THe Hohenzollern family is like most other European ruling dynasties clouded in mystery. The first actual reference to the Hohenzollern is an obscure reference in a thirteenth century chronicle. This particular fortress which is outside the modern city of Hechingen was constructed around the 1100s. Though not as imposing or breathtaking as Lichtenstein or any of King Ludwig II's castles (like Neuschwanstein), this is still an impressive fortress with an excellent view of the area.
My mom decided not to go with my sister, dad and I. She decided to spend some time with my uncle and Joyce to walk around Mehrstetten and to reacquaint herself with old friends and old times, which, to no surprise, was her main reason for going. We left about 9:00 am and arrived an hour later. Surprisingly, we did not once get lost on our trip there. Up until that point, we were still finding out how to navigate German roads which are not as well marked as roads here are. It provides a challenge but we eventually got used to it, thanks mostly to my excellent sense of navigation (and to Steph's too!). While trying to get a distant photo of the burg (fortress), overhead we heard jets practicing maneuvers. They were F-15 strike eagles. I tried to get a good photo of them by the castle, but I couldn't focus fast enough. Damned auto focus!
We got to the burg. It is only about a 10 minute bus ride up, though you can walk it if you choose. We chose the bus out of consideration for my dad whose foot was really still bothering him. To his credit, he walked in a lot of pain and was quite stoic about it. I probably would have complained incessantly. The burg is layed out with any number of entryways each with its own portcullis, drawbridge. The ingenuity is that each entry way is not above the other one so if an invading army wished to besiege the fortress, their troops would have to wander to the other end of the fortress for the next entryway which would give the defending troops and archers a number of chances to shoot the invaders down. However, an interesting thing was that all of these winding roads winded to the left and not to the right. If you go to most buildings and even homes with winding paths or staircases, they wind to the right. This is obviously a defensive mentality. THe reason most wind right is so that invaders would find it very difficult to bring their shields into play and would have to essentially use their shields in a backhanded motion. Quite peculiar.
There is very little left of the old medieval castle. The only part that remains is the chapel of St. Michael, built in the early 1400s. The towers and courtyards and new chapel was largely the work of Friderich Wilhelm IV, king of Prussia, who, on a journey to Italy, stopped at Hohenzollern to acquaint himself with his old roots and had the castle reconstructed. It does look positively medieval and thus more authentic which is more than I can say for King Ludwig and his idea of medievalism! There are any number of watchtowers and over the last entry way you can spot two soldiers. I have no idea who these two guys are but my guess is that they are perhaps images of Burchard and Wezil von Zollern, knights who may have been the progenitors of the Hohenzollern line from teh Burkhardingers. The name Zollern may have Italic roots. Zolle is plural for zolla which is a turf. Thus Hohenzollern means "high turf" or something to that effect.
The first place we visited on our tour (which was all in German though he did speak very good English as well) was the ancestral hall. To give you perspective, I would call your attention to the movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" where Sirius Black's family is drawn out in an extended family tree in the room. Such was the case here except even more so. The lineage starts with Graf (Count) Friderich and shows the two branches of the Hohenzollern Family which split in the 12th century. Those in red represent the Swabian line who remained in southern German (and who remained CAtholic) and the blue represent the Franconian line (who embraced the Reformation) who later became the kings of Prussia and German Kaisers. It also shows the various connections via marriage to other royal dynasties such as the Hohenstaufens who were the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Hapbsurgs, who were the dukes of Austria and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire from 1387 until the HRE's demise in 1804 by Napoleon, the Badens, a dukal family, the Wurtemburgs, another dukal family as well as many others. Most castles you visit have protective coverings on the floor such as rugs or plastic sheets. Not Hohenzollern. Here we were required to wear slippers over our shoes as we navigated our way through the castle.
We then went to the Count's Hall which is both a banquet hall and ballroom. It resembles the interior of a church and this is no accident. The neo-gothic vaulting and spandrels and the red marble columns are very reminiscent of the church of Saint Chapelle in Paris, which the architect had visited and admired. The place is filled with what look like side chapels, one dedicated to famous Holy Roman Emperors and another to two bishops. The marble in the spandrels is a very deep blue, almost serene. Concerts are still given in this hall. What it would be like to see one there.
