(p. 45) The Best Remedy
- In Köhln, a town of monks and bones
- And pavements fang’d with murderous stones,
- And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches,
- I counted two and seventy stenches
- All well-defined, and several stinks.
To the majority of people Cologne is a town ‘on the Continent’ which has a cathedral, a special water of its own, and an annoying half-dozen ways of misleading the inexperienced traveller in the spelling of its name. To some people also Cologne, or Köhl, or Cöln, or Cœln, is on the Rhine, and in that part of ‘on the continent’ known as Germany. A few Englishmen know that near the station there is an English hotel where one can be understood and answered in a respectable manner without even the knowledge of Esperanto.
But very, very few know of a small exhibition, insignificant enough to all outward appearance, which was arranged last year by the Cologne municipality.
Cologne is an old city, and has experienced all sorts of municipal difficulties, of which each year some are eliminated, their places being generally taken by new ones. In recent years rapid progress has laid a heavy burden on the ratepayer, and grumbling—it may be assumed—is not less abroad than at home.
It may be, indeed, that in this city of Cologne grumbling is a good deal below the standard. For the Cologne authorities, seeing that in nine cases out of ten men grumble only from narrow-mindedness and ignorance of bare (p. 46) facts, have done their best by means of this exhibition to supplant blind ignorance by interest.
Entrance to the exhibition was free, and the side-shows also so that all ratepayers might have the chance of seeing all the exhibition. The general internal appearance showed the expenditure of more thought than money, and he must have been a true artist who covered the temporary walls with that rough sacking-cloth, and who so successfully fended off the gaudy gilt and frowsy frillings of other exhibitions. The whole aim and object of the designers was to excite interest, not curiosity and awe; and none of those less serious shows were to be found turning, as is usually the case, sobriety into frivolity and drowning the instructive side of exhibitions in the alluring.
The entrance hall, to give an idea of the nature of the exhibition, showed pictures and old prints of the undrained city of a few years back, and, in contrast, photographs of the modern model of health and prosperity. The different rooms represented the different branches of the work which has brought about this transformation, and which the ratepayer has made possible whether he pays the mites out of his poverty or the gold out of his superfluity.
In the first room were wax figures dressed in all the divers uniforms of cab- or tram-men and of officials employed by the borough. This was just to show how the general comfort and smartness of the employees are now catered for, and perhaps to give a first impression of the reality and the appealing illustrativeness of this, very personification of simplicity.
Simplicity indeed was smiling in the next room, in which were set up gilded monuments, each of which represented the annual amount of gold spent on each separate branch of work and workers. The labourer comes in here, and sees before him how much is spent in wages on his branch of work, and compares this with that spent on his neighbour’s branch. He can realise at a glance how much is being spent on the sanitary operations at his own door, and on the construction of workmen’s houses. He has before him the council minute-book at once, and in an interesting translation. And when his little daughter breaks a limb next week he will look back, not with grumbling, on that pyramid of gold which he was told represented the money spent on the improvement of the hospitals, the furthering of research, and free treatment for those who cannot pay.
Before passing into the medical room this labourer glances at the walls, and there he sees pictures of little boys and girls like his own sitting at their desks in the Board school. The pictures go in pairs, one showing the uncomfortable cramped position of the wretched pupils of a few years ago, and the other the comparatively subtly placed boards which constitute the more comfortable modern desks with accurately calculated distances between. But pictures are only representations. Here on the right is a room devoted to the real article, and the labourer can not only see but feel the difference between the new classroom and the old.
(p. 47) The next room is the medical department. All manner of gruesome internal diseases, physiognomies deranged and distorted, or photomicrographs illustrations of death-bearing animalcules and ultra-microscopic bacteria are here represented; and subscript under each some unintelligible name, the sole object of which is to guarantee the hospitals a continuous supply of jangled jaws and the asylum a steady flow of confirmed stutterers. All these sights are on view, and it cannot but rouse a spirit of pride in the breast of the poor man that his mites could have brought about such great things.
The next room is a kitchen, and in it Board school cooking classes take it in turn to cook their dinner, in front of a hungry-faced audience, and then—to eat what they have cooked! The sympathetic faces no longer look hungry.
The next is a stove room, showing the grades of economy in stoves, at a price to which everyone can rise, or the advantage and super-advantages of more elaborate stoves, that those who have their little pile in the bank may keep it there.
One of the rooms is darkened, and in this is shown cinematographically the peace of those who are enterprising enough to enjoy the green of the grass in the new parks and the coolness of the water in the ponds, all of which the municipality has lately bought, with the rates, to promote public health. Only quite recently have the towns in Germany begun to allow the people to play on the grass in the parks; and now that after the English custom the authorities do allow it, more than surprising is the difficulty of getting even the youngsters to overstep the miniature railings, let alone the impossibility of accustoming the older gravel-pathed generation to walk in the grass.
The room before the open air is reached is dim in one corner and bright in the other. One corner is lighted as the old streets were lighted, so that one stumbles over an imaginary cobble-stone, or looks around in dread of wild dogs; and the other corner is brilliantly illuminated by the modernest of incandescent mantles, which can be lit without a ladder and do not need snuffing. In between are all the grades of lamps, from dim to brilliant, from dangerous to blinding.
After the modern street lamp the sun is quite soothing to the sight. Again, however, the eyes must suffer, this time to offend the body; for the dazzling reflection of the sun on the new rustless tram-rail so suddenly strikes the victim that the unfortunate body must needs bark his shin on a rusty species of the old pattern of rail. ‘Anti-golf’ would perhaps find that here is a case where even cricketers swear.
The last item of the exhibition is not the least interesting. Having recovered from the recent shock to the system, the ratepayer is immediately led to think of all his relatives who have not had diphtheria. For he is confronted by a cross-section (of an ordinary road) which shows distinctly electric lighting and telephone wires, drains and tram lines, asphalt and stones—all in their (p. 48) respective places. By this means the simplest man, woman, or child can see how have been arranged the sinks and the house drains, and even the drainage from the tramway rails (quite an important point with underground wires), so that the minimum chance of escape for a diphtheria germ is attained.
Now cannot this idea be transplanted and improved upon in England? Alterations must reach the roots if they are to be permanent. It is no good telling a practically uneducated man that he derives benefit from the rates! It is no good posting him a score of the municipal accounts which might be the music of a comic opera for all he will ever know! Practical people need practical demonstration, and it will pay any town to arrange an exhibition like this one in Cologne, by which not only is discontent allayed but enthusiasm aroused.