The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times

10 Jun 2018
  Gibraltar of the North - A Virtual Tour through Luxembourg City

The historical centre of Luxemburg lies on a rocky plateau that is surrounded on three sides by the rivers Alzette and Pétrusse which have carved out a forty metres deep valley. A settlement at the Alzette, known as Grund, dates to the 11th century. Today, the town has spread along the rivers and to the hills on the other side of the valley, which in turn is spanned by a number of bridges. That particular situation, together with the fortifications that have been built on and into the rocks during several centuries, earned Luxembourg the nickname 'Gibraltar of the North'. The town is part of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage since 1994.

Luxembourg - a city on different levels

Sightseeing in Luxembourg City means a lot of walking uphill and downhill, either on stairs or steep lanes. There are also two elevators which lead from the valley quarters Grund and Pfaffenthal to the Upper City. The payoff are an abundance of great vistas, esp. when the weather is playing nice - sunny with some interesting cloud formations - like I did when I visited the town.

View from Grund and the Alzette to the Haute Ville

During Roman times, two roads crossed on the plateau; they were protected by a watch tower and a fortelet. The rise of Mediaeval Luxembourg began with Count Siegfried of the Ardennes (whose grandmother Oda of Saxony was a cousin of Otto the Great). He acquired the lands in an exchange treaty with the the abbey of St.Maximin in Trier in 963 and built the first castle, named Lucilinburhuc, the 'little castle'.

The foundations of the first castle

During the following centuries the city expanded westward to the area where the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Grand Ducal Palace are now situated. Duke John the Blind, of Crécy fame (he fought in that battle despite his blindness, and was killed), built a wall around the upper city in 1340, which would remain until the 19th century. It was the time when the dukes of Luxembourg were also Kings of Bohemia and Holy Roman emperors - quite a rise since Count Siegfried first set his foot on that promontory.

The Bock Fortifications

The duchy and town of Luxembourg were often involved in wars due to its strategically importance, and conquered by several other countries: Burgundy, Spain, France, Austria and Prussia. They all left their additions to the fortifications over the centuries - some of those were made by general Vauban whom I mentioned in my post about Strasbourg, during the time of King Louis XIV. (A more detailed post about the history of Luxembourg will follow; I have plenty of photos left.)

Casemates in the Bock Fortifications

The Bock Fortifications at the site of the first castle were added by the Austrians in 1745. Both the Bock and Pétrusse (the latter dating to the Spanish occupation 1640) fortifications are run through with a system of casemates partly cut into the bedrock under the town, serving as refuge space and defense site, with storage rooms and openings for canons. There once had been 23 kilometres of casemates, 14 kilometres are left, and part of those can be visited (the entrance is in the Bock Fortifications).

View from 'the Bock' to Grund and the Corniche (right)

The 'Bock Rock' offers some really pretty views to the districts of Grund and Pfaffenthal. The photo above shows the loveliest of the lower quarters, Grund, and - to the right - the Corniche, the balcony-like structure built above a fortification wall that expanded the natural rock defenses. It is called Europe's longest balcony - a popular place with tourists and Luxemburgians alike.

Pretty houses at the Alzette

The settlement of Grund dates to the 11th century. It was the quarter for craftsmen and manufacturers. Today the situation along the river makes for pretty vistas, but the flooding of the Alzette has long been a problem. The main church in Grund was dedicated to St.Peter who obviously protects from floods (not always successfully, though modern flood management has improved the situation).

Neumünster Abbey, seen from the upper town

The best way to see the entire abbey is from above. The orignal 11th century abbey had been destroyed by the French in the 15th century, but was re-established by Benedictine monks in 1600. It was rebuilt again in the 1680ies after another French attack. After the secularisation, the buildings have been used for various purposes, so as hospital and prison. Today the buildings are used for exhibitions and other cultural purposes.

The old bridge across the Alzette

The bridge over the Alzette with the remains of watch towers and walls with arrow slits is part of the town fortifications that were begun by John the Blind (see above) and continued by his grandson Wenceslaus IV 'the Lazy' of Bohemia, King of Germany. Wenceslaus was dethroned in 1400 by the four Rhenish electors (the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier, and the Count of the Palatinate) because he proved to be useless as king. Well, at least he gave his name to that part of the town fortifications which are called Wenzelsmauer. (Wenceslaus' Wall).

