Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


30.10.11
  Birds of Prey

A visit to the falcon park near Bad Sachsa in the Harz marked one of the highlights of this weekend's tour. It was the last time before daylight saving changes back and darkness will start too early for longer tours. And it may have been the last day of sunshine and pretty colours before the next storms blow the leaves away.

The falcon park in the Harz (Harzfalkenhof) is a private endeavour founded in 1964. Its aim are the breeding, protection and research of birds of prey.

Yes, I'm very pretty, ain't I?

Olga is an Eurasian eagle owl from Siberia, and she knows that she's big, fluffy, and really cute, though like a true star, she needs some coaxing until she strikes a model pose.

She's showing off again. No self respecting eagle would do that.

The bald eagle opposite her stand was much haughtier. He's well aware of the fact that images of his species have graced more than one coat of arms during history.

Talk about yourself. I like to show off.

Bateleu, also knows as pine eagle, an African sub-species. He's a bit of a clown and I suspect he knows what a camera is.

Will you stop bickering already?

African fish eagle, another high brow bird. *grin* Actually, he did fluff his feathers quite a bit, but he would never admit that.

We're the prettiest and fluffiest here.

More eagle owls. One of the breeding programs involves these, and quite successfully so. Some of the rarer species are bred with the aim of reintroducing them into their natural habitats.

Do you really want to take a pic of me? I'm a bit shy, you know.

Saker falcon. There were several different falcons, but they are rather nervous birds and didn't like it when I got close enough to the wire netting fence to take good shots, so I left them in peace.

That wire netting fence is totally getting in the way of her camera.

Yeah, you don't think that would keep me from catching you, heh. Himalayan vultures. Those are the stars of the park and their best success in breeding; the Harz Falcon Park is the first place in the world to breed them in captivity.

We're hiding in dark corners

Long-eared owls. Most birds are kept in pairs or groups to encourage breeding, and several species of birds of prey, esp. eagles, are monogamous.

There must be a way out

Golden eagle. The cages are not too small for such large birds, btw. Birds of prey don't need to fly as much as song birds and spend a lot of time sitting around. Larger aviaries would tempt them to fly and crash into the netting (some of them have wing spans of several metres). Instead, the birds get regular flying exercises by trained falconers.

No, I'm not a turkey, I'm a turkey vulture - I'll eat your Thanksgiving dinner.

Flight shows are also done for the public - the park needs the money because it doesn't get any government funds - but only during visiting season. It was the last day the park was open and my father and I were the only visitors, so we got lots of time and space to observe the birds, but no show, except for Olga's antics. :)
 


23.10.11
  Birthday Booty

St. Peter played nice this year and gave me another perfect, cold and sunny Sunday - and right at my birthday, too. So my father and I took another trip into Thuringia and looked for interesting things to see (well, I researched in advance and made a plan). The day ended with a nice dinner, but I didn't take photos of that. :)

Göllingen Monastery, westwork seen from the west

The St.Wigbert Monastery in Göllingen was fisrt mentioned in a charte dating to 1005 as daughter house of the Abbey Hersfeld, which makes it one of the oldest monasteries in Thuringia. Not much remains of the place, unfortunately, only the westwork and the crypt. The crypt dates all the way back to about 1005 while the rest of the westwork is from the 12th century.

Göllingen Monastery, crypt

The Benedictine monastery was in use as such until 1606; afterwards the buildings were used for various purposes and most of them detoriated and were dismantled. The geographic situation close to the German border didn't help matters, either. But after the reunion, what was left was restored and can be visited.

Runneburg, palas seen from the bailey

Runneburg Castle was called Castle Weissensee in the Middle Ages. It was commissioned in 1168 by the landgravinne Judith of Thuringia, a half sister of Friedrich Barbarossa, as suitable place to spend some time on her travels from the Wartburg futher south. The orginal buildings were a palas, a five storey keep, walls and a gate house. The palas later got an an additional storey with a great hall like in the Wartburg.

Palas seen from the outside

The castle later came to the Wettinian line of Thuringian landgraves who spent quite a lot of time there and at some point changed the interior layout of the palas. The castle was always in use even after the nobles prefered to build residences instead of draughty towers; for some time it housed members of the local government and after WW2, a school. But the buildings had to be closed in teh 1980ies because of their bad state of repair. Since the reunion, attempts are going to on to preserve and restore the castle.

