There was an exhibit and conference on Capri yesterday (Dec. 29, 2015) called “Capri in Postcards.” They had a display of about 3000 cards from 1895-1970. It was all held in an air of nostalgia for the age of pre-digital correspondence, when it took some effort to send a card of some lovely place with a hastily but sincerely scrawled “Thinking of you” on the back. They were of different kinds: a lot of dreamy paintings of the island, cards made from hand-colored negatives from the turn of the century and then, later, real color photos, and then some straight old black & white photos, one of which grabbed my fancy (image right). Maybe it was the name, Zum Kater Hiddigeigei Bierhalle. A German pub (identified on the card as a birreria—think pizzeria but with beer!) on Capri in the late 1800s? Certainly. The island —indeed all of Italy— has always had a special fascination for the Germans and English, not to mention everyone else. The rest of the front of the building reveals text in English, as well: “Afternoon Tea” and “English and American stamps.” The text is in old German handwriting and dated Sept. 14, 1899. “Dearest parents and Fritzerl! 10,000 greetings! On Thursday we're off to Naples. Paulus.”
The pub was opened by Giuseppe and Lucia Morgano in the 1860s on the ground floor of a well-known villa and hotel, Palazzo Ferraro, on the east side of the island on what is now via Matermania; in the mid- and late 1800s the street was called via Hohenzollern (the dynastic name of German royalty until its demise in the wake of WWI). The pub was renamed Zum Kater Hiddigeigei (The Tom-Cat Hiddigeigei) in 1873 and is named after an establishment of the same name (itself, named for a philosophical, poetry-spouting tom-cat) in a novel actually written in 1854 on Capri by a very popular German author of the day, Joseph Victor von Scheffels (1826-1886). It was called The Trumpeter of Säckingen; the plot winds up on Capri in a real hotel, the Hotel Pagano (today, la Palma); it claims to be the first hotel on Capri  and is mentioned in a 1909 English-language Baedeker guide as a "favorite German resort"; the same guide lists Café Hidigeigei [sic] as offering "German beer, groceries, etc.") All things German on Capri, however, went into eclipse when Italy went to war against Austria and her partner Germany in WWI. Street names changed and presumably Hiddigeigei reverted to simply “Palazzo Ferraro,” a hotel. In February of 1920 D.H. Lawrence stayed there and wrote:
very extraneous notes: Songs of Hiddigeigei appeared separately in English in 1917 as part of Charles Dudly Warner's The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. The "songs" are short verses spoken by the philosopher cat on Capri, including such meowsongs asAnd we were then, a stone's throw away, high in the Palazzo Ferraro, opposite the bubbly roof of the little duomo. Strange dark winter morning, with the open sea beyond the roofs, seen through the side window, and the thin line of the lights of Naples twinkling far, far off.Palazzo Ferraro still exists, indeed is high on the list of places to stay on the island of Capri, but it has been gussied up. It no longer looks like a black and white postcard from 1896.
Toward the loggia steals Carmela,—
Fairest of the feline race,—
And she softly pulls my whiskers,
And she gazes in my face;
His view of dogs is roughly
Bays Francesco the Betrayer,
Worst of all his evil race;
And I see my dream dissolving.
Melting in the sky’s embrace.
It is not clear who did the translations. They really are from Scheffel's The Trumpeter of Säckingen, so popular that by the 1920s, it had run through more than 300 printings and been made into an opera and a film. And there really is a German town, Säckingen (today Bad Säckingen). It is in the southwest corner of Germany on the upper Rhine near Basel. It also has an inn called Zum Kater Hiddigeigei.