In July 1928, 21-year-old Hall Lippincott of Wilmette, Illinois bicycled off on a round-the-world trip. This was a time when lucky college grads were shipped off to Europe and beyond by parents who could afford to underwrite such an adventure—a few months or so abroad to broaden their minds and sensitivities before returning home to the realities of their first real job, their first real marriage, the inevitable baby or two, and—in this particular decade—the overarching, difficult realities of the Great Depression, Germany’s almost unstoppable descent into the horrors of racial profiling and fascism, and the resulting World War II, which shuffled the balance of real and imagined power across the globe and swept away the world that Hall worked so hard to document.
Hall’s first traveling companion was his cousin Jack Lippincott from St. Louis, somewhat later in life the magician who popularized the Lippincott Box. Jack soon sailed for home and Hall continued pedaling his way around Europe on his untrustworthy bicycle, burrowing into haystacks at night, filching apples and potatoes from farmers’ fields, cooking plum soup with cabbage gravy in his little pot, trying to sleep and eat on less than a dollar a day.
Hall was befriended, along the way, by some really interesting people. Madame Blanche Corelli (then 75 years old) picked him up at Deutsche Bank in Berlin, fed him for a few days, regaled him with stories of her operatic career, her friends and relatives such as Harry Houdini, Enrico Caruso—and then remained a friend and the beneficiary of Hall’s modest and sporadic financial support up until 25 September 1939 when we think/hope that she died of old age before Nazi Germany was able to kill this talented Jewish lady–but Hall never knew for sure—Mme’s replies to his letters simply stopped coming and his inquiries to Berlin after the war yielded not a shred of information.
Following are the several pages from Hall’s journals that deal with Mme Corelli. In case you’re intrigued enough to follow his travels beyond Europe, here’s the link: http://www.halllippincott.info
Friday, September 21, 1928
Today I spent in rather an unexpected manner. After going to the Am.Exp. to change some money, I went to the Deutsch Bank to cash my check. An old lady heard me speaking English, asked if I was an American, and we chatted a few minutes during the wait. Before I had left she had given me her card and asked me to have soup with her at two. I accepted. The rest of the morning I spent in getting visas for Austria, Hungary, and Yugo-slavia. Hurrying back to the Exp.Co. for my suit case I found it had not yet gone through customs. Thus I was forced to wear my dirty old riding clothes to luncheon and it made me plenty mad. I rushed around like fury, caught a bus and arrived a little late.
The lady is none other than Madame Blanche Corelli, a once-famous opera singer and a professor and evidently well known in the Arts and very well liked. She is a very charming lady, 75 years old, and has a good active mind. She has lived in the USA 16 years and traveled everywhere except South America. She showed me her scrapbook in which many of her pupils from all over the world and other friends have written. Many very prominent people are included and from the fine things they said of her, she must indeed be a fine person. Before I left she had me write in it. Her apartment was very interesting—full of pictures, photos, and presents sent her. She spoke of making $500 per week many years ago in America.
Her father was a noted professor in Vienna, where she was born, and her aunt is a famous magician in New York, [Adelaide] Herrmann. We had a simple but good luncheon. I am having lunch with her again tomorrow at two and she wants to give me a letter of introduction to some friends in Vienna.
By the time I got back to the hotel it was nearly five. Took my bike out and had it fixed, then took a walk west on the Unter den Linden. Paris will have to go some if it is to beat Berlin. This is a wonderful city, full of beautiful streets, gardens, trees, huge public buildings with their large pillars and domes and many statues in, on, around, and on their roofs. The squares are spacious and pretty. There are numberless statues and monuments showing a decidedly militaristic trend. The city seems to have that air about it and many men wear uniforms of one kind or another.
The opera is very pretty and there are many attractive cafés. The Unter den Linden is the main drag—very wide with a parkway in the center and two lines of trees. At one end is a large arch and beyond, woods or gardens.
Berlin is a busy city, lots of traffic and people. At night many of the streets are lit up like day. The stores are good and window displays very attractive. Saw a dandy cigar lighter with a watch in it—125 marks. Am eating usual dinner in bed. Spent $1.77 today and $2.75 for three visas.
Saturday, September 22, 1928
Today I started out with a walk east on Unter den Linden. . .Going to the Am.Exp.Co. I got my suitcase, a little more banged up. Cost 32 marks to ship it from Paris—$8.00. Gosh, but that was a blow. It is things like that that keep me eating a ¾ meal and a loaf of bread a day. Got all dressed up and rode west on the Unter den Linden on the bike. The ride was certainly a pretty one; through a big woods broken now and then by a pathway, and all in the heart of the city. I fear Berlin has Paris whipped. Saw many large imposing churches. Even many cafes are very large and luxurious, some looking more like a big public building.
At two I was at Madame Corelli’s. She received me in the kitchen and I felt very much at home. We had a dandy lunch and afterward she told me something of her life and showed me letters, etc. from Houdini, who was a relative of hers. Her father was a multimillionaire, but her stepmother got it in some way or another. She has many wreathes given her and pictures from artists—one from Caruso. Before I left, I accepted her invitation to breakfast tomorrow at the Zoological Gardens. Rode a roundabout way back to hotel. Then went window-shopping. There are lots of pretty displays.
This big cost of shipping my suitcase is too much. It would cost near $30 to get it to Rome. Therefore I am giving it and my blanket to Madame Corelli and am taking practically everything with me on my bike except my suit, knickers, a pair of shoes, and three white shirts.
Had the best time this evening throwing things away. Monday I shall buy a small suitcase. Spent $1.33 today, hotel included. This will be a hard month for the financial end. Such a start! $11 sunk on visas and suitcase already and $10 more to go for Italian visa. That leaves me about $33 for 40 days and a suitcase to buy and ship to Rome. I’ll do it some way or other. Gosh, but it’s cold here. Guess I’ll hoist anchor Tuesday.
Again I got all dolled up and again rode out to Madame Corelli’s, this time for 9 o’clock breakfast. I took her my suitcase and blanket. We walked around the corner to the Zoological Gardens and to a very pretty tea garden in the open. Here we met Mrs. Hartock of Berlin, one of the very rich women of Berlin, and we all had a dandy breakfast. [In the photo album referred to as Mrs. Harbog, a lady who is never mentioned in Mme Corelli's letters to Hall.] Then we walked around for a long time, looking at the animals. The zoo is one of the largest and a very pretty one both for natural beauty and the buildings.
Saw a 4-day-old elephant, the first ever born in a zoo, It is nearly 3 feet tall, about as large as a large dog. Went back and had lunch with Madame and then took my leave.
Rode through the Tiergarten, the beautiful wooded park, full of lakes and statues and down the drive where there is a marble statue on each side of the street every couple hundred feet. Took a picture of the big Brandenburg Gate and then rode east on the Unter den Linden and took pictures of the Dom and some of the other things there. The palaces of Kaiser Frederick and Kaiser Wilhelm I are very pretty and are museums now. A rain came up and I beat it for the hotel. Is very chilly weather. Spent 82¢ today including room at hotel.
Later on, in Vienna, Hall took a letter of introduction from Mme to a friend of hers there:
8 October 1928 Tonight I called on Madame Corelli’s friend, Herr Schab, one of the owners of the Promenaden Café right next to my hotel. It is a ritz place. He asked me if I wouldn’t sit down and so I had some of the best kaffee I have ever tasted and paid for it.
Herr Schab is mentioned dozens of times in the letters and if this is the same person, it was my impression that he lived in Berlin rather than Vienna during 1931-1935.
Cindy Lippincott, 19 January 2011