Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Schloss Blankenburg

If the walls of Schloss Blankenburg could talk, they would have quite a story to tell. A story of Europe's oldest noble family, of expropriation, of socialism, of years of uncertainty and of a group of people trying to save the castle these walls form. The story of this castle go all the way back to the middle of the 11th century, when a castle was erected on a hill named Blanker Stein (sheer stone) soon giving its name to the settlement Blankenburg nearby. The Blankenburg was firstly mentioned in 1123 with the suzerainty belonging to the future Holy Roman Emperor Lothar III.
Five years later, Blankenburg was given as a fiefdom to Count Poppo I of Blankenburg, later Count of Regenstein-Blankenburg, of the Reginbodonen noble family. In 1162, Poppo divided his county for his two sons: While Konrad received Burg Regenstein, Siegfried received Blankenburg. Already in 1137, the year of death of Lothar III, the suzerainty had changed to the Guelph family as Heinrich the Proud was married to Lothar's only daughter. In 1182, the fortress of Blankenburg was largely destroyed by the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa. After a peace agreement was reached, it was rebuilt by Siegfried's sons.
Around the year 1500 and despite being in debt, Count Ulrich IX demolished the Eastern wing and had a more modern castle built. This more modern castle as well as the older part burned down in the night of November 19, 1545. Legend has it that the person responsible for the heating of the castle burned it down after being bribed by Baptists with gold. Count Ulrich X's wife, née Countess Magdalena of Stolberg, died in the fire. The castle was rebuilt in Renaissance style a short while later. In 1599, the Counts of Regenstein-Blankenburg died out in male line and the castle fell back into the possession of the Guelphs.
They used it as a hunting lodge before Duke Ludwig Rudolf received it as an apanage, as was customary for non-reigning members of the family, in 1690. (If you recall, he was the one who also built the Kleines Schloss Blankenburg.) That same year, Ludwig Rudolf married Princess Luise of Oettingen-Oettingen and they made Blankenburg their residence. The couple had four daughters, among them the future wives of Holy Emperor Karl VI and Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich. In 1705, Ludwig Rudolf commissioned the conversion of Schloss Blankenburg into a Baroque castle. During the time, Blankenburg became a cultural centre of the area.
However, Blankenburg's time as a royal residence ended in 1731, when Ludwig Rudolf's childless brother died, he became the new Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and accordingly moved to Schloss Wolfenbüttel. During the following years, Schloss Blankenburg was largely forgotten by the Guelph court. Its days as a royal residence, however, were not yet over. But first, there came a time as a hunting lodge.
In 1831, Duke Wilhelm saved the castle from slowly falling into ruins when he had much of the interior remodelled. Originally 275 smallish rooms were turned into 150 larger ones, a theatre was added and even German Kaiser Wilhelm II had his own four rooms for hunting trips on the ground floor of the Eastern wing. It was the last Kaiser's daughter, Princess Viktoria Luise, who brought more regular royal life back to Blankenburg.
In 1913, she had married Prince Ernst-August III of Hanover, son of the last crown prince, ending a family dispute between the Guelphs and the Prussian Hohenzollerns after the annexation of the Kingdom of Hanover by the Prussian in 1866. After his wedding, Prince Ernst-August III was allowed to become the Duke of Brunswick, a position left vacant since 1884 when aforementioned Duke Wilhelm, last member of the Brunswick line of the House of Guelph, died. The couple soon made Schloss Blankenburg their second residence. Their only daughter Friederike, future Queen of the Hellenes and mother of Queen Sofia of Spain, was born there in 1917.
The monarchy in Germany ended a year later but Schloss Blankenburg remained a private possession of the Guelph family for almost another thirty years. Starting in 1930, it became the primary residence of Ernst-August and Viktoria Luise and they spent much of World War II at the castle. In 1945, Blankenburg was occupied first by the U.S. army, then by the British. When Blankenburg was about to be occupied by the Soviets, the Guelph family called on their British relations - after all the King of Hanover had been King of Great Britain for 123 years - for help. (Quick historical background: Blankenburg was a British exclave in Soviet-occupied territory and given up when Soviets wouldn't let rations through their territory.)
Before they handed over Blankenburg to the Soviets, the British army transported the furniture and about everything that was movable from the local castle to Schloss Marienburg near Hanover, where it was stored and parts of it sold in the famous auction about ten years ago. When they were finished, Schloss Blankenburg was virtually empty. That same year the Schloss became public property and a school for domestic trade was opened. Despite making a number of changes, they kept up the castle relatively well. It's real downfall came after German reunification.
Starting in 1990, a long period of time without utilisation started - and nobody felt responsible for the upkeep. In 1996, it was sold with the buyer planning to make it the centre of a touristic project with golfing et alii. But that never happened. Schloss Blankenburg soon fell into ruins and vandalism and theft did the rest. As the roofs were leaking and thus water found its way into the walls, dry rot soon followed. However, this wasn't the end of almost 900 years of history.
In 2005, a group of concerned citizens from Blankenburg and beyond founded an association appropriately named Verein Rettung Schloss Blankenburg, society for the rescue of Blankenburg castle. They bought the Schloss for one (!) euro and have since collected a lot of money and filed necessary paperwork for funds to save the castle from its demise. They also open Schloss Blankenburg on special occasions for everyone to visit. And while wandering its rooms certainly doesn't include the most splendorous and pleasant views, it is still up there on my list of favourite castle tours.
We were a small group and already in the first room our guide told us, that he would know enough to bore us for the whole day and beyond - but that he wouldn't tell us anything unless we asked. Thus a nice conversation about the Schloss and history in general started. It might not be what you usually expect when you visit a castle but if you ever get the chance to visit Schloss Blankenburg, do it! It's interesting to see what happens to a castle when people don't care - and what a group of people who care can achieve.

Good to know:
The interior of Schloss Blankenburg is usually open on Saturdays between March and October from 2pm to 4pm as well as on selected other days. You can only enter as part of a guided tour that lasts for about an hour. Admission is 7 euros per adult. For more information, have a look here.

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