Vienna to Graz via the Semmering Railway: A UNESCO Kinder Egg

If you’re a World Heritage geek, may I recommend visiting the Austrian city of Graz?

The terracotta rooftops of Graz

Graz, you say? Not the first city that comes to mind when you think of Austria? It might not even be the second (hello Salzburg). But it is, in fact, Austria’s second city. And while second cities are frequently over-shadowed by their bigger sisters (usually national capitals), there’s something about them, I find. A certain spirit: sometimes sassy and rebellious, always relaxed and easygoing. From not having the burden of being a capital, perhaps.

We’ll take a closer look at Graz in a bit, but first the 3-in-One UNESCO Kinder Egg I promised.

You will no doubt know that Vienna’s old town is a World Heritage site. So is the medieval centre of Graz. The third is the journey between the two.

Semmeringbahn (The Semmering Railway)

Blurry Semmeringbahn viaducts – taken from the train as it speeds past…

The Semmering Railway takes about 2 1/2 hours between Graz and Vienna, most of it along an idyllic alpine landscape. Built in the mid-1800s, it’s one of the greatest feats of civil engineering from those trailblazing days of railway construction. And well worth the ride.

Graz

Capital of the province of Styria (Steiermark in Austrian-German), Graz is just an hour by train from the Slovenian town of Maribor. For years, Graz was more important for Slovenes than their own capital Ljubljana.

Hauptplatz (Main Square) is the heart of this dynamic university city. And not just one university, but six!

And while Hauptplatz is nice enough, it’s the delightfully over-the-top baroque and Renaissance architecture of the square that caught my gaze.

That – and the lovely medieval guild signs.

Castle Hill and the clock tower, where time has a different meaning

The pièce de résistance in Graz, however, is Schloßberg – Castle Hill.


UNESCO Graz, Uhrturm

A funicular takes you to the top of Schloßberg, or you can take an elevator or walk the stairs. There’s a restaurant with an outdoor terrace and a few small cafes with views, as well as an open-air stage for concerts and such.

The medieval fortress that once grazed this hill (see what I did there?), has been turned into a public park with a cistern, bastions from the old fort, and not least, the Uhrturm – the city’s landmark, and oldest building, mentioned as early as 1265. Spot something odd about the clock face? It might take you a few minutes to tell time from this clock, but keep looking, and you’ll notice that the larger hand marks the hours while the small one is for minutes. Hours are more important than minutes! Makes sense, doesn’t it…

Be sure to take the stairs going down, at least. Then turn around as you descend, for a final look at this fairy-tale clock tower.

 The views of Graz’ rooftops and city centre change around every corner, always fantastic.

Then cast your eyes down this way, ’cause you’ll probably be hungry by now.

I recommend Graf Leopold for lunch, where breakfast is served all day. The omelet was particularly delicious. Baby Birdie had a go at the Kaisersemmel and kept me company throughout.

Breakfast for lunch, even better than breakfast for breakfast

PS: Graz is not only a World Heritage site, but also a UNESCO City of Design. That was not the focus on my much-too-quick May visit. The words of a certain Graz-born terminator seems appropriate: “I’ll be back”.

PPS: Graz is also a city of principles, it appears: The Merkur Arena, formerly known as The Arnold Schwarzenegger football stadium, was renamed in 2005, as members of the Graz assembly were none too pleased with Arnie allowing the death penalty in California.

 

unesco logoThe City of Graz and the Semmering Railway are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Here are other heritage sites I’ve visited around the world.

The charms of England’s Lake District

It’s so easy, isn’t it… jump on the plane – and less than two hours later you’re in London, the city we Scandinavians know so very well. It’s practically a default weekend break.

Lake District view through a smudgy steam train window

‘What are you doing this weekend?’

– ‘Dunno, don’t have any plans.’

– ‘London? Shopping? Take in a show? I haven’t seen Book of Mormon. Whaddyasay?’ 

– ‘Might as well. London is never wrong.’

 

Well, here’s how that could go instead:

‘What are you doing this weekend?’

– ‘Dunno, don’t have any plans.’

– ‘London?’

– ‘Well, how ‘bout we try something different this time? How about a weekend in the city and in the country?’

