Frýdlant – Day Trips in Czechia

I continue to be amazed by the many interesting and beautiful places that surround Görlitz, and Frýdlant in Czechia is no exception. We recently had a friend from the U.S. visiting us and he wanted to “check off” as many countries from his bucket list as possible. I told him that Görlitz was the perfect place for that, because we are so close to Poland and Czechia. Crossing Poland off the list was simple, since it only required a walk across the bridge. But we didn’t have a lot of time to go to Czechia, so I started looking at the map and saw that there was a small town called Frýdlant just a forty minute drive by car from Görlitz (about 30 km). I noticed that there was a castle and a brewery there, but I knew nothing else about the town before arriving. Sometimes it’s more fun that way! But I discovered that Frýdlant is a charming little town with a castle full of treasures, and the Duke who owned it became embroiled in a feud with Görlitz in the 14th century resulting in a gift to the city.

View of the Castle Frýdlant from the brewery
Castle Frýdlant
Castle Frýdlant

Frýdlant (sometimes also called Frýdlant v Čechách to avoid confusing it with the other Frýdlant nad Ostravicí in eastern Czechia) is a town in the district of Liberec in Bohemia, near the border of Poland with a population of about 7,600. The area, which is near the Jizera Mountains and on the Smědá River, was probably settled beginning in the 6th century by Sorbian tribes from Lusatia, while the castle in Frýdlant made its first appearance in the history books in the 13th century when it was acquired by Rulko of Bieberstein. The castle sits perched atop a hill above the river in the center of town, and has known many different owners over the course of time.

Important trade routes crossed through the area, including those to Görlitz and Lusatia. From Görlitz one could get on the Via Regia, or Royal Highway, which ran west-east through the Holy Roman Empire.  Bieberstein had a moat and curtain walls built to further protect the castle, but it was still raided several times during the Hussite Wars (1419-1434). The originally gothic castle was rebuilt into the style of a Renaissance chateau.

Frýdlant Castle
Frýdlant Castle

The castle in Frýdlant changed hands many times over the centuries due to death, politics, assassination and intrigue. Some of the famous people that owned it were the families Bieberstein and Redern, or Albrecht Wallenstein, a prominent military leader during the Thirty Years War who was later assassinated for treachery. But one of the owners worth mentioning here, because of his relevance to the history of Görlitz, is Friedrich von Bieberstein. He was a baron and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom of Bohemia, he also owned the castles Landeskrone and Tauchritz. In 1349 von Bieberstein became involved in a feud with the city of Görlitz.

The cause of the feud was a warrant for the arrest of a thief and general mischief-maker named Nitsche von Rackwitz. Görlitz wanted to lock him up, and they knew him to be a vassal of von Bieberstein, so the city sent a delegation to Tauchritz to demand the delivery of the criminal Nitsche, but von Bieberstein refused to hand him over. The delegation decided enough was enough, and they rode with an armed crew to the castle Frýdlant, where they suspected Rackwitz was staying, and they stormed the castle to capture and arrest him. Von Bieberstein anticipated this move, however, and he met the armed crew there and ordered his guards to slay them as enemy invaders. Two men from Görlitz lost their lives at the castle, the rest of the men ran but the guards caught up with them in the square and left five more dead.

Naturally, this angered the people of Görlitz, and they demanded some recompense for the lives lost in the pursuit of justice. After much negotiating, von Bieberstein agreed to pay Görlitz 200 Shock (the coin currency used at the time), so that a church could be built for the salvation of the seven slain men from Görlitz. That church is the Frauenkirche, which today stands beside the Kaufhaus in Görlitz. Read more about the Frauenkirche here. 

The Frauenkirche in Görlitz

Today the castle Frýdlant (Zámek Frýdlant) is open for tours and contains an incredible collection of original decorations, furniture and historical artifacts since it escaped damage or raiding after WWII. If you tour the castle you will see the Countess’ and children’s rooms preserved with decorations and contents, an exhibit on  Albrecht von Wallenstein, an armory containing thousands of historic weapons dating from the Hussite period up to the 19th century, the chapel of St. Anne which has both a Catholic and Protestant altar, the uniforms of staff at the castle, an impressive antique pipe collection, and a working kitchen. I am used to visiting castles that are beautiful from the outside, but quite empty inside as a result of war and looting, so I was quite blown away by the historical treasures this castle contains. The castle interior can only be visited during a guided tour – we took a tour in Czech language but were given a script to read along in German and English.  I can only show you pictures of the exterior of the castle and the kitchen, as photography wasn’t allowed inside. You will just have to go and see it for yourself!

Kitchen in Castle Frýdlant
Kitchen in Castle Frýdlant
Castle Frýdlant

The town square in Frýdlant is small but charming, lined with colorful houses and the town hall building which was erected in 1893 according to plans by the Viennese architect Franz Neumann. Located inside of the town hall is a city museum with archaeological and historical exhibits. The square is named after Thomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia after independence from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918. The town of Frýdlant, with a majority German population, became part of the newly-founded country. Masaryk was one of the first politicians to voice concern at the rise of Hitler, but he didn’t live to see the Nazi occupation of his country in 1938. After WWII ended, the Germans living in the area were expelled and replaced by Czech settlers.

Town square in Frýdlant
Statue of Albrecht von Wallenstein in Frýdlant town square
Frýdlant Town Hall
Frýdlant Town Hall
Church of the Holy Cross in Frýdlant

Just south of the town square is the Church of the Holy Cross (Kostel Nalezení svatého Kříže), which was built in the 16th century by Italian architects contracted by the Bieberstein family, and today has a mixture of architectural styles due to renovations over the years. The church contains the tombs of the family Redern.

North of the town square you will see a small half-timbered home hidden away on Zahradní, a tiny side street. This, one of the oldest buildings in town, is called the Bethlehem House and inside is an amazing construction – a moving, mechanical nativity scene. The man who created it, Gustav Simon, dedicated 60 years of his life to the construction. Today you can visit for a very small fee, make sure to peek underneath to see how all the figures are moved by string. Every so often they have to crank the machine to wind it up again. Watch the video below to see the nativity scene in motion:

We enjoyed a traditional meal and Czech beer at the restaurant U Wéwody fridlantského near the town square, and also stopped by Pivovar Frýdlant, the historic castle brewery that was built at the request of the Emperor Ferdinand I and has been restored today to a microbrewery. You should stop here not only to taste their Albrecht beer, named after castle occupant Albrecht von Wallenstein, but for the great view of the castle sitting atop the hill.

Bethlehem House in Frýdlant
Restaurant U Wéwody fridlantského in Frýdlant
Albrecht beer from the microbrewery in Frýdlant

On the way out of town we stopped at an observation tower, Rozhledna Frýdlant, which you can climb for a nice view of the town and the area. While we were there they were having some kind of marathon and at the tower they were grilling and playing live music. There were many hiking trails here and people out enjoying the unusually sunny and warm autumn weather.

I was really impressed by this small town that I had never heard of: a castle stuffed full of beautiful treasures, an intriguing historical link to Görlitz, and all just a forty minute drive away! Discovering places like this in the area are a big part of why I absolutely love living in Görlitz and can’t wait to discover more.

Lookout tower Rozhledna Frýdlant

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!

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