Houses at the Alzette, with the Upper Town in the background

We're leaving Grund (this time by elevator) to take a closer look at the Haute Ville, the Upper Town. Its historical and present centre is the Grand Ducal Palace. The palace is a combination of the old town hall from 1572, built in the style of the Renaissance - interestingly without the usual steeped gable - and the weighing house of the town, dating to 1741. There had not been a ducal palace until 1890, because at first the rulers still lived in the castle and then mostly resided in Prague as Kings of Bohemia. When the House Luxembourg died out in the male line in 1437, town and land were ruled by governors of its various conquerors.

The Grand Ducal Palace

The grand ducal family lives in the castle when they are in town; they also have their offices there, as do some members of the main administration. There are also guest rooms and great halls for official events. The grand duke must have been in residence while I was there, because two guards were parading in front of the palace, instead of one.

Grand Ducal Palace, detail

When King William III (House Orange-Nassau), King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg, died in 1890, his daugher Wilhelmina succeeded him as Queen of the Netherlands, but in Luxembourg, female heritage was only possible when there was no male heir; so the duchy passed to the cadet branch, to Adolphe of Nassau-Weilburg. His son had only daughters, so Charlotte became Grand Duchess. She married Felix of the House Bourbon-Parma and had - among other children - a son, Jean, His son Henri is the present Grand Duke of Luxembourg, of House Nassau-Weilburg in the cognatic, and of House Bourbon-Parma in the agnatic line.

A narrow lane in the upper town

The quarter around the palace and the Fishmarket is the oldest, and the fish market was the first market in town. Already the Roman roads crossed here. The place is just a few steps from the first castle, now the site of the Bock Fortifications. The building space on the plateau is limited, as the narrow lanes demonstrate.

A pretty corner at the Fishmarket

All those wars resulted in a lot of damage; few houses date as far back as the Renaissance; a lot are Neoclassical. The main place, Place Guillaume or Knuedler in Luxembourgish, is a grand sight. Unfortunately, there was the annual Octav Celebration in honour of the Holy Virgin going on, and a lot of carousels and booths had been put up on the place - not good for photographing.

St.Michael's Church, interior

St.Michael is the oldest church in Luxembourg City, situated close to the castle. The first building dates to the 10th century, but various damages led to rebuilding and repairs in a more 'modern' style, therefore the present church, dating mostly to the 16th century, is a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque elements.

The cathedral Notre Dame

The cathedral dates to the late Gothic (1621), with an additional choir in the Neogothic style which was added between the World Wars. The towers date to that time as well.

When Luxembourg was declared a neutral state in 1867, part of the fortifications had to be razed (actually, it should have been all of it, but that proved impossible) and oddly, the church towers as well. Therefore, the town lacked a landmark for many years. The towers of the cathedral are today the 'crown of the old town'. Unfortunately, I could not get inside the church due to the Octav celebrations.

View to the Beck Fortifications and the Pétrusse Valley

We go back to the still impressive fortifications. The Beck Fortifications date to the Spanish occupation around 1644. To the left you can see the Place de la Constitution with the Gëlle Fra (the Golden Lady; left) on the huge pillar, and more booths due to the Octav. To the right you can glimpse the Passerelle, the viaduct bridge across the Pétrusse valley connecting the upper town with the station quarter; it dates to 1860.

The Golden Lady was erected after WW1 in commemorial of the fallen. It had been hidden during WW2 and and is now a monument for peace.

Holy Spirit Citadel

The Holy Spirit Citadel is situated near the confluence of the Pétrusse into the Alzette, at the entrance to Grund. It is part of Vauban's work (see above). There had been a nunnery on the site since 1234, then still outside the fortifications. It was later included in the walls John the Blind built. I could not figure out when the nunnery was abandoned - likely at the time the bastions were added - but I found out that the remains of the building were dismantled in the 18th century. They obviously had been used as barracks during Vauban's time.

