Sunday, 2 September 2012

castle week: thuringia, morning constitutional or i got 95 problems and...


All over Germany and throughout Europe, there is an over-abundance of spectacular castles, palaces and fortification that are nearly impossible to fully catalogue or visit at a full-modern pace.

The ground that a person can cover on foot, burdened and at a reasonable tempo, in a day’s walk is about six kilometers, and notwithstanding important geological features like the confluence of rivers or a mountain perch, villages, with their associated dominating houses, were measured out at these intervals. Necessarily, one would expect an equal number of administrative buildings—churches and castles. Three examples in neighbouring Thuringia (Thüringen) come in quick succession, though not quite within a six kilometer radius. The Wartburg is certainly one regional—and national, landmark, rising out of the dense wood and overlooking the environs of Eisenach. Since its founding, the castle complex has seen many seminal movements, and a few of the most defining are: the annual contest of minstrels (das Sängerkrieg) that shaped our ideas of courtly life with jesters and a house-bands performing, the confinement of Saint Elizabeth of Thüringen and Hungary, the asylum of Martin Luther after excommunication where he remained steadfast and completed the translation of the Bible into German (after the English, version, only the second translation into a modern language). The histories framed by this building are quite impressive.
Just up the road is the town of Bad Liebenstein, named for an impressive castle ruin perched above the spa community, and nestled in the valley below among other villas and summer homes of the cadet branches of the former ruling families is Schloss Altenstein. This noble idyll also hosted Luther when he initially fled the Diet of Worms before taking refuge in the Wartburg and saw some of the first and significant mingling of the royal houses of Germany and England. Princess Adelheid of Saxony-Meiningen and later Queen of Great Britain (namesake of Adelaide Australia) spent her childhood here.
Still back- tracking with Martin Luther, we come to the great citadel of the city of Erfurt. This fortification with its expansive and intact bastions and ravelins forms one of the largest inland garrisons in Europe. Not hugging a coast and surrounded by the city (though inspired by the megalithic works of the French fort architect and engineer Marquis de Vauban), it is hard to appreciate the scale of this structure. Of course, Erfurt, among many other things, is connected with Luther as his theological alma mater and in whose cathedral he was ordained after seminary. The Benedictine cloister that originally occupied the grounds of Petersburg became, before the defensive bulwarks were built, an important centre of the counter-reformation.