Funkenburg Germanic settlement: watch tower and trench

The last point on the list was another reconstructed Germanic place, this time a fortified settlement, or castle - the seat of a thane, most likely. The Funkenburg has been partly rebuilt on the original site. Excavations had been going on between 1974 - 1980, but the money necessary for the reconstruciton could only be found after the reunion.

Gate with battlements (seen from the inside of the castle)

Today the place is a popular target for school field trips, though it was quiet on this Sunday afternoon. No Roman attack, either. *grin* There is no proof that such attacks ever happened in history, but both Germanic and Roman reenactment groups use the place for meetings and games.

Long house

There were settlements on the Funkenburg between 200 BC and AD 50. Most of the remains found in the area are Germanic (the usual pottery mostly) but some finds point at contacts with Celts and Romans. Those finds are today in various museums in Thuringia.

Storage hut

The castle has an outer and inner bailey, to use the Medieaval terminlogy. According to the post holes, there must have been about 60 huts in the area, plus storage pits, waste pits and such. The largest house - in the inner bailey - measures 8 x 14 metres; the seat of the chief or thane. Occupations involving lots of fire like the bakery and the smithy were located in the outer bailey.

Arminius must have lived in a place much like this.
 


16.10.11
  More Trees and a Lake

It's no longer warm, but the first autumn storms have given way to some sunny days, and so we packed warm jackets and went landscape and history hunting again, for posts on cold winter days. :)

First, a spendid Gothic church - we haven't had one for quite some time. The St. Mary Church in Mühlhausen / Thuringia.

St. Mary Church in Mühlhausen, south side

The church was built mostly in the 14th century. It is a five naved hall church with a single main tower (86 metres high) which is a landmark of the town. The interior gives an impression of loftiness typical for the High Gothic style. It also makes for fun interior shots trying to make the pillars look like boles.

St. Mary Church, interior (the southern side naves)

The material used is local travertine, a variant of limestone. It's a good material for those flamboyant decorations at the outside, but it darkens rather fast and doesn't act well to all the nasty stuff in the air these days. The church has been recently renovated.

Next, a deceivingly peaceful looking lake.

Lake at the sacrifical site Oberdorla

Well, it is a peaceful place today, but this was not so some 2500 to 2000 years ago. A depression in the shellbearing limestone became a lake with swampy shores, later silted up and turned into a peat bog. Peat digging as late as the 1940ies led to the development of a new lake so that the place now looks pretty much like 2000 years ago.

A reconstructed 'Germanic' bridge across the lake

But the peat diggers discovered other things than peat, and soon archaeologists took interest in the bones - including human ones -, vessels, weapons and other 2000 year old finds. The place has been used as sacrifical site from the Hallstatt culture in the 6th century BC to the Migration time in the 5th century AD, and sometimes even beyond ("Just don't tell the priest we still go there.").

Another view of the lake because it's so lovely

Today there is a little indoor museum displaying some of the finds at the site, and an open air museum with reconstructed sacrifical sites from the Hallstatt time to the 3rd century AD, with those typical wooden statues, peat and grass altars, burial pits and whatever was the fashion at the time. There is also a reconstructed Germanic village with a long house, storage house, pit houses and an oven.

Reconstructed 3rd century AD German house in the open air museum Oberdorla

The site doesn't seem to have belonged to one particular Germanic tribe (it would have been the Hermunduri who settled in the area) but obviously was a larger meeting place for ritual purposes. Who knows, maybe Arminius has been there.

After his fascinating journey into the past, we went to another National Park, the Hainich.

Tree top walk in the Hainich

The Hainich is situated in the area Eisenach (Wartburg), Mühlhausen, Bad Langensalza, all important places in Thuringia. It encompasses 13,000 hectares of deciduous forest, mostly beech, mixed with ash, oak, maple and a type of linden (tilia cordata). The Hainich has been declared UNESCO World Heritage together with several other deciduous beech forests in Germany, and the Carpathian forests in Slovenia and the Ukraine.

A Roman nightmare - View from the observation tower over the Hainich at sunset

The Hainich has a tourist attraction (besides lots of beautiful hiking tours), a 550 metres long tree top walk. I wasn't sure at first if I'd dare to tackle that one since I'm prone to vertigo, but it turned out the way is so solid that I didn't mind being between 13 and 21 metres above ground. I even dared to look down. It is a fascinating perspective of a forest you don't get otherwise - and the trees are even larger from eye to eye than they seem from below.