Towers on the Rham Plateau

The Rham-Plateau opposite the 'Bock Rock' had been included in the city walls during the time of King Wenceslaus in the early 15th century (who may have been a lazy king, but not so bad at commissioning walls). The impressive half-towers date to the time of Vauban who built defenses and barracks there in 1684. The towers had been razed, but were recently restored.

The 'Hollow Dent' Tower

The 'Hollow Dent' is a fortification tower that has been only partly razed, giving it the impression of a Mediaeval ruin. The Luxemburgian middle finger to the razing order. ;-)

Clouds over the European Quarter

The Kirchberg had been a little village until the 1960 when new space was needed for buildings of the EC administration. Those developed into the modern tower buildings of the European Court of Justice, the European Commission, the Court of Auditors and the European Investment Bank with their glass facades.

View towards Grund

I'll leave you with a final view over Luxembourg City from a different angle. I hope you liked the little tour.
Hach, herrlich, das jetzt hier bei Dir zu lesen. Da wollte ich irgendwie auch immer noch einmal hin :-)
Liebe Grüße von der Silberdistel
Liebe Silberdistel,
Luxemburg ist auf jeden Fall eine Reise wert.
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.

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All texts and photos (if no other copyright is noted) are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Goettingen, Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Mediaeval Paderborn

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Mediaeval Xanten
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Otto of Northeim
Heinrich the Lion and Otto IV
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The Harzburg and Otto IV

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Origins of the Counts of Hohnstein
The Family Between Welfen and Staufen
A Time of Feuds (14th-15th century)

Kugelsburg (Hessia)
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Troubled Times
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Plesse (Lower Saxony)
Rise and Fall of the Counts of Winzenburg
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The Time of Henry the Lion

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Wartburg (Thuringia)
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The Castle After the Restoration

Collected Posts about Castles

Castles in the Harz Mountains

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Adelebsen Castle: The Keep
Grubenhagen: A Border Castle
Hardeg Castle: The Great Hall
Salzderhelden: A Welfen Seat

Castles at the Weser
Bramburg: River Reivers
Krukenburg: Castle and Chapel
Castle Polle: An Everstein Seat

Castles in Thuringia
Altenstein at the Werra
Castle Normanstein: Introduction
Castle Scharfenstein

Abbeys and Churches

Bursfelde Abbey
The Early History

Helmarshausen Monastery
Remains of the Monastery
The Gospels of Heinrich the Lion

Königslutter Cathedral
The Exterior Decorations

Lippoldsberg Abbey
The Early History
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Walkenried Monastery
From Monastery to Museum

Collected Posts about Churches

Early Mediaeval Churches
Göllingen Monastery: Traces of Byzantine Architecture
Lorsch Abbey: The Carolingian Gate Hall

Churches in the Harz Mountains
Pöhlde Monastery: The Remaining Church
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Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Palatine Seat Tilleda
The Defenses

Viking Settlement Haithabu
Haithabu and the Archaeological Museum Schleswig
The Nydam Ship

Post-Mediaeval Sites
Historical Guns, Coburg Fortress
Vintage Car Museum, Wolfsburg



Roman and Medieaval Chester

The Abbey - Introduction
The Old Gaol

Clifford Tower
The Guild Hall
The Minster - Architecture
Monk Bar Gate and Richard III Museum
Museum Gardens
The Old Town
Along the Ouse River


Malcolm III and the First Battle of Alnwick

Henry II and William of Scotland
Edward I to Edward III

From the Conquest to King John
From Henry III to the Tudors
The Architecture

From the Romans to the Tudors
From the Civil War to the Present
The Architecture



Views from the Castle

The Wallace Monument


A Virtual Tour of the Castle
The Early Stewart Kings
Royal Dower House, and Decline

Guarding the Sound of Mull

An Ancient MacDougall Stronghold
The Wars of Independence
The Campbells Are Coming
Dunstaffnage Chapel

Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle

Abbeys and Churches

Inchcolm Abbey
Arriving at Inchcolm

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Neolithic Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae

Brochs and Cairns
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Introduction

Picts and Dalriatans
Dunadd Hill Fort



Castle and Coast

The Ffwrwm

The Smallest House in Great Britain


The Historical Context
The Architecture

Master James of St.George
The Castle Kitchens

From the Romans to the Victorians

Beginnings unto Bigod
From Edward II to the Tudors
Civil War, Restoration, and Aftermath

The History of the Castle
The Architecture

Llywelyn's Buildings
King Edward's Buildings

The Pleasantest Spot in Wales

Pembroke Pictures
The Caves Under the Castle



To come



The Fram Museum in Oslo

Castles and Fortresses

Arkershus Fortress in Oslo
Akershus at the Time of King Håkon V
Architectural Development

Vardøhus Fortress
Defending the North for Centuries



The Vasa Museum

Historical Landscapes

Gnisvärd Ship Setting



Mediaeval Porvoo



St. Petersburg
Isaac's Cathedral
Smolny Cathedral
Impressions from the The Neva River



The History of Mediaeval Tallinn



The History of Mediaeval Riga


Historical Landscapes

The Curonian Spit
Geology of the Curonian Spit



Gdańsk / Danzig
The History of Mediaeval Gdańsk
Mediaeval and Renaissance Gdańsk

The Old Town
Jewish Kraków - Kazimierz and the Ghetto

Wrocław / Breslau
The Botanical Garden
The Wrocław Dwarfs


Ogrodzieniec Castle
A Virtual Tour
From the First Castle to the Boner Family



Karlovy Vary / Karlsbad
Brief History of the Town

Kutná Hora
The Sedlec Ossuary
Walk through the Town, with St.Barbara's Church



The Old Town

Mediaeval Bruges

Mediaeval Ghent

Roman and Mediaeval Remains



Luxembourg City
A Tour of the Town



A Tour of the Town

Hiking Tours and Cruises


The Baltic Sea Coast
The Flensburg Firth
Rugia - Jasmund Peninsula and Kap Arkona
Rugia - Seaside Ressort Binz
A Tour on the Wakenitz River

Harz National Park
Arboretum (Bad Grund)
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
Ilse Valley and Ilse's Rock
Oderteich Reservoir
Rappbode Reservoir
Views from Harz mountains

Nature Park Meissner-Kaufunger Wald
Hessian Switzerland

Nature Park Solling-Vogler
Forest Pasture - Hutewald Project
The Raised Bog Mecklenbruch

Nature Park Reinhardswald
The Old Forest at the Sababurg

Thuringian Forests
Oberderdorla and Hainich National Park

Rivers and Lakes
The Danube in Spring
Edersee Reservoir
A Rainy Rhine Cruise
The Moselle
Vineyards at Saale and Unstrut
Weser River Ferry
Weser Skywalk

Harz Falcon Park
Ozeaneum Stralsund: The Baltic Sea Life
Ozeaneum Stralsund: The North Sea Life
Red squirrels

Spring in the Botanical Garden Göttingen
Spring at the 'Kiessee' Lake
Spring in the Rossbach Heath (Meissner)
Memories of Summer
Summer Hiking Tours 2016
Autumn in the Meissner
Autumn at Werra and Weser
Winter at the 'Kiessee' Lake
Winter Wonderland - Views from my Balcony

United Kingdom

Mountains and Valleys
West Highland Railway

The East Coast
By Ferry to Newcastle
Highland Mountains - Inverness to John o'Groats
Some Photos from the East Coast

Scottish Sea Shores
Crossing to Mull
Mull - Craignure to Fionnphort
Pentland Firth
Castles Seen from Afar (Dunollie and Kilchurn)
Summer Days in Oban
Summer Nights in Oban

Wild Wales - With Castles
Views of Snowdownia
Views from Castle Battlements

Sea Gulls


The Hurtigruten-Tour / Norway
A Voyage into Winter
Along the Coast of Norway - Light and Darkness
Along the Coast of Norway - North of the Polar Circle

Norway by Train
From Oslo to Bergen
From Trondheim to Oslo

Bearded Seals
Dog Sledding With Huskies
Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord

The Baltic Sea

A Baltic Sea Cruise

The Curonian Spit in Lithuania
Beaches at the Curonian Spit
Geology of the Curonian Spit

Roman History
General Essays

- Germania
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Mediaeval History
General Essays

By Country
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Other Times
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Roman History

General Essays

The Romans at War

Forts and Fortifications
Exercise Halls
Mile Castles and Watch Towers
Soldiers' Living Quarters
Cavalry Barracks

Roman Militaria

Early Imperial Helmets
Late Roman Helmets
The Negau B Helmet

Weapon Finds at Hedemünden
The pilum

Other Equipment
Roman Saddles

Life and Religion

The Mithras Cult
Isis Worship
Curse Tablets and Good Luck Charms

Public Life
Roman Transport - Barges
Roman Transport - Amphorae and Barrels
Roman Water Supply

Roman villae
Villa Urbana Longuich
Villa Rustica Wachenheim

Everyday Life
Bathing Habits
Children's Toys
Face Pots

Miscellaneous Essays

The Legend of Alaric's Burial


Wars and Frontiers

Romans in Germania

Traces of the Pre-Varus Conquest
Roman Camp Hedemünden
New Finds in 2008

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Museum Park at Kalkriese

The Battle at the Harzhorn

Along the Limes
The Cavalry Fort Aalen
Limes Fort Osterburken
Limes Fort Saalburg

Gallia Belgica

The Batavians

The Batavian Rebellion
A Short Introduction


Roman Frontiers in Britain

The Hadrian's Wall
The Fort at Segedunum / Wallsend

Mediaeval History

General Essays

Mediaeval Art and Craft

Mediaeval Art
Carved Monsters
The Choir Screen in the Cathedral of Mainz
The Gospels of Heinrich the Lion
Mediaeval Monster Carvings
The Viking Treasure of Hiddensee

Medieaval Craftmanship
Medical Instruments

Mediaeval Warfare

Mediaeval Weapons

Castles and Fortifications
Dungeons and Oubliettes

Essays about Specific Topics


The History of Feudalism
The Beginnings
Feudalism in the 10th Century

Privileges and Special Relationships
The Privilege of the deditio
A Note on handgenginn maðr

The Hanseatic League

The History of the Hanseatic League
Introduction and Beginnings

Hanesatic Architecture
Examples of Brick Architecture

Goods and Trade
Stockfish Trade

The Order of the Teutonic Knights

Wars and Battles
The Conquest of Danzig
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

The Vikings

Viking Ships
The Nydam Ship



List of Mediaeval German Emperors

Anglo-German Marriage Connections
Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

Kings and Emperors

The Salian Dynasty
King Heinrich IV

House Welf and House Staufen
Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

Princes and Lords

Otto the Quarrelsome of Braunschweig-Göttingen
The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
Otto of Northeim
The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia

Counts and Local Lords
The Marshals of Ebersburg
The Counts of Everstein
The Counts of Hohnstein
The Lords of Plesse
The Counts of Reichenbach
The Counts of Winzenburg

Famous Feuds

Royal Troubles
Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg

Local Feuds
The Lüneburg Succession War
The Thuringian Succession War - Introduction
The Star Wars


Kings of England

King Henry IV
King Henry's Lithuanian Crusade

Normans, Britons, Angevins

Great Fiefs - The Honour of Richmond
The Dukes of Brittany and the Honour of Richmond
The Earldom of Richmond and the Duchy of Brittany

Contested Borders

King Stephen's Troubles with King David of Scots


Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War, Part 1
King David and the Civil War, Part 2

Houses Bruce and Stewart
Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
The Early Stewart Kings

Scottish Nobles and their Quarrels

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding


Welsh Princes

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw


A History of Rebellion
From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Kings of Denmark

House of Knýtlinga
Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

A Time of Feuds

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

(Latvia and Estonia)

Towns of the Hanseatic League

The History of Mediaeval Riga

The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas


The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union


Royal Dynasties

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
King Sigismund and the Hussite Wars

Other Times

Prehistoric Times


Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen


Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society


The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd

Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
(Translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite

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