One of the very striking aspects of spending any amount of time in Germany is the age of things. It isn’t unique to this country, but in coming from somewhere as relatively young as the United States, the antiquity of casual, everyday things can be a bit intense to encounter. Leipzig, our new city, for example, had an anniversary in 2015. It turned 1,000 years old. Or, rather, 1,000 years had elapsed since its earliest written mention. I’ll get into that a bit more in a later post, but suffice it to say, it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around.
One of the niftier aspects of old places is old architecture. I always loved living in Providence for that reason. But even the oldest architecture in Providence is centuries younger than some of the coffee shops around here.
And of that old architecture, one of the niftier aspects are the castles. There are loads of them here in Germany. And right here in Leipzig, there are apparently 20 of them. Upon scoping out our neighborhood before the move, I learned that we’ve got a palace, the Gohliser Schlößchen, that apparently has a really awesome Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market)
All of them, at least in Leipzig, seem to be a bit under the radar as far as casual history buffs from the United States are concerned. So all that said, we are gonna visit all 20 of em (plus the palace) and let you all know a bit about their histories.
The first one we visited, picked for no other reason than proximity, was Schloss Schönfeld.
Side note: The word Schloß/Schloss is German for castle. German is kind of a funny language. There are some different letters from English but it’s not as divergent as you may think going in. ß is a long s sound that traditionally proceeded a long vowel sound, while a double s proceeded a short. German underwent a restructuring in 1996 and now they’re more or less used interchangeably, perhaps to make it easier on people without German Keyboards. And so sometimes you’ll see Schloß, sometimes Schloss.
They’re both pronounced the same, but one makes you feel fancy while the other is easier to type and less scary to see. The ß is called “Eszett” in the northern German states and “scharf s” (sharp s) in the southern.
Anyway. Back to our castle.
I haven’t done a ton of reading on the other castles because I don’t want them all to bleed into each other and confuse me while writing…but I am not really finding anything in English about this place! I’m sure that has a decent amount to do with why seemingly few people have heard of Leipzig’s castles.
The earliest years of the property are a bit fuzzy, at least to my rudimentary research connections here on Germany. The name Schönfeld came to the area from Grafen von Schönfeld, whose family name stretches back to at least the 13th century. In or by the second half of the 16th century the area of Leipzig known today as Schönfeld had gotten its name.
In 1585, the land on which the castle stands came into the Thümmel family. Schloß Schönefeld was completed 19 years later in 1604, built by a guy named Georg H. von Thümmel. I’ve yet to find anything of substance on him, but he was clearly of some importance as he was building a castle as his manor at the start of the 17th century.
The castle remained in his family for a full 150 years, and housed the troops of Albrecht von Wallenstein during the 30 Years War. However, in 1754 the family ran into some tough times apparently and had to do what every family dreads ever having to do: they sold their castle.
It was purchased by Johann Friedrich Zuermer, another guy whose name I’m gonna have to dig out of German history books, as his Rittergut, or “knightly estate.” In 1813, the entire place was almost destroyed in a fire during the Battle of Leipzig, during which the coalition armies of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden halted Napoleon’s advance into Germany.
By mid century, what was left of the estate was owned by Baron von Eberstein, and was rebuilt between 1871-76 by the Baroness Clara Hedwig von Eberstein, who seems to have been the granddaughter of Johann Friedrich Zuermer. Shortly thereafter, it became the Mariannenstiftung, or Mariana Foundation, which served as a boarding house for impoverished daughters of military and high civil service officers.
It served as a nursing home from 1949 until 1990, when after the fall of the Berlin Wall it was closed due to poor conditions. In 1994, the grounds reopened as the Special School for Mentally and Multiple Disabled Children, with the castle as it’s headquarters.