Primary Source
20th Cent. | Germany | World War I
Ernst Vollert describes the atmosphere in Berlin at the time when the First World War broke out
If I think of the summer 1914, of the months of June and July, it seems to me that I hadly ever have experienced a more beautiful summer. It is possible that this impression was influenced by the contrast provided by the enormous disasters which followed on these happy summer days ...

July, the month of the long vacations ! A glowing sky free of clouds hung over Berlin; the bath resorts on the Wannsee and Müggelsee outside Berlin were frequented by all those thousands who could not afford to spend their vacation elsewhere, and who sought a replacement for the recreation and pleasure provided by a summer journey. Summer journeys had become an obsession for Berliners; everyone, who could travel, travelled ! Not only the rich from the western suburbs, but even the small, inconspicuous artisans, porters, barbers - all packed their things as fast as they could and travelled to the sea or into the mountains.

Entire street segments seemed devoid of life, the curtains down, the balconies empty. The first postcards arrived, from friends now in Oostende or Copenhagen.

This emigration of local inhabitants was responded by an immigration of tourists. Who can now imagine the international, vivid atmosphere on the great boulevards in the west. At night the masses strolled along the illuminated boulevards, passing fully occupied cafes and hotel terrasses, through the wide opened windows of which the melodies of string orchestras invited to enter, in front of the background of the sound of bustling traffic. Was there not one among these thousands, these millions, who sensed that the dice already rolled which was to decide over the mischief of all of them?

In the afternoon in one of the cinemas in the west I saw pictures of President Poincare's visit to St. Petersburg; the batteries of warships fires salutes, guard regiments paraded. ... None among the mass of spectators tokk it as a troubling sign.

Not one of them wanted to give room to the sensation that there might be a connection between these images he watched, and his own fate, and who knows how many among those who sat in the cinema and watches the pictures, would lie 8 days later as a disabled cripple on the French or Russian front.

On the corner in front of the west's famous artists' cafe I met the Austrian waiter. I kew him well. He approached me, quickly grasped my hand and said: "Mobilized .... My wife .... My three children ..." and immediately the waiter was surrounded by a dense crowd. "God bless you! Farewell!" "It can't last that long with the Serbs !" He found a way through the crowd, pale and in a hurry.

Later in the evening I turned from Charlottenburg into town, to Unter den Linden ... Suddenly it seemed to me that I heard singing in the distance. 
Singing voices could be heard better and better. Soon there was a crowd moving toward Wilhelmstrasse. Ahead of the amassing crowd hung a flag, the black, white and red colours of which were lit by the shine of a lamp. Behind the flag a young bearer went, followed by a long procession of for the most part young followers with bare heads. The old German war song "Die Wacht am Rhein" was song with passion in that summer night.

There is hardly a memory left of the atmosphere at the time when the war broke out. The mistakes of the leaders and the government still could not have lead the attention to the millions of graves quickly dug, which spread almost over the entire earth.

Utdrag ur: Världskriget 1914-1918 och tiden som följde, band 1., Malmö, 1938 

GM (digital edition) und AG (translation); © psm-data 2002