Friday, 6 May 2022

all-seeing or the eyes have it

Though apparently gregarious with most of the village as well, a young peacock—we thought it was a peahen but learned it was young one and the signature plumage and dimorphism does not develop until they reach three years of age—has adopted H and I and roams our yard and roosts in various spots on the balcony and the front stoop, friendly in guest territory but possibly territorial in his own backyard. He belongs to a neighbour and is called Charlie and often appears before the French doors and jarringly at times at the kitchen window sill. Apparently this behaviour in peafowl, congregating before glazed façades, is to examine themselves in the glass, like a mirror. I held up my cell phone display in front of Charlie to reflect back his image and he regarded it with interest, rather than destructive pecking at the screen and my hand. I remember the controversy a few years back over an airline passenger trying to board with their therapy peacock and at the time siding with those who condemned the act as performative and over-the-top but getting a sense of their calm demeanour and engagement, I have come around to the other side in thinking these are legitimate therapy animals, tail-feathers and all. We are looking into getting our own. The collective term for a group of peafowl is an ostentation.

Saturday, 25 December 2021

weiße weihnacht


Friday, 12 November 2021



Thursday, 11 November 2021



Saturday, 9 October 2021

burgruine osterburg

Taking advantage of the sunny Autumn weather, we took a drive through the countryside and made the short hike up to the clearing on a summit facing the Kreuzburg to explore the ruins of the hilltop fortress called Osterburg near Bischofheim, a tenth century fortification that was the stuff of legend until its accidental rediscovery in 1897 by a forester, its strategic importance having waned into oblivion as the valley below gained in strength and control of the region’s trade. The aerial shots are courtesy of H’s drone and we enjoyed the impressive vistas all around. 

 One could easily imagine what the grounds might have been like intact and manned. The outpost mysterious and isolated among the peaks, the place was imbued in the last centuries with a few elements of folklore including a lost treasure whose finding would prove redemptive for some souls tethered to castle and keep.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

day-trip: gemünden am main

Taking advantage of the nice weather, H and I took a tour past the outskirts of Bad Kissingen and beyond Hammelburg to explore again the small town at the confluence of four rivers, the Sinn, Saale and Werra all discharging into the River Main—first stopping at the ruins of a hill castle (Höhenburg) above the village of Gössenheim, one of the largest of its kind in Frankonia. 

First erected in the eleventh century for a ministerialis family—that is those ennobled from the ranks of serfdom but yet unfree—in service of the bishopric of Würzburg, later divided between the counts of Rieneck, the dukes of Henneburg and the imperial abbey of Fulda, the hereditary owner’s family branch eventually going extinct. Though surviving the Peasants’ War in the early fifteenth century, the castle lost its strategic importance, efforts forced on holding the waterways and one of the last caretakers, Prince-Bishop Rudolf II von Scherenberg (namesake of our next destination), gifted the lands back to the monastery of Würzburg and established fortress in order to control trade (particularly in wine) and river traffic. 

It was a lot of fun to explore and imagine what it looked like before falling into neglect and disrepair. The aerial shots are courtesy of H’s drone. Gemünden am Main was just a short drive further on and first explored the ruins of the Schrenburg—a customs post, a Zollburg, that dominated the town and commanded view of the river valley below. The remaining curtain wall and bergfried—now a home to bats—hosts open-air theatre in the summer.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

männliches knabenkraut

Though inclined to think of orchids as exotic and delicate breatharians, I was not only delighted to be able to identify a wild, domestic cultivar, the above Orchis macula, early-purple, but also to learn that there are enough varieties here for Germany to have selected a distinct orchid of the year since 1989 (this one honoured in 2009). Like other orchids, it produces no nectar but attracts pollinators through mimicry of adjacent flowers. Named for its suggestive virility of their rooty nethers, Queen Gertrude of Shakespeare’s Hamlet demurs, mentioning, “Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name.”

