A Tramp Abroad

by Mark Twain

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Appendix F - German Journals

The daily journals of Hamburg, Frankfort, Baden, Munich, and Augsburg are all constructed on the same general plan. I speak of these because I am more familiar with them than with any other German papers. They contain no “editorials” whatever; no “personals”—and this is rather a merit than a demerit, perhaps; no funny-paragraph column; no police-court reports; no reports of proceedings of higher courts; no information about prize-fights or other dog-fights, horse-races, walking-machines, yachting-contents, rifle-matches, or other sporting matters of any sort; no reports of banquet speeches; no department of curious odds and ends of floating fact and gossip; no “rumors” about anything or anybody; no prognostications or prophecies about anything or anybody; no lists of patents granted or sought, or any reference to such things; no abuse of public officials, big or little, or complaints against them, or praises of them; no religious columns Saturdays, no rehash of cold sermons Mondays; no “weather indications”; no “local item” unveiling of what is happening in town—nothing of a local nature, indeed, is mentioned, beyond the movements of some prince, or the proposed meeting of some deliberative body.

After so formidable a list of what one can’t find in a German daily, the question may well be asked, What can be found in it? It is easily answered: A child’s handful of telegrams, mainly about European national and international political movements; letter-correspondence about the same things; market reports. There you have it. That is what a German daily is made of. A German daily is the slowest and saddest and dreariest of the inventions of man. Our own dailies infuriate the reader, pretty often; the German daily only stupefies him. Once a week the German daily of the highest class lightens up its heavy columns—that is, it thinks it lightens them up—with a profound, an abysmal, book criticism; a criticism which carries you down, down, down into the scientific bowels of the subject—for the German critic is nothing if not scientific—and when you come up at last and scent the fresh air and see the bonny daylight once more, you resolve without a dissenting voice that a book criticism is a mistaken way to lighten up a German daily. Sometimes, in place of the criticism, the first-class daily gives you what it thinks is a gay and chipper essay—about ancient Grecian funeral customs, or the ancient Egyptian method of tarring a mummy, or the reasons for believing that some of the peoples who existed before the flood did not approve of cats. These are not unpleasant subjects; they are not uninteresting subjects; they are even exciting subjects—until one of these massive scientists gets hold of them. He soon convinces you that even these matters can be handled in such a way as to make a person low-spirited.

As I have said, the average German daily is made up solely of correspondences—a trifle of it by telegraph, the rest of it by mail. Every paragraph has the side-head, “London,” “Vienna,” or some other town, and a date. And always, before the name of the town, is placed a letter or a sign, to indicate who the correspondent is, so that the authorities can find him when they want to hang him. Stars, crosses, triangles, squares, half-moons, suns—such are some of the signs used by correspondents.

Some of the dailies move too fast, others too slowly. For instance, my Heidelberg daily was always twenty-four hours old when it arrived at the hotel; but one of my Munich evening papers used to come a full twenty-four hours before it was due.

Some of the less important dailies give one a tablespoonful of a continued story every day; it is strung across the bottom of the page, in the French fashion. By subscribing for the paper for five years I judge that a man might succeed in getting pretty much all of the story.

If you ask a citizen of Munich which is the best Munich daily journal, he will always tell you that there is only one good Munich daily, and that it is published in Augsburg, forty or fifty miles away. It is like saying that the best daily paper in New York is published out in New Jersey somewhere. Yes, the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung is “the best Munich paper,” and it is the one I had in my mind when I was describing a “first-class German daily” above. The entire paper, opened out, is not quite as large as a single page of the New York Herald. It is printed on both sides, of course; but in such large type that its entire contents could be put, in Herald type, upon a single page of the Herald—and there would still be room enough on the page for the Zeitung’s “supplement” and some portion of the Zeitung’s next day’s contents.

Such is the first-class daily. The dailies actually printed in Munich are all called second-class by the public. If you ask which is the best of these second-class papers they say there is no difference; one is as good as another. I have preserved a copy of one of them; it is called the Münchener Tages-Anzeiger, and bears date January 25, 1879. Comparisons are odious, but they need not be malicious; and without any malice I wish to compare this journal, published in a German city of 170,000 inhabitants, with journals of other countries. I know of no other way to enable the reader to “size” the thing.

A column of an average daily paper in America contains from 1,800 to 2,500 words; the reading-matter in a single issue consists of from 25,000 to 50,000 words. The reading-matter in my copy of the Munich journal consists of a total of 1,654 words—for I counted them. That would be nearly a column of one of our dailies. A single issue of the bulkiest daily newspaper in the world—the London Times—often contains 100,000 words of reading-matter. Considering that the Daily Anzeiger issues the usual twenty-six numbers per month, the reading matter in a single number of the London Times would keep it in “copy” two months and a half.

The Anzeiger is an eight-page paper; its page is one inch wider and one inch longer than a foolscap page; that is to say, the dimensions of its page are somewhere between those of a schoolboy’s slate and a lady’s pocket handkerchief. One-fourth of the first page is taken up with the heading of the journal; this gives it a rather top-heavy appearance; the rest of the first page is reading-matter; all of the second page is reading-matter; the other six pages are devoted to advertisements.