– ‘Interesting. Tell me more!’

– ‘I’m thinking the Lake District and Manchester.’

– ‘Ooh, Peter Rabbit country. I like! But football…? What’s gotten into you?’

– ‘Forget football. I’m thinking shopping, a cool concert, trying out some of those friendly local pubs. And I haven’t even started with the Lake District yet.’

– ‘Well, what are we waiting for? Might as well book right away.’ *googling flight prices*. ‘Oh, look, the flights cost next to nothing. Out Friday morning, home Monday morning?’

– ‘Yes, can always work from home, i.e. plane, on Monday.’

And that’s exactly what blogger colleague Travellingmunk and I did over a 3-day weekend just before Easter. And folks, I’ll give you the conclusion straight away: whether you like urban nerve, or prefer the quiet beauty of the countryside, the north of England is captivating.

Things to do in the Lake District

In this post, I gave you a quick rundown of things to do with a mere half Sunday in Manchester. Remember I promised a look at things to do outside the city as well? Well, here it is.

The Lake District National Park is 2300 km². It has idyllic little villages, sloping hills and dales, rugged fells and crystal clear lakes; in short, a beguiling vista.

Wait a minute. Fells, you say? Pray explain! Well, fell simply means fjell (mountain in Norwegian). And while we’re at it, what does dale mean? Dale = dal (valley in Norwegian). I do like stumbling upon home vernacular in other lands.

Back to the fairytale surrounds: think Postman Pat: narrow country roads with softly undulating ups and downs, low stone fences… Or better yet, think Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter created that endearing creature just here, inspired by this panorama, courtesy of a number of childhood holidays.

Nope, not us, Vikings as we are – but rather local kids braving a spring bath.

The Lake District landscape changes distinctly with the seasons, and I am quite taken with the spring colours – soft mossy green, dusty rose, warm golden…

“Soon, the pale hues will change to bright, brilliant shades of green,” local girl Astrid assures me. (Even names are Norwegian here!) The Lake District in autumn foliage is only too easy to picture. As for winter, snow seems to be a three-week affair, and a bit impractical when it appears – but oh so beautiful. For a few minutes, I fantasise about spending an entire cycle here, in a little cottage, reading, writing, thinking, doing nothing at all for long periods of time (a skill I’m becoming quite adept at)… just watching the seasons change. This is a meditative kind of place.

To get a proper feel, to unwind, enjoy long, soothing walks, spend time on the lake, you need four – five days. But who has that? We didn’t. Not this time, anyway. So here’s what you can do with two days in this peaceful paradise.

Ambleside, a.m.

First off, rent a car. I normally promote public transport, but with limited time, it isn’t really a viable option in the Lake District. Might as well bite the bullet. And remember to drive on the wrong…oops, sorry, left… side of the road.

Just an hour and a half from Manchester airport, and we’re driving along Lake Windermere. You may use less time; my driving always seems to include getting lost at least once, even with a SatNav. This time, it took 15 minutes just getting out of the airport area. I need a stricter GPS. Something with a heavy Russian accent. I recently had one while driving in Greece: “You come to round thing in road, you take second exit. You hear me?” Just a few minutes with SatNav babushka, and I was simply too scared to make a mistake. But I digress.

Our lodgings at the Lakes is the Waterhead in Ambleside. We check in, have afternoon tea outside overlooking Lake Windermere (delicious tea, delicious weather), underneath a Union Jack fluttering in the breeze. A review of this lovely property will appear in due course.

North of England: lovely spring weather and photo ops aplenty. The Union Jack is bidding us welcome.

Lakes Distillery

We have an appointment up near Bassentwaithe, so best get a move on. The further north, the wilder the landscape. We want to stop to ooh and aah and snap photos around every corner, but there’s things to do, places to be. Specifically, a 5 o’clock guided tour at the Lakes Distillery, followed by a dinner in the adjoining bistro, mentioned in the prestigious Michelin guide. And hereby heartily recommended!

The Lakes Distillery, brewers of gin, vodka and whisky

The tour begins with an introductory video. These tend to be a bit boring, and I brace myself for that. However, this one is anything but. For six minutes, we follow the River Derwent as it flows through the District. Helicopter views. Intriguing videography.

