From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 5, pages 241-246


Resuming my former place by the window, I got back just in time. The most noteworthy event to happen in public was about to occur. All the people faced the Römer and repeated "long lives!" informing us that the emperor and king had appeared at the balcony window of the large hall in their vestments to show themselves to the people.* However this merely set the stage for the strange spectacle about to appear before our eyes. The handsome, lean hereditary marshall swung onto his horse. He had laid down his sword and now he carried a silver-handled measuring vessel in his right hand and a tin scoop in his left. He rode into the arena to a pile of oats, filled the measuring vessel, leveled it off then carried it back with great decorum. The imperial stables were now provided for. Then the hereditary Lord High Chamberlain similarly rode into the arena and brought back a wash basin along with water jug and hand towel.* More entertaining for the audience was the hereditary Lord High Steward, who carried back a piece of the roasted ox. He too rode through the arena with a silver plate until he reached the large plank kitchen and made his way back to the Römer with a filled plate. Next in line was the hereditary Cup-bearer, who rode to the fountain and brought back wine. Now the royal table was set and all eyes rested upon the hereditary Treasurer, who was supposed to disperse the money. He also mounted a horse, both sides of which were equipped with a pair of saddlebags beautifully embossed with the Royal Palatinate coat of arms instead of pistol holders. Soon after setting in motion he reached into these bags and


liberally scattered gold and silver coins left and right. The coins glistened in the air like metal rain.* A thousand hands reached up into the sky to grab the gifts. As soon as the coins fell, the crowd threw itself to the ground and scurried about looking for them. The activity was repeated by both sides as the giver rode forward and it was a very amusing scene for the spectator. At the end the liveliest part of all occurred as he threw the bags as well and everyone rushed about trying to seize this highest of prizes.

Their majesties had retired from the balcony and now an offering would be made to the masses, who in such cases would rather steal the gifts rather than be allowed to quietly take them with gratitude. In older and cruder times they established the custom of giving away as prizes the oats, after the hereditary marshall had taken his portion, the wine fountain, after the lord chamberlain had rendered his cup, and the kitchen, after the head steward had fulfilled his office. However in these times, in order to prevent disaster, they did the best they could to maintain order and moderation. But the old, malicious pranks still occurred, such as when one person filled a sack with oats another cut a hole in the bag. There were many incidents of a similar nature. As usual there was a serious battle around the roast oxen and it had to be fought en masse. Two guilds, the butchers and the wine porters, posted themselves around the huge roast so each would get a share. The butchers believed they had the greater claim on the oxen since they had delivered it whole to the kitchen.


The wine porters based their claim on the kitchen's proximity to their guild station plus they had won the contest last time. From the barred dormer window of their guild and assembly hall one could see the horns of every stear they had captured hung in display as trophies. Both large guilds had many strong and capable members. However I do not remember who won this battle.

That a celebration of this nature should end with such a dangerous and terrifying event is truly a fearful sight because the plank kitchen was also taken in prize. Even the roof swarmed with men who did not know how they would get down. The boards were ripped loose and brought down while those looking from a distance must think that someone would get killed. In an instant the hut was roofless and a few men hung on beams and joists just to pull them apart. Several swayed about in mid air as others sawed the posts from underneath. The framework shifted back and forth and threatened to collapse. Delicate individuals turned their eyes away and everyone expected great mishap but no one heard of any injuries and everything, though vigorous and violent, passed without incident.

Everyone knew that the emperor and king had left the cabinet, in which the balcony had been located, and were now coming to the great Römer hall to dine. People had been able to admire the arrangements for days now and it was my greatest wish to get a look at it if possible. I took the usual path back to


the large staircase, at the end of which the doors to the hall were located. Forty-four counts, all splendidly dressed, passed by me carrying food from the kitchen. The contrast between their status and their current activity sent reeling the senses of a boy. The crowd was not large but noticable because of the smallness of the room. The hall doors, through which the authorized entered and exited frequently, were guarded. I saw a royal house official, whom I asked if he could get me inside. He thought for a moment then handed me one of the silver vessels he was carrying. He was willing to do this because I was cleanly dressed. Thus I was able to enter the sacred chamber. A royal buffet stood to the left immediately next to the doors and with a few steps I found myself at its level behind the barriers.

At the other end of the hall next to the windows the emperor and king sat in their vestments upon dais-raised thrones under canopies, however the crown and scepter lay on golden pillows back in the distance. The three spiritual electors had taken their places at individual platforms with the buffet behind them. The Elector of Mainz sat opposite their majesties; the Elector of Trier to the right and the Elector of Cologne to the left. This upper portion of the hall was luxuriously and cheerfully decorated and it solicited the comment that the clerics may stay with the rulers as long as possible. On the other hand the magnificently appointed but vacant buffet and tables set up for the worldly electors led one to think of the tension, which had existed for hundreds of years between them and the rulers of the empire.


The ambassadors of these men had already distanced themselves in order to dine in a separate room to the side. This imparted a ghostly feel to the larger portion of the hall as if unseen guests were being splendidly served. The large, unoccupied table at the center of the room eminated a sad aura. So many cushioned seats lay empty because those, who had the right to sit there, chose not to pay their respects on this day of honor. Instead, they kept themselves to the city.

Neither my age nor the urgencies of the time permitted me to render any opinions. I put forth effort to see everything possible. When the desserts were brought in and the ambassadors had to reenter and perform their courtly hommage, I sought the open air and went to the home of good friends in the neighborhood in order to refresh myself after the day's half fast and to prepare myself for the evening's illuminations.

I decided to celebrate this splendid evening in a pleasant fashion. I had already spoken with Gretchen, Pylades and his companions and we would meet somewhere in the night. The street was lit from every corner and recess when I encountered my beloved. I extended my arm to Gretchen and we strolled from one district to the next and were very happy together. In the beginning the cousins were also with us but then they lost themselves amid the mass of people. In front of the houses of some of the ambassadors where people had provided splendid lighting (the Palatinate Elector's house distinguished itself most splendidly) it was so bright that it seemed like it was daytime.


So as not to be recognized, I had disguised myself to a certain extent, and Gretchen did not take it badly. We were amazed by the various sparkling presentations and the fairy-like structures of flame whereby one ambassador thought to outdo the others. The setup by Prince Esterhazy outdid all the rest. Our little group was charmed by the inventiveness and execution and we just wanted to enjoy each piece individually when we met the cousins again and spoke of the marvelous lighting with which the Brandenburg ambassador had decorated his quarter. We would not be discouraged from making our way from the horse market to the Saalhof, but found that we had been tricked in a devious manner.

The Saalhof district facing the Main River has regular, respectable buildings, however the side facing the city is ancient, irregular and unpretentious. Small retail shops, prominent by neither form nor size, do not stand in a straight row. Their windows are not placed at uniform intervals, the gates and doors are unsymmetical,and most are blocked by rubbish related to their activity, creating a confusing exterior where no one notices much of anything. Here one followed a path of incidental, irregular, and disparate architecture with lights in every window, door and opening just as one would find in well-built houses, however here the poorest and most badly built features of the facades took on an incredible appearance in the bright light. One might at first amuse himself thinking of the jokes of Pagliasso although not without some dubiousness because everyone must recognize the deliberate intention behind it — just as one originally glossed over the external demeanor


Go to pages 247-252


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