mid-December 2019

 

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Wikimedia Commons

Burg Eltz lies in wild country above the Mosel River.

 

A photo essay

A TALE OF TWO GERMAN CASTLES

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

It's been said that Germany has more than 20,000 castles, which has to be a record in Europe. But on reflection it's not hard to believe — until 1871, what is Germany today was not a united country at all, but a mishmash of hundreds of feudal cities, empires, dukedom, kingdoms and church-owned states.

 

 

Each of those entities had to defend itself against hostile neighbors, and the defense solution for 1,000 years or more was a sturdy castle.

 

Two of Germany's most evocative castles have been in private hands for centuries, but welcome visitors today. Come along as we get to know Burg Eltz and Burg Hohenzollern.

 

BURG ELTZ — 850 YEARS OF HISTORY

 


Entry bridge, Burg Eltz, in the Mosel River valley.

 

The castle of Burg Eltz was built 850 years ago, high above the valley of the meandering Mosel River, and has remained in the hands of the same family ever since.

 

Today it is privately owned by a Frankfurt businessman, but in a special arrangement with the German government, it is open to the public. Many experienced travelers call it the finest castle in Europe.

 

Besides being stunningly intact, Burg Eltz is notable for having been largely spared from destruction resulting from attacks over the centuries. Few castles in the Rhine and Mosel valleys can make this claim.

 

Burg Eltz dates back to 1157, when Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, the original Redbeard, deeded land to a nobleman, Rudolf von Eltz. Soon work began on the castle, and several of the structures he had built at that time can be visited today.

 

By the 1200s, a feud developed in the Eltz family. Three brothers had a falling-out, and Burg Eltz was apportioned among them. These brothers developed their castle parts differently, using distinctive styles, and these are evident today in the crowded inner courtyard.

 

Wikimedia Commons

Inner courtyard at Burg Eltz shows distinctive styles.

 

Since 1815, the castle has been in the hands of a single owner, a descendant of one of the Eltz family branches.

 

Guided visits begin in the courtyard, from which several of the castle's eight towers can be seen, some soaring more than 100 feet high. From this vantage point, it's easy to see why 19th century art historian  Georg Dehio called it "the epitome of a castle."

 

The visit includes the castle treasury and armory, with priceless artworks wrought in gold and silver — one of the most important collections of its kind in Europe. Everywhere, furnishings from eight centuries ago can be found in their original surroundings. 

 

One of Burg Eltz's most unusual features can be found in the Knight's Hall, where carved jesters' masks symbolize freedom of speech. In medieval times, jesters were allowed to speak freely to all, even to the duke or king. 


The masks are also a reminder to those who rule not to allow power to go to their heads. 

 

Visitors consistently say the Rodendorf Kitchen is their favorite part of the visit. It dates from the 15th century and has been little changed since that time.


Kitchen at Burg Eltz — little changed in 600 years.

 

 

BURG HOHENZOLLERN — BROTHERS GRIMM
WOULD FEEL RIGHT AT HOME

 

Wikimedia Commons

Burg Hohenzollern tops a nearly 3,000-foot mountain.

 

As Germany's Swabian Alps descend into the valley below, one foothill stands isolated from the rest. Hohenzollern Mountain rises nearly 3,000 feet above sea level, its top crowned by one of Germany's finest castles, a place that would feel right at home in a fairy tale.

 

The Hohenzollern family, who for more than 1,000 years ruled Brandenburg, Prussia and Romania, built the first castle here in the 11th century. After attacks in the 15th century, the magnificent fortress was rebuilt in 1454, and extensively remodeled in 1815.

 

Today, this fortress, Burg Hohenzollern, belongs to the same family as always — the Prussia line of the Hohenzollerns, as represented by Georg Friedrich, prince of Prussia, and his wife Sophie, princess of Prussia

 

Wikimedia Commons

A visit to Burg Hohenzollern includes vaulted passages.