Lakes Distillery produces gin, vodka and whisky. It only opened in 2014, and as whisky needs a 3-year process minimum before you’re allowed to call it whisky, it’s vodka and gin for now. The tour takes us through the working distillery and it’s quite the sensory experience, especially for our noses. Then there’s a tasting. Though not for me, as I’m driving back to Ambleside – and on the wrong left side of the road, at that. So instead I play House of Glass.

Steam railway and cruising on Lake Windermere

A bright blue spring day in Havertwaithe

The next morning we’re up bright and early(ish). After a sublime breakfast (Eggs Florentine, freshly squeezed orange juice and one small, sinfully delicious pain-au-chocolate for me) at the Waterhead, we are off for a bit of time travel on a steam train. As we’re early, we have a look at Havertwaithe. Tiny, pretty place, peaceful and green – and with paths I wish there was enough time to go down and investigate.

Where does this lead? To the end of the rainbow, probably. To that coveted pot of gold. Yet another place that sparks the imagination. What would be my pot of gold, I wonder. Probably not gold, rather… But I digress. Again. Sorry.

The Lakeside and Havertwaithe Railway has been in operation since 1866 (then as part of the Furness Railway). The short journey by steam train between the two stops (Havertwaithe and Lakeside, in case you were unsure) takes about 18 minutes along the supremely picturesque Leven Valley.

We pick up our car at the station in Havertwaithe and head back towards our lodgings, stopping on the way in Bowness-upon-Windermere, just because is looks so lovely in the early afternoon sun. Lunch, a stroll through the little town, and a few shops later we head back to Ambleside, just in time to get on the boat which takes us across the lake to… Bowness. Again! There’s something to be said for winging it, other times a bit of planning would definitely pay off. That said, she looks pretty from the water, Bowness does.

Bowness-on-Windermere

William Wordsworth and ancient stone circles

Catching the next boat back, it’s still afternoon and we head off on another drive. Grasmere is our destination, simply because it looks delightful on Instagram.

 

Grasmere

the loveliest spot that man hath ever found

Wordsworth has a point. As it turns out, Instagram Grasmere and real life Grasmere are remarkably alike.

He lived in Dove Cottage here for 14 years and his home is largely unchanged. It was closed by the time we arrived, but you can have a look inside if you’re just a wee bit better at planning than we are. If so, you’ll be joining 70 000 annual visitors.

Further northwards we go, to the town of Keswick and on to Castlerigg stone circle, where we bump into a photo group, getting ready to capture the magical 5000 year old stones at sunset.

Lake District things to do

Not only Stonehenge, you know. The stone circles at Castlerigg is from the Neolithic era. Oh, to travel back 4500 years and see what it was used for.

It makes good sense that our ancestors would choose this spot for a holy place; the panoramic views are indeed divine. This seems a good place to bid the Lake District farewell. For now.

Disclosure: I was in the Lake District as part of a collaborative campaign with Visit Britain Norway and English Lakes Hotels. As ever, I retain the right to write anything I want – or nothing at all; my bit of cyberspace, my rules.

Things to do in Manchester if you’re not into football

So… imagine you are in Manchester. With a girlfriend – or boyfriend – who’s here for one thing and one thing only: footie! You, on the other hand, couldn’t care less for the Beautiful Game. You can’t even remember what the corner kick rule means, even though you’ve heard it a million times. Well then: while she/he is gawking at Zlatan’s legs, what is there for you to see and do?

Lots, that’s what! The capital of Northern England has heaps to offer. And I’ve scoped out a bit of it for you. Just a tiny bit, mind. I only had half a Sunday in Manchester; not nearly enough. But that’s all well and good. Just means I have a great excuse to return. And you? You’ll probably regret not having been here before. The 100 times you’ve travelled to London, practically on auto pilot… some of those weekends could have been equally well spent here. Maybe even better. There’s a vital, independent, slightly defiant spirit in Mancs. I like it.

Here’s a few suggestions:

Northern Quarter

Manchester things to do

Into the hipster scene?

