A Postcard from Schloss Gottorf
A few months ago, on a trip to our regular animal park, we went into one of the houses that form a village the park has recreated. With mud walls and straw roofs, each building increasing in sophistication, the houses are there to show visitors how people used to live in this part of the world thousands of years ago. My children love going in and scaring themselves in the gloom, running back out through the cow-skin door before their eyes can adjust and see the herbs hanging in the ‘kitchen’ and the deeply uncomfortable-looking bed. Occasionally we’ll convince them to walk the whole way through, but mostly they go straight for the animal pen, where four greedy goats await anyone industrious enough to pick them grass and feed it, endlessly, through the thatched fence.
One of the buildings has little display cases of tools and clothing people would have used around 3000BC and it was in one of these display cases my daughter first encountered Ötzi, through the form of a reconstructed backpack similar to the type he might have used. Who was Ötzi? How did he die? How do they know? Where did they find him? What did he look like? What’s a mummy? Can we see a mummy? Ötzi became a conversational mainstay in our household. I ordered a book on mummies and she pored over the utterly gruselig photos of preserved corpses. Then, my husband suddenly remembered: there are mummified remains to be seen, here in Schleswig-Holstein. Yes, tucked away in a museum but a forty-minute drive from us, were several shrivelled bodies, thousands of years old. Moorleichen, he said. The part of my brain that stores the remnants of high school history coughed and spluttered. Of course. Bog Bodies.
I have to confess to always associating Bog Bodies with England and Ireland. I had absolutely no idea notable finds had occurred here in northern Germany and just across the border in Denmark (I mean, I also had no idea until I moved up here, that the second largest Viking settlement was a thirty minute drive out of Kiel – I always had the Vikings running around farther north. The things you learn.). As it turns out, the two most famous German discoveries were made in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) and Schleswig-Holstein. While the Girl of the Uchter Moor (Niedersachsen) now rests in Hamburg, Windeby I, discovered in Schleswig-Holstein, rests in the Schloss Gottorf Museum, Schleswig. And that is where, once lockdown lifted, we went.
Schloss Gottorf is one of the few truly Schloss-like places we have up here. We aren’t necessarily riddled with mountain-top palaces and beautifully preserved fortresses like other parts of the country. We have plenty of rather grand estates but just a handful of impressive royal residences, of which Schloss Gottorf, at over 800 years old, is one. Or was one. It started life as the residence of a Bishop, was purchased by a Danish Duke, transferred to a Count, and inherited by King whose family called it home, funding its evolution into a Baroque castle, before being forced out in 1702. During the 19th century, in disrepair and no longer a royal residence, it was used as Prussian and Danish barracks and throughout WW2, was a ‘displaced persons camp’. Between the years 1947 and 1996, it underwent extensive restoration, after which it settled into its new life as a museum.
Visiting with two young children ruled out a particularly extensive museum visit, so we decided to come back another time for the Museum of Art and Cultural History and focus instead on the Archaeological Museum, home of the Moorleichen. The Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages, Death and Beyond and the Guldager Foundation comprise the museum’s permanent exhibitions. The findings, covering 80,000 years of human history, focus largely on how people lived in the area of Schleswig-Holstein. I get a bit of a kick out of anything that digs deep into the area I now call home – I feel like so much of how the world sees Germany is rooted in the southern German culture and history. Up here, history is far more closely entwined with our Danish neighbours and, courtesy of the Angles and the Vikings, England and Scotland.
The nearly six-year-old and, slightly more impressively, the four-year-old made it all the way to the end of the Archaeology Museum, the reward being, finally, clapping eyes on an actual mummy. Corona restrictions meant only one group of four people was allowed at a time – actually, Corona restrictions make most things far more pleasant, really. Reactions were, as to be expected, mixed. Both kids were in equal parts repelled and fascinated. We went through the exhibition solidly, twice. The most famous body is that of Windeby I, originally thought to be a female, but later proven to be male, and now just called The Child of Windeby. Windeby I (who preceded the less well-preserved Windeby II) is one of the best preserved bog bodies found in Germany and lived some time during the Iron Age. It felt so very, very fitting to finally introduce my slightly revolted children to a shrivelled, bronzed body of such historical importance, in our own backyard. Ötzi it may not have been, but it was a moment nevertheless,
Having trawled through history, we were in need of sustenance. My father instilled in me the simple luxury of a good museum or art gallery cafe and so we treated ourselves by paying a visit to Occo, the Konditorei that sits near the water on the museum’s grounds. We needed to fuel up to hit the Baroque gardens behind the Schloss. A cream-filled Frisian Torte was in order. And Pommes because, for pete’s (peat’s?) sake, this is Germany.
The Baroque gardens are a lovely bonus and the perfect spot to walk off four kilograms of cream. They also house the Gottorf Globe, which we didn’t quite make (see earlier part about being there with two small children). We’ll be returning to Schloss Gottorf often, in the future, so we put it on the list of things to get to then. The Gottorf Globe, by the way, is a replication of the first planetarium which Friedrich III commissioned in the 1600s. It’s a huge globe – the world as it was known then mapped on the exterior – which you can sit in and admire the celestial bodies in the night sky, as they would have appeared on night back in the 17th century.
We chose to wander the gardens instead and let the kids stretch their legs without being told not to touch anything every ten seconds. From the very back of the gardens, elevated, the Globe, the pond with the statue of Hercules and, in the distance, the Schloss all stretch out in front of you.
Next time we’ll hit the Museum of Art and Cultural History and the Globe. But I think I’ll be getting another slice of the Frisian Torte … you know, to keep up my energy.
We usually stay home for the summer holidays anyway, saving our days and money for an annual trip to Australia. This year we’re even more pointedly ‘holidaying at home’ what with Corona and all it has brought with it. In an effort to write during a time of my life I have even less time to do so than usual (kids at home more, working at home during an unusual semester) and in an effort to show you a little more of my adopted homeland, I thought I’d write postcards from our adventures this summer.