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 http://www.schloss-gottorf.de 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: http://www.frommers.com/destinations/schleswig/A26338.html#ixzz29cwzoZXT



Where we come from

Time travel into the future is all very well, but for people who disregard their past and where they come from, travelling in space and time will rarely be a character-forming or mind-altering experience.

Where we come from as writers – physically, emotionally, spiritually and philosophically – determines very much what type of writers we will be and what genre we might be best at – or at the very least enjoy writing in that particular genre.

An urban dweller, who grew up in a vast, sprawling metropolis, might be best placed to write urban fantasy fiction, while a country pumpkin will be more likely to weave nature and village life into the fabric of their stories – or would they?

I was born in the historic city of Lübeck in Northern Germany. A city with so much history – and so many famous literary names to its credit – is a strange place for a child with a writer’s imagination to grow up in. It is often hard as a teenager to see beyond the medieval façade, the walled fortifications, the ancient turrets and half-timbered beauty. When we are young, such a place feels like a stale environment, a prison of sorts.

Small, provincial towns that are still resting on the laurels of their golden days, when the likes of Heinrich and Thomas Mann or Willy Brandt used them as background to their creative output, can turn a young person into a keen observer of the faintly ridiculous…the pretentious teachers with literary ambitions, the rich landlord with political aspirations that would put Heinrich Mann‘s Untertan to shame, the salesman with the dream of building a mansion for his family that could rival those of Thomas Mann’s fictional Buddenbrooks any day.

I feel more comfortable writing about things I know intimately – although there are no limits to my writer’s imagination and no restrictions other than my own laziness to do research. Village life and growing up in antiquated, provincial townships is something that I can write about without thinking.

Oddly, the many years I worked in London, that vast, sprawling metropolis, don’t seem to come into my writing very often. Since I equate London with the unhappiest time of my life, I guess it’s a place I like to forget, despite the fact that there is such rich fodder for writing satire…bearing in mind I worked in magazine publishing and later in advertising sales, both areas that attract some oddballs and eccentrics.

Deutsch: Altstadt von Lübeck

Deutsch: Altstadt von Lübeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where we come from must have considerable influence on our writing, no matter how much we want to create a fantasy world with goblins or spaceships or distant alien planets. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials seem at their best when he describes rural landscapes and isolated figures in them or the Oxford college buildings he knows so well – but he seems less at ease describing urban alien realms or polar bear kingdoms. Some writers, like Colin Dexter or Reginald Hill, simply stick to the place they know best, the place they’ve lived in all or part of their lives.

In my first German language crime novel I’m combining two small towns into one fictional, provincial seaside town in Kent. Writing about what I know best, remembering where I come from, looking forward to where I want to go, meanwhile heading sideways like a crab, then forward and back again like a seagull turning over seashells at the beach…is my very own, unlimited way of travelling in time and space.

The small world of “Mumsgate” is therefore peopled with many of the slightly eccentric characters I’ve encountered over the years, while living in small towns and villages. I’m less interested in police procedure in the years of WWII or indeed the actual solving of the murder; instead, I’m trying to get to the heart of the relationship between my main characters, Inspector Beagle and his trusted Sergeant Beanstalk, and how solving murders in the middle of a world war raging all around them influences their lives and outlook on crime in general.

The fact that this German author is writing about life in provincial England in the 1940s – in the German language – is just further proof that we do have a sense of humour 🙂