It’s not just Germany’s southern regions that are littered with castles. Closer to my original home, there is one of the most romantic settings any writer could wish for their castle adventure.
I haven’t decided yet, where and how I’m going to use Eutin’s splendid castle, but at some point next year I plan to visit again and take lots of pictures as well as notes for a future novel.
Eutin Castle (in German: Eutiner Schloss) is the centre piece of the town Eutin in the north German district of Ostholstein, which is part of the Federal State of Schleswig Holstein (that bit below Denmark).
Surrounded by lakes and rivers, Eutin Castle and it’s adjacent open air theatre are the major tourist draw in this otherwise sleepy little town (dubbed the “rose-town” because of the many rose bushes displayed everywhere).
Together with the castles of Gottorf and Glücksburg, Eutin Castle is regarded as one of the most important courtly secular buildings in Schleswig-Holstein.
The castle served originally as the seat for the mighty prince-bishops of my home town Lübeck, who were forced to select a residence well away from their actual “realm”, because the courageous burghers of my little home town gave them so much grief in their struggle for independence and running a Free Hanseatic City State that the prince-bishops deemed it safer to reside in Eutin instead of Lübeck.
The castle – which is often called a baroque palace – is constructed along a four-winged design, but the origins date back to medieval times (1156). Eventually the Dukes of Oldenburg moved in, when the prince-bishops got kicked out.
Today, after 20 years of extensive restoration and refurbishment, the castle is open to the public during the summer months and houses a museum with a collection of artefacts, tapestries, paintings and a permanent exhibition about the Cape Horne exploration (a former resident was an intrepid traveller to those parts of the world).
Until Frederic August II abdicated in 1918, the castle served as the ducal summer residence. After his abdication, the castle fell into disuse for a long period of time, resulting in some considerable disrepair.
Perhaps the most turbulent times and – from a writer’s point of view richest of times – occurred during and after WWII, when Eutin Castle was transformed into a home for refugees.
Although the town and castle survived both world wars without damage (the area is rural, there’s no industry of any kind and it appears even Hitler’s henchmen couldn’t be bothered with it), at the end of WWII a huge wave of refugees arrived, mainly from areas that are now Poland and from neighbouring Mecklenburg, thousands of displaced people, who had to be housed somewhere in a hurry. To start with several hundred people where crammed into the unoccupied castle, which at that time had only four working toilets – conditions must have been horrendous.
Some 90 people had to share the Knight’s Hall and the refugees had to look after themselves, using the small ovens in the kitchens to cook their meals. The smoke coming from chimneys that hadn’t been swept in a generation damaged the ornate stucco ceilings and can’t have done the furnishings, in particular the tapestries, any good either.
So bad was the situation with regard to lack of housing, the castle had to serve as refugee and displaced persons camp until well into the early 1950s, when the refugees were finally given their own homes. The Knight’s Hall was so badly affected by the years of “abuse” that it wasn’t opened to the public again until 1997, after a full decade of restoration.
The rather unsympathetic renovations and restorations seen today took place from 1986 to 2006 and the castle is mainly used for exhibitions now as well as museum’s space. The IKEA style display cases rather destroy the romantic atmosphere one plunges into upon encountering the exterior of the castle and its beautiful setting. The gardens are splendid example of 18th and 19th century English landscaping craftsmanship.
You can visit a virtual tour of the castle by going to http://www.schloss-eutin.de. Click on Rundgang on the menu, then on the picture of the castle, when it appears. Be patient, it can take up to 30 seconds before the next picture appears and the tour starts in earnest. For more information in English go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eutin_Castle.
The gardens, lake and surroundings all become a magnificent background to the open air performances of famous operas and operettas during the summer months of July and August. The Eutiner Festspiele (Eutin’s Festival) is a much-loved and popular event in the social and cultural calendar of the region and beyond. The music festival is held in memory of a local boy, composer Carl Maria von Weber, and has been held here since 1951.
If you speak enough German to make a booking you can order tickets at http://eutiner-festspiele.de/
For more information on the gorgeous lake district surrounding the castle and town go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gro%C3%9Fer_Eutiner_See where you can see pictures of the Great Lake Eutin (there’s a smaller version of the lake nearby, hence the Great and Small Lake Eutin).
Here are some details of the lake itself:
http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/Gro%C3%9Fer%20Eutiner%20See together with info on cruises:
There is a webcam on the above website that shows the lake, when one clicks on the central picture.
A visitor to the area took these wonderful pictures and published them on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/impressiones/3920805096/; the collection features the castle and grounds, the lake and even a great collage of the landmark buildings that transformed my home town Lübeck to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I’m severely tempted to use the area as a background for a crime novel set in the 1950’s – using local knowledge can work wonders for a piece of writing, even if the events and some of the locations are entirely fictional.
Philip Pullman used his local knowledge of Oxford in the UK to great effect in his trilogy His Dark Materials, while J R R Tolkien used his knowledge of rural England and Wales in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (in Hobbit terms, we’re talking about the Shire), forever planting in our collective memories what a rural idyll should look like.
My apology to fans of Merlin fan fiction, my story will be continued next week…in preparation for Merlin returning to our BBC 1 screens on 6th October at 7.45pm. YAY, can’t wait!
(source of photographs: Wikipedia)