Poland

Książ – Castles in Poland

The beautiful castle Książ is located north of the Polish city Wałbrzych in Lower Silesia and is the third largest castle in Poland (Polish: Zamek Książ, German: Schloss Fürstenstein). Pronouncing the castle’s Polish name is half the fun! Książ is easily reachable from Görlitz (156 km) and is therefore just one of the many beautiful places one can go for a day or weekend trip.

Situated in a landscape park and protected area in the Waldenburg Mountains, Góry Wałbrzyskie, part of the Central Sudetes, the castle is distinctive not only for its size and blend of architectural styles, but also for its setting, perched on a rock face 395 meters above sea level and overlooking a beautiful forest and river. When you first approach Książ, you view it from across the river gorge, a fairy tale castle in the distance, in shades of pink.

“The house is said to have five or six hundred rooms; I don’t know as I never counted them. What I do know is that from every window it commands superb views over the world-famous Waldenburger Gebirge, one of nature’s masterpieces. The Fürstenstein, that is the Prince’s rock, itself rises three thousand feet above sea level and the views from the castle towers are wonderful. The wild, spacious land of this part of Silesia is indescribably beautiful.” – Maria Theresa (Daisy) Hochberg von Pless

The castle was first built by Silesian Duke Bolko I the Strict in the 13th century and was known as Książęca Góra, or “The Prince’s Heights”, selected for the beauty and security of its location in the heart of the forest.

The castle changed hands several times over the centuries and, just like the region, belonged to many different states until 1509 when the Hochberg family was entrusted with the estate. Beginning in the mid 16th century, thanks to this powerful Silesian family, the castle was rebuilt in a lavish Renaissance Style. The castle stayed in the possession of the Hochberg family from 1509 until the 1940s.

Visiting the castle Książ, we first decided to try hiking down the gorge to look for a good vantage point for photos. It’s a beautiful area and we got lost in the wilderness trying to find a path back up. While out there, we stumbled across the ruins of an earlier fortress at the same location.

After climbing back up we realized there is only one way to approach the castle, this was obviously intended as a form of defense. When you approach the castle you are met by imposing statues and carefully manicured lawns. There is no doubt that the castle is striking and beautiful, but it also comes across as a bit stark and vacant. Most of the furnishings were looted by the Nazis or the Soviets and so the castle today stands mostly empty and can seem a bit cold and impersonal as a visitor. It is hard to imagine someone living out their lives in its giant, empty halls with ornate ceilings.

What really brought this castle to life for me was learning about the fascinating people and the lives that inhabited it over the years. In my opinion, the best part of the castle tour is the photo exhibition. Many of the photos are from an extraordinary collection of family photos taken by the castle chef from 1909-1926. Louis Hardouin was in charge of the kitchen in the castle and lived there, along with his family and thousands of other staff. The Frenchman enjoyed photography and took many photos of his wife and his children, who were playmates to the the sons of Hans Heinrich and Princess Daisy. He also photographed many of the servants who lived and worked in the castle, offering a look into the lives of the many people behind the scenes. Thanks to his passion for photography, one is able to get a sense for the more personal side of the history of the castle and its inhabitants.

Some of the photos on display by the castle chef Louis Hardouin

Perhaps the most intriguing resident of the castle Książ and the one who receives by far the most attention is Princess Daisy. She was born Mary Theresa Cornwallis-West. The daughter of a British politician, Daisy was renowned for her beauty. Because she published her diaries in a memoir in 1928, we know quite a bit about her life at the castle.

Princess Daisy (Source: Wikipedia)

Although her family was well-connected, they were not wealthy and Daisy had a fairly ordinary childhood (if you can call it ordinary to be acquainted with the royal family). She was encouraged by her parents to “come out” early and it was expected that she would marry someone of rank or money.  She met Hans Heinrich XV, a Hochberg and current heir to the castle Książ, and they were married in 1891. She was very young, and quite a bit younger than her husband. There were also many cultural differences that came along with marrying into a German family like the Hochbergs. Although they had three sons, it was not a happy marriage – Daisy and Hans Heinrich had very different interests and priorities in life.