We made our way to the library which is not really much of one. THere were no books and it was not a very large room. What is notable about this room is the history of the castle in the frescoes. One of them shows the legend of the "White Lady." According to tradition, the "White Lady" comes to bring food and medicine to the soldiers of the castle as they are besieged, but she brings death to the members of the Hohenzollern family. The legend goes that a certain woman, a countess named Bertha or Kunigunde or even Agnes, was widowed and left with two young children. She fell in love with Albert, the burgrave of Nurenburg, a Hohenzollern and thus of the Franconian line that became the soverigns of Prussia and Germany. This was in 1381. Albert returned her love, but would not speak of marriage, because of "four eyes" that stood in the way. Bertha interpreted this to mean her children from her previous marriage since they would have the inheritance rights to her previous husband's titles and lands. If children were born to Bertha and Albert, those children's rights would supersede. In a madspell like a Medea she killed her two children and wrote to Albert what he had done. Albert had meant his parents (their four eyes) stood in the way of marriage, not her previous husband's children. She went to Rome to do penance, founded a convent where she stayed for the rest of her life doing penance and was later buried beside her children whom she killed. But this woman, who is not a screaming Banchee, comes to announce death to rulers but gives solace to wounded soldiers. Napoleon is even said to have had an encounter with her as he was on his way to Russia in 1812, when almost his entire army was destroyed by the cruel Russian winter. He stayed at a Prussian castle. On his way back to France, with that palace being the only possible place for refuge, he refused and found other quarters.
The parlor area is not a very large area, but is very green in the upholstery on the couches and the curtains. Pictures of the Great Elector, Friderich Wilhelm and the first Prussian King Friderich Wilhelm I adorn the area. Also here, you can see the current descendants of both branches of the Hohenzollern line, the Swabian lives in his castle in Singmaningen, a town not far from Mehrstetten.
Teh bedrooms are very Spartan compared with the lavishness of King Ludwig. They look more like what we would call servant's quarters. But, I guess you go with what works.
The rest of the tour focussed on reception rooms which housed portraits of the important Hohenzollerns, most notably Friderich II Der Grosse. I was intrigued to find that Queen Victoria's granddaughter married into this line and was a great painter. One of her portraits, that of her son and heir to the throne hangs in the room. THe child died at 11.
After the tour, we went into the museum where there were numerous relics of various Prussian monarchs, most notably Friderich. THere you saw medals, his decorations, his swords, suits of armour and even his transverse flute (he was a very good flute player; even J.S. Bach and his son C.P.E. Bach said so). You could also see a replica of the crown of the King of Prussia and imperial crown. There are only replicas left because the place was looted in a burglary in 1956. The originals still have not been recovered.
In 2001, a new discovery was made in the foundations--casemates. These are small caverns which provided shelter for the defenders from military attack. These date from the 1400s which is also the time that the cannon first started to make a consistent appearance on the battlefield. These housed soldiers during the 30 Years WAr which eliminated more than 1/3 of the population of Germany at the time and were quite impregnable. More work has yet to be done.
After the tour, we visited the Christ Chapel which was built by Friderich Wilhelm IV in the late 1800s. Unlike St. Michael Chapel which is CAtholic (the Swabian line remained Catholic), the Franconians became Lutheran and this chapel, which is more impressive than ST. Michael, in my opinion, originally housed the tomb of Friderich II der Grosse, but it has been moved to Potsdam since 1991 since that was where Friderich wanted to be buried. Of course, he wanted to be buried elsewhere where I couldn't see it! Typical!
It was a spectacular castle filled with history and great views. I even got to go up int he tower and took some good aerial shots. LIke I said, I'll get those up and published hopefully fairly soon.
After we got home (we did get lost on the return trip somehow), we didn't do much. Mom had a good time with Emil and Joyce and had managed to do some laundry. WE just hung around the farm for the rest of the day, playing with the dog, Terence. It was a good day.