The Paris Embassy once was designated "the blue ribbon among embassies." Diplomats, however, now have transferred this dignity to Berlin. Within the past twenty years a city of palaces has taken the place of the once rather homely-looking capital on the Spree, and its political importance has developed in proportion to its own rapid growth and influx of wealth. The German " hausfrau," once proverbially dowdy, has advanced with the times, and although, no doubt, she is still as practical and sensible as ever, her appearance is that of any fashionable woman, while the ladies of society are invariably gowned as well as any in Paris or Vienna.
An ambassadorial post in Berlin is no sinecure, for nowhere in the world are entertainments on a more lavish scale. As social functions play such an important role in diplomatic duties, the ambassadress here finds especial scope for the exercise of social talents.
The British Embassy The Embassy is a low-built building, with an expansive frontage painted white, and facing the broad asphalted Wilhelmstrasse. It is particularly well-adapted for entertaining, with spacious drawing-rooms and ballroom at the rear. It lies in the centre of the "Diplomatenviertel," and is a stone's throw from Unter Den Linden, the Pariser Platz, and the exquisitely verdant Tier-garten. Near it are many of the more important public official buildings, including the Foreign Office and many of the embassies.
The system of resident embassies began in Europe in the fifteenth century, and in those days the ambassador was a person of the greatest dignity and importance. He had the part of a monarch to play, and as such he was treated. Indeed, until sixty years ago, ambassadors were often sent out in ships of war, and on their arrival were received with regal pomp.
Much of this display has been modified during recent years, but even now the arrival and official reception of a new ambassador are matters of great ceremonial.
In Berlin, more than in any other foreign court, ceremony is still regarded as the language of power; court etiquette is stricter than in England, and the infringement of its rules more or less a social crime.
The Ambassador's Arrival
The ambassador is usually met at the station by the members of his staff, and is received in audience by the Emperor a day or two later, for the presentation of credentials. Masters of ceremonies and gala court carriages are sent to escort him to the Schloss. Full diplomatic uniform is worn, and sightseers gather on the pavement of the Linden to watch the cortege dashing past. The Emperor and his suite, in full uniform, receive the envoy in one of the rooms of the castle. Letters under the sign manual of the Sovereign are handed by the ambas-sador to His Imperial Majesty, and they contain an assurance that everything henceforth done by his representative shall be approved of by the Royal master whose person he represents. Civilities are exchanged, and the Emperor, who is a magnificent linguist, generally holds the conversation in English. He asks after the King's health, says a few gracious words, and the interview is over. The Empress, in morning dress, receives in another room. A separate interview is granted by her to the ambassadress, who afterwards pays official visits to the ladies of the Royal family.
A few days later two receptions are held at the Embassy, to which no invitations are issued, but which are notified in the society column of the daily papers. All members of the Corps Diplomatique and Court Society are supposed to attend these functions, and thus to make acquaintance with the new arrivals, who are henceforth included in all official ceremonies, and invited to all the best entertainments given by the haute volee of this pleasure-loving capital.
The Season Brief and Brilliant
New Year's Day is virtually the beginning of the Berlin season. In reality, however, it opens with the Defilircour, which is always held the third week in January. About noon on New Year's Day all the foreign representatives drive in state to the castle for the visits of congratulation of the Emperor, who has previously held a public inspection of the guard stationed opposite the Schloss. The season is a short one, lasting only until Lent, and gaieties of every description are crowded into the few short carnival weeks.
The Chapter of the Black Eagle is held on the Emperor's birthday, January 27. At the gala performances at the opera the house is festooned from ceiling to floor with garlands of roses, and balls are given at the castle once a week, usually on Wednesdays. The final ball, called the Fastnachtsball ends at midnight, when, according to a time-honoured custom, hot punch and doughnuts are handed to all the guests before their departure.
A most important lady at the Berlin court is the Oberhofmeisterin, Countess Brock-dorff. She is a sort of female Lord Chamberlain, and is responsible for most of the presentations. During the season she holds afternoon receptions at the castle on behalf of the Empress, and all society is supposed to pass through the drawing-rooms in which she receives. She is assisted by some of the Empress's Maids of Honour, and finds an appropriate word for every newcomer.
Vicountess Gosehen, wife of the British Ambassador at Berlin. Lady Goschen, who is a most tactful and popular ambassadress, is keenly interested in all movements for the benefit of her compatriots abroad.
Photo, Kate Pragnel
She is a most picturesque figure, with dark eyes, white hair, and black lace lappets, and long practice has made her a past mistress in the art of receiving. She is in attendance on the Empress on all official occasions; she has a phenomenal memory, and whispers to her august mistress little characteristics of most of the new arrivals when they are presented to Her Majesty.