“I told Hans I did not love him. He said that did not matter ; love came after marriage. Perhaps it does sometimes, but I fear not often.” -Princess Daisy

As Prince and Princess of Pless and Baron of the Castle, the couple owned large estates and coal mines in Silesia, bringing them enormous fortune and affording an extravagant lifestyle, and one filled with scandal and eventually disaster.

It was not easy for Princess Daisy to adjust to life in the castle. She was constantly surrounded by hundreds of servants who opened doors for her and turned down her covers. She had very little freedom and her husband’s family cared a great deal about tradition and proper etiquette for someone of their class.

 “I soon found the etiquette was unbelievably boring. I knew no German and could not make my wishes known. When I wanted to leave one room for another a bell was rung, a servant opened the door and a footman walked in front of me to wherever I wished to go…one of the first things I did was to learn enough German to tell them that this ceremony was no longer necessary. This my husband disapproved of and, all our lives together, we had constant corroding bickerings about what he called interfering with the servants” – Princess Daisy

Daisy was a beautiful woman who attracted a lot of attention from men. She was also a foreigner who never really learned the language well. As a result, rumors and gossip followed her wherever she went. Her husband gifted her the famous Pless pearls – at 6.7 meters long, it was one of the most expensive necklaces in the world. Because people love gossip & intrigue it was later said that the pearls were cursed by the diver who died while collecting them – attributing the misfortunes in Princess Daisy’s life to this curse.

Although she struggled to come to terms with her strange new life and her disappointing marriage, Princess Daisy tried to make the best of it. She spent lots of time tending to her gardens and raising her sons. She took an interest in the welfare of the people who lived and worked around the castle, many of them having difficult lives working in the family’s coal mines. She fought to improve their working and living conditions. She also campaigned for the rights of lace makers in Silesia who were being exploited, and petitioned the government to regulate and clean up the nearby river that was being polluted by industry. She frequently met with Emperors, Czars and Princesses and sought to use her influence and relationships with these powerful people to encourage peace between her home country and her adopted one. Her close relationship with Kaiser Wilhelm II was the source of much gossip.

While the local people loved her, she was viewed with suspicion and dislike by other high-ranking German families who saw her social work as criticism of her own class. Her social engagement was viewed as overly “progressive” and she was seen to have overstepped her bounds as a women and as a foreigner.

In 1907 after his father died, Hans Heinrich began a massive renovation of the castle, spending lavish amounts of money to expand, redecorate and fill it with treasures. Around the time that WWI began, economic hardships and a decadent lifestyle started to take its toll on the family’s wealth – they amassed large debts. Princess Daisy was met with even more suspicion as an Englishwoman in Germany during the war. Nevertheless, she became a nurse and spent her time tending to wounded soldiers and prisoners of war.

Finally, in 1922 Hans Heinrich divorced Princess Daisy and a few years later married a Spanish noblewoman named Clotilde de Silva y Gonzales de Candamo. They had two children, but this marriage also ended in disaster with the couple divorcing in 1934 and Clotilde marrying her ex-husband’s (and Daisy’s) son, Bolko.

With the rise of National Socialism, Daisy supported the opposition. She was active in charities that supported prisoners of the nearby concentration camp Gross-Rosen. Viewed as an enemy of the Reich, she was removed from the castle and it came under the ownership of the Nazis.

It is said that perhaps she sold her famous pearl necklace to free her son who was being interrogated by the Gestapo. Divorced, with her ex-husband’s family deep in debt, Princess Daisy died penniless and alone in Wałbrzych in 1943. Her remains were moved several times to prevent her body being looted, and for many years there were rumors about its whereabouts and the location of the famous pearls. Many people have searched, but her final resting place remains a secret kept by the family.

