Marienburg Castle is only 30 km south of my hometown of Hannover, in Lower Saxony in Germany, but I am ashamed to admit that I have never visited it before. My mum visited the castle as part of a school trip many years ago and remembers having to wear felt slippers in the castle (they are no longer used as they apparently caused more damage to the floors than your street shoes). I, together with the family, finally made a visit this summer. The drive up to the hill on which the castle stands is via a bendy and beautiful road and deposits you into a small car park from which you walk up to the castle. The small ticket office, which also acts as a small gift shop offers regular tours of the castle, as well as a tour up the tower. To safe money, buy a combo ticket and do both. For non-German speakers there is a free audio guide (which our daughter was very glad to have). The tours are given by very knowledgeable local guides, taking you through some of the most beautiful rooms with amazingly crafted oak paneled ceilings.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the castle, so to get an idea what the rooms look like, please visit the castle website. Plan to spend at least half a day here and take the opportunity to try out their cafe/restaurant; I recommend having coffee and cake there or a light lunch.
The castle is one of the most important Gothic revival buildings in Germany. King George V of Hannover, the last King of Hannover and grandson of King George III of England, gave it to his wife Queen Marie on her birthday in 1858 – the castle had not been built at that time. This gave Queen Marie the chance to be involved in the designing and planning of the castle, which was intended to become a summer residence.
The hill on which the castle stands was called Schulenberg Berg (Schulenberg Hill), but was renamed, in honor of the Queen, to Marienberg. This land is close to the families ancestral ancient fortress, the House of Guelph’s Fortress of Calenberg.
The castle was a scheme to promote King George’s dynastic interests through its iconography of royal power, which can be seen all over the castle, inside and out.
The King engaged master builder Conrad Wilhelm Hase, who built four wings positioned around a rectangular courtyard, building 140 rooms, with a floor plan that followed the tradition of baroque palaces. The castle does feature architectural defense elements like towers and battlement. These are purely for decoration as they served no purpose as fortifications in the late 19th century.
Hase was eventually dismissed in the summer of 1864 due to differences with his royal clients. On the request of the Queen, his pupil Edwin Oppler took over just a few months later. At this point the interior decor was almost complete, but Oppler favoured a new forward-looking style, which combined Gothic style with comfort. The Queen was persuaded by his ideas and the interior was torn out to start over. This new design gave a clear distinction between the state rooms and the families private apartments.
War broke out between the Kingdoms of Hannover and Prussian in 1866, which prevented the Great Hall and the Dining Hall interior to be completed. Despite this, the rooms of the castle are unique among German castles and palaces in being uniformly executed in neo-Gothic style.
Prussia won the war, leading to the German Unification, and at that time the castle was not expropriated by Prussia. The King went into exile in Austria, leaving his wife and daughters at the castle until 1867, at which point they followed him to Austria. Since then, this castle has remained uninhabited, although that is not the feeling you get whilst walking through the rooms. The current descendants of King George and Queen Marie are taking care to keep this castle in great condition.
The tour starts in the entrance hall, which contains the original floor tiles. These tiles are one of the earliest examples of tiles produced by Messrs Villeroy and Boch, and were enormously expensive at the time. The hall also exhibits a cork model of the castle, which the Queen had made as soon as the plans were completed so that her blind husband (he was blind since his youth) could get a mental picture of the castle through feeling his way around the model.
You move through some more rooms before arriving in the Great Hall (the one with the unfinished interior) which is host to a unique set of silver furniture dating from the 1720s and is considered to be the most important set of its kind in Germany. It is the work of the celebrated Augsburg goldsmiths and includes two tables, four light stands, 4 chairs (one of which was on loan to the Landesmuseum in Hannover) and some mirrors. This set of furniture was not part of the original furnishings, but was previously owned by King George II of England, who inherited the set, and used it at Windsor Castle until the 19th century, when it came back to Hannover.
The tour also goes down into the basement to visit the Queen’s modern kitchen (well, modern for its time). It has all the usual copper pots and pans one would expect, but also showcases some of the 365 small cake forms. The kitchen would produce a different small cake every day of the year using these forms. The tour guide informed us that 3 forms have disappeared since the Queen and her household left, and despite trying to locate them all over the world, they remain missing.
The library is the most beautiful room in the castle. It is circular with a blue ceiling which is like a massive Gothic umbrella, with its spines spreading out from the central pillar. It was actually used as a reception room rather than a library, only a little space was given to books. High up on the ceiling you see 16 circular medallions with portraits of German poets and thinkers.
One of the extraordinary things about the rooms is the fact that each oak ceiling is uniquely carved, with no repetition of pattern or design. Walking through the rooms and up and down staircases you can just imagine the fun their daughters must have had running around and exploring every little nook and cranny, of which there are many.
The tour finishes in the chapel, which, if you are there at the right time of day, has some beautiful light coming through the windows.
If you bought a combo ticket then the way into the tower is the door just to the left as you exit the chapel (which is also currently the entrance to a special exhibition – more of this later). The tour up to the tower leads up one of the spiral staircases and brings you to a floor you don’t see as part of the castle tour. It contains an apartment that is used by today’s descendants and our guide also told us that behind every door on the many small landings throughout the castle was a small washroom, which was part of the original design and was quite modern for its time.
The view from the tower is fantastic, giving you great vistas over the Leine Valley.
Until 9 November 2014 the castle has a special exhibition to celebrate 300 years since the House of Hannover came to the English throne, aptly titled “The way to the crown”. Again, photography is not allowed here, so I am unable to bring you any photos of this special exhibit.
The first part takes you through history to explain how it was that the House of Hannover found itself to be the heirs of the English throne. This was all due to the fact that in 1701 the Act of Settlement decreed that no Roman Catholic could ever accede to the throne (this is still valid today) and therefore, during Queen Anne’s reign, Sophia of Hannover was made heir presumptive. Although Queen Anne had over 50 closer blood relatives, Sophia was the first Protestant in the family line, being the granddaughter of James VI and I of Scotland and England. Sophia died two months before the childless Queen Anne passed away, and the throne passed to Sophia’s son George Luis of Brunswick-Luneburg, who took the title of King George I. So started the reign of the House of Hannover, which ended with Queen Victoria.
The exhibition has over 100 exhibits displayed in 9 rooms, culminating in my favourite pieces – the crown jewels of the House of Hannover. These items have not been seen in public since the Kingdom of Hannover ceased to be in 1866. The royal crown, the scepter and the bridal crown have been held probably in a private collection, although our tour guide was not at liberty to tell us, or even advise where the jewels would be going to after this exhibit. I like to think that the descendants of the Kings of Hannover had them in their possession these past 148 years. It was amazing to be able to get really close to the glass display and spent a considerable amount of time admiring the incredible jewels. I am so glad we went to visit the castle during this special time in its history and that we were able to see something so special, knowing that these royal insignia may not be on public exhibit ever again.