 

The guided tour of Burg Hohenzollern includes visits to two medieval chapels, one Catholic (St. Michael's), the other Protestant (Christ's Chapel). 

 

Wikimedia Commons

St. Michael's Chapel is one of two in the castle.

 

The tour opens the book of German history to view: the gilded crown of Kaiser Wilhelm II; a letter from General George Washington to an 18th century Hohenzollern thanking him for aiding the American Revolution; and a splendid gown worn by Queen Louise of Prussia.

 

Wikimedia Commons

This crown belonged to Prussia's Kaiser Wilhelm II.

 

After your visit, consider a mug at the castle's beer garden, which features some of the most expansive biergarten views in Germany.

                                                                                  

 

ARCHIVED E-NEWSLETTERS 

 

• SEPTEMBER 2019 —  MORE EUROPEAN QUIRKS  

• JULY 2019 —  QUIRKY THINGS AROUND EUROPE 

• MARCH 2019 —  BORROMEAN CATS PART II

• FEBRUARY 2019 —  BORROMEAN CATS PART I

• NOVEMBER 2018 —  THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

• JULY 2018 —  THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

• MAY 2018 —  CURRENCY IN EUROPE 

• DECEMBER 2017 — JUST BACK FROM BASQUE 

• NOVEMBER 2017 — JUST BACK FROM DORDOGNE

• SEPTEMBER 2017 — HOTEL MONEY GRAB

• JULY 2017 — THE LATEST TRAVEL SCAM

• APRIL 2017 — DORDOGNE'S NEW CAVE REPLICA

• FEBRUARY 2017 — BEST OF EUROPE PART II

• JANUARY 2017 — BEST OF EUROPE PART I

• NOVEMBER 2016 — MEDITERRANEAN SPAIN

• OCTOBER 2016 — LANGUEDOC, S. FRANCE
• SEPTEMBER 2016 — SWISS AND FRENCH ALPS

• AUGUST 2016 — PROVENCE, FRANCE

• JUNE 2016 — BURGUNDY AND FRENCH ALPS

 

 

TRAVEL ODDITIES AND
 QUIRKS, EUROPEAN STYLE

Wikimedia Commons

Medieval tower and church steeple, Llivia, Spain.

 

By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France

 

Many years ago, traveling in southern France, my family and I stumbled upon a bizarre town. It was Llivia, Spain, in the Pyrenees Mountains, and it was completely surrounded by French territory.

 

In this pre-euro era, merchants in Llivia preferred Spanish pesetas to French francs, which they accepted only reluctantly.

 

Mere meters beyond Llivia's borders, residents spoke French, conducted their lives according to French customs, and sat down to dinner at 7:30 p.m.

 

Within Llivia, however, Catalan was not only the preferred language, it was the only language. Shopkeepers refused to converse in French or Spanish, and I had to use English, which locals were happy to understand.


Most difficult of all, meals were served on Spanish time — lunch no later than 1 p.m. and 2 o'clock was better, and 10 p.m. dinners were the norm. 


Asking around, we learned that when Louis XIV of France and Philip IV of Spain concluded the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, Spain ceded to France 33 villages in Llivia's valley. Ah, but Llivia had been designated a "villa," not a village, 130 years earlier and so it remained Spanish!

 

Wikimedia Commons

Stone marker shows the frontier — LL means Llivia.

 

At the time of our visit in the late 1970s, Europe's "borderless" treaty did not exist, and travelers to Llivia were supposed to cross the frontier at staffed checkpoints. However ... several roads connected the enclave to France, and the only thing "preventing" unauthorized border crossings were road signs forbidding turning from a French road onto one that led to Llivia.

 

Being ignorant of this nicety, we made the turn and spent an interesting hour in the enclave. No one was the wiser and there was no punishment.

 

Are you curious to know more about this enclave of 7,000 Spaniards entirely within France? Click here.