During WWII, the inmates of the concentration camp Gross-Rosen were forced to labor at the castle, building a vast complex of tunnels through the rock beneath it. The purpose of the tunnels is unknown, but it is said that perhaps the castle was being prepared as a future residence for Adolf Hitler. During this time, parts of the castle were destroyed and its many treasures vanished. If anything was left of the castle’s treasures after WWII, it was looted later by the Red Army.

Recently, rumors of a Nazi gold train being discovered in the tunnels under the castle have caused treasure hunters and tourists to flock to the region. Some believe that the train might contain the famous Amber Room which has been missing since WWII.

Shrouded in mystery, scandal and intrigue, the castle Książ draws many visitors today not just for its beautifully restored exterior and rooms. The lives of the people who inhabited these walls remains far more intriguing and a trip to the castle will surely reward you with not only a beautiful and impressive view, but a very interesting story!

You might also be interested in:

 

 

 

Jelenia Góra – Day Trips in Poland

town hall square historic colorful houses poland jelenia góra hirschberg

Jelenia Góra is a city in Poland that’s only about an hour and forty minutes away from Görlitz by train – perfect for a day or weekend trip! The Lower Silesian city (called Hirschberg in German, which means deer mountain) funnily enough is not on a mountain, but in a valley surrounded by mountains that run along the Polish/Czech border.

Validity Area of the Euro-Neisse Ticket

We used the Euro-Neisse ticket to travel there, which I highly recommend if you are looking to explore the Dreiländereck, or tri-country-area here where Germany, Poland and Czechia meet. When viewing the website in German or Polish you can see the prices of the tickets, which allow you to travel on regional trains as well as public transportation- TIP: we discovered that the tickets are actually much cheaper if you buy them on a Polish train and not online or at the station in Görlitz!

Feast of the Holy Cross Church in Jelenia Góra

The old town of Jelenia Góra is compact and very walkable. From the train station we walked down 1 Maja past the beautiful Feast of the Holy Cross Church and the Wojanowska gate and tower, which were part of the medieval defense, and the Basilica of St. Erasmus and St. Pancras.

Market Square Jelenia Góra Old Town Hall Polish
Market Square in Jelenia Góra

My favorite part of the city was, of course, the market square with the town hall. The square is lined with cute and colorful little houses and I could picture it being a lovely place to sit outside at a cafe in the summer or even to enjoy the Christmas market.

Town Hall historic Jelenia Góra Poland
Town Hall in Jelenia Góra

We stopped to eat at a restaurant on the market square called Kucie Smaku which had hearty regional dishes – I had to try the local beer and some Kluski, which were Klöße or dumplings filled with meat!

Polish food dumplings kluski
Dumplings and local beer at Kucie Smaku in Jelenia Góra

Some other things to check out around Jelenia Góra are the neighborhood called Cieplice and Chojnik Castle. They aren’t in walking distance, but you can catch a train using your Euro-Neisse ticket. Ciepliece used to be the land belonging to the Schaffgotsches, an old noble Silesian family, and their palace can still be seen there. The neighborhood is known for its spas and promenade and is surrounded by parks.

Chojnik Castle is a ruin on top of the mountain Chojnik in a nature reserve. Each year they hold a knight’s tournament there.

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that won’t break the bank and a cute old town surrounded by nature, visit the charming Jelenia Góra in Lower Silesia!

Here are some other wonderful places you can visit in our region that are in the area of the Euro-Neisse ticket!

Bunzlau – Day Trips in Poland

Bolesławiec (Bunzlau in German) is a small city in Poland, about a 45 minute drive from Görlitz. The city is famous for its ceramic pottery. We decided to go here on the weekend because the weather has been so beautiful this week and we wanted to take a little day trip. Wouldn’t you know it, when we woke up this morning, the sky was depressingly grey and the weather had cooled off considerably. Undeterred, we traded some of our Euros in for Polish money across the bridge and headed east on the A4.