The reading-matter is compressed into two hundred and five small-pica lines, and is lighted up with eight pica headlines. The bill of fare is as follows: First, under a pica headline, to enforce attention and respect, is a four-line sermon urging mankind to remember that, although they are pilgrims here below, they are yet heirs of heaven; and that “When they depart from earth they soar to heaven.” Perhaps a four-line sermon in a Saturday paper is the sufficient German equivalent of the eight or ten columns of sermons which the New-Yorkers get in their Monday morning papers. The latest news (two days old) follows the four-line sermon, under the pica headline “Telegrams”—these are “telegraphed” with a pair of scissors out of the Augsburger Zeitung of the day before. These telegrams consist of fourteen and two-thirds lines from Berlin, fifteen lines from Vienna, and two and five-eights lines from Calcutta. Thirty-three small-pica lines of telegraphic news in a daily journal in a King’s Capital of one hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants is surely not an overdose. Next we have the pica heading, “News of the Day,” under which the following facts are set forth: Prince Leopold is going on a visit to Vienna, six lines; Prince Arnulph is coming back from Russia, two lines; the Landtag will meet at ten o’clock in the morning and consider an election law, three lines and one word over; a city government item, five and one-half lines; prices of tickets to the proposed grand Charity Ball, twenty-three lines—for this one item occupies almost one-fourth of the entire first page; there is to be a wonderful Wagner concert in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, with an orchestra of one hundred and eight instruments, seven and one-half lines. That concludes the first page. Eighty-five lines, altogether, on that page, including three headlines. About fifty of those lines, as one perceives, deal with local matters; so the reporters are not overworked.

Exactly one-half of the second page is occupied with an opera criticism, fifty-three lines (three of them being headlines), and “Death Notices,” ten lines.

The other half of the second page is made up of two paragraphs under the head of “Miscellaneous News.” One of these paragraphs tells about a quarrel between the Czar of Russia and his eldest son, twenty-one and a half lines; and the other tells about the atrocious destruction of a peasant child by its parents, forty lines, or one-fifth of the total of the reading-matter contained in the paper.

Consider what a fifth part of the reading-matter of an American daily paper issued in a city of one hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants amounts to! Think what a mass it is. Would any one suppose I could so snugly tuck away such a mass in a chapter of this book that it would be difficult to find it again if the reader lost his place? Surely not. I will translate that child-murder word for word, to give the reader a realizing sense of what a fifth part of the reading-matter of a Munich daily actually is when it comes under measurement of the eye:

“From Oberkreuzberg, January 21st, the Donau Zeitung receives a long account of a crime, which we shortened as follows: In Rametuach, a village near Eppenschlag, lived a young married couple with two children, one of which, a boy aged five, was born three years before the marriage. For this reason, and also because a relative at Iggensbach had bequeathed M400 ($100) to the boy, the heartless father considered him in the way; so the unnatural parents determined to sacrifice him in the cruelest possible manner. They proceeded to starve him slowly to death, meantime frightfully maltreating him—as the village people now make known, when it is too late. The boy was shut in a hole, and when people passed by he cried, and implored them to give him bread. His long-continued tortures and deprivations destroyed him at last, on the third of January. The sudden (sic) death of the child created suspicion, the more so as the body was immediately clothed and laid upon the bier. Therefore the coroner gave notice, and an inquest was held on the 6th. What a pitiful spectacle was disclosed then! The body was a complete skeleton. The stomach and intestines were utterly empty; they contained nothing whatsoever. The flesh on the corpse was not as thick as the back of a knife, and incisions in it brought not one drop of blood. There was not a piece of sound skin the size of a dollar on the whole body; wounds, scars, bruises, discolored extravasated blood, everywhere—even on the soles of the feet there were wounds. The cruel parents asserted that the boy had been so bad that they had been obliged to use severe punishments, and that he finally fell over a bench and broke his neck. However, they were arrested two weeks after the inquest and put in the prison at Deggendorf.”

Yes, they were arrested “two weeks after the inquest.” What a home sound that has. That kind of police briskness rather more reminds me of my native land than German journalism does.

I think a German daily journal doesn’t do any good to speak of, but at the same time it doesn’t do any harm. That is a very large merit, and should not be lightly weighted nor lightly thought of.

The German humorous papers are beautifully printed upon fine paper, and the illustrations are finely drawn, finely engraved, and are not vapidly funny, but deliciously so. So also, generally speaking, are the two or three terse sentences which accompany the pictures. I remember one of these pictures: A most dilapidated tramp is ruefully contemplating some coins which lie in his open palm. He says: “Well, begging is getting played out. Only about five marks ($1.25) for the whole day; many an official makes more!” And I call to mind a picture of a commercial traveler who is about to unroll his samples:

MERCHANT (pettishly).—No, don’t. I don’t want to buy anything!

DRUMMER.—If you please, I was only going to show you—

MERCHANT.—But I don’t wish to see them!

DRUMMER (after a pause, pleadingly).—But do you you mind letting me look at them! I haven’t seen them for three weeks!


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