Monday 19 February 2024

Old European Hospitality

Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts: On foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (London: John Murray, 2004; 1977), pp. 24-25; p. 101:
Somebody told me that humble travellers in Holland could doss down in the police stations, and it was true. A constable showed me to a cell without a word, and I slept, rugged up to the ears, on a wooden plank hinged to the wall and secured on two chains under a forest of raffish murals and graffiti. They even gave me a bowl of coffee and a quarter of a loaf before I set off. Thank God I had put ‘student’ in my passport: it was an amulet and an Open Sesame. In European tradition, the word suggested a youthful, needy, and earnest figure, spurred along the highways of the West by a thirst for learning—thus, notwithstanding high spirits and a proneness to dog-Latin drinking songs, a fit candidate for succour.


   Remembering the advice the mayor of Bruchsal had given me, the moment I had arrived in this little village, I had sought out the B├╝rgermeister. I found him in the Gemeindeamt, where he filled out a slip of paper. I presented it at the inn: it entitled me to supper and a mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning; all on the parish. It seems amazing to me now, but so it was, and there was no kind of slur attached to it; nothing, ever, but a friendly welcome. I wonder how many times I took advantage of this generous and, apparently, very old custom? It prevailed all through Germany and Austria, a survival perhaps, of some ancient charity to wandering students and pilgrims, extended now to all poor travellers.