Life is pleasant enough at Heidelberg. The quaintness and comparative quiet of the little town afford a grateful relief after the more bouyant gayeties of the continental capitals. Then, too, its situation is charmingly picturesque. It lies on the banks of the Neckar with the vine-covered hills in the distance and covering all the old ivy-mantel Schloss, rich in historic interest and tradition. There is a singular fascination in the dreamy quiet of the place, essentially old-world in its nature ; and unless you possess exceptional strength of will you gradually yield to the influence of the Siren spell.
Still, at Heidelberg, as elsewhere, life is not without its crosses, especially if you are a student freshly matriculated. You may be strolling along the narrow Hauptstrasse-no German town is complete without a Hauptstrasse-engaged in confine your new impressions or in thinking of the flaxen-haired Gretchen who served you that pretzel and that last glass of beer, when, on a sudden your meditations are rudely dispersed and your thoughts brought to earth again. Looking up, you find you have brushed against a man who appears for all the world like a battered veteran of the wars, but whom, by his cap, dress, spectacles and other insignia, you recognize at length as a German student. His face is scarred and seamed, it may be that part og one ear is gone ; certainly his appearance is redoubtable. The apology which rose to your lips, however, dies away unuttered when you notice his insolent stare and catch the words, "Wie viele dummer jungen ?" (Literally, how many foolish children ?) Taking umbrage at the tone no less than the words, with true American zest for repartee, you reply, "Ein," and await further hostilities. To your surprise, the student merely hands you his card with freezing courtesy and inquires your address. Somewhat dazed, you inform him and continue your walk, wondering at the customs of the German student and congratulating yourself on your witty reply. In time you return to your lodgings, when the first thing that meets your eyes is a challenge lying on your table. You learn subsequently that the words exchanged between the German and yourself are the regular preliminaries of a duel.
Hard drinking and brilliant swordplay are the chief requisites for glory at the universities. A German student who does not duel (they all drink) is socially ostracised ; while he who excels in both fencing and drinking becomes at once the idol of his fellow students and the secret admiration of the town maidens. So strong is the passion for fame that the veriest trifles are construed into portentous insults and men have been known to tear open wounds partially healed, that scars might be formed as souvenirs of past encounters.
Student duels are rather mild performances in most instances. The German method of fencing has very little of the grace and science of the French style, requiring only great strength and flexibility of the wrist. The sword used, spear they call it, is about three feet long, sharpened eight inches on one side, and sixteen inches on the other, with a blunt end. This is grasped in the right hand so that the arm crosses the face diagonally. The hand is protected by a basket hilt of iron, the arm and chest by impenetrable coverings. The left hand is held behind the back. There are only four or five cuts allowed, which, if successful, inflict wounds on the brow, cheek, or chin. The only really dangerous cut is a straight, down ward stroke on the head, which may open the skull but is easily guarded. The favorite stroke is performed by a quick, dexterous turn of the wrist, and inflicts a scratch in the neck under the chin. A surgeon is always at hand to decide upon the gravity of the wound. Rare instances occur in which a student is killed in a duel, in which case his adversary is confined in the neighboring fortress for two years.
The students lodge in houses in the town and board anyshere and everywhere. Their rooms are, as a rule, scantily furnished. Numerous swords line the walls, pipes lie here and there. A table rimmed with beer-stains, books, a few chairs, a bed, mugs of various sizes and fantastic devices-these constitute the principle bric-a-brac. The odor of stale tobacco prevades everything. Excepting as a mere resting-place the student seldom uses his room. HE is a Bohemian to the core. You may oftenest find him in a beer-shop, discussing obstruse, metaphysical problems through clouds of tobacco smoke, or at the kneipe of his dueling-corps, shouting glees over beer and pretzels until morning. Thence he steals away in the early dawn to strain his eyes over pages of fine German print. As a natural consequence, a student is seldom seen without spectacles, and a professor without them is a nonentity.
Among the features of the German universities is the class of unfortunates who come up every year regularly to try the entrance examinations, fail with equal regularity, and settle down again to "pots and pipes" with a patient resignation that is at once ludicrous and melancholy. Mos of these men have lost the flush of youth, the beards of some are streaked with gray, yet as they have long since parted with their early ambition they are perfectly contented with their lot.
In spite of these and other peculiarities, perhaps because of them, student life at Heidelberg possesses many charms for one new to its customs and traditions. Silly notions of honor prevail, it is true ; there are numerous instances of narrow-mindedness and exasperating dogmatism. Life there is largely tinctured with Bohemianism ; but though Heidelberg has lost much of its ancient glory, solid learning and broad culture are still to be found lingering about the place.