‘the vast plain of Holstein, grey and monotonous’

It’s October 3 when Carruthers & Davies are being dragged down the Kiel Canal, and the weather is decidedly autumnal. I’m not so sure, though, that the plains of Holstein would have been ‘monotonous’. From what I can gather they would have been full of life, with abundant apple & pear orchards, and *loads* of  animals in the fields – notably cows and horses.

Childers failed to notice the cows.

The cows would have been Holsteins, the classic black and white milkers that we in Britain would probably call Frisians. They became so popular in America at this time that President Taft kept one as a pet at the White House. She was call Pauline Wayne.

Pauline Wayne in front of the Navy Building Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The horses would have been Holsteiners, animals that would have been pulling along Lloyd’s Inselbahn in 1898. Holsteiners these days are the preferred breed of choice for German showjumpers. They’re so iconic within the region that you’ll find statues of them in several local towns. Probably the most famous one of all is Meteor, a horse that competed in three Olympics, and which is commemorated with a very well-known statue in Kiel. I’m hoping we’ll get to see it when we undertake the Adventure in the autumn.

„Sculpture Hans Kock Meteor in Kiel“ von Dietmar Walberg – Photo own work. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 2.5 über Wikimedia Commons

As well as thousands of large and impressive land animals, let’s not forget how many birds would have been flying about by the canal – ducks (for shooting obvs) and gazillions of gulls. Why is Childers so uninterested in animals – except for killing and eating? This book is well-known for its excellent description of the Baltic and Frisian seascapes, but they’re seascapes devoid of birds, fish or any kind of wildlife.

In particular, when they finally get to the Sands, how on earth do Carruthers and Davies manage to ignore the seals?!

At every low tide, an army of seals would have competed for the top spots on the sands for basking and generally stinking up the place. There would have been millions of them. And yet somehow our heroes fail to come across a single one as they trog along the channels with their compasses and charts, or yomp off to the stores on the islands. They never bump into a seal hunter, either, which is just as extraordinary, given the vast numbers of seals that were being shot, netted and clubbed at the time.

“Grey Seal Norderney” by Andreas Trepte – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

We just have to conclude that Childers wasn’t interested in wildlife – at all. Or perhaps the seals were just too noisy and smelly to be included in a moody, atmospheric book about small-boat sailing and geopolitical intrigue.


One thought on “‘the vast plain of Holstein, grey and monotonous’

  1. Writing a bit late from the Northleft coast of Yankeeland here (Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, U.S.A.) Ironically, we call the horses Frisians. So in both horse and cattle, we use the reverse nomenclature for German beasts. Hence the joke of two countries separated by a common language.

    Just re-reading the book, I think there’s a point where Davies mentions, off-handedly about going off to look for duck or a seal to shoot. It may be the sole reference to a seal in the whole thing though.


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