Not so much, perhaps? There’s still interesting and quirky street art to be found around every corner in Manchester’s Northern Quarter – as well as many independent galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants – and for you aficionados, there’s vinyl! And sometimes cafe and vinyl in one – such as Eastern Bloc (try the hummus/avo sandwich while you’re there).

What I want to see and do next time in the Northern Quarter:

  • More of the creative street art.
  • Manchester Craft and Design Centre, located in a former fishmarket.
  • A little purist coffee shop called Takk. Not that I’m a coffee purist – but when said coffee shop is named ‘thank you’ in Norwegian (and/or Icelandic), I’m naturally curious. Expecting light and airy Nordic minimalism.
  • Also, the cat cafe!!
  • And this just in: The Corner Cocktail Club! A secret club with vintage recipes, some from the 1800s! No address given. Can you find it?

Manchester city centre

Into history – ancient and/or contemporary? Chinatowns? Books and lovely old libraries? Pubs, some located in 400-year-old buildings? Shopping?

5 pubs within a radius of 60 metres: that’s what you’ll find at Shambles Square. And engaging history! This quaint collection of houses survived both the 1940 Blitz and an IRA bomb.

On 15 June 1996, the Irish Republican Army set off a car bomb in Manchester’s city centre, wounding 200 people, but mercifully killing no one! Seems terrorists were more conscientious back in the day; they called in warnings ahead of time. A famous survivor is this red post box which remained standing undamaged; unlike most of the surrounding shopping area.

Nearby is this imposing building – by the intriguingly named Hanging Ditch. Through the centuries it has served as a corn and produce exchange, a shopping centre, a theatre company, and as filming location for the thought-provoking and melancholic 1980s TV-series Brideshead Revisited. (Alexandra wrote her Bachelor’s psychology thesis based on the friendship/love story between Charles and Sebastian.) It has housed various alternative acts as well; record shops, book shops, second-hand shops and more – before being hard hit by the IRA-bomb. Today it’s all about food: pop around for a Brazilian BBQ, Indian homecooking, street food from Mexico or Vietnam, and much more.

Chinatown

Every major city in the world seems to have one and Manchester’s Chinatown is the third largest in Europe. The pailou (traditional Chinese arch) was built in China and shipped over. Since 1996, Wuhan in Hubei province has been Manchester’s sister city – to encourage bilateral economic relations. Beneficial to have that in place now, probably.

Libraries

Manchester is home to the 400-year-old Chetham’s Library, the oldest surviving public library in the English-speaking world. This is where Karl Marx hung out, folks – brainstorming economic theories. Inspiring surroundings, to be sure. Closed Sundays. But as always, I’m lucky. The equally fabulous John Rylands Library was open – for another 15 minutes.

Opened 117 years ago, this spectacular building (Gothic meets Victorian meets Art Nouveau meets Harry Potter) on Deansgate houses illuminated manuscripts and rare volumes, including one of only 49 Gutenberg Bibles remaining in the world! There’s gorgeous high ceilings and stained glass windows (you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re in a cathedral), historic reading rooms, and wonderfully dusty old books. Needless to say, you need much more than 15 minutes; I heard there’s an ancient toilet to be seen.

Architecture

Too many cities have failed (or possibly not even tried) to find a good balance blending old and contemporary architecture. Manchester has managed this quite well, I think. The city is a product of its industrial 19th and 20th century past: Victorian neo-Gothic (Town Hall below), Baroque (Principal Hotel above), Art Deco, Palazzo, and more. I like the variety of design; always a surprise around the corner.

See the golden post box? That’s to celebrate local gold medal winners in the 2012 London Olympics/Paralympics, in this case Philip Hindes, gold medal Men’s Team Sprint.

What I want to see and do next time in the city centre:

  • Mummies!! No less than 20 Egyptian mummies at Manchester Museum. How 4000 year old human bodies can still exist never ceases to amaze me. And I’m forever curious about the souls that once inhabited them.
  • Take a tour through the underground tunnels where locals hid during the 1940 Blitz. Must be ghost stories galore. And there’s the slightly thrilling possibility of getting lost in the maze.
  • Check out that Brazilian BBQ.
  • Whitworth Art Gallery: I’m assured it’s an absolute must-see.
  • Chetham’s Library – to see if I can come up with a few inspiring economic theories of my own.
  • I enjoy architectural walking tours; having a knowledgable and entertaining guide to point out hidden jewels and unusual angles and hear their stories would be fab.

