Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Nine
Friday, August 8th, 1919.
This is indeed a hard life over here! After a look at the fortresses around Coblenz yesterday, we motored out to Engers, a big mill town where, the First U.S. Engineers of the Army of Occupation is billeted. The officers of the regiment gave us a luncheon, or rather banquet, at high noon and a cabaret show with regimental talent. After that we motored all over the occupied area and penetrated as far into Germany - 30 kilometers east of the Rhine - as good Americans may go. Being a bit afraid of the M.P.'s and the "fraternization orders", we avoided the cafes and saw instead a production of "La Boheme" in German at the municipal grand opera house.

Today we sent our train to Wiesbaden, our autos to Mainz, and had a seven hour cruise up the Rhine from Coblenz to Mainz in the commanding general's yacht. You know that trip, so you realize how we enjoyed it.

This occupation of a conquered country is great stuff. We are lots easier on the Germans than the British are at Cologne, or the French at Mainz. Incidentally, we have the least desirable of the three areas. In Coblenz, the officers on duty at headquarters are quartered in the best hotel and the Germans pay all the bills. Everything else wanted, and covered by the Regulations, is requisitioned and, if not forthcoming promptly heavy fines are imposed.

At Engers, the Colonel has an apartment in the house of the President of the company which owns the steel mills; the troops and animals are quartered in other suitable buildings. The Y.M.C.A., K. of C., etc., are all given appropriate billets, Our luncheon was held at the Club. A big palace, formerly the Staff School for that district, is being utilized for this purpose. All the walls of the banquet room were paneled and painted very artistically. The ceiling was quite a masterpiece in cupids, summer skies, and allegorical groups. The regimental band played out in the garden and the waters of the Rhine gently lapped the stone steps leading down to a boat landing.

A requisition was laid on the town for table linen, glassware, dishes, etc. for our special party and the necessary articles were furnished, under protest of course. Everything, no matter how simple, is always done grudgingly and under protest. The Germans seem to be deliberately trying to make things difficult, so no one any longer has any patience with them, or wastes any sympathy on them. Whenever they misbehave, they are brought promptly to book. One can imagine the situation were the conditions reversed.

So far as possible, everything is done by the Germans under our supervision. When we move out, the railways, gas, water, roads, and so forth, will not require reorganization. Of course, in the way of sanitation, etc., we have introduced many American innovations which will not survive us.

The German railways seem much better run than the French. In fact, the whole country seems better organized. There are no signs of the War anywhere. Everything seems about the same as usual, except that everyone, and especially the children, lack color. This, no doubt, is the effect of the short rations during the War. Everywhere are magnificent crops. This winter should be easier than anticipated some time ago.

 The fortress of Ehrenbreitstein is a fine example of now obsolete work. It occupies the highest and most prominent point along the Rhine for many miles. The largest American flag in Europe floats over it and looks mighty good, as does the flag on boats on the river.

We are maintaining outposts all along the American border; have selected lines of defense, gun positions, etc., and are prepared for any eventualities. Everything is quiet, however, and our Army is being rapidly reduced to 6,000.

Saturday, August 9th, 1919.
Just finished a tour of the town, having come over from Wiesbaden this morning. We are pulling out for Strassburg in a few minutes; then back to Paris tomorrow.

There was a performance of “Die Lustige Witwe" last evening at 7:30, but we preferred an elaborate dinner and concert on the terrace of the Kurhaus. A real champagne dinner for two cost 111 marks, or about $6.50 at the present rate of exchange. A less elaborate dinner in Paris cost about as many francs, and a franc is worth 2.32 marks. Postcards cost 10 pf. or about half a cent. Three of us rode all over town for an hour this morning in a low-necked carriage for 8 marks, or 50 cents, not apiece - but for the entire party. The mark at six cents seems to buy as much as it did when it was worth 24 cents.

Wiesbaden is a real live up-to-date city of over 100,000. It has beautiful parks and big buildings. There are several splendidly appointed hotels. The cafes remain open till 1:00 A.M., but the French require the civilians to go home about 11:00. There are French signs everywhere. Most of the hotel people know enough English to help out. I never was in a country before, except in the high Andes, where I could not make a stab at speaking the language. My college German is so far back that I am very slow at catching on. I can work out a newspaper, but the spoken language is unfamiliar; not like French or Spanish, which I have been hearing and using off and on for many years.

All the soldiers of France seem to be over here coming and going. It seems they are all given a detail here to have an opportunity to lord it over the Germans. There are lots of Sudanese, too. M.P.'s of all three nations are everywhere. German soldiers are not allowed in uniform. Railway officials, postmen, policemen, and other uniformed employees all salute us. An American M.P. picked up three of us colonels on the street and made us show him our order authorizing us to be outside the American area. We were stopped again when we motored across the bridge.

This trip has been so much more wonderful than I ever even dreamed of that sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure I am awake. It is hard to believe that we will all be back in Paris again tomorrow. Our train breaks up in Paris, but half a dozen of us are going over to London and see something of the British Isles together. After that, I have some more of France, and Italy and Holland to arrange for. I came through Paris so fast coming out that I had scarcely any time even to get information. The Italian situation is still bad, I believe. There is considerable doubt as to whether it is safe for American officers to go down there at this time. At any rate that country is off limits for ordinary leaves.

End Notes and Bibliography