Ruins of Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany

Visiting the ruins of Hanstein takes us back to medieval times - Castle Hanstein near Bornhagen, Germany in 2012 More »

Vietnam War protestors demonstrate - Wichita, KS, 1967.

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Solingen, Germany after the bombing, November 1944. - Stadtarchiv Solingen

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My grandmother Grete with her sisters in the early 1920s in Germany.

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B17 Bomber above German Airfield in WWII

U.S. Bomber flies above German airfield in WWII. More »

 

Category Archives: Travel

Going Back in Time

old fashioned door lock with large key

The door lock of our room

I’m the first to admit that I find the Middle Ages fascinating. But anyone who knows what life was really like in those days, also knows that we tend to romanticize—a lot.

The old castle ruins of Hanstein I still use as the header for my website were my inspiration to write the ESCAPE FROM THE PAST time-travel trilogy. Located on a mountaintop with sweeping views of Thuringia and Hessen, they represent the best part of medieval history. At its feet sits the old Klausenhof Inn, a restaurant and hotel built in 1487.

table in chair in old room

Under the eaves in our bedroom

Since we were visiting friends in Kassel, I thought it might be fun to spend the night in the old inn. We’d eaten there before and the food and home-brewed beer are worth a stop anytime. They offer Thuringia specialties and out of this world venison dishes. I stuffed myself with a Jägertopf, a hunter’s pot until I could no longer move.

medieval armor

This fellow hangs out in front of the Knights Hall

Our sleeping quarters were on the third floor, up two flights of stairs that squeak to tell you their age. We actually signed an acknowledgement about the fire hazard the old and well-seasoned walls and floors present—five hundred thirty two years to be exact. To abide by modern laws, the inn installed an external fire escape staircase in back. Nonetheless, open flames and smoking are strictly prohibited. Who would blame them since spending time in these walls feels like staying in a historical monument. It is beautiful.

old fashioned open fireplace

In book 3 of ESCAPE FROM THE PAST, this fireplace (Knights Hall) has an important task.

The floor of our room groaned with each step and reminded you that countless generations of tired pilgers have walked here before you. Windows are small and under the eaves. But do not worry yourself. We did not need to use the outhouse. Our room came with a modern tiled bathroom and shower.

The inn is a gorgeous historic building with eating rooms where lords and ladies dined as well as peasant quarters with sheepskin covered benches and an indoor well. I don’t know if I could take another night in the old-fashioned beds, but I would recommend visiting the Klausenhof Inn to anybody who is interested in medieval history.

The Klausenhof staff was super nice and you can sign up for wonderful events that celebrate the Middle Ages.

On the Hunt for the Next Story

Everywhere I go, I keep my eyes open for another story. It’s not even that I’m purposefully looking, it’s sort of an unconscious awareness that is ready to scream when something interesting crosses my path. You never know when you hit pay dirt. This time it happened on a strenuous hike in South Tirol—Northern Italy.

ascending stairs and stone walls

Stairs and More Stairs

At the entrance to the Gröden valley sits a little town named Klausen. And on top of the mountain, almost flying above it, thrones Cloister Säben. On a whim my husband and I decided to pay the cloister a visit. After all, the sign said it was only a 20-minute hike.

medieval castle on a hill

Branzoll Castle by Matthias Suessen Summer 2017-7870

Right. The trail began with a series of uneven steps and natural rocks. Picturesque, yes, easy to walk, no. We scrambled our way up to the first vantage point at medieval Castle (Burg) Branzoll. Unfortunately, it is privately owned and we were not able to take a look inside.

shrine with religious painting

One of the Many Shrines along the Way

So, off we went toward the cloister which seemed to mock us from its heavenly heights. The trail meanders on uneven ground along vineyards and sheer cliffs. Each turn offers a new breathtaking view of the valleys below. As the roads, cars and people in the valley turned to ants, we grew short of breath. Thankfully, a few benches offered moments of respite. All the way up there are small shrines with statues or old paintings depicting Christian figures. Some of them are decorated with flowers and candles. At last, we reached the first church (Liebfrauenkirche) which is located outside the cloister walls. You can refill your water bottle here. Unfortunately, the church was closed to visitors.

cloister sitting on a rock

Cloister Säben by Mmenendezb [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

So we continued uphill along fifteen-foot walls, and what is called the pilgrim’s trail. These walls are so strategically placed that you can’t begin to guess what is behind them. The only way to know is to see photos from a distance, usually from the Internet or public photos.

At some point we came across a poster sign that told the story of Sister Magdalena Told, a Benedictine nun who showed outstanding bravery and is credited with saving Cloister Säben’s fate. Apparently, during the Napoleonic wars in the late 18th century, the cloister was taken over by hundreds of French soldiers. Most nuns had fled, but Sister Magdalena held her own. The French soldiers eventually left, but in 1808, Bavarians, who fought with the French, reoccupied the cloister. What made it worse was that the new government had decided to remove the religious status as a Benedictine cloister. As a consequence, its precious possessions were sold to the highest bidders in the village below.

View over valley in South Tirol

Flying Above

Sick about the destruction, Sister Magdalena dressed up as a soldier and hiked across the mountain to Bozen to complain to the local General. He not only listened, but promised to put a stop to the cloister’s occupation. Sister Magdalena proceeded to see the bishop in Brixen and pleaded for the reinstatement of the cloister. She got her wish.

What a woman! What a protagonist!

At the top of the hill we finally entered the oldest part of the cloister with the most amazing views I have seen in a long time. Flying is more like it when you stand up here above the valleys. Life as we know it is far removed. It is quiet except for the wind. You can almost imagine how it must be to live up here for a nun so close to her god.

inside an old church

Holy Cross Church at Cloister Säben

The highlight of our climb, that by the way took nearly an hour, was the Holy Cross Church at the highest point of the mountain. Inside, time truly stands still. It is a small church with few adornments, a simple place that is more powerful because of it. I can almost imagine Sister Magdalena praying in one of the pews, asking for strength and wisdom how to defeat the French soldiers and save her beloved cloister.

Sometimes it takes lots of effort to find a precious place. Sometimes such a place reveals a precious story. I hope I get to tell it one day.