Part of the walk seen from below

The viewing tower is even higher, 41 metres, and gives a splendid view of the surroundings. We went there shortly before sunset and while the tree tops were tinted in a warm golden shine, the light down between the boles already began to fade and give way to darkness.

Tree top walk seen from the tower

The one problem was getting shots against the low sun without funny reflections, I didn't fully succeed, but here's part of the tree top walk seen from the viewing tower. The place had been pretty busy during the day since it's only open when weather permits, but that late most people were gone. Which I like better, lol
 


12.10.11
  A Trace of Fall

Before the first autumn storms set in this week, summer gave us a last farewell with warm and sunny days, though the lower sun and the hazy air bespoke the fall to come.

Reconstruced Mediaeval houses in Tilleda

No, we don't live in houses like that anymore. It's one of the reconstructed houses in the open air museum Tilleda, once a palatine castle and settlement of the Ottonian emperors. Of the main seat (great hall, church, etc.), only foundations remain, but some houses and the walls and gates of the settlement have been reconstructed.

Sunlight dancing on water

The Sieber vale in the Harz with its brooks and rivulets running towards the Sieber and forming smaller valleys, is one of the beautiful hiking areas somewhat close to where I live (if you count a 40-50 minutes drive close). There is a tinge of gold and red in the leaves alrready that will soon flare up in the colours of an Indian Summer - if the storms don't get the leaves first.

A net of twigs, backlit by the sun

You can often walk those paths without meeting other human beings. Most of them stay closer to civilisation - and that's the people who once used the forests as weapon against the Romans, lol.

A brook in the Sieber valley

I love to walk beside running water, listening to its peaceful gurgling and watching the sun dance on the silvery surface. The smaller brooks often have a playful air, with the water bubbling and splashing over the stones. In summer you can cool your feet as well.

Werra river with limestone cliffs

This water is a bit larger - the Werra river in Thuringia. The dramatic cliffs in the background are shellbearing limestone, carved out by the river during thousands of years.

Another view of the cliffs

The place is called 'Werra's Knee', a bend in the river near town and castle Creuzburg (another castle connected with the landgraves of Thuringia - and another one on my increasing list of Posts to Write If I Can Find the Time - this week I could not, as you see).

Creuzburg Castle in the evening sun

The Creuzburg is an intact (partly reconstructed, of course) castle that today houses a hotel and restaurant. It has a different atmosphere than those splendid ruins so abundant in Germany, but at least it survived by being in use over time.
 


2.10.11
  Two Castles in One - The Brandenburg in Thuringia

I've been making the best of the current Indian Summer while it lasts and used the little spare time to visit some more interesting places. One of the castles I visited together with my father gave me an abundance of photos but not so much information about its history. Brandenburg Castle in Thuringia must have been a large and well fortified place once - its remains are still impressive - but it never played a significant role in history.

View from the eastern keep: East gate (left) with gate house and cistern, remains of the palas (right),
inner curtain wall of the East Castle with the Hexagon Tower in the background

The castle is situated on a mountain at the foothills of the Thuringian Forest, guarding a ford across the Werra river and the road from Hersfeld to Eisenach, one of the important roads in the Middle Ages. The Brandenburg is a double castle which means it consists of two separate castles, one - the Westburg - sitting on a promontory, and the other - the Ostburg (East Castle) - on the peak itself; both are separated by a natural trench and have their own sets of curtain walls, towers and gates. Another gate with fortifications may have been at the foot of the hill, there are some worked stones lying around, and traces of an artificial trench. The other side of the hill facing the Werra river is steeper and didn't require additional fortifications.

Hexagon Tower and curtain wall of the East Castle

One can easily imagine that a double castle like this is more difficult to conquer. It takes a larger army to lay siege to it, there are more walls where the defenders can pour and throw down all sort of interesting things, and if you manage to conquer one castle, there's still another one left. As far as I know, the Brandenburg was never besieged.

(The donjon of the West Castle)

For a long time the castle had been a veritable seat of the Sleeping Beauty with trees growing in its yards and vines covering the tumbling walls. During the time of the German separation, the Brandenburg was in the so-called Sperrzone, an area along the East German border that was forbidden for everyone; even the people living in the villages in that zone needed special permits to get in an out - only in East Germany, of course, from the west you could always get as far as the first fence. Thus the castle was abandoned for 40 years, left to the trees and the birds.

One could always see the towers from afar. Nearby Herleshausen was one of the places where you could cross the border into East Germany (which we never did). 20 years after the reunion only a road sign remains where once were fences and mine fields, and the Brandenburg is accessible for visitors.

