After the troops across Romania (Late December 1916)

By Karl Graf Scapinelli, war correspondent | Late December 1916

After the troops across Romania!

By Karl Graf Scapinelli, war correspondent.
Late December 1916

This time it was different than a few weeks ago, as I was waiting for the redeemer in Sibiu, which was surrounded and almost occupied; This time I didn't took the armored train to the old Sachsenstadt, did not stop in front of the actual station, and didn't had to be concerned about the enemy missiles. This time i went briskly and cheekily into the station and then the next day, after I greeted all my friends I had made at the time, had another long day of strolling by train through the endless Red Tower Pass.

Where were the troops then? - Whoever came to the army headquarters could hardly find out; it just said they were on. As long as the train went it was fine, but otherwise if got stuck you had to rely on yourself. The car of k. k. War press quarters had pulled us into the middle of the journey; it was called helping yourself. And that's what we did after a difficulty.

Romanian prisoners of war at work in a Danube portRomanian prisoners of war (arbeitskommando) at work in a Danube port under the supervision of German troops
Copyright by the Leipzig press office, Expedition 1917

The dawn already occurred as I got off the train, which had long since been traveling on Romanian soil, past shot-up houses, along troubled valley roads along the Olt. But I had to go on, I had to manage to go Bucharest. Himself is the mate! Especially when he has a full rucksack on his back, an electric flashlight, a bottle of grain, a piece of sausage and bread. I stood in the dark on the road on Heeresstrasse. As soon as a car rattled up, I lit my lamp and spun it in a circle. That truck filled to the brim with telegraph operators and telegraph equipment finally understood my light signal; but it also understood my longing and took me through the old valley to Rimik. We arrived late, late at night. I took a room in an empty hotel; the hard floor was still better than the wet field.

Turkish train in BucharestTurkish train in Bucharest

The first major provincial city of Romania was my first destination! The public buildings were marvelously proud, in their middle Roman-bombastic with porticoes and marble stairs! Next to it churches, very proud with twisted towers, with mighty domes and then poorly little houses. As everywhere in Romania, was seen again this strong contrast between ostentatious wealth, who flaunts all possessions in a grossly manner, and the wretched poverty.

And in between, between wealth and poverty, the backward Romanians who carried their megalomania so far. D, they wanted to teach us culture; you just have to talk to them today. There, Mr. barber, in whose shop the Romanians used to divide Hungarians among themselves, he calmly shaves our good soldiers. D, he's very proud, he's an artist, his display shows that. In a good Romanian-cannibal style, he has fifty of the heaviest canine teeth of Wallachian peasants that he has pulled himself hanging on a string in a semicircle!

The great dental artist and barber, he „once made politics‟. The time is not long past when only those who „made politics‟ counted. Now the poor have little opportunity to do so. The coffeehouses close here at five, if they open at all, and there are desperately many Feldgrau (field-grey) people who don't like to listen to political songs. But I have to continue, following the troops, another endless drive on swaying, fully packed trucks between lush brown fields, bumpy, undulating surfaces, pushed endlessly, to the right and left of a straight, flat, wide country road.

Austro-Hungarian river monitor on the DanubeAustro-Hungarian river monitor on the Danube

When we couldn't go any further, we decided to spend the night in a larger village. My companion and I are lucky, we get hold of the dining room of an elegant Romanian house, some - „... escu‟ lived there when he took his country residence.

It's almost midnight. We sneak into our dining room, because tired soldiers sleep in the other common rooms. A snap asleep at the electrical switch: - a Romanian fairy kingdom is opening up, the splendor that a Romanian dreams of - a long hall, a huge table, along the walls almost forty gilded rococo chairs covered with blue silk, decorated with youth embroidery , false flowers under huge wall mirrors, whole gardens of false flowers, and in between in the corner in bronzed plaster Mr. Mrs. „... escu‟, and on the wall again in poor photographic enlargements Mr. and Mrs. „... escu‟.

Here I am in Romania that wanted to wage war against us, that wanted to teach us culture. Chance really led me into the rooms of a politically very well-known and anti-German man.

German double post in front of the Royal Palace in BucharestGerman double post in front of the Royal Palace in Bucharest

At dawn we continue towards Piteşti, a handsome city, with large magnificent buildings on the front and miserable huts in the very interior. A field camp, a passage station then, now a village, far, far behind the front. And since I was there and eagerly awaited further transportation, Bucharest fell. - A car brought me to the Romanian capital at night through the churned up sand tracks of the streets. Past the burning petroleum tank, past the rows of corpses which the Romanians had to lay down in vain for defense at the Chitila sugar factory. Of night, Bucharest is a dead city now, a city that still dreams of the fear of the zeppelin, that still wears blue glasses on the lanterns in the suburbs and looks dark and shy. But Bucharest was already alive in the morning. Turks marched through the misty streets of the capital with tinkling games, and every window came alive. Because Bucharest got over the first shock surprisingly quickly and is very curious. Now Turks are pulling through, then Bulgarians, then a German train or Austro-Hungarian artillery rolls past quietly and self-confidently ... By noon the stream of people in the main street called Siegesallee (Calea Victoriei) has grown thick and black. To look at its shows.