Basilica in Market Square
Market Square

Our first stop was the city center, which was very walkable. The market square is surrounded by cheerful, pastel-colored buildings with the town hall in the center. At the town hall there is a plaque that is the first stop on a guided historic walking tour that will take you all around the city. Because of the weather we unfortunately didn’t get to complete the walking tour this time, but we noticed when walking through that the small city center has many green belts and parks.

We attempted to visit the Ceramic Museum and although the posted hours said it was open, a man outside explained to us that it wouldn’t be open for another half hour. We decided instead to go get some lunch. I had read online that the restaurant Opałkowa Chata was really good, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a cute little hut with friendly waitstaff who speak German and English well. We were given bread with Schmalz (lard) and we both ordered soups and a local beer on draft to start. I’ve been trying to be brave lately and order local specialties (and also the Polish soup żurek that I usually order had mushrooms in it here) so I picked a soup on the menu called flaczki. The menu said it had marjoram and something called tripe. I didn’t really know what this was, so I took a chance and ordered it. It was very bitter and the meat in it had a weird consistency. My husband started to make me uneasy by saying that he would never eat something like that and that I must be crazy. He psyched me out and I couldn’t finish it. I later googled the term and decided that I had in fact been crazy since the name in Polish basically translates to “guts”. My main dish was a lot better, I ordered Russian pierogi with cheese and potatoes.

After lunch we went to Ceramika Artystyczna to check out some pottery. The pottery comes with different quality ratings, 1 being the highest quality with the highest prices and 4 the lowest, sometimes having flaws, like small chips or cracks in the ceramic. There were a lot of beautiful patterns and I imagine if I hadn’t been with my husband, I could have looked a few more places for one that struck my fancy. At another pottery placed called Manufaktura, which we didn’t get to see today, you can make reservations ahead of time to do workshops where you paint your own pottery. They also have workshops for kids.

This day trip felt a bit incomplete because of the weather and left me with an itch to go back soon and see more. Next time I want to complete the historic walking tour, visit more pottery stores and do a workshop to make my own. I also want to make sure we visit Kliczków Castle next time we are there, which is about 15 minutes north of the city.

One thing that really amazed me while we were in Bolesławiec was the amount of Americans we encountered, specifically American women. When I was researching for this trip I found a lot of resources online written for “military wives”, giving them tips for buying ceramics in this city. The restaurants, staff and signage all seemed to really cater to this market with everything available in English, which is not usually a given for this part of Poland. All of these Americans drive right past my city to go buy pottery in Poland! So if you’re reading this, you should definitely make a stopover in Görlitz on your way to go ceramic shopping to see one of the most beautiful and well-preserved cities in Germany! 

Here are some other wonderful places you can visit in our region that are in the area of the Euro-Neisse ticket!

 

like-photo

 

 

Legnica – Day Trips in Poland

Legnica, Poland came as very pleasant surprise to us. We recently attended a wedding in a small village called Słup, Poland. The only lodging we could find online was in the nearby city of Legnica about thirty minutes away (pronounced like Leg-neetz-ah), so we booked the Qubus Hotel Legnica. After a quick check online I found very little tourist information about the city in English and decided it would probably just serve as a bed for the night and nothing more. Was I ever wrong! We spent a very nice day exploring & enjoying Legnica after attending the wedding, which leads me to believe that Legnica is a bit of a hidden treasure, being only about an hour’s drive from Görlitz.

Legnica Old Town
Legnica Old Town

Our hotel was very centrally located and had a view of a cathedral from our windows. It was a nice hotel but I feel certain that one could find more affordable lodging in the city. Although we saw some other tourists, mostly Germans, it seemed like this was probably just a stop on their way somewhere else as we didn’t encounter many tourists outside of the hotel. Armed with some brochures from the hotel lobby we headed out to explore and find a meal.