The Ambassadress at Court
The ambassadress must attend the Defilircour, which corresponds with our Courts, and takes place at nine o'clock.
The guests arrive shortly after eight o'clock, and are conducted to the apartments reserved for waiting. The Corps Diplomatique is ushered to the room adjoining the throne room, where the Emperor and Empress, with their suite, stand on the royal dais. The ladies of the various embassies are the first to file past in order of precedence. A curious custom still prevails in the ante - room. Each lady must hold up the corners of the train of the lady in front of her, and drop it at the entrance to the throne room. This obviates all possibility of the miscalculation of distance, and of nervous ladies stumbling over another's train. The ambassadors and their staff follow these ladies past the roval dais, and are followed again by the general public, the usual obeisance being made in each case.
All proceed through the historic picture gallery to the Weissersaal. Its walls are of polished white marble and the lighting is magnificent. At the Defilircour, its famous parquet flooring is covered with thick scarlet pile carpet, and refreshments are served at a buffet placed on one side of the room. The guests partake of sandwiches, cakes, champagne, etc., and depart by the staircase at the further end of the hall. As the night is still young, dances or receptions are often given at the various embassies to finish the evening.
The Empress is strongly conservative, and disapproves of innovations in court dress. Bodices must be worn well off the shoulders, and scarcely any sleeve is permissible. In the days when they were fashionable, more than one lady who arrived at the court balls wearing long, flowing sleeves was obliged either to have them cut off in the cloak-room, or to return home. Black must never be worn, and diplomatic ladies wear no veils at the drawing-rooms.
Seats are reserved and places assigned to all attending the court functions. The ambassadresses' seats are in the front row of those to the right of the royal dais, and proximity to the latter depends upon the length of an ambassador's official residence in Berlin. The latest arrival is the furthest removed, although she always takes precedence of the wives of ministers of legation, and when a diplomatic change takes place she "goes up one." As the Emperor likes to keep his ambassadors as long as possible, changes are not very frequent. At present, Madame de Szogeny, the Austrian ambassadress, is doyenne, a post once held by the aged Countess von Osten Sacken, wife of the representative of the Tsar of all the Russias.
Lady Ermyntrude Malet, formerly British ambassadress in Berlin, was considered one of the most beautiful women at the court. Lady Lascelles, until her early death, was a great favourite with the Empress, and our present (1911) ambassadress, Lady Goschen, is already most popular. She takes a lively interest in institutions which may benefit her poorer compatriots, and the Governesses' Home is under her special protection. To raise funds for this home, Lady Lascelles held a large fancy bazaar at the Embassy a few days before her death, and Lady Goschen has lately given a concert for it in the Embassy ball-room, at which she has realised over £100.
A Wedding at the Embassy
When Sir Frank Lascelles' only daughter married Mr. Spring Rice, in 1904, the Embassy in Berlin was the scene of much revelry and gaiety. The wedding was solemnised in the English church by the British chaplain, then the Rev. Mr. Fry, and all Berlin Society was invited to the Embassy for luncheon. The Wilhelmstrasse was crowded with carriages, footmen in English livery lined the steps leading to the square inner hall; luncheon was served in various rooms, and toasts were drunk to the health of the young couple, who for their honeymoon amid showers of congratulations. The bridegroom has since then been knighted, and has distinguished himself by his diplomatic work in Teheran.
When the King visits Berlin, he is the guest of the Emperor, and one of the imperial palaces is placed at his disposal. If, during his stay, he should wish to entertain at the Embassy, he, of course, acts in the capacity of host, and is no longer represented.
The German royal family frequently honour the Embassy entertainments by their presence. The morning visit of his Imperial Majesty to Sir Frank Lascelles while the latter was still in bed - before eight o'clock in the morning - was so much talked of at the time, that one need hardly touch upon it here.
French is the universal language of diplomacy, and it is a sine qua non that the ambassadress should be a good linguist. If she has reached her exalted position by the various diplomatic stages, her sojourn in foreign lands will have made her more or less cosmopolitan and polyglot. International marriages are discouraged, and a foreign wife is likely to impede the promotion of a diplomat, for a wife's influence has been known more than once to turn the tide of politics. The familiar adage "cherchez la femme," is nowhere more applicable than in an embassy. If the ambassador be the eye of his Government, ever watchful to protect the interests of his countrymen abroad, and to maintain amicable relations with the sovereign to whom he is accredited, his wife has other problems to deal with, which are nowhere more subtle and complex than in Berlin, where social nuances demand an attitude of impartial neutrality which is not always easy to maintain.