Castlefield

Into canals, houseboats, industrial heritage, Roman history, cool neighbourhood pubs and cafes, and/or just a really nice area to while away a sunny day?

Do you know the Norwegian word kos? (Or perhaps the Danish equivalent, hygge?) The closest English word is cosy, though that covers but a fraction of the meaning. Kos, you see, is a noun, a verb and an adjective; encompassing just about everything that makes people happy and life wonderful. In Scandinavia, our lives revolve around kos. And on this April day, with cherry trees in full bloom, kos is my first impression of this neighbourhood.

Going from the River Mersey in Liverpool to the Irish Sea, the 123-year-old Manchester Ship Canal was once the biggest canal in the world, thus making Manchester a shipping city, despite being 40 km from the sea! If that isn’t industrious, I don’t know what is. And just as it should be for the world’s first industrial city. The remnants of this heritage is best experienced in Castlefield, where you can stroll along flower-lined canals, viaducts and warehouses. Then there’s the terminus of the world’s first passenger railway – and houseboats along the canal (you can even stay in one, The Castlerose, bookable through Airbnb).

And speaking of history: Castlefield also happens to be where it all began. Manchester got its name from the Roman fortress Mancunium. The fort has been restored, with dug-outs to demonstrate where the protective moats were located.

On a sunny day, have a picnic – or just work on your tan – in the grass by the canal. As for the neighbourhood pubs, well, I tried quite a few – all full of life and cheer. (Though I may be biased, as I had excellent company).

Here’s the canal in a different season (photo pinched from my friend and Castlefield local Tom Brothwell), also to illustrate how Manchester manages to combine its traditional urban design with new millennium architecture.

What I want to see and do next time in Castlefield:

  • See Manchester from the top of Beetham Tower (glass building above), and check out Cloud 23, the city’s highest bar.
  • Wander along the canals and viaducts in the early morning mist – maybe even try some of the running routes (won’t make any promises, though).
  • Museum of Science and Industry, housed in warehouses from the 1830s – with planes, trains and automobiles, with interactive exhibits and possibilities for experimenting and investigating: for science and history geeks of all ages. England’s largest science festival is on every autumn; 19 – 29 October in 2017.
  • More of the cheerful pubs and cafes…
  • …and speaking of eats: The annual Castlefield Food Festival is on in May (11 – 14 May in 2017). A weekend of food, drink and music in these surroundings is bound to be fantastic.

I know, I know, I’ve heard it before: not enough pictures of my good self here on the blog. Well, here you go. I’ll do better going forward. Probably. Maybe.

Other Manchester things to do: The sound of music

No, I’m not referring to Alpine yodelling – although that’s probably possible to experience as well. Next to football, Manchester is about music; fabulous live music. And we’re not only talking hot-tempered Gallagher brothers. Other famous musical Mancunians include I am Kloot (ran into them at the legendary Hotel Pacific in Hamburg a few years ago – lead singer John Bramwell joined Stefanie for a little impromptu Beatles improv), as well as numerous 80s bands: Simply Red, Morrissey, New Order, The Smiths, Swing Out Sister, the Verve, Joy Division… What was it about 1980s Mancs that inspired them all?

What I want to see and do next time in town: Listen to great music, of course. Here are the best venues according to Timeout.

So, that’s half a day in Manchester. Well spent, if I do say so myself. Though I’ve barely touched the city’s surface.

PS: Stay tuned for things to see and do out of town.

Disclosure: I was in Manchester as part of a collaborative campaign with Visit Britain Norway and Visit Manchester. As ever, I retain the right to write anything I want – or nothing at all; my bit of cyberspace, my rules.

Off to Northern England!

I’ve taken more road trips in the UK than anywhere else during the last ten years, mostly with the kids. These peculiar girls of mine, well, they just like rain; it’s simply their favourite country. I still remember the summer I dragged them to the south of France in 30° temps. “Nowhere but England, forevermore” was the war cry from my two overheated beauties then.

