Night is generally my time for walking. In the summer I often leave my room at the University as the sun settles, and roam about streets, the docks and the plazas until hunger or thirst gets the best of me. I walk, I look, I listen, to learn how the pulse of our great capital beats.
I have fallen insensibly into this habit, because it affords me the greatest opportunity of speculating on the characters and occupations of those who fill the streets. The glare and hurry of broad noon are not adapted to philosophical pursuits like mine; a glimpse of passing faces caught by the light of a street-lamp or a shop window is often better for my purpose than their full revelation in the daylight; and, if I must add the truth, night is kinder in this respect than day, which too often destroys an air-built castle at the moment of its completion, without the least ceremony or remorse.
That constant pacing to and fro, that never-ending restlessness, that incessant tread of feet wearing the rough stones smooth and glossy— is it not a wonder how the dwellers in narrow ways can bear to hear it! Think of a sick man resting in a white-washed room with an open window at the Königplatz, listening to the footsteps of the passers-by, and in the midst of pain and weariness obliged, despite himself (as though it were a task he must perform) to detect the child’s step from the man’s, the slipshod beggar from the booted exquisite, the lounging from the busy, the dull heel of the sauntering outcast from the quick tread of an expectant pleasure-seeker— think of the hum and noise always being present to his sense, and of the stream of life that will not stop, pouring on, on, on, through all his restless dreams, as if he were condemned to lie, dead but conscious, in a noisy churchyard, and had no hope of rest for centuries to come.
Then, the crowds for ever passing and repassing on the bridges (on those which are free of toil at last), where many stop on fine evenings looking listlessly down upon the water with some vague idea that by and by it runs between green banks which grow wider and wider until at last it turns into swamps, and then joins the broad vast sea — where some halt to rest from heavy loads and think as they look over the parapet that to smoke and lounge away one’s life, and lie sleeping in the sun upon a hot tarpaulin, in a dull, slow, sluggish barge, must be happiness unalloyed — and where some, and a very different class, pause with heavier loads than they, remembering to have heard or read in old time that drowning was not a hard death, but of all means of suicide the easiest and best.
The Reikmarkt at sunrise too, in the spring or summer, when the fragrance of sweet flowers is in the air, over-powering even the unwholesome streams of last night’s debauchery, and driving the dusky thrust, whose cage has hung outside a garret window all night long, half mad with joy! Poor bird! the only neighbouring thing at all akin to the other little captives, some of whom, shrinking from the hot hands of drunken purchasers, lie drooping on the path already, while others, soddened by close contact, await the time when they shall be watered and freshened up to please more sober company, and make old clerks who pass them on their road to business, wonder what has filled their breasts with visions of the country.
Wellentag, Nachgeheim 4, 2523 IC