Did Byron like onion soup?
THE more things change, the more they stay the same? I think not. Not always. There was a news story out of T"ubingen, West Germany, the other day, and I thought of T"ubingen and how things had changed and were not the same. T"ubingen? The ancient university city of Baden-W"urttemberg. I was there on a bright October day in 1953 and came away with memories. The publisher of the local newspaper had shown me about and taken me to lunch. There were the deep, dark dungeons of the university where, back in darker times, naughty students were put away until they could show better manners. At that time, 1953, numerous shenanigans, worldwide, were being blamed on ``students,'' until there was wonderment as to how anybody pursuing culture could perform so rudely, and the dungeons of T"ubingen suggested one answer the universities had ceased to heed. Those naughty boys had decorated the dungeon walls with poignant graffiti, which, fortunately, were difficult to read in the dim light, but they conveyed a rapport over the centuries. After I visited the printing plant of the S"udwest Presse, we went to the railroad restaurant for lunch.
By the tracks and the station, the restaurant performed in the best traditions of the customary resounding fare of Germany's Great National Sport. After a few meals in the brown-gravy atmosphere of a German restaurant, and the proclaimed approval of the customers, any tourist wonders how the French and Italians ever won their undeserved reputation for the high cuisine. As we dined, I was offered the guest book of the restaurant, that I might set my name down and remain forever among the fortunate on record as patrons of the establishment's onion soup and supporting nutriments. As I noticed the date, I said, ``Today is my birthday!''
And so it was.
At that, my host excused himself and went to a telephone, and while he was gone I thumbed through the guest register to see who had preceded me and what roll of merit I had joined. I found a name I recognized. There was George Gordon. The date, in the early 1800s, would be suitable. George Gordon. Lord Byron. The poet. Well! And George Gordon had signed the book well into its middle, no doubt proving he had come to a place already long famous for its onion soup. I had added my name well over toward the end. Another decade or so and the restaurant would need a new book.
Then my host came back to sit down and resume his gustatory approval, and it was perhaps 10 minutes later that a young lady from his office came into the restaurant in a manner known as schnell-schnell. She was flushed and out of breath. She handed my host a briefcase, a magnificent piece of German-fabricated leather, was thanked for her assistance, and she withdrew, but not so speedily. My host, you see, had telephoned to ask that she go at once to a store and buy a briefcase and bring it to the restaurant, and now it was given to me in a ceremonial manner, that I might remember my birthday in T"ubingen. I responded with my only German joke, about the New Deal congressman's wife who told the Norwegian ambassador her cook was a Swede, too, and after the hilarity subsided we finished our dessert, whatever it was, with whipped cream.
If you go to the files of the Schw"abisches Tagblatt and T"ubinger Chronik and look up the issues for Saturday, Oct. 24, 1953, you will see my picture on the front page, as a recent visitor to T"ubingen and guest of the S"udwest Presse. Not a bad-looking fellow. Beside me in the picture is Will Hanns Hebsacher, Gesch"aftsf"uhrer, himself. I still have the briefcase he gave me, and I use it now and then in the German manner -- not for papers and such, but to carry my lunch when I eat away from home. So I have reason to remember T"ubingen.
Then, some years later, my wife and I motored that way, and I said we must visit the railroad restaurant for some of the onion soup and see the guest book in which Lord Byron joined me in perpetual fame. Parking was for ``guests only,'' and the waiter beamed when I said I remembered the onion soup. But he didn't know anything about a guest book. Nor did the proprietor, who came and regretted that it must have been misplaced. Lost. Gone. Things had changed and were not the same. Except the onion soup. My wife agrees it was the very best.