We had sometimes been hiking in the area before the family moved to Göttingen, often seeing the death zone and watch towers, but this time we could not for sure remember where exactly the border ran so well has it been ereased. After 20 years, a whole generation has grown up without the sight of those fences and forbidden zones, or the attempt to make one of the GDR soldiers in the towers wave back (I remember one did once, shyly and cautiously when his colleague was looking the other direction; it was a dangerous thing to do for them).

Main keep of the East Castle

The village at the foot of the castle, Lauchröden, is first mentioned in a charte dating to 1019, and in 1144, one Wigger of Wartberg and his brother Gottfried are mentioned as protectors and reeves of said village and its church. Wigger is called comes - count. He held the position of châtelain or burgrave of the nearby Wartburg, seat of the Landgraves of Thuringia, since at least 1138. Because of the family's interests in Lauchröden, it is assumed that they built the first Brandenburg castle, the Westburg around 1140.

View from the West Castle to the East Castle (zoomed in)

A few years later, Wigger of Wartberg held possessions along the Werra, around Eisenach and Gotha in Thuringia, and in Hessia (near Kassel). The family certainly was on the rise. His son Burchardt followed his father as burgrave of the Wartburg.

The East Castle likely was built about 1170, but it took until 1224 for the family to take their name after their main seat and not their hereditary position as châtelains at the court of the landgraves of Thuringia: the 'von Wartberg' became 'von Brandenberg'.

Eastern main gate and cistern, with the palas in the background

I could only find glimpses of the Wartbeg / Brandenberg family in the sources, despite the fact they still were châtelains of the Wartburg and their life often connected with the fate of the landgraves of Thuringia. Count Ludwig I of Wartberg participated in the crusade 1197/98 together with Landgrave Hermann I, but contrary to his lord who died of a fever, Ludwig survived. His successor Ludwig II shared the fate of Landgrave Ludwig IV, they both died during the crusade in 1227, and the position of the burgraves of the Wartbug discontinued. Ludwig's cousin Burchard of Brandenberg survived and returned home.

Remains of the palas of the East Castle

But the family got in financial troubles, like other nobles of their time. They were obliged to keep up a certain lifestyle, represent, donate land and money to churches and sub-vassals and other expensive habits, and not every family had the income to back this up. In 1280, Albert II of Brandenberg sold Brandenburg Castle to Landgrave Albrecht. He rremained the landgrave's counselor, but with their main possession lost, the family also lost the title of 'count' and became mere ministeriales again (a status from which they had risen with Wigger 150 years before). The last time the family Brandenberg is mentioned dates to 1435; they probably died out soon thereafter.

Albrecht II of Thuringia (nicknamed 'the Degenerate') gave the Brandenburg to his son Apitz in 1290 who spent some time in the castle.

Outer and inner gate of the East Castle with curtain wall in the background, seen from the keep

The last time both castles were held by the same family was 1322 - 1359 when the lords of Heringen took them as fief from the landgraves of Thuringia.

After that time, the East Castle changed hands several times until the lords Herda zu Brandenburg held it from 1415 - 1892, after which the line died out and the castle fell back to the Great Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (no, I didn't make that title up). He forbade further dismantling of the castle and instead had it somewhat restored.

The Brandenburg became a tourist attractions in the early 20th century. Picturesque castle ruins were pretty popular then.

Main gate of the West Castle, seen from the bailey

The West Castle came into possession of the Reckrodt family (1440 - 1720). One of their members, Georg of Reckrodt, was a famous mercenary leader in the 16th century. He died on the Brandenburg in 1559. After that time, both castles were no longer inhabited, and were soon used as quarries to build a modern palace in Lauchröden (a fate the Brandenburg shared with most Roman remains and other castles).

The West Castle changed possession a few more times until 1936 when the last owner sold it to the County of Thuringia. He probably didn't want to pay for the upkeep of some uninhabitable ruins; that can get rather expensive.

View from the gate into the east bailey

After the sleeping beauty was woken again in 1989, it needed some thorough restoration to make the place safe for visitors. Between 1990 - 1994 the keep and gate of the West Castle were partially restored, as well as the keep of the East Castle which houses a little museum (which was alas, closed). Some steps and rails were added to make access easier though it's still a bit of a climb to reach both castles.

The Brandenburg is cared for by the Thuringian Castles and Gardens Foundation. Here's another post about the castle.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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