A voyage home

Lena and Emil Bergmann's vineyard
Lena and Emil Bergmann's vineyard

[Rhineland, around 1872] Having achieved their aims, Emperor Wilhelm I and Bismarck were milder on the Forty-Eighters. The Prussian authorities granted pardon to Lorenz, and he could finally come for a visit to Germany.

Back in Bonn

The train rattled. Soon it would arrive in Cologne, and then Lorenz would finally see the Rhine again. He pressed his nose against the window glass as he had done as a boy on the first train ride. He reached for his luggage. The bottle of “Mountain Man’s Bliss’ was intact, after all the way from Virginia to New York, across the Atlantic Ocean to Hamburg and from there to Cologne. Finally the train arrived in Cologne. Lorenz jumped up and looked out of the window. And there he saw them already waiting on the platform: Emil and Lena, his parents, his whole family!
Lorenz was amazed at how much had changed in his old homeland. After centuries of particularism, unification was a catalyst for the German Empire’s economy. Now measures, weights and currencies were unitized, a uniform commercial and criminal law, a code of civil law and a uniform stage of appeal from county court to Reichsgericht (the supreme court of the German Reich) offered legal certainty for all federal states. Above all, the reparation payments from France after the Franco-Prussian War brought a “bonanza” into the country. New railways were built, the big cities and industrial areas had a building boom, and Germany became an industrial power. Who had the money bought shares and had a magnificent villa built.

A family reunion

His entire family and all his friends came together at the Bergmann vineyard. After such a long time he finally saw his loved ones again. Sophie and Andras could finally celebrate their wedding with all of them.
The guests danced, feasted and sang. Lorenz still seemed to be a lovable big boy, yet the the first gray strands and furrows in his face showed how much the years of the war had affected him. Again and again they embraced each other, and he had had to tell about Annelie, his wife, Amber, their daughter, the “Merry Dragon” country inn and the “Mountain Men” vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley, where Annelie had grown up. The bottle “Mountain Man’s Bliss”, which he had brought, was long since empty.

Also Sophie’s in-laws, Count and Countess Csabany, had come. Austria had made her peace with Hungary, in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 the dual monarchy had come into being. Finally they could happily return to their family estate in Hungary. Andras and Sophie would succeed them in the Austro-Hungarian diplomatic service.

Csabany Program

Sophie was a bit nervous, she was a simple person, not a born Countess and diplomat. Lovingly encouraged by her proud husband, she announced her plans. “We want to build up a training and exchange program for hat makers and tailors” she began, “and a small training workshop. We want to bring together talented people from all our countries and offer them a stage in other workshops, to bring their skills to perfection, achieve a thorough knowledge of their business and make contacts I want to help young women to build up a better life for themselves and their families on their own forces. Mama here and Mama-in-law in Austria and Hungary will join me, and so does Madame Charlotte in Bonn.”

Alsace-Lorraine

For all the joy of meeting his family again after so many years, he saw worries on their faces too. Sophie’s brother Hans had been a steam boat captain on the Rhine for all his life, like his father Jean. He could not imagine doing anything else, he loved the mighty old river who should bring together people on both his banks, not separate them. He and the Bergmanns were good friends with a fellow Rhine steamer captain Boule-Piquelot from Alsace. The latter cruised the Rhine on his little ship “Aimée”, offering wine tours. He took his passengers to wine cities along the Rhine, for the crusade and wine and local foods. That is how he got into business with the Bergmann vineyard, and they soon became friends. Emil and Lena loved to see the “Aimée” dock at the Rhine bank, and treated the guest on board with wine and good food.

Now things had become difficult. France had to cede Alsace-Lorraine to the German Reich. It caused a lot of embitterment. Nobody had asked the people. In Germany, most parties had agreed. “It’s not right,” Lena said, “and only Social Democrats and the German Progress Party have protested. We want to keep in touch with Captain Boule-Piquelot and our fellow wine makers.” Lorenz nodded. “I agree with you. We have seen too much of might is right, we will never approve.”

A society to protect and embellish the Siebengebirge

A lot was happening in the Seven Mountains too. Now a road for the coaches led to the Drachenfels. “Yes,” Emil said, beaming, “Since 9 April 1870, we have a Society for our Seven Mountains, we want to build hiking trails, so that everyone can enjoy our beautiful nature. Just imagine, we had 450 members at once, and you, Mountain Man, will surely join us, won’t you?” Lorenz was flabbergasted. “But .. can I, now that I live so far away in America?” “Of course you can,” Emil said firmly, “a part of you is still here, just as a part of us is over there with you and our American family.”

No democracy

“Of course I am glad that the country is united,” Emil said one evening when he and Lorenz sat together over a bottle of wine from their vineyard, “but we do not have a liberal monarchy like Great Britain, and certainly not a democracy like yours in the USA. The Reichstag, the parliament, is elected in free, secret and universal suffrage by all men, but the Chancellor is responsible solely to the Emperor, not to the parliament. Moreover, Prussia’s predominance is overwhelming, and the Prussian Prime Minister is at the same time chancellor. Here in Prussia we still have three-class franchise, nothing has changed. For the time being, the old elites, that are the nobility, the owners of large estates, the high-ranking civil servants and also the new business tycoons, stand strong.”

Lorenz knew all too well. In 1849, the Prussian citizens had been divided by their tax revenue. The first class (then 4.7 %) and the second class (then 12.7 %) paid the highest taxes and therefore sent the most representatives into the Lower House of the Prussian state parliament, although they represented only a small part of the population. In other words, they were considerably over-represented. Most people in Prussia (then 82.6 %), however, had a low income and paid few taxes or no taxes at all, so they were put in the third class, and they were considerably under-represented. “This franchise does not only privilege the wealthy, it actually excludes large parts of the citizens and the working classes,” Emil said full of sorrow, “in our region, only 5% have the right to vote.” Lorenz agreed: “a united land, but not a democratic one.”

On both sides of the Atlantic

Soon Lorenz would leave, and he felt the turmoil inside. He longed to embrace his wife Annelie and his daughter Amber again, and he missed his new home in America. But his German family and his old homeland also had their places in his heart. At least he was sure that everything was in order. He looked up to the sky. “Soon I’ll be on the other side of the Atlantic,” he said, “and we’ll live far away from each other, but we’ll all see the same stars.”

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