 

OTHER ENCLAVES AND ODDITIES

 

I have not been fortunate enough to visit, but the queen of odd European enclaves seems to belong in the Netherlands — or is it Belgium?

 

Near where southern Netherlands gives way to northern Belgium lies the Dutch town of Baarle-Nassau, inside of which are situated around 30 shards of Belgian territory, some of which contain even smaller scraps of Dutch territory.

 

That's right — some Belgian enclaves inside the Netherlands surround Dutch enclaves of their own.

 

Wikipedia

The border is clearly marked at this cafe.

 

Understandably, the people of Baarle-Nassau and their Belgian neighbors in what is collectively called Baarle-Hertog have had to figure out a way to get along. They've managed quite well, under difficult circumstances:

 

• Borders are so chaotic that many buildings lie in both countries, creating a tax nightmare.

 

• A couple may sleep in the same bed but be in different countries.

 

• Sewage from Dutch houses may have to flow through Belgium on its way to the treatment plant back in the Netherlands.

 

• Many residents hold both Dutch and Belgian passports, and they all speak the same Dutch language — more or less. It's said you can tell the 
Belgians from the Dutch by listening closely to accents.

 

• Streetlights may be in Belgian territory, paid for by Belgian taxes, but the light benefits Dutch houses across the street.

 

Wikimedia Commons

The Baarles — H = Hertog (Belgium), N = Nassau (Dutch). Note seven Dutch enclaves inside Belgium.

 

 

But with problems come opportunities, right?

 

• Teens denied beer or wine in a Dutch tavern can simply cross the street to Belgium, where it's legal to drink at 16.

 

• With Dutch building practices stricter, a landlord whose property lay athwart the border built a second front door in Belgium and thus was able to create one Dutch apartment and three anchored in Belgium. Apparently the location of the door required the use of that country's building codes, so by adding the door, the landlord gained access to more lenient rules.

 

• A bank was built straddling the border so that paperwork could be moved to the Belgian side, for instance, when Dutch tax inspectors arrived.

 

• Shops divided by the border would acquire goods in one country and sell them in another — a way to avoid those pesky taxes.

 

The Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog mess dates from the Middle Ages, when noble families from both Belgium and Netherlands claimed plots of land that intertwined with each other. When Belgium declared independence from Netherlands in 1831, the Belgian landowners insisted on having their property designated as being in Belgium. Land ownership was so convoluted that it took more than 150 years to sort out who owned what. The last property dispute was settled in 1995.

 

IN GERMANY, FREE SPEECH HAS LIMITS

 

Daniel Schwen - Wikimedia Commons

A German police officer — best to be polite

 

Most of us believe that politeness when dealing with police is a good idea, but Germany takes this advice one serious step further.

 

It's a criminal offense to use informal address when speaking with a police officer — or, technically, any German civil servant.

 

Like the Romance languages but unlike English, the German language includes both formal ("sie") and informal ("du") ways to say "you." Going the informal route with German police could result in a fine of up to €600. That's pretty steep for a grammatical boo-boo.

                                                                                  

 

 

WE'RE ENROLLING FOR 2020

 

Our Intimate France 2020 tours are accepting enrollments, and some are close to filling. See the lineup below or on our website: www.intimatefrance.com

 

If you want to join one of our small groups, early action is advised — as most tours max out at eight travelers, they can fill months in advance or even a year or more. Already, our Burgundy-Alsace (spring 2020) and Languedoc, France (fall 2020) tours are approaching their limits.

 

Charming wine village of Eguisheim, Alsace, France.

 

Burgundy-Alsace, France,
May 3-15, 2020

                                                                                  

 

Overview, Bacharach, on the Rhine River.

 

Romantic Germany,
May 17-29, 2020

                                                                               

 

 

Pilgrimage village of Rocamadour, France

 

Dordogne, France,
Sept. 6-18, 2020

                                                                               

 

After dark, Cité of Carcassonne.

 

Languedoc, France,

Sept. 20-Oct. 2, 2020