German and Austro-Hungarian officers interrogate a Romanian officerGerman and Austro-Hungarian officers interrogate a Romanian officer
Recordings of the Mil. Film & Photo Point (M. F. & F.)

The officers of the allies, the personnel, allow themselves a short rest there, and the Bucharest look and be amazed. Above all, they do not resent the Germans and Austrian-Hungarians. No, Mackensen's picture is sold a thousand times over, and a certain honest consideration can be seen everywhere.

People are satisfied with the new government and very happy to finally have the uncertainty behind them. Very stupid people only believe that the Russians will still help.

In Cafe Kapsa (Capşa), the capital's first pastry shop, young fähnrich (officer candidates) eat their fill of sweet cakes after the heavy, meat-rich days of fighting.

In general, all the bars are well attended. The shopkeepers cannot complain that the enemy troops do not leave money with them. The shopkeepers cannot complain that the enemy troops do not leave money with them. It goes shopping, happy to be in a big city for hours. Certainly it wasn't bad outside, the farmers raised enough poultry and fattened fat pigs. But even the land of milk and honey would be bland if it didn't have a big city in the middle.

The troops have long since moved further northeast. ... Suddenly I'm drawn to the south. I would like to go the way that Mackensen's army, crossing the Danube, advanced against Bucharest. So I have to turn south.

The connections at the top cannot be used smoothly, maybe I'll come home by water in time for Christmas?

The Bucharest train station, an idyll with a few cattle wagons, in which a lively company comes together: German, Austro-Hungarian officers, reporters, personnel, with who all strive towards the Danube.

Up to Argeș, it continues at a tolerable pace over fields that are partly already tilled for winter and spring and over which the winter sowing puts a green shimmer. Then comes a large blown railway bridge. It is time to get out and cross the bridge on foot over beams and boards. One waits for hours on the other bank, meanwhile the pioneers are working diligently, and the bridge has long been safely passable for train traffic. Late in the evening I spent a long time in Giurgiu, which is badly damaged and shows that the Romanians did not voluntarily evacuate this city on its Danube bank. The pontoon bridge, which spans across the mighty Danube to Rustschuk, is over a kilometer long. At night a thin wreath of lights shines from afar, then a mighty work, a proud building of the Austro-Hungarian pioneers, who completed this work in barely 24 hours! Heavy traffic prevails, position of all allies are at the entrance. For almost a quarter of an hour you float in the car over these firmly anchored boats, over the wet veils of fog of the conquered, defeated, made serviceable „Hister‟. - The next day a steamship is boarded, which, only intended for military transport, awaits us here. Twenty-four hours is the time of the peace journey to Orșova. This time it will take a little longer because fog, mines and sunk ships urge caution.

Reconstruction of a bridge blown up by the RumaniansReconstruction of a bridge blown up by the Rumanians

Sneaking brownish gray, float, barely bobbing up in gray foam, the waves of the Danube along, a flowing surface, noiselessly descending, willingly serving the conquerors. Because suddenly, despite the winter, there is busy life on the Danube, over on the Bulgarian bank as on the conquered Romanian bank. Supplies have to be stored, goods have to be loaded. Ships bring ammunition and provisions. A new way has opened up, an ancient, natural, eternal way to the sea, to the Balkans.

But this path also had to be fought for; it did not voluntarily fall into the hands of the allies. The places on the shores here and over there speak of it, and the waves also know how to tell when they suddenly have to rear up against a shipwreck.

The Danube was not cleared without a struggle. In addition to the batteries on the banks, in addition to the translating infantrymen, the Austro-Hungarian Danube monitors, who have distinguished themselves during the whole war, also fought. Here, too, suddenly appearing in various places, they destroyed port facilities and ships. But they also fought the enemy troops and showered them with projectiles at Sistow (Svishtov) and made them give way there at the crossing. - Our steamer starts moving slowly, the fog is thick, we won't get any further quickly. A game of skat hold us together; the evening may come when we drop anchor.

I traveled on the ship for five days, some hours at anchor, but I saw the lower reaches of the warlike, armored, battle-used Danube. I saw the large second ship bridge at Sistow (Svishtov) open and let us through, saw the old mosques on the Bulgarian bank, saw the wide floodplains of the Romanian bank of the Danube, saw the wild geese roam over it in long stretches, saw herons gazing at the ships in astonishment, because all the land there seems to be an idyll, does not seem to know anything about the fact that the conqueror pulled over these lines in bold cutting arcs, driving thousands of Romanian fighters behind the front. People who are scattered are still supposed to be here, they are sure to be wandering towards their homeland in their national costumes, glad that the war is over for them.

Turnu-Severin! Here, too, the Danube shows the traces of serious fighting: there are many ships bored into the ground, and the wrecks of sunk barges can be found even further in the rapids of the Iron Gate. Now everything is freely, the Serbian as well as the Romanian bank. Anyone who sees the mountains here knows that there will be hot fighting. Space was gained, we went forward at a stormy pace, because around here for hundreds of kilometers the war was a war of movement, a cheerful storm, a running around the Victory palm.

The free Danube, the proud Bucharest fortress fell without a fight, the troops already on the Sereth (Siret)! - Where is the Romania's big man's dream: „Rumania Mare‟?

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