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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CLXXVII. Kornerstrasse, 7
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|They had decided to spend the winter in Berlin, and in October Mrs.
Clemens and Mrs. Crane, after some previous correspondence with an agent,
went up to that city to engage an apartment. The elevator had not
reached the European apartment in those days, and it was necessary, on
Mrs. Clemens's account, to have a ground floor. The sisters searched a
good while without success, and at last reached Kornerstrasse, a short,
secluded street, highly recommended by the agent. The apartment they
examined in Kornerstrasse was Number 7, and they were so much pleased
with the conveniences and comfort of it and so tired that they did not
notice closely its, general social environment. The agent supplied an
assortment of furniture for a consideration, and they were soon settled
in the attractive, roomy place. Clemens and the children, arriving
somewhat later, expressed themselves as satisfied.
Their contentment was somewhat premature. When they began to go out
socially, which was very soon, and friends inquired as to their location,
they noticed that the address produced a curious effect. Semi-
acquaintances said, "Ah, yes, Kornerstrasse"; acquaintances said, "Dear
me, do you like it?" An old friend exclaimed, "Good gracious! How in
the world did you ever come to locate there?" Then they began to notice
what they had not at first seen. Kornerstrasse was not disreputable, but
it certainly was not elegant. There were rag warehouses across the
street and women who leaned out the windows to gossip. The street itself
was thronged with children. They played on a sand pile and were often
noisy and seldom clean. It was eminently not the place for a
distinguished man of letters. The family began to be sensitive on the
subject of their address.
Clemens, of course, made humor out of it. He wrote a newspaper letter on
the subject, a burlesque, naturally, which the family prevailed upon him
not to print. But the humiliation is out of it now, and a bit of its
humor may be preserved. He takes upon himself the renting of the place,
and pictures the tour of inspection with the agent's assistant.
He was greatly moved when they came to the street and said, softly and
"Ah, Korner Street, Korner Street, why did I not think of you
before! A place fit for the gods, dear sir. Quiet?--notice how
still it is; and remember this is noonday--noonday. It is but one
block long, you see, just a sweet, dear little nest hid away here in
the heart of the great metropolis, its presence and its sacred quiet
unsuspected by the restless crowds that swarm along the stately
thoroughfares yonder at its two extremities. And----"
"This building is handsome, but I don't think much of the others.
They look pretty commonplace, compared with the rest of Berlin."
"Dear! dear! have you noticed that? It is just an affectation of
the nobility. What they want----"
"The nobility? Do they live in----"
"In this street? That is good! very good, indeed! I wish the Duke
of Sassafras-Hagenstein could hear you say that. When the Duke
first moved in here he----"
"Does he live in this street?"
"Him! Well, I should say so! Do you see the big, plain house over
there with the placard in the third floor window? That's his
"The placard that says 'Furnished rooms to let'? Does he keep
"What an idea! Him! With a rent-roll of twelve hundred thousand
marks a year? Oh, positively this is too good."
"Well, what does he have that sign up for?"
The assistant took me by the buttonhole & said, with a merry light
beaming in his eye:
"Why, my dear sir, a person would know you are new to Berlin just by
your innocent questions. Our aristocracy, our old, real, genuine
aristocracy, are full of the quaintest eccentricities,
eccentricities inherited for centuries, eccentricities which they
are prouder of than they are of their titles, and that sign-board
there is one of them. They all hang them out. And it's regulated
by an unwritten law. A baron is entitled to hang out two, a count
five, a duke fifteen----"
"Then they are all dukes over on that side, I sup----"
"Every one of them. Now the old Duke of Backofenhofenschwartz not
the present Duke, but the last but one, he----"
"Does he live over the sausage-shop in the cellar?"
"No, the one farther along, where the eighteenth yellow cat is
chewing the door-mat----"
"But all the yellow cats are chewing the door-mats."
"Yes, but I mean the eighteenth one. Count. No, never mind;
there's a lot more come. I'll get you another mark. Let me see---"
They could not remain permanently in Komerstrasse, but they stuck it out
till the end of December--about two months. Then they made such
settlement with the agent as they could--that is to say, they paid the
rest of their year's rent--and established themselves in a handsome
apartment at the Hotel Royal, Unter den Linden. There was no need to be
ashamed of this address, for it was one of the best in Berlin.
As for Komerstrasse, it is cleaner now. It is still not aristocratic,
but it is eminently respectable. There is a new post-office that takes
in Number 7, where one may post mail and send telegrams and use the
Fernsprecher--which is to say the telephone--and be politely treated by
uniformed officials, who have all heard of Mark Twain, but have no
knowledge of his former occupation of their premises.