Church of the Virgin Mary in Legnica
Church of the Virgin Mary in Legnica

Our first stop was the church we had seen from our windows, the Church of the Virgin Mary in Legnica (Kościół Marii Panny w Legnicy). I later found out online that it is one of the oldest churches in Silesia and was previously Catholic but is now Lutheran. The church is built of red brick, as are many of the buildings in Legnica. The most remarkable thing about the interior of the church were the moorish style pillars. We paid 6 Zloty (about $1.60) to go to the top of the tower. Now, I have climbed to the top of several cathedrals for the view, but this was a lot of stairs. No, really: the stairs took you all the way to the top of the tower where you could then stand on an external platform looking over Legnica. Afterwards my thighs were screaming but the view was unmissable.

Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul at sunrise
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul at sunrise

Also near the Qubus Hotel was a pretty large shopping center called Galeria Piastow. Another great reason to visit: unlike in Germany, the shopping centers are open on Sunday! We walked through and had some ice cream before continuing to the main square of the old town, which was very beautiful. There were a few older people sitting on benches and some children playing in water but otherwise the old town was pretty quiet for a Sunday afternoon. Legnica has a population of 100,000 so it makes me think that most people are probably living in suburbs. The building that stands out the most in the main square is the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, another beautiful red brick church. If you stop in front of the entrance you will probably notice coins in the grate. This is from the weddings that are held here – after the couple is married, they exit the church and the guests throw coins at them instead of rice. For dinner we ate at Restauracja Kopcza, which seemed to have a goose theme. We were both feeling pretty boring after the wedding festivities the night before so we didn’t try any of the goose dishes, instead we both had the schnitzel which was delicious, but the portions were huge!

In summary, I think Legnica is worth another look. The old town was really gorgeous and there was so much more there that we didn’t get to see in one afternoon. We will definitely be visiting again since it’s so close to Görlitz, so look for a follow-up post in the future!

Sights around Legnica
Sights around Legnica

Related Links:
Qubus Hotel Legnica
Galeria Piastow
Restauracje Kopcza

like-photo

Polish Wedding

Last month we were fortunate enough to be invited to the wedding of a friend of ours from Poland and we gladly accepted the invitation and the excuse to make another trip to that part of the world this year. You have to understand that my husband has been to Polish weddings before and has built them up to such mythical proportions in my mind that I was not sure whether to be very excited or very afraid. I also must confess that I have not been to many weddings in any culture and so I will not claim to make comparisons between Polish and American weddings, I will only try to describe what went down at this particular Polish wedding.

Słup, Poland
Słup, Poland

The ceremony took place in a tiny village beside a lake called Słup (pronounced like swoop), which is a little over an hour’s drive away from Görlitz. The drive was beautiful and the sun was shining, a lovely day for a wedding. The tree-lined roads we took got progressively smaller and smaller until we could see a church on a hill ahead. We were one of the first to arrive because we were worried that we might get lost finding the place. I was also a bit worried because I had read online that it was inappropriate to wear a black dress to a wedding, but as the guests began to arrive I was relieved to see that several women were also wearing black, although I was one of the few wearing a floor-length dress. We were really happy when our friends from Wrocław arrived, since it meant we’d have someone to hang out with at the reception.

We followed everyone into the The Assumption of the Blessed Mary church and sat down in a pew to take in its beautiful interior. I can’t remember now the exact details, but later through translation, the groom’s father proudly told us how many people could be seated in the church. Although it looks small, it also had seating in the balcony. The groom, our friend, came down the aisle first with a big grin on his face and the bride, who I had not yet met, came next. She looked beautiful! Now I have to confess that the ceremony was quite mystifying to me as it was, naturally, all in Polish. I assume it was similar to Catholic wedding ceremonies in the US. What I observed was the couple seated at a table in front of the priest. He chanted and sang and the crowd often sang words back to him. He wrapped a ribbon around the couples’ hands, joining them together. My husband, not a Catholic, had fun counting how many times we were asked to stand up during the ceremony (seven).

