Deutsch Tagebücher – 5

Shahriar Feroze
Thursday, October 20th, 2016


The writer in front of Hohenzollern Castle

 

From Burg Hohenzollern to Heidelburg

 

A sharp contrast between the two; the first being the former seat of the imperial Hohenzollern dynasty of former princes, electors, kings and emperors to have ruled Germany for centuries while the second being the oldest and the foremost intellectual capital of the country. Shahriar Feroze ends the fifth and the part of his unforgettable travel in the ‘Land of ideas’……

 

The neo-gothic castle rises straight from an exposed crag, rising above the foothills of the Swabian Alps – declaring the forgotten rulers of an era when Germany was yet to evolve as a single nation. The castle is there, decorated with strikingly ornate ceilings and floors, huge oil-portraits, overblown salons stuffed with stained glasses and antique furnishers and many more old family artifacts but its rulers are today history. Such is the irony of a lost kingdom.

 

History of the Hohenzollern dynasty’s rule in Germany have been written and compiled into huge volumes but today’s story is about just one of the many of their castles – Burg Hohenzollern.

 

When it comes to conservation of royalty, preserving castles and glorifying the monarchy none is perhaps as close as the British today, but among the European monarchies the Hohenzollerns were once the mightiest. In brief, after the First World War the Hohenzollern rulers were overthrown and the Weimar Republic was established, thus bringing an end to the German monarchy. Among the two divided medieval lineage, Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia is the current head of the royal Prussian line, while Karl Friedrich, Prince of Hohenzollern is the head of the princely Swabian line. Well, that’s all this writer knows and nothing much.

 

Get inside the castle in a clear sunny day; you’ll be blessed with jaw dropping 360 degrees aerial views over the Swabian Alps. Today, the castle is a museum drawing over 300, 000 thousand visitors annually, but its hidden gem is the collection of rare and priceless personal belongings of a ruling house, through which you take a close glimpse inside the lost world of Europe’s classical and late antiquity periods; how the various parts of Germany was ruled until it became a unified nation in 1871, and of course how heritage is maintained with utmost precision or if i might say with Prussian precision.

 

Experiences on visiting a castle can be described in many ways; my way of touring them has been somewhat complex. I had been to a maximum number of only 15 castles of different sizes, ruled by various nobilities. Some of them were fascinating, while some of them appeared dull; some had a grander history to the other, some are in ruins while some became exclusive private property, but the fascinating element in almost all of them is – they all come with different architectures, legends and tales. It’s right here where historical past and importance of Burg Hohenzollern, to me actually beats – all the rage Neuschwanstein. The latter was opened to the public barely seven weeks after the death of King Ludwig II in 1886, but the former wasn’t opened till after the second half of the last century. Compared to the whimsical king Ludwig, the rulers of Hohenzollern were more focused in terms of ruling vast territories while fighting battles to establish their supremacy. However, the irony today, it is Ludwig’s castle, that has become the ultimate symbol to portray the charms of German castles. Consult any travel guide on Germany, Neuschwanstein is there. Also it’s the most overrated one.

 

Through the guided tour show the staterooms at the Hohenzollern Castle becomes more than animate, the ancestral seat of the dynasty produced Prussian Kings and German Emperors. Here history, anecdotes and stories, referring to the lives of Majesties and Highnesses are all blended with a curious appeal. An absolute highlight in it is the castle Treasury. The display of valuable art-historical items clearly speaks more than just opulent lifestyles of the German monarchy, and to me, they together voices the strengths and bravado of classical German elitism.

 

Whatever, since a museum is about display of history and rarity, and if any of you somehow end up here, don’t forget to follow the precious silversmith works and china along with the snuff boxes of Frederick the Great, his original garment with the legendary bullet hole, and of course  the most impressive exhibit – the Prussian Royal crown.

 

The open air restaurant will ensure that you’re gastronomical and beer needs are properly taken care of, though at a much higher price.

 

Lastly, if you hadn’t personal moments of walking around here or in any castle in Germany, you wouldn’t be able to measure the depths of your thoughts and imaginations. If this traveler wasn’t running short of time he would have spent months discovering the tales of kingdoms and myths.

