What do glass, slate, chocolate, and castles have in common?

Lichtenberg.jpgThe Frankenwald (Franconian Forest) area is positioned in the far north of Bavaria where it meets Saxony and Thuringia. It is an area of beautiful, small mountains (oxymoron?) forested with beech, birch, and firs. Open valleys and farmlands and pleasantly interspersed. It is a place of terrific scenic beauty, fascinating cultural history, and lively and interesting people.  I was able to spend a few days getting a short course in castles, museums, and other attractions of the area which I hope to share a taste of in this posting.

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In this article, we’ll take a brief look at the German-German (Deutsch-Deutsches) Museum, the Lauenstein Confiserie, Bad Steben and its Therme, the European Bottle Glass Museum (Europäisches Flakonglasmuseum), the Slate Museum (Schiefermuseum) at Ludwigsstadt, and visits to four very different castles at Kulmbach, Kronach, Lauenstein, and Lichtenberg.

Other stories to check out from my time in the Frankenwald area include one about rafting near Wallenfels, the beer fairies of Hof, hiking in the Frankenwald, beer culture in the area, and future trips you can join me on.

The following images (captions above the images) give an idea of the cultural wealth of this beautiful area.

….  German-German Museum (Deutsch-Deutsches Museum) – deja-vu … I think I had been here before as a young soldier in 1976 back when there were East German guards in the towers and dogs walking the fence lines. Now it is a fascinating snapshot of something that is starting to fade from the collective consciousness … the partition of Germany for nearly fifty years beginning after 1945.  Hundreds of people attempting to escape to the West were killed along the 850 mile border. Border fortifications included minefields, dogs runs, armed troops, and booby traps.

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Where East German guards once stood:

 

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East German border marker:

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Eastern uniforms:

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Colder times at the museum site — when the wall was manned:

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Piece of the Berlin Wall:

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confiss-shopextra.jpgLauenstein Confiserie – if you like chocolate you would love this place. A beautiful shop in an ancient mill building with an astounding array of chocolate variations over a modern chocolate kitchen that you can observe in action through huge windows. Press a buzzer at the glass window and a worker will bring you your own chocolate and materials to decorate it. Once you are finished, they chill and package it for you to take with.  The company sells there product through fine confectioners far and wide, as well as on their internet site.  In their shop, they offer a huge variety of truffles, chocolates, and other candies.  They are so serious about chocolate here that they even have a “Chocolosophy.”

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….  Pretty weak decorating skills, but I can vouch that it tasted great none-the-less.  Marzipan-filled heart:

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…  liquor-filled truffles are a specialty.  Even though this one is filled with a beer liquor, it is really quite tasty:

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The European Bottle Glass Museum (Europäisches Flakonglasmuseum) — this museum is in the Heinz glass factory, and I think it gets used frequently to orient customers to the 5000 year world history of glassmaking. Glassmaking has been a part of the history of the Frankenwald since the 1600’s and that history is related here as well.  A primary product of Heinz-Glas, family-owned for more than 400 years, are very high end bottles for perfumes and the like. These guys relish challenges as I understand it. Customers can describe any bottle that they can imagine and these guys will figure out how to make it. A highlight is stepping into a catwalk above the ultra-high-tech factory floor — feeling and smelling the incredible heat of the processes.  This would be a great place to be on a chilly day.  Incredible machines chunk out beautiful glass products in the highly automated process.  I wasn’t there at the right time for this, but I understand that once per month glass artisans demonstrate how bottles used to be made before today’s automated processes were developed.

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The Slate Museum (Schiefermuseum) at Ludwigsstadt — this is slate country. Chances are that if are old enough to have had a blackboard at school, that blackboard came from this part of Germany. This small museum is a tribute to and a record of this history.  Equipment used to work with the slate is on display along with a variety of finished products.

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…. I got to try my hand a marking lines on a handheld blackboard:

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…. Slate is used extensively as roofing and siding material on traditional buildings throughout the area.  Artisans created unique architectural artworks on many buildings:

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The town of Bad Steben was my base for exploring the Frankenwald.  It is, by design, a very laid back and relaxing place.  A main activity that people come is for is what is called “Kur” which literally translates as “cure”.  Bad Steben, as a place for Kur offers tranquil public parks, great hiking and walking options, a concentration of medical, health, and wellness establishments, and a “Therme.” The Bad Steben Therme is a sophisticated spa facility with multiple mineral water pools (both indoor and out) at a variety of temperatures, a big variety of therapy rooms and services, several types of sauna facilities, a healthy food venue, shops, etc.  As I understand it, German health insurance has traditionally offered Kur services as a covered benefit although from what people told me that is being eroded away like benefits seem to be everywhere.

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….  The beautiful Kurpark is a central feature in the town.