Church in Słup
Church in Słup

After the ceremony everyone waited outside the church for the newlyweds. When they came out everyone began throwing coins at them, which seems a bit more hazardous than throwing rice! I read online that the couple must stop and pick up all the coins. Luckily the children helped with that. So if you see coins in the grates outside of church entrances in Poland, now you know the reason. After that everyone loaded into their cars to head over to the reception location which was a big banquet hall with lodging included that seemed designed for such occasions. Again, everyone waited for the bride and groom to enter the banquet hall first and then everyone gathered on the dance floor where a DJ welcomed the crowd and then the couple spoke. We all had a glass of champagne to toast the newlyweds and then everyone lined up to greet them and give them their gift. It seemed that most gifts were in envelopes. When it was our turn to congratulate them, the groom and bride said they felt honored that we had come all the way but honestly, we were the ones who felt honored to be invited to their special day!

So now comes the “fun” part, the part I had been told so much about. There seemed to be over 100 guests and we were all seated at banquet tables and they began to bring out the food. Let me tell you, they didn’t stop bringing out food until well after midnight! For the first hot meal served everyone sat politely and tucked in and I began to wonder if what I’d been told about wild & crazy Polish weddings had all been a lie. Later I realized that the guests had been pacing themselves, which we were told is the key to surviving a Polish wedding. The bride and groom had their first dance and then everyone began dancing. I have to say I was impressed because everyone was dancing. And not just for the first dance but well into the night, young and old. As they continued to bring out new dishes interspersed with more dancing, people started to loosen up a lot more and the vodka came into play. They were very considerate with their seating arrangements. We were seated beside the friends we knew as well as a couple from Argentina and others who spoke English, we even made new friends. When someone at your table raised their shot glass, it was only polite to join them! This continued throughout the night with shorter and shorter intervals between, but the food and dancing seemed to keep everyone from experiencing any ill effects. A man came around often with a basket full of cold bottles of vodka to replenish our supply.

Polish Wedding

Instead of throwing her bouquet, the bride threw her veil. The groom threw his bow-tie. The two who caught these items then danced together. Several times everyone would break out into song singing Sto lat (which means 100 years and is a traditional Polish song to wish someone well) or chanting Gorzko, Gorzko! (which means bitter, not quite sure I understand that one) which meant the bride and groom had to kiss. There were no speeches at the reception aside from when we were greeted as we first came in. Some fun activities included a photo booth and much later on (around 2am) a karaoke competition where the men and women competed against each other.

Around midnight the party was still going strong. The old and the young were still partying with no end in sight. We started worrying because our hotel was actually a half hour away in Legnica and we weren’t sure if we should try to sleep in our car or to wait it out until one of us could drive. We spoke to the groom about our concerns and he managed to get us a room at the banquet hall. I was really struck by how thoughtful this was, in the midst of 100+ guests he took the time to help us out. I am constantly impressed by our friends in Poland and what generous hosts they are. I hope we can return the favor.

Now I need to confess that we did not make it to the end of the wedding. Around 2:30am we decided we had lasted long enough to call it a night. The party, however, continued until well into the morning.

But wait, the wedding was not over yet! It’s true, in Poland the wedding parties can last for days. The party thrown on the second day is called Poprawiny which means something like “making it right again”. Traditionally this party is intended so that guests can finish all the leftover food. This party was more casual and low-key than the party the night before and the crowd was noticeably smaller. Again we enjoyed delicious food (but obviously not as much drink this time!). We were honored when the parents of the groom came and sat beside us. I wish I could have understood what they were saying but they seemed very sweet. My husband can speak a little Polish and tried to translate for me. It was a beautiful event and I am so grateful that I got to experience a Polish wedding!

like-photo