 

With the last day approaching fast for this traveller, he now had less than half a day for completing his trip to Heidelberg. A three hours drive through the autobahns will take him there for an evening of fireworks display. But sometimes the real fun in travelling is actually the travel itself than travelling in the destined place. This becomes true; at least within the Baden-Württemberg and the greater Bavarian regions of southern Germany till you reach the footsteps of Berchtesgaden in far south-east.

 

Driving past the numerable locations from one place to another, you actually pass through more than just scenic attractions – sometimes the charms are gothic or medieval, sometimes it’s the frequently changing landscapes ranging from the black forest, the Alps, and the many rivers like the Danube, Rhine and to Rhone, and yes some times its their fast and glitzy cars which makes you wonder – ‘how much the Germans spend on their cars on average and what’s their speed limit in the highways.’

 

Three hours went by fast and the university town of Heidelberg stood in the river Neckar in awe. Considered as the relic of the period of Romanticism, Heidelberg has been labeled a “Romantic town” too, attracting millions of visitors every year. Walking along the baroque Altstadt, i saw scores of students with mini backpacks on cycles, thirst for going to college had returned in me. However, this traveller was here for the night’s fireworks exhibition and not studies. Beautiful riverside setting and evocative half-ruined hilltop castle gives the city the typical traditional feel. The narrow cobbled streets with lamps with glassed-window shops on both sides again takes you back at least another hundred years back.  Notably, Heidelberg’s rich literary history, along with its thriving contemporary scene involving authors, translators, publishing houses, bookshops, libraries, festivals and events, saw it named a UNESCO City of Literature couple of years back.

 

By the hour as night approached, crowds began to appear on both sides of the river. The clock struck 11 and Heidelberg sprang to life with sudden boom-booms over the river Neckar. It had begun with the suspense of the ruined castle seen being like in flames from a distance and then it goes……

 

One might simply ask, what’s so spectacular in a fireworks display since so many big scale events today are being held all across the globe so regularly.

 

Held three times a year, the event not only attracts the Heidelbergers but people from the entire region including people from other parts of the world. It has become such a hit in recent times that the New York Times has included the Heidelberg fireworks in its list of recommended events worldwide.

 

Half of the thrill is experiencing it on the river Neckar while the other half is to relate it with pure history.

 

Few other cities offer such enchanting nocturnal entertainment every June, July and September. The show begins as mentioned – Heidelberg Castle is being slowly burning in red light by the Bengal fire, as if recalling its long and troubled history – it then bursts into flame. History comes to life as the illumination recalls the years 1689 and 1693, when the troops of Louis XIV, the French ‘Sun King,’ put the city to the torch and left the castle as a ruin that is famous throughout the world today.

 

After some minutes, the reddish glowing flames of the castle gradually fades, and the second part of the show begins: a spectacular firework over the River Neckar. This recalls an incident that occurred long before the castle was reduced to a ruin: when the Elector-Palatine, Friedrich V, first brought his newlywed bride, Elizabeth Stuart (daughter of James I of England), back to Heidelberg in 1613, he arranged for her to be greeted with a sumptuous fireworks display. He thus established a tradition that has continued right up to the present day. In 2013 the event celebrated its 400th anniversary.

 

What a simple but innovative technique for establishing a tradition with such important historical links. It may not be an official festival, but at least three times a year, it serves not only the purposes of a festival but unites all people of the region under one umbrella.

 

The best views of the Castle’s fire-like glow can be viewed from the right (north) bank of the River Neckar.  Views of the illumination are also offered by ships of the Weisse Flotte and the Solar-powered ship “Neckarsonne” (local ships), as well as from the Old City and the castle itself.

 

Joys of such unforgettable trips are usually short-lived, so i advice my readers to live every moment of every journey, so not to regret on missed opportunities. Last but never the least, it is often said, a journey is best measured in friends rather than in miles. If you travel in Germany and not make friends then you had perhaps seen a country, but not the people who had built it.

 

However, my life is too short to be sad. In need of a quick nap before boarding the flight, W6 3710, Now you know flight number guess where is this writer heading?

 

The writer is a freelance journalist

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