I n G e r m a n y ( 1 9 1 4 – 1 8 )
Berlin, in the week after the Armistice was signed on November 11th, appears to have been an extraordinary place – not what one would have expected in the aftermath of national defeat and humiliation. Cyril King and his fellow prisoners in Ruhleben were free to roam at will and rather enjoy themselves:
20/11/18. “I think that’s the date, but I am not quite sure, as we have lost all count of time. What a week it has been! I have been out to Berlin several times and have slept three nights there in a clean and comfortable hotel where a friend of R’s got us a room.
The first time we made elaborate plans for escape, but now I just wait at the gate until it is opened to let a soldier in or out, and then slip boldly through. A tram stops practically at our doors and runs all the way into Berlin…
I got some cash by selling an old German frock-coat and trousers, which I had bought in Baden-Baden for 100 marks, but it is all gone already, as money runs away like anything, and one has to pay 15 marks for a two course dinner of soup and potatoes and vegetables!..
I have seen ‘Measure for Measure’ twice, and ‘Twelfth Night’ at Reinhardt’s Theatre once and could have seen ‘Hamlet’ or ‘The Merchant of Venice’ if I had had time – as they are all on in Berlin now! ‘Measure for Measure’ was too wonderfully done for words and I have never seen anything like it. Both times the house was packed and it was a tremendous success – whilst all the time the town is starving – for it is indeed, and I haven’t seen a single cheek that wasn’t deadly pale.
They talk about nothing but the revolution and seem to have forgotten all about the war. ‘Now we are free like you,’ someone said to me in a restaurant. Everyone is very polite but not cringing as I had expected…
I have heard some speeches by Socialists and have seen the marks of machine-gun shots in the walls of the Palace and War Office, and the four-mile long funeral procession of the ’80 heroes’ of the revolution – most of the sights in fact. It is all very depressing.
The camp is a horrible place now – full of soldiers, searching the dustbins and trying to buy old clothes and food and haggling… about prices. The ground is everywhere covered with paper and rags and wood.
We may go at any time now, and it is unsafe to keep away from the camp too long. We have placed our books and most valuable possessions in wooden boxes, which we have stacked in the YMCA hall, in the hope that the Dutch Embassy will forward them later.”