Sunday, 12 September 2021

bergruine hutsburg

Having lost the trail a couple weeks ago trying to hike up to the ruined donjon, isolated and nearly forgotten though once one of the most imposing fortifications in the area due to its location on the former border between East and West Germany, whilst trying to approach it from the Bavarian side, we ventured up the Hutsburg to see the eponymous fortress from the thüringischer side.
First passing through the ghostly remnants of villages deemed a liability owing to their nearness to the border (previously here and here), we slowly climbed up the mountain and at the wooded summit encountered the tall of the shield wall and foundations, with the sun shining through the otherwise dark forest through the ancient portal.
Though far older than its first documented reference in the early twelfth century (possibly from the four hundreds in some form of fort), I suspect that these runes were a more recent graffito. It was a strategic possession of the counts of Henneberg and degenerated over the years as the power of the family waned to little more than an outpost for slum lords—Raubritter, literal robber barons in the sense of unscrupulous feudal landowners who imposed higher taxes without the approval of a higher authority and expropriation, culminating with the intervention of the king in the fabled execution of a gang of such bandits after a a siege lasting weeks (the subject of a German nursery rhyme:
Ernst war sie eine stoles Feste / doch heute sieht man our noch Reste. Mit Nürnberge Schraubenzeug ward sie gebrochen / Und zweiundviersig Räuber kamen hervorgekrochen. Noch erhobenen Hauptes und voller Stolz, / kürtze man sie gleich um selbiges, was Solls.
Basically, Once a proud Fort, but today only rubble remains / Battered with catapults / forty-two robbers emerged / Hoisted by their own petard) and was passed through the lordship of Tann and Kere.
The bulwark was not to meet its final fate and fall into ruin and disrepair until the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525 (die Bauernkrieg, see also) when the rebellion successfully stormed and took the castle, the Hutsburg being one of the few castles of the Rhön active at the time of its taking, most empty and irrelevant at this point in history and under the administration of a bailiff. Though the victory was not strategically significant, it was important symbolically as overthrowing the trapping and tool of oppression and serfdom.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

armorial bearings

Incorporating heraldic data from Wikimedia Commons (previously) with cartographical coordination from Open Street Maps, we quite liked this developing website from Adnan Smlatić of European Coats of Arms, emblazons and charges that can be filtered and overlain by administrative divisions (see also) and zooming down to the most granular levels of the landed gentry. It’s a pretty cool endeavour and let’s help the creator met their stretch-goal.

Saturday, 7 August 2021


These gemels (from the Latin for pair, like Gemini) marked by foresters to not chop down (there’s some light logging in our woods but done fairly surgically with deference to unusual or aged trees though I wish we could protect them all with apotropaic magic) results from the above natural phenomenon (Anastomose) in which the roots, branches or trunks grow together. Conjoined specimens are colloquially called “husband and wife” or “marriage trees” and were possibly the sites of nuptial ceremonies.

Sunday, 1 August 2021


Graced with half a dozen flitting European peacocks (Tagpfauenauge, Aglais io), H got this flowering shrub Buddleja davidii as a present from his colleagues, commonly known as the summer lilac or simply, appropriately a butterfly-bush.  The ornamental plant is native to Hubei in Central China and named after the European missionaries and botanists Reverend Adam Buddle and Father Armand David who first collected and described it for the West, and just put in the ground. With the fragrance of honey and a rich source of nectar for pollinators, the perennial plant flowers in the summertime for six weeks, thriving in more temperate areas to the extent that this opportunistic and “perfect”—as in botanically being both male and female, self-propagating plant is sometimes classed as a noxious weed. We defer judgement to the butterflies, however.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

zwischenstopp: fladungen

Much like with our last entry about the anchor town of Mellrichstadt to the southeast, we realise that we hadn’t made the time lately to take in the sites of another larger town to the northwest that defines the region’s character in the eigthth century settlement called Fladungen (see previously here, here and here) that from the fourteenth century until modern times was the primary marketplace of the Franconian Rhön. As with many other smaller ducal holdings, with the 1814 Treaty of Paris, Fladungen was absorbed into the Kingdom of Bavaria. The central Altstadt is well preserved and dominated the parish church of Sankt Kilian plus an ensemble of administrative buildings. Along the former border, Fladungen was made a virtual exclave of West Germany, deprived much of its hinterland for agricultural purposes but since reunification, traditional industry has returned. 