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….  the Therme is a labyrinthine place with more places to visit than I can count on two hands.  I managed to get in some hot pool, steam room, and sauna time in after an evening hike

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….  I was invited to a summer night event at the Therme facility — man did I feel old!  I wish my 20-something sons could have been there in my place.  A large crowd of young people were enjoying the evening with multiple deejays, cool lighting effects,

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The Frankenwald has a bunch of castles that can be ogled and visited.  I was able to visit multiple castles along the way and they all had their own distinctive character:

…. Plassenberg Castled, dramatically perched high above the city of Kulmbach dates from the 1100’s and was the home of a succession of dukes, counts, and margraves.  It has been beautifully maintained and now houses an extensive set of museums.  Rebuilt after substantial destruction in the 1500’s, the Plassenberg is among the most important Renaissance castles.  We received a tour from one of the staff historians, a knowledgeable young man who knew and seemed to have a key for every shortcut through the castle.  Something about the experience reminded me of the keymaster in the Matrix movie.  The castle surrounds a beautiful interior courtyard that we learned is now a popular venue for musical, cultural, and other events.  This castle is owned and operated by the State of Bavaria.

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Royal relics:

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…. …. This tin soldier diorama of the siege of Kulmbach is huge and impressive.  The galleries in the castle house a number of dioramas and the tin soldier collection is said to number in the hundreds of thousands of figures.

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…. …. “Duke Size” bed and mattress.  Presumably not as large as king size?

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…. ….  Medieval thinking room:

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…. ….  View of Kulmbach city from the castle above:

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…. ….  Rathaus in Kulmbach — the giant beer barrels played a part in the recently completed annual beer festival:

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… … Kulmbach has an inviting pedestrian zone:

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…. Fortress Rosenberg in Kronach is a castle with a very different history.  Dating to the 1200’s, it is Germany’s largest medieval fortress.  Rather than being built as a royal home as was Plessenberg, this castle was built as a military fortification and its walls were never breached or defeated in centuries of existence.  It is also somewhat unusual in that it is owned and maintained by the city of Kronach rather than by the State or Federal government — a point of local pride.  We received a tour from a knowledgeable guide (I regret I can’t remember her name) dressed in period garb.  She led us through passageways in the incredibly thick outer ring of walls and explained the well engineered fortification.  The fortress has multiple rings of thick walls so you start to get an appreciation of why it was never conquered.  The castle is a venue for a variety of events including an annual medieval fair and houses a museum and a youth hostel (another chance to sleep in a castle!)

Our guide presented me with a wooden “Hasenkuh” pendant.  Hasen means rabbit and kuh means cow, so the pendant has a picture of a half rabbit – half cow creature that I am told is a symbol of Kronach.  During an ancient siege of the fortress, the locals trapped inside wanted their attackers to believe they had plenty of food inside and were wasting their time trying to starve them out. They were starving but had a single rabbit that they would move around and make visible to the attackers at different places around the wall and the story goes that the attackers fell for it and gave up on starving them out.  Now I’m a bit fuzzy about where the cow entered into all of this (maybe a reader can clear this up) but from this, the Hasenkuh became a local symbol.

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…. Hiking above Lauenstein Castle affords a fairytale view of this hilltop castle that dates back to the 1200’s.  It is beautifully restored and maintained and houses a museum.  Although an impressive edifice, this castle has an intimate feel in contrast to the huge castles at Kulmbach and Kronach.  This is also the first castle I’ve visited that I was told is haunted.  The ghost here is said to be the Die Weisse Frau or “White Lady” a well known figure in local lore.  The story of the White Lady is that she killed her children after wrongly interpreting that they stood in the way of her desired remarriage, and now she haunts the area.  Glad to say that I didn’t meet her.

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…. ….  an honest-to-gosh secret passageway:

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Lichtenberg Castle is a ruin of a hilltop fortress.  Some walls and a tower remain adjacent to the picturesque town.  The castle here was built in the 1100’s and was destroyed by fire in 1682.  The castle walls overlooked East Germany during the Cold War – about a kilometer away.  Lichtenberg hosts an annual medieval castle festival and my visit was just the week before the two-day event.  This was a memorable visit because we were greeted in style by a friendly contingent of local people in period costume.  They treated us to a delicious medieval lunch set up on the castle ruins.

Great smiles:

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Proclamation of welcome:

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View from the castle tower:

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Memorable lunch – we were treated to a mushroom soup prepared by Burgrestaurant Harmonie — our chef in the foreground

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Special thanks to Julia Rubsch of Frankenwald Tourismus Service Center,  Nicole Wittig of Ludwigsstadt, Andrea Dierhl of Kulmbach, and  Dr. Kerstin Low of Kronach for being terrific hosts and guides.

selected Bad Steben photos by Andreas Hub

Moedlareuth Border Historic Image by mihalko-family.com

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