The mysterious diary, found by Dr Paul Cleave, gives fascinating insights into the attractions and food enjoyed by Edwardian tourists.

Extraordinary travel journal sheds new light on pre-World War I Germany

An extraordinary travel journal discovered by a University of Exeter academic sheds new light on life in Europe before it was changed forever by World War I.

The mysterious diary, found by Dr Paul Cleave from the University of Exeter Business School, gives fascinating insights into the attractions and food enjoyed by Edwardian tourists, and the behaviour of women in that era.

The journal is written by an unidentified woman who visited Dresden in 1911. She describes in detail her three weeks in the German city, recounting sights, sounds and places – many destroyed by the bombing in 1945, but some still there. It gives unique detail about German, and English, society at the time, popular culture and class and gender divides.

Dr Cleave, a researcher in the history of food and tourism, amazingly came across the book by chance while attending a book sale in Topsham, near Exeter, two years ago. Since then he has tried to retrace the young woman’s steps, travelling to Dresden twice to experience the same activities as her. He has met with local historians and experts to try to understand what Dresden was like in 1911, and why it appealed to the British.

The journal gives no indication of the woman’s name, her family, occupation or where she lived. She does give various clues – she was travelling with a friend called Mary and used one or two German words correctly, suggesting she may have spoken the language in some way.

Dr Cleave, who hopes the journal might eventually be exhibited in a German museum, has been working with the British charity the Dresden Trust, and the Deutsche Britische Gesellschaft, an organisation which works to strengthen Anglo-British relations, in Dresden to revisit places mentioned in the journal. Dresden was very popular with British travellers, and the city even had a “British quarter” - a fashionable area, with an English Church. Its ruins were demolished after the Second World War. There were strong business links between England and Dresden.

Dr Cleave, from the University of Exeter Business School, said: “The huge value of this journal is that the throwaway comments in it give us clues as to how people lived in the past. Perhaps today people might have recorded their holiday diary via Twitter or Instagram, but this young lady used a diary, and wrote down what she did each day in great detail. The museum in Dresden doesn’t have anything from that era, and its value is that it records city life in such a useful way.”

The mysterious author was an adventurous traveller, trying to have as many experiences as she could. She tried the local beer but didn’t like it and switched to hot chocolate instead. She was a regular shopper, church goer and tea drinker. She tries one of Dresden’s first self-service cafes, the Automat, which served a special tea at 5pm each day for ladies, and enjoys a concert by the singer Elena Gerhardt. Visits to the cinema, and the sea lions at the Zoo were recorded as amusing.

The journal author was a big fan of Raphael's painting, the Sistine Madonna in the city’s art gallery, going there several times to look at it. She went to the opera 11 times in three weeks, pasting the tickets into the journal, along with postcards of the singers, paid a visit to the porcelain factory for a tour, and was so intimidated by her glamorous guide that she worried leaving a tip would offend her. She stayed in an apartment, like travellers using Airbnb today. Dr Cleave has been to that building, one of the few addresses from that period to survive later bombings.

The woman bathed in the medical spa-style treatments and mentions attending a dinner hosted by a Baroness to whom she had to curtsey. She also went on a day trip to Saxon Switzerland, a national park in Saxony. She ends her diary by saying: “...and thus ends the time of my life”.

Dr Cleave said: “The lady, whoever she is, has captured an era, a society. Dresden had a reputation for being somewhere ladies went to be finished, to acquire culture, manners and charm and her description really paints a picture of what Dresden was like at the time.”


Date: 13 June 2017