We’ve explored the south of England rather thoroughly, but haven’t gotten to the north yet – so I’m chuffed to bits to be seeing the fabled Lake District this week. This time, I’ll be out and about in England without the kids (almost sacrilege). But it’s school for them – and fun for me. C’est la vie!

Lake District
Ullswater from above Pattersdale, painting by John Parker 1825 (public domain). Llyfregell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales.

Lake District

In the Lake District, blogger colleague Travelling Munk and I will be frolicking about the hills and dales. We’ll

  • boat on Lake Windermere, all William Wordsworth-like (he seems a bit stuffy to me, to be frank – but maybe I’ll change my mind)
  • time travel (you know how I like that!) on Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway, a steam train
  • have a look (and taste) at the Lakes Distillery
  • probably have afternoon tea; Scandinavians seem to have a penchant for this quaint old-fashioned British custom, so naturally it’s my duty to sample the goods; all in the name of research, you understand.
  • most importantly, have some seriously stunning hikes and walks in this gorgeous landscape. Can’t wait!

Manchester

But that’s not all. We’ll have a closer look at Manchester as well, thus nicely balancing out all that wholesome country living with some urban action. I’ve been a couple of times before, either stopping over on the way to somewhere else, or on business, so I haven’t really seen the city. Visit Manchester has kindly provided us with a fabulous menu to pick and choose from:

  • Visiting Whitworth art gallery: I hear it’s stunning.
  • Exploring the hip Northern Quarter, full of cafes, bars, record stores, small galleries, boutiques and quirky back alleys. Highlights: Manchester Craft and Design Centre, a beautiful place for creatives; and of course, the famous street art. We’ve even got this helpful guide on how to find it. And now you do, too. You’re welcome!
  • Wandering about in Ancoats, which keeps being named in ‘hippest neighbourhood’ lists.
  • Trying out the theatre, visual art, or cinema at HOME, a new cultural centre. Or just hang out in the bar and people watch.
  • Stopping for a nightcap at The Refuge, which just happens to be in our hotel. We have it on good authority (several, as a matter of fact) it’s a most wonderful bar.
  • An early morning run (or possibly a leisurely walk instead, we’ll see) along the canals and viaducts in Castlefield, with lots of markers of Manchester’s previous industrial heritage.

Wow! Did you know there was so much interesting to see and do in Mancs? And not one mention of football!

Want to know more about the Lake District and Manchester? Of course you do! We’ll be all over social media this weekend, on the usual suspects: Face, Twitter, Insta, and so on. As always, you’ll also get more in-depth articles here on Sophie’s World in the coming weeks (in both languages), as well as pretty pictures on Pinterest. We’ll use the hashtags #LuxLakeDistrict and #BestofMCR, so it’s easy for you to follow along.

Well, must be off. There’s a suitcase waiting to be packed.

Disclosure: I’ll be in the Lake District and Manchester as part of a collaborative campaign with Visit Britain and Visit Manchester. Naturally, I retain the right to write whatever I want. As ever.

Day out Gdansk: The Malbork Murder

If you happen to be floating down the tranquil river Wisla, head off at the little branch called the Nogat, and you’ll come to a Gothic fairytale fortress and some intriguing Malbork Castle history, murder included!

Malbork Castle history

Disembark on the opposite bank, and this imposing 13th century fortified monastery is all you’ll see. The view is particularly magnificent at sunset.

Of course, chances are you’ll not be arriving by river raft, but rather less romantically by rail or road from Gdansk, a mere 60km (1 hour) away. It’s a worthwhile daytrip, one that allows the imagination free reign, especially outside the tourist season. I’m here on a rainy March day, and have the enormous castle almost all to myself.

So what is Malbork? Huge, that’s for sure! By surface area – 21 hectares! – this is the largest brick castle in the world.

And who built this monumental medieval construction? Are you familiar with the Teutonic Knights? They were formed to help Christians in the Holy Land, i.e. Palestine. This merry gang of monks also had a penchant for converting people to Christianity, and often used the well-known convert-or-die tactic.

