Ludwig's Romantic Castles
Munich, West Germany
Once upon a time there was a king of Bavaria called Ludwig II who lived in a reclusive fantasy world of Wagnerian operas and medieval legend, and occasionally cherished the delusion that he was really France's Louis XIV. Caring nothing for government affairs, he nearly bankruptedSkip to next paragraph
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Finally we headed for our first castle, Sababurg, supposed home of ''Sleeping Beauty.'' Situated a few miles north of Munden, the castle is in the middle of the Reinhardswald, the spiritual location of most of the Grimm tales. Sababurg sits atop a rise, surrounded by rolling acres of oak and beech, its golden stone towers surmounted by blue domed roofs. Today it is a ''Burghotel,'' or castle-hotel, complete with restaurant.
After an excellent lunch we set off to explore the forest and zoological park that surround Sababurg. The 70-acre forest preserve contains many oaks, some of them 600 to 800 years old. These huge, gnarled trees, with their long, reaching branches, have a slightly sinister air. In the Middle Ages, much of Europe was still covered with such thick woods. The forest then was the domain of wild animals and, sometimes, wild men; for the peasants who told the stories that fascinated the Grimms, it held dark secrets.
On our walk the atmosphere of the mysterious trees was tempered by the presence of a score of elderly German women on a nature tour. Probably no people on earth has quite the mystic awe of nature that the Germans have; certainly these sensibly shod and uniformly pot-hatted ladies paid reverent attention to their surroundings. And so, in our fashion, did we, for the dark groves of the forest convincingly evoked the world of Snow White and her devoted dwarfs.
We emerged from the forest preserve and entered the famous Sababurg ''Tierpark,'' the oldest zoological park in the world. Founded in 1571 by Count Wilhelm IV, the Tierpark is contained within a five-kilometer-long stone wall. The wall is four meters high, and something of a marvel in itself. Behind it are herds or flocks of ''prehistoric'' wild horses and cattle, bison, deer, reindeer , wild pigs, and various types of water and forest birds. All of these interesting animals could have been seen by the characters of Grimm, including the reindeer; 12 of the latter were originally sent to Count Wilhelm by the Swedish court, together with a woman to tend the puzzled beasts. We toured the park by miniature train and horse-drawn cart, then set off in the evening dusk for Trendelburg, a castle-hotel in the Reinhardswald. There we would spend the night.
These castle-hotels are well worth knowing about. Their owners have created an organization called ''Gast im Schloss'' (Guest in Castle), which represents over 100 members situated throughout West Germany. The hotels are all genuine castles, hunting lodges, or old inns, and they are usually found in a quaint town, or in a forest, or on top of a commanding hill. Often there is a lake or river nearby. Trendelburg, Gottfried informed us, is a castle on a hilltop. Its owners, the von Stockhausen family, have been connected with the place, on and off, for over 600 years.
We finally reached a little town on the crest of a hill with a sweeping view of the surrounding farms and forests. Lights were already on within the half-timbered houses lining the brief main street. At the top of the hill the road ended: the gate to Trendelburg Castle lay across a narrow footbridge.
We were met at the entrance by some staff and the proprietors themselves: Hans-Ludwig von Stockhausen, his wife, and his son. After the drive Trendelburg's entrance hall was warm and inviting: white plastered walls, a fireplace, and a ceiling veined with dark wood beams high over a polished stone floor. A red-carpeted staircase led up to spacious rooms with antique canopied beds, tall old wardrobes, and tiled modern bathrooms. It was all elegantly comfortable, yet informally friendly in a way regular hotels rarely are. Would Trendelburg's food be as appealing as its decor? I couldn't wait for dinner.