Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 29 / Burghausen-1

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Burghausen / Burgfest / Part # 1 

 View of Burghausen Castle from Austria
We were in the final week of our time in Bavaria and the window to see any remaining sites on my list was closing quickly.  I had traveled in a car through the city of Burghausen several times on the way to other destinations, always hoping for an opportunity to return to explore the area in more detail on foot.  The crown of the community was the impressive hilltop castle that runs the length of an elevated ridge above the historic city.  A few days earlier, I was able to photograph the large main section of the castle from a distant hillside in Austria.  Since then, I had hoped I would get the chance to return to tour the interior of the impressive fortress.  Thankfully, I was about to get my wish.  The Galneder family was taking me out for an afternoon visit to see the famous Burghausen Castle and just by chance, there was a major festival taking place!  We loaded the stroller into the trunk, followed by Leo and Amalie into their car seats, and finally gave them each their pacifying bottle of apple juice.  Locked and loaded, Andy guided the Opel van out of the driveway and onto the open road... We were off on yet another adventure into Bavaria's rich history!

 View of Burghausen Castle from Germany
We drove out of Tüßling and through the beautiful Bavarian countryside, which resembles a patchwork quilt of farms, forests, and small quaint villages.  Within a few minutes we were crossing the Alz River and were soon approaching the outskirts of the city of Burghausen.  The ancient city is located directly on the edge of the Bavarian shore of the Salzach River, which serves as a natural border between Germany and Austria.  We approached the city from a direction which I was not previously familiar and suddenly the extensive walls of the castle came into view off in the distance to the left of the roadway.  We stopped at an observation point, which provided an excellent view of the hilltop fortress from a distance without any obtrusive sign of the modern world.  The surrounding hillsides were a bright healthy green with grass and trees flanking a tranquil lake that served as one of the outer defense barriers designed to slow invaders of long ago.  With Lake Wöhrsee complimented by the Salzach River on the opposite side of the