As Palestine was lost to the Islamic hordes, our Knights needed a new base, and found one here in Poland. Little did the Polish king know he was dealing with brutal murderers. Rather than safeguard the citizens of nearby Gdansk, the knights brutally killed them in 1308. 102 years later karma kicked back, when the knights were defeated at the Battle of Grunwald. But chasing them out of Marienburg, the Teutonic name for Malbork, proved a rather more difficult proposition.

However, the Teutonic Order declined (happens to the best of us), and in 1457, Polish King Casimir IV took over the castle. Fast forward roughly 300 years, and Malbork was in the hands of Royal Prussia after the Partition of Poland in 1772. The Prussians, military chaps as they were, thought the best use of this magnificent castle was to reduce it to barracks. Who needs all those towers and walls and windows and decoration anyway? Fast forward even further, to World War II, when the Soviets did even more damage – bombing and the like. By the mid-20th century not much was left of this once splendid edifice.

Luckily for you, as you’re slowly drifting past, Malbork has been faithfully reconstructed. Today it looks glorious. So impressed was UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, they added the castle to its prestigious list in 1997.

So what can you see at Malbork Castle? Why, a weapons collection, of course. Wouldn’t be a proper castle without, now, would it? Then there’s amber – a very good amber museum, in fact. And rooms showcasing Teutonic lifestyle. All very impressive.

The audio guide you get at the entrance comprises 38 stops. First, go across the drawbridge, then through the doors to the courtyard, and stop at the Grand Masters’ Palace and the Knights’ Hall, a huge 450 m2 chamber with a particularly stunning ceiling. Then have a look at the beautiful St Mary’s Church, where the monks went to pray – accessed through the Golden Gate, which plays a part in the murder I promised (patience, patience…). You might also be interested in seeing the monks’ toilet high up in its own tower – and their kitchen. Of course, there’s miles and miles (or so it seems) of long tunnels, hallways, corridors and towers, too.

The audio guide points out interesting little elements all around the place: look up at the ceiling here and find the hidden statue there. Fun for all ages. Plan at least half a day to see the inside of the castle.

Odd fact: During Adolf’s time, the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls used Malbork castle as a place of pilgrimage every year.

Murder at Malbork

There was once a Teutonic Knight named Werner von Orseln. This German nobleman was chosen as Grand Komtur (second-in-command after the Grand Master) at Malbork in 1314. Then came a coup d’etat. Von Orseln naturally supported the then Grand Master who had appointed him (one does want to be loyal, doesn’t one…), and, as a result it was off to exile with the both of them. Political machinations are never easy, are they?

von Orseln came back, with the intent of restoring discipline and order, and was elected Grand Master in 1324. He began negotiations with the Polish king over the contested Pomerania, annexed by our knights after they took over Gdańsk in 1308, but the negotiations got nowhere. Nothing for it, then: war was in order.

During this war, our friend von Orseln was murdered by a mad monk, one Johan von Endorf. Or so it is said. But was he mad? And was he a murderer? And who indeed was this Endorf? A criminal monk, it would appear, and one referred to by many names: Biendorf, Grondorp, Dyngdorff and Stille are but a few. To this day, all is unclear.

On 18th November 1330, Endorf arrived in Malbork to speak with the Grand Master. And so he did, in von Orseln’s private chambers, no less. Endorf, you see, wasn’t happy with his current posting and wanted to be sent elsewhere. However, von Orseln would have none of it, and ordered him to return. Naturally, Endorf was none too pleased. He waited for von Orseln to come out of the chapel after prayers, and stabbed him near the Golden Gate. Von Orseln died.

A juicy murder such as this will of course be contested. What really happened? Was there a conspiracy? Was there a lone shooter at the school book depository – or was someone sinister hiding by the grassy knoll? Oops, wrong murder.

The trial concluded that Endorf was mad as well as guilty, and he was given a life sentence. But was he the culpable crackpot he was deemed to be? If he was such a lunatic, why didn’t he attack von Orseln when they were alone together in the Grand Master’s quarters?

If not Endorf, then who was behind this murder? Who might have wanted the Grand Master dead? Polish or Lithuanian nobility, perhaps?

Sadly, if we can’t find out what really happened one November day in 1963 in Texas, chances are even slimmer of finding out what happened one November day in 1330 in Malbork.

 

 

unesco logoThe Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more heritage sites around the world.