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

aconitum napellus

Encountering yet another highly toxic flower in the woods (previously), this example monk’s hood or wolfsbane (Blauer Eisenhut, I think this sort of buttercup is specifically the subspecies Aconitum tauricum, named after Alpine Gaul) is also now cultivated as a garden plant for its complex, scalloped inflorescences and general hardiness returning year after year.
In ancient times, according to Avicenna and other sources, the sap of the plant was used to make poisoned-tipped arrows and spears, and has been used throughout the ages to the present day for dispatching enemies. Even handling the plant can led to organ failure and death—so despite the beauty of the blooms, I can’t understand the appeal of having it in one’s flowerbed (growing them outlawed from the early Middle Ages onward with transgressions subject to capital punishment), and who would have thought the deadliest things in the forest was the flora rather than the fauna.

zwischenstopp: mellrichstadt

While we’ve mentioned the next bigger town numerous times especially in connection with the dying out of the Henneberg line and Count Poppo and go there regularly (see previously here, here and here), we realised that we’ve not dedicated much writing to the place itself, elevated to the status of a city within the Grand Duchy of Würzburg in the thirteenth century and its importance as a seat of learning with a Latin school in medieval times before desecularisation and joining the Kingdom of Bavaria. 

Sunday, 4 July 2021

cap and gloves

A couple of weeks ago, I passed a few fine exemplars of Martagon lilies, which we’ve learned about before, whilst walking through the woods, and slowly as the weather waxes warmer and the ground soaks up all the spring rains, here’s hoping we stay we’ll irrigated to help the forest recover from some punishingly dry years, the lilies are being replaced by another pink perennial, the common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Called Fingerhüte (finger hat or thimble) in German, the flower was named by our botanist friend Leohart Fuchs (see previously) building off the Latin designation with rather fearsome etymological battle surround the above Anglo-Saxon name, arguments back and forth on whether it's a perversion of some other name regarding its toxicity or supposed pharmacological merits since people couldn’t possibly believe that foxes wore such flowers a stockings to muffle their movements whilst hunting—could they? Stemming from folk medicine and herbalist, a compound isolated from the foxglove is used in cardiac therapies but is highly deadly for humans and other animals (like the lily up top) if touched or ingested.

Friday, 2 July 2021

zwischestopp: oberwaldbehrungen

After an running some errands on an overcast day, I decided to take a quick detour and make the time to stop and investigate a village that I often pass but always seemed too rushed or liminally close to visit, just a few kilometres away dominated by a church on a hill above a jumble of Fachwerk houses. 

Among the oldest settlements in the Besengau landscape of the northern reaches of the Rhön (the placename referring to the practise of crafting brooms, Besen, out of birch twigs which outside of harvest season was the area’s primary economy activity) Oberwaldbehrungen has its first document in 795, I learned it was formerly the last village in this region to have no street names (see also). 

Once under the auspices of the bishopric of Würzburg, it was given as a fiefdom to the lords of Tann, an exclave, in 1480—joining neighbouring Urspringen in 1670 as part of the Henneberg holdings, finally being restored to the Kingdom of Bavaria under the provisions of the Congress of Vienna in 1814. I took the long way up to the Dorfkirche on the hill but discovered a quite nice path—despite the weather—through the woods leading back down to the village.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

centaurea nervosa

Though no peonies or poppies (though our late-bloomers might be inspired by these) in the garden just yet, we’ve got quite a nice spread of these thistle-like plants that sprout at the edge of the deck in late spring. Called less charitably knapweed, Flockenblumen or bluets are commonly known as centaury in deference to the centaur Chiron who taught medicinal use of plants to human though Achilles, Aeneas, Asclepius and other Greek heroes. Ranging widely in colour from yellow to purple, the ornamental plant native to the Alps is the source of the colour cornflower blue and is useful alongside agricultural crops as a more appetising food source for insects. The bumblebees and other pollinators absolutely adore them and we are pretty partial to them as well.