Friday, 6 September 2013

Walking with ancestors

It is not every day that a person walks among the same gardens, or enters the same house and exact same rooms as one's ancestors.  My great-great grandparents, Eduard Justus Thode (1829-1875) and Alwine Hedwig Kortum (1831-1898) lived here, 100 metres above the town of Bischofszell, in the 1850s.

Jean and I were very kindly invited to lunch by the current owners of this fabulous property, which today consists of about 19 acres.  The owners believe my ancestors would have owned approximately 100 acres.  On first glance, the castle looks like a box, which promotes the assumption it was built all at the same time.  In fact, a part of the building, the tower, was constructed in 1027.  The remainder of the house was built in 1590.  

My cousin, Christine, in Hamburg, has previously told me our ancestors were engaged in agriculture here.  Our hosts believe they would have been involved in apples and other fruits.  There are today many apple trees surrounding the property and in the little village just nearby.  The current owners are horse enthusiasts, and also keep deer.

The nearby town of Bischofszell, where Jean and I have been staying at the Hotel le Lion, takes its name from a certain bishop who built about a dozen towers in the area of Lake Constance in the 11th century.  One of these towers is a ruin on a hill close by.  Another stands in Bischofszell.  And another was the first part of the castle built in 1027.  But our hosts told us that their tower is today the only tower serving as a private residence.

In 1027, Europe was not a safe place, so the entrance to the tower was from the second floor.  In later centuries, the entrance was filled in, and a more appropriate entrance constructed.  The current owners believe my ancestors would have lived mainly on the second floor.  During renovation on the second floor, a blackened wall was uncovered, indicating the long-term cooking of a kitchen.  Given that the castle sits upon an underground lake, with rising damp a health concern for occupants throughout the centuries, living higher up made more sense.  Our hosts believe that when my ancestors' eldest son, Hans Justus Thode (1859-1932) was born here, he was probably born on the second floor.  (He was the only child born here.)

We were given an excellent tour of the castle.  Of course, it has been modified for modern living throughout, with a couple of exceptions.  The cellar essentially looks as it did in the 1850s.  Only the walls there have been painted white.  I could imagine my family stepping on the stone floor, and walking through the cellar doorways.  At the top of the house, the wooden beams date from the original respective times of construction.  Here, I was allowed to pull the rope which rang the bell, the same bell that was here when my forefathers lived here.

Outside, on the lawn near the stables, two Linden trees were planted in the 1820s.  When my ancestors were here, the trees were roughly 30 years old or more.  Today, one of the trees survives, and stands 30 metres high in all its glory.  A tall plane tree stands a short distance away.

We took a short walk through the forest, and then came to the chapel that stands only metres from the castle.  Our hosts told us that Hans von Bulow, a famous German conductor, married his wife, Cossima in the chapel.  His father, Baron Eduard von Bulow, a previous owner of the castle, is buried in the chapel.  My information is that my ancestors married at or near the castle in December 1856.  I now strongly suspect that they too married in the chapel.  (Cossima is the same person who later married Richard Wagner.  Hans and Cossima had a daughter, Daniela.  Daniela later married my ancestor's nephew, Henry Thode, whom readers of this blog will remember as the owner of the villa at Lake Garda, northern Italy, which we visited just over a week ago.). According to our hosts, the chapel dates from the 11th century.  On the walls above the altar, there are paintings from that time, depicting various biblical scenes.

The castle and the 190 year old Linden tree
Many deer are kept on the property.
The former entrance from 1027 can be seen above.
The large stone left of the middle window (at left) signifies the height of the tower constructed in 1027.  The rest of the castle (from where the roof slopes further down) was built in 1590.
When my ancestors lived here, this Linden tree was some 30 years old.
The castle interior is different to former times.  However, the cellar appears as it did when my ancestors lived here.
A fantastic place to store wine.
My ancestors may have dropped coal supplies into the cellar through this window.
Looking from inside the castle to the front lawn, stables and the Linden tree.  A second Linden tree, as old as the first, existed until a few years ago where the smaller tree now stands.
View from inside the castle to a nearby town (not Bischofszell).
On the property
The chapel of Sankt Michael or Kapelle Ötlishausen where Hans von Bulow married Cosima, and probably where my ancestors married.
Inside the chapel
The grave of Baron Eduard von Bulow, the father of Hans von Bulow, inside the chapel
The chapel's entrance, and above is the organ (at right).

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