Merry Christmas to Arthur, Merlin, Gandalf and all the other magical Pranksters

Till Eulenspiegel

Till Eulenspiegel (Photo credit: pipebär)

After watching the utterly amazing, epic and awe-inspiring The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last week, a movie directed by Peter Jackson and filmed in New Zealand, a country made for epic story-telling, I was once again reminded how important location is for writers to set a scene.

Just like Pierrefonds Castle became another character in the BBC’s Merlin series and J K Rowling’s Hogwarts was instrumental in luring us into Harry Potter’s magical world, the various locations Tolkien uses on Bilbo’s journey all signify different stages of the hobbit’s “inner” journey, showing us where young hobbit Bilbo’s at in his development to become a bona fide hero.

The opening sequences of the beautiful “shire”, where the hobbits live, are reminiscent of a brief and blissful time in Tolkien’s childhood. At dream-like Rivendale, where wise elves rule, Bilbo reaches adulthood, realising for the first time, there’s so much more to the world than just the little shire outside his own windows. However, the landscapes soon turn into a nightmarish labyrinth of inhospitable terrain, alternating between mysterious forests, bleak rocky deserts, harsh snow-capped mountain terrain where giants rage against one another and dark caves where cruel orks prowl. In other words, adulthood and the dangers all around us besiege our young hobbit – in Tolkien’s own life the arrival of a senseless world war put an end to the joys of his youth.

The Pinnsee lake near Mölln in Schleswig-Holst...

The Pinnsee lake near Mölln in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It also struck me how great authors can weave history, in particular “legendary” characters, into a tale without disrupting the fantasy world they have created. Merlin may or may not have spun his magic to impress guileless ancient Britons but he became the inspiration for Tolkien’s Gandalf and therefore we no longer care whether or not Merlin really lived.

King Arthur may or may not have fought at Camlin and in the process inspired every heroic sword-fighting battle scene ever written; dwarves may or may not have been famous miners throughout the medieval world, prompting countless tales of underground wealth, but in a carefully crafted fantasy story, real history and invented “historical” figures can blend successfully to draw on our combined cultural references and make us believe that all these legendary figures actually existed.

One such “legendary” character has fascinated me since childhood. On my father’s side of the family, people came from Mecklenburg and the Duchy of Lauenburg in Schleswig Holstein in Germany, where the medieval town of Mölln is another good example of how location and local historic characters make for a brilliant setting for a fantasy novel. The town was founded in the early 12th century and is another one of those medieval towns with a natural moat surrounding it.

Eulenspiegelmuseum Mölln

Eulenspiegelmuseum Mölln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ring-fenced by several small lakes (to whit the States, Schulte, Ziegelsee, Hegesee, Schmalsee, Lütauer See, Drüsensee and Pinnsee) and traversed by the Elbe-Lübeck Canal, Mölln was once part of the famous Old Salt Route, on which salt produced in the salt mines of Lüneburg in Lower-Saxony was transported on horse-drawn carts to the Baltic Sea, namely to the harbour in my home town Lübeck.

While salt may be a cheap ingredient to flavour your chips today, it was once as valuable as gold and any town along the medieval Salt Route was as rich as a Middle Eastern oil state by modern standards. Hence the enormous number of monuments such as vast cathedrals and imposing town halls that can be found in relatively small towns like Mölln. Think Dubai architecture and more oil money than sense and you’ll get the medieval picture.

Although located in the middle of the Duchy of Lauenburg, medieval Mölln was mortgaged to the Free Hanseatic City of Lübeck, which legislated and ruled Mölln from 1359 to 1683 with an iron merchant fist.

However, the town’s most famous inhabitant is not a rich merchant or romantic highway robber attacking carts on the Old Salt Route but lowly Till Eulenspiegel, who wasn’t actually born there, but came to Mölln to “retire” from his duties as court jester, charlatan and medieval prankster.

Deutsch: Braunschweig: Detail des Till Eulensp...

Deutsch: Braunschweig: Detail des Till Eulenspiegel-Brunnens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Till Eulenspiegel reputedly lived in Brunswick (Braunschweig in Germany), before moving to Mölln, where he allegedly died of the plague in 1350. There is no actual proof he existed or even lived in Mölln, but throughout the centuries various documents appeared that related to him and today an entire museum is devoted to the antics of this medieval confidence trickster, juggler, comedian and irresistible charmer.

Till Eulenspiegel Mölln

Till Eulenspiegel Mölln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the town there are several statues commemorating his pranks and colourful life. Here are some Google pictures of the town:

Till’s career as a prankster reputedly flourished in the rich medieval merchant towns of Germany, the Low Countries (Flanders) and France. Today, most historians believe Eulenspiegel was just a literary figure that populated stories in medieval cities like Braunschweig, Cologne, Bremen, Marburg and Rostock – or indeed anywhere, where rich burghers had been the victim of a prankster and felt enraged enough to report such misdeeds to the authorities.

Such pranksters soon entered local folklore and if you can’t remember the name of the chap who pulled wool over your eyes and a purse out of your waistcoat, you might as well call him Eulenspiegel and pass the warning on to your wealthy friends.

Stroll through Mölln and wherever you look, you’ll see Till Eulenspiegel holding up his mirror, reminding us who we pretend to be and who we really are. In Welsh tradition those who master “the word” and can “read” people are deemed to be magicians or sorcerers like Gandalf or Merlin. The modern day equivalent are perhaps genius tricksters like Simon Baker’s The Mentalist, a man who solves crimes by noticing even the tiniest things about people, thus unmasking their real motives and manipulating them into revealing their guilt.

Deutsch: Eulenspiegel

Deutsch: Eulenspiegel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Till Eulenspiegel strikes me as just such a character, someone who knows instinctively where society is going wrong and what makes people tick. Interestingly, like the aforementioned sorcerers, Till uses communication to make fools of his contemporaries, although occasionally he can’t resist employing slapstick humour such as tricking a priest to voluntarily cover his hands with poo or by causing a medieval traffic jam with horse-drawn carts.

Despite historians telling us Till never existed, a gravestone emerged in the itinerary of one Fynes Moryson in 1591 that proclaimed in its epitaph Don’t move this stone, let that be clear – Eulenspiegel’s buried here” in Low German dialect – reminding us that Till is still a force to be reckoned with even after death. Or as Mulder and Scully would say…the truth is out there…and no matter how hard you try to cover up your misdeeds, eventually truth will bite you in the rear and your secrets will be outed.

Till’s practical jokes aimed to expose his contemporaries’ vices such as greed, hypocrisy and folly and in Till’s pranks, literally anything that can go wrong, when people communicate, does go wrong and with spectacularly funny results. Till is a master of communication, and acts as the intrinsic trigger, the unpredictable factor of complication that can throw any communication totally off course. I’ve always loved the list of his pranks that highlight our narrow-minded outlook on the world and show us how this outlook can be subverted and turned up-side-down: he reveals a universal truth to us…

…just like any gifted fantasy author would do.

Deutsch: „Eulenspiegel Gedenkstein“ an der Kir...

Deutsch: „Eulenspiegel Gedenkstein“ an der Kirche Sankt Nicolai in Mölln. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some Eulenspiegel Museum pictures and information on Till and the town of Mölln, where he reputedly died after playing his final prank on the priest who read him his last rights:

If your feet are aching as much as your credit card, perhaps it’s time to leave the shopping to somebody else and take a critical look in the mirror instead; why no adopt the Eulenspiegel view of Christmas and play a prank on your nearest and dearest?

Dear Word Press children, this year our stockings only appear to be empty…for Santa’s blessing us with the gift of “air”!






BBQed Sausages with a Side Order of Brothers Grimm

row of xmas housesFollowing on from my yuletide reminiscence yesterday I thought you might like to learn a little more about St Mary’s of Lübeck (Marienkirche), another of the city’s most recognisable emblems and the host of the fairy-tale forest for several decades.

While the Christmas Market is held by the City Hall and was first mentioned in 1648 in an official document, the fairy-tale forest by St Mary’s church is a 20th century addition to the overall yuletide festivities held in the city.

Constructed between 1250 and 1350, St Mary’s still ranks as Germany’s third largest church and its arrogant spires still look down on the scurrying shoppers and worshippers below, quite safe in the knowledge that no other building outshines them with regard to height or the affection they can command from the city’s inhabitants.

Larger than even than Lübeck Cathedral, St Mary’s plays host to many classical music recitals and has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage central cityscape since the 1980s.

As a Lutheran, protestant church, St Mary’s is quite unadorned inside, lacking the wealth of gold leaf and paintings Catholic churches display in abundance. Its magnificence lies in its architecture: at 38.5 meters (125 ft) St Mary’s boasts the highest brick vault in the world and the church’s towers, including the fetching weather vanes on its spires, measure 124.95 meters (406 ft) and 124.75 meters (405.5 ft) in height – not bad for early medieval builders, don’t you think?

Principle trading routes of the Hanseatic League

Principle trading routes of the Hanseatic League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Situated in what was once the borough that housed the rich merchants of the Hanseatic League, St Mary’s close proximity to the City Hall and the main market square is not an accident.

As a Free City (a status acquired in 1226), Lübeck’s architecture had to reflect the wealth, power and influence of those who were not born with blue blood running through their veins but who’s enterprising spirit had prompted this small town to rise to predominance in Europe simply because of ingenious trade and shipping.

The charming fairy-tale forest I referred to yesterday was photographed by someone who kindly posted his pictures on Flickr:

The medieval market on the main market square by the Rathaus (City Hall) is a favourite of mine. here you’ll get umpteen different kinds of barbequed sausages in all shapes and sizes, find toffee apples and spiced gingerbread hearts, stalls with gorgeous wooden Christmas decorations handcrafted in Bohemia as well as mouth-blown baubles, each and every one a piece of art.

There are stalls selling liquorice, spices and leather goods, sheep’s pelts and warm socks, merchants offering yummy bread rolls filled with smoked delicacies like salmon, eel and halibut (my own particular favourite), stalls selling fresh coconut slices and hand-made jewellery, and if you get cold, why not buy a beaker of spiced, mulled wine with a shot of rum and take up position by one of the fire-cans, where you can defrost your toes and hands by a cheerful log fire?

480px-Église_Sainte-Marie_de_LübeckIf your feet are still cold, you can get hot under your muffler and bobble hat by taking to the dance floor. Medieval music is at hand thanks to students from Lübeck’s very own academy of music. There are zillions more markets with yuletide cheer, just look at the website (available in English) and plan your trip for next year (nearest airport is Hamburg-Lübeck, which is still being used by Ryanair, methinks).

Listing the main markets (English language site) :

Christmas market in St. Mary’s churchyard

28th Nov. – 23rd Dec.

daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.,

Fri./Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Fairy-tale forest in St. Mary’s church courtyard

26th Nov. – 30th Dec.

Mo. – Sat. 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.,

closed 24th and 25th Dec.

450px-Germany_Luebeck_St_Mary_naveThe Maritime Christmas Market is a new thing and I haven’t visited that but it looks amazing. It’s being held in the former maritime district, which is located in the north-west of the historic city centre against the backdrop of St Jacob’s church, the Hogehus and the Seafarer’s Guild building (together they form part of the Koberg district). From the Rivers Trave and Wakenitz cogs used to sail out all over the Baltic and North Sea, trading with Russia, Scandinavia and all the areas that form today’s Baltic States.

xmas turkey and wineMaritime Christmas Market on the Koberg

26th Nov. – 30th Dec.

daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fri./Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.,

Fri. 30th Nov. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. for late-night-shopping

24th Dec. 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., closed 25th Dec.

santa on horseWhen I was little my grandparents occasionally ran a sausage-grilling stall with some friends of theirs to make some extra money. Their stall was not located in the centre of town, but on the main site were all the large fairs are being held, a site that attracts several hundred thousand visitors each year. Should you visit the city and indulge in a few grilled Christmas sausages, spare a thought for the stall holders…it’s freezing cold standing there; while your eyes water thanks to the sausage smoke, your feet are screaming “frostbite, frostbite” all day long.

German Christmas markets are a great way to get a feel what medieval markets must have been like generally. If you’re a writer of medieval mysteries or write for children and plan a time-travelling adventure into the past, you could do worse than visit one of the many yuletide markets held all over Germany at this time of the year.

Who’s minding the Castle Gate?

Holstengate (Holstentor), Lübeck, Germany.

While over on I’m commemorating the anniversary of two famous witch trials and remember the horrible torture witches and sorcerers were subjected to with instruments I once saw at the museum in the Holsten Gate in my home town, I thought I should deviate from castles for a bit to discuss walled fortifications on this blog.

The Holsten Gate (initially called the Holstein Tor but later renamed as Holstentor, which reminds everyone of lager and having a good time) is one of only two remaining city gates that were once part of my home town’s walled fortifications.

It marked the western boundary of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck’s ancient centre and together with the moat and natural river barricades formed a formidable defence system for one of medieval Europe’s most powerful and influential cities.

The Gothic red brick construction, which dates back to 1478, is the impressive brother to the Citadel Gate (Burgtor), the only other survivor of relentless modernisation by 19th century reformists. Holstentor is the emblem of the city, appeared on DM 50.00 notes and on EUR 2.00 coins, is the official emblem of the Niederegger marzipan manufacturers, who gave my friend Carmen and me our very first belly ache thanks to over-indulgence, and together with Lübeck’s historic city centre Holstentor has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

Lübeck - Haus der Schiffergesellschaft Interio...

Lübeck – Haus der Schiffergesellschaft Interior (Postcard) (Photo credit: roger4336)

Nearing Christmas, I occasionally get a brief attack of homesickness. One of my most enduring childhood memories revolves around shopping trips with my grandmother into the city centre, my small gloved hand in hers, our breath steaming in the icy cold air and snow falling heavily on our bobble hats and red noses.

Lübeck, inside Holstentor

Lübeck, inside Holstentor (Photo credit: arne.list)

Up by the City Hall we would find Christmas market stalls with toffee apples and spicy almonds, mulled wine and grilled sausages, where we would rest before entering the magical world next door: the Christmas tree “forest”, a long alleyway with pine trees lining either side, which lead to the Children’s Fairy-tale playground.

Here we would marvel at the most charming tableaux of Brother Grimm stories, lovingly recreated with puppets, dolls and teddy bears in display cabinets, kindly donated and sponsored by local companies, and still shown to this day. There are Hänsel und Gretel, der gestiefelte Kater (Puss in Boots), Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) and many more famous fairy tales, as much admired by small kids today as they were more than 40 years ago by me.

The Holstentor in Lübeck at night with Christm...

However, before we got up the icy hill and into the Christmas fair mood, down by the River Trave we would first come across the amazing cheese shop that used to be housed in one of the narrow arcades standing just diagonally opposite from the Holstentor, the lit up gabled houses you see here.

Guns inside Holstentor, Lübeck

Guns inside Holstentor, Lübeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You could smell cheese long before you had reached the shop, for whenever a customer entered or left by the glass door, the strong aroma of Harzer Roller (my grandfather’s favourite cheese – imagine a cross between unwashed socks and the way your outdoor dustbin smells after a hot summer’s day), of Stilton, of Edam and Gouda, of Cheddar and Brie would engulf you and make you either wretch or sneeze.

When I think of the Holstentor its image is invariably accompanied by the scent of cheese.

Images of the Holstentor are in my blood; when I think of citadels, the Holstentor rises up before my mind’s eye and how it seems to protect the city to this day, despite being a “leaning tower” that’s sinking a little every year, despite being surrounded by modern traffic and tourists with cameras and gleaming shop windows and hotels and aeroplanes flying above is turrets and pigeons mocking its cannons with their poo.

To say you were born in Lübeck and not having visited the Holstentor is like being from Paris and not knowing where and what the Eiffel tower is. Its solidity, its blatant statement of wealth and power, of merchant respectability and provincial uppity noses in the air, make the Holstentor the very essence of what walled fortifications stood for, why they were built to surround citadels and the settlements that sprang up around European castles.

Frankly, Holstentor, you couldn’t be more imposing if you carried Thor on your shoulders and had Zeus by your side!

The Wiki page can give you a potted history, but this site is also quite useful and available in English:

The Holstentor in Lübeck, Germany.

The Holstentor in Lübeck, Germany. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should you visit the city, the Holstentor and Burgtor, do not leave without popping into the Schiffergesellschaft, a historic pub-cum-restaurant. It may be a little expensive and touristy, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a pub with more atmosphere or such amazing models of ships, which dangle from the ceiling and pretty much tell the history of Hanseatic League merchant fleets. Great inspiration for writing a pirate story for children!

Burgtor Gate in Lubeck, Germany. Originally bu...

Burgtor Gate in Lubeck, Germany. Originally built in the 1400s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can find out a little more here (available in English) –


Homely Northern Castles (Part 4)

Nydam Boat, Gottorp Castle, Sleswig

Nydam Boat, Gottorp Castle, Sleswig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No tour of homely Northern Castles would be complete without Schloss Gottorf located in my native Federal State of Schleswig Holstein in Germany.

It’s not a castle I’d use for the setting of one of my children’s books as it is too “new”, but Castle Gottorp as it is called in Low German is important for different reasons than its architecture and splendid interior.

Just like a person (it’s the inside that counts, not the gorgeous exterior) Castle Gottorp or Schloss Gottorf in the small town of Schleswig is a character with hidden depths. It is home to some of Germany’s most valuable historic collections and adjacent to one of Northern Europe’s most important archaeological sites.

English: View of the southern wing of Gottorp ...

English: View of the southern wing of Gottorp Castle, Schleswig, Germany Deutsch: Blick auf den Südflügel von Schloss Gottorf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Built originally as the ancestral home of the Holstein-Gottorp branch of the House of Oldenburg, a bunch of local aristos, the castle sits just 40 km from the rough Baltic Sea coast on an island in the Schlei, a river-cum-firth-cum-estuary of outstanding natural beauty.

The estate sprung to life in 1160 as home and imposing residence of Bishop Occo of Schleswig, another one of those all powerful bishops that couldn’t possibly live in a hovel like a good Christian , medieval monk-boy should have done at the time.

In 1268 the Danish Duke of Schleswig bought the whole estate but in 1340 the estate changed hands again, when Count of Holstein at Rendsburg acquired it (a member of the House of Schauenburg, another aristo branch hanging out by the Baltic Sea’s stormy coast, must be the lovely white sandy beaches that lure them there, I reckon. Perhaps somebody should have told them it’s always freezing cold up in Schleswig).

Eventually, after several generations and through inheritance the estate fell into the hands of Christian I of Denmark, who was the first Danish monarch to head the House of Oldenburg in 1459.

Nicodemus Tessin d.y. (1654-1728)

Nicodemus Tessin d.y. (1654-1728) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the centuries the estate was enlarged and altered until it finally became the Gottorp we know today. Construction on the castle as seen today did not start until 1697 and the whole complex was finally completed in 1703 under the watchful eye of famous architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (one of my favourite names…Nicodemus…perfect for a children’s mystery or horror story…also the name of Marian’s cat in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Kevin Costner movie).

Like so many castles in Northern Germany, Castle Gottorf served as home to refugees and displaced persons for a number of years after WWII.

Just like Schloss Eutin (see earlier post), the restoration needed was considerable after such “misuse” and the works were not deemed complete until 1996, when the State Art and Cultural History Museum and the State Archaeological Museum moved in (see for pictures and if you speak German, there’s plenty of stuff on temporary exhibitions held at the Schloss).

Deutsch: Schloß Gottorf in Schleswig

I feel after 800 years of various uses the castle has finally found its calling: its museums are superb and offer great insight into the early dwellers of the region – particularly, as Castle Gottorp is THE place to go, when researching Vikings – important for my Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove novel as well as for Willow’s new adventure, which will still have Viking-related plot twists and turns, despite the fact that it’s partly set in the south of Germany, in the town of Würzburg, which couldn’t be less Viking and Nordic, if you showered it with Pretzel and Sauerkraut and shouted “Skol”.

Haithabu (known as Hedeby in English), located near the castle and island, is an amazing place. Once it was the largest trading post in the “south” for Scandinavian Vikings.

Map of Schloss Gottorf

Map of Schloss Gottorf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The many archaeological finds displayed in the castle museum and the separate Haithabu-exhibition show a lively and huge merchant settlement with “all the trimmings”, including walled fortifications. Over the last few years the museum has expanded its exhibits considerably, and now there are 7 Viking houses and a jetty, where visitors can experience what it must have been like to be part of this important community.

English: Iron axes and shield bosses from Nyda...

English: Iron axes and shield bosses from Nydam Mose, at Museum Schloss Gottorf, Schleswig, Germany Deutsch: Eiserne Axtköpfe und Schildbuckel aus dem Moorfund aus dem Nydam-Moor, im Archäologischen Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf, Schleswig (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Denmark_0396 - Gottorp Celestial Glope,

Denmark_0396 – Gottorp Celestial Glope, (Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis))

Thanks to the Viking museum and the many finds that document what life was like 1,000 years ago in Northern Europe, Castle Gottorp ranks as one of Germany’s most important museums. While the site itself is inspiration for perhaps a dark age island adventure aimed at older children, the finds within the Haithabu museum offer a huge amount of inspiration for any number of stories – for children of all ages as well as for adult literature.

Viking Knit Bracelet

Viking Knit Bracelet (Photo credit: musicanys)

If you like writing medieval mysteries a la Ellis Peter’s Cadfael novels or Umberto Ecco’s The Name of the Rose, this is the place to come for research. The Viking corpses found in the local moors alone are worth a visit by any writer interested in historical fiction and a taste for the macabre!

