It was a dark and stormy night when I arrived at Schloss Melschede near Neheim, Germany. The rain fell in torrents. I’ll pause here because I must admit that these words are not quite true. It was simply dark, not stormy at all. In fact, it wasn’t even raining but Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s purple prose seemed a more suitably dramatic introduction to the manor house that had me in awe as I approached it that night.
I was excited to be able to spend four nights in this house steeped in history. I owe my good fortune to my son Brad and his friend Steph who are helping prepare the 1200 acre family owned estate for an upcoming wild boar hunt in early November.
Schloss Melshede was built as a moated castle between 1659 and 1669, two hundred years before the famous German royal castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, although documented evidence of a building on the site dates back to 1281. Originally it had four wings and in the middle ages it was a manor house with two parts. In the early 1800s, the north wing was removed and in the 1920s the house was updated considerably. Today much of the land is managed forest or leased agricultural land and exhibitions, concerts and weddings are held at the house which has a chapel on the main floor.
After a week of cycling in Albania I was looking forward to a few quiet days in one place. To get there I flew from Tirana to Venice to Dusseldorf. In response to my query for directions from Dusseldorf airport, my son replied – yes there are trains from Dortmund airport and yes they run often. This might prove helpful on a future trip should I ever find myself in the Dortmund airport.
Landing in Dusseldorf late at night, I was left to navigate the German train network with my German vocabulary of seven words: yes, no, thank you, and one, two, three, chug. As it turns out, these words are not the only ones necessary to get along in Germany. While standing in front of a ticket machine at the Dusseldorf airport sky train looking confused and wondering how to get from Dusseldorf airport to the small village of Neheim, I was rescued by a very helpful German woman.
Although I had second thoughts, my rescuer insisted I follow her and quickly jump on a departing train (so as not to miss it) and try to buy a ticket on the train if necessary. Of course
she already had a ticket. Once seated, my misgivings were borne out as I looked up at the very solidly built German woman hovering over me demanding my ticket. Germans in general, I have since noticed, are very good at following the rules. After a failed attempt at negotiation (not surprising when English is not understood and ein, zwei, drei, g’suffa is an inadequate substitute for a paid fare) my German partner in crime again rescued me and managed to secure my pardon. The ticket-checker agreed to let me buy a ticket on the train but made it quite clear to me (through my new translator) that she felt my punishment should have been to have to sit on the train until it deposited me back at Dusseldorf airport.
I arrived safely at Neheim with Brad there meet to me and while I don’t recall him immediately reaching out to relieve me of my heavy bags, he did warn me not to stumble into the creek when we arrived at Schloss Melschede in the dark.
Climbing the flights of stone steps to my third floor bedroom, I could not help but think of the centuries of footsteps that have polished the steps to their present shiny state. I was assigned one of the almost 15 bedrooms. As the big, wooden doors to all the rooms in the house are kept closed to keep in the warmth (I can’t imagine the cost of heating the place) the staff had kindly labeled the door to my room so that I could find it again. The sign read Bratt’s Mother. Hmm…a simple mistake I’m sure, then again… Regardless, I packed the sign when I left (for use at home). Although I had a quick tour of the place that night, I went to sleep wondering if I would ever be able to find my way back to the dining room for breakfast the next morning.
The next day as Bratt and Steph worked, I wandered the house opening doors and peaking into the many bedrooms, sitting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, the library, ballroom, chapel, dining rooms, spiral servant staircases, miles of hallways, hunting wardrobe change rooms and the basement beer hall. I admired the beautiful and massive antique wardrobes, tables, chairs and desks with their rich walnut, cherry, oak and mahogany hues and studied paintings of hunting scenes, portraits of the family, line drawings and calendars dating back hundreds of years. I saw trophies from earlier hunts and century old books in the floor to ceiling book cases in the library. Exploring the house took the morning and then we were served a delicious schnitzel lunch with gooseberry pie for dessert.
I drove a pick-up truck (an oddity here) to visit nearby villages, visited the Saturday morning Neheim market and took Brad for lunch while Steph was off visiting friends. In my continuing quest for dark beer in Germany I thought I had succeeded when the waiter, nodding yes, showed up with a malt energy drink. I must have looked run-down from the miles I logged walking the Schloss.
Later, I walked the estate with Brad looking at the work they have done to get ready for the hunt.
Wild boars roam the oak forests of Europe, badly damaging the crops as they hunt for food.
I went out that night to try and get phone service at the top of a hill but also hoping to see one of these elusive nocturnal animals. They are as much a mystery to me as bears are to many Europeans I meet in my travels. Unfortunately, the closest I came were the wild boar meatballs I later ate for supper in Munich.
After four restful days I said goodbye and thank you to Schloss Melschede, my son and Steph. I will be interested to hear how the hunt goes. Hopefully, my Brat will fill me in when I see him at Christmas.
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