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.
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.
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 http://www.schloss-gottorf.de for pictures and if you speak German, there’s plenty of stuff on temporary exhibitions held at the Schloss).
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.
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.
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.
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.