This was even though there was no way to see who the passengers were. It was truly mind boggling to imagine the crowd pushing its way through the bridge gate to peer into the coach and it was for this reason that the houses surrounding the area were most sought after by spectators.

Another of the unusual ceremonies meant to keep the public mindful of its past was the Pipers' Court. This ceremony commemorated the times when important trade cities attempted to secure a reduction, it not an elimination, of the tariffs commensurate with increasing business and commerce activities. The Kaiser, who imposed the toll, was sometimes willing to concede to this request by his subjects but only for a one-year period. Petitions had to be renewed each year. Symbolic gifts were brought by the Emporer's chief magistrate, who may very well have been the chief toll collector, to the entrance of the St. Bartholomew market. By tradition he sat with the sheriffs in court. In later years, when the chief magistrate was elected by the residents of the city rather than being appointed by the Kaiser, he still maintained this privilege. Celebrations of the cities' toll-free status come down to us as ceremonies whereby the envoys from Worms, Nuremberg and Old Bamberg commemorate this ancient granting of their petitions.


Go to pages 25-30


Text provided by the Lockwood Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks