Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

Swabish peasants

Mr. Josef Kling, the president of the club, accompanies me as far out as Friedburg on Monday morning; it is the last day of the holidays, and the Bavarians are apparently bent on making the most of it. The suburban beer-gardens are already filled with people, and for some distance out of the city the roads are thronged with holiday-making Augsburgers repairing to various pleasure resorts in the neighboring country, and the peasantry streaming cityward from the villages, their faces beaming in anticipation of unlimited quantities of beer.

About every tenth person among the outgoing Augsburgers is carrying an accordion; some playing merrily as they walk along, others preferring to carry theirs in blissful meditation on the good time in store immediately ahead, while a thoughtful majority have large umbrellas strapped to their backs. Music and song are heard on every hand, and as we wheel along together in silence, enforced by an ignorance of each other's language, whichever way one looks, people in holiday attire and holiday faces are moving hither and thither.

Some of the peasants are fearfully and wonderfully attired: the men wear high top-boots, polished from the sole to the uppermost hair's breadth of leather; black, broad-brimmed felt hats, frequently with a peacock's feather a yard long stuck through the band, the stem protruding forward, and the end of the feather behind; and their coats and waistcoats are adorned with long rows of large, ancestral buttons. I am now in the Swabian district, and these buttons that form so conspicuous a part of the holiday attire are made of silver coins, and not infrequently have been handed down from generation to generation for several centuries, they being, in fact, family heirlooms.

The costumes of the Swabish peasant women are picturesque in the extreme: their finest dresses and that wondrous head-gear of brass, silver, or gold - the Schwabische Bauernfrauenhaube (Swabish farmer-woman hat) - being, like the buttons of the men, family heirlooms. Some of these wonderful ancestral dresses, I am told, contain no less than one hundred and fifty yards of heavy material, gathered and closely pleated in innumerable perpendicular folds, frequently over a foot thick, making the form therein incased appear ridiculously broad and squatty. The waistbands of the dresses are up in the region of the shoulder-blades; the upper portion of the sleeves are likewise padded out to fearful proportions.

The day is most lovely, the fields are deserted, and the roads and villages are alive with holiday-making peasants. In every village a tall pole is erected, and decorated from top to bottom with small flags and evergreen wreaths. The little stone churches and the adjoining cemeteries are filled with worshippers chanting in solemn chorus; not so preoccupied with their devotional exercises and spiritual meditations, however, as to prevent their calling one another's attention to me as I wheel past, craning their necks to obtain a better view, and, in one instance, an o'er-inquisitive worshipper even beckons for me to stop - this person both chanting and beckoning vigorously at the same time.

Now my road leads through forests of dark firs; and here I overtake a procession of some fifty peasants, the men and women alternately chanting in weird harmony as they trudge along the road. The men are bareheaded, carrying their hats in hand. Many of the women are barefooted, and the pedal extremities of others are incased in stockings of marvellous pattern; not any are wearing shoes. All the colors of the rainbow are represented in their respective costumes, and each carries a large umbrella strapped at his back; they are trudging along at quite a brisk pace, and altogether there is something weird and fascinating about the whole scene: the chanting and the surroundings. The variegated costumes of the women are the only bright objects amid the gloominess of the dark green pines. As I finally pass ahead, the unmistakable expressions of interest on the faces of the men, and the even rows of ivories displayed by the women, betray a diverted attention.

Near noon I arrive at the antiquated town of Dachau, and upon repairing to the gasthaus, an individual in a last week's paper collar, and with general appearance in keeping, comes forward and addresses me in quite excellent English, and during the dinner hour answers several questions concerning the country and the natives so intelligently that, upon departing, I ungrudgingly offer him the small tip customary on such occasions in Germany. "No, Whitsuntide in Bavaria. I thank you, very muchly," he replies, smiling, and shaking his head. "I am not an employe of the hotel, as you doubtless think; I am a student of modern languages at the Munich University, visiting Dauhau for the day." Several soldiers playing billiards in the room grin broadly in recognition of the ludicrousness situation; and I must confess that for the moment I feel like asking one of them to draw his sword and charitably prod me out of the room. The unhappy memory of having, in my ignorance, tendered a small tip to a student of the Munich University will cling around me forever. Nevertheless, I feel that after all there are extenuating circumstances - he ought to change his paper collar occasionally.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 25th May 1885 (15:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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