The settlement at Haithabu was mentioned as a “very large town at the outer most end of the world’s ocean” by the Arabic chronicler Ibrahim ibn Ahmed At-Tartûschi in around 965, when he wrote about his northern travels. This one sentence sends shivers down my writer’s spine and I want to sit down and start a story in which Kirk Douglas type Vikings battle it out with sea monsters a la Jules Verne.

From Haithabu the Vikings traded with far flung places like Russia and Mongolia and with virtually all of western Europe. From here they established trade routes that centuries later were still in place, when Hanseatic League merchants hopped on board their ships from my home town Lübeck and set sail for Bergen, Riga and St. Petersburg.

Deutsch: Orgel in Schloss Gottorf

Deutsch: Orgel in Schloss Gottorf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Read more:

Homely northern Castles (Part 1)

View from the castle square to the main facade...

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).

Schlossmuseum Eutin

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).

Eutin Schloss 2

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.

Ineke posing in front of stuffed horses in the...

Ineke posing in front of stuffed horses in the Knight’s Hall (Photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer)

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.

Eutiner Schloss, Hof

You can visit a virtual tour of the castle by going to 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

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.

Eutin, Torturm

If you speak enough German to make a booking you can order tickets at

For more information on the gorgeous lake district surrounding the castle and town go to 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: 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:; 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.

Eutiner Schloss. Blick über den Großen Eutiner...

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)

Life is a Journey: the Places we visit are not accidental

Whether you are Doctor Who and engaged in time travelling adventures or just a plain, earth bound foot soldier like me, the places we end up spending time at are not chosen at random or even by our own “free will”.

Life is a journey, somebody once said, and the places and people we come across along the way are not thrown into our path by accident. Our lives go through several stages and at each stage we find ourselves exactly where we are meant to be with the kind of people we are supposed to be with at that precise moment in time.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my brush with cancer, it is that all things happen for a reason. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, I wouldn’t have quit my boring job and become a full time writer. If I hadn’t moved to Wales, I would never have met the real Willow and her Mum, both of whom I regard as the granddaughter and daughter I’ve longed to have all my adult life. If I didn’t blog on WordPress, I’d never have “met” my virtual and very real friend Michelle Barber (author of Will Blyton and the Stinking Shadow; proud owner of Mildred the Cat, dominatrix at the LoonyLiterature Laboratory)

I’ve lived at many different places, which prior to cancer I regarded as insignificant stop overs. It wasn’t until I got to Cardiff – and later to Leipzig – that I felt a sense of home coming. Our homes are so important to us that they gives us roots to settle down and be content as well as wings to spread and fly off into the world, because the happiness we experienced in our homes gave us the confidence to brave the unknown.

Be there dragons, pirates, sea monsters or mischievous fairies, having our roots hooked firmly into a place that anchors us physically and emotionally gives us strength to cope with whatever might come along. When we lack happiness at home, we feel lost, emotionally and quite literally, unable to settle anywhere for long.

I have come to believe that we “choose” the places and people we come across our life journey not by accident, but by instinct. Somehow deep down inside of us we know that we are very much at the right place at the right time. Stevie Brown and Hamish Fensterlein might be hunting for run-away houses, but deep down they know where their true home lies. Giles Gimingham grew up on the streets but has found his home on the sea, as cabin boy on the ship The Good Intent. Willow the Vampire felt unhappy, alone and abandoned in London, but instinctively knew that Stinkforthshire’s countryside was going to be her real home. Inspector Beagle and his Sergeant Beanstalk would never consider a transfer away from Kentish Mumsgate – for a start, who’d look after Roddy Winters, their elephantine colleague?

As I’m working my way through the research for my various WIP projects, I am reminded of all the places that I have lived at, all of which are in one way or another contributing to my writing. If some people I’ve met along the way are occasionally recognising their own traits of characters in my protagonists, my apology, but I just can’t help it.

You are as integral to my writing as the places I’ve known so well: my home town Lübeck, the small Baltic seaside resort I grew up in, Guildford, where I was happy, London, where I was so miserable I wanted to die, Ramsgate where I discovered I wanted to live, Cardiff, where I found a home and Leipzig, where I intend to end my long journey for good. I needed you all, even if I didn’t love you all.

Lübeck in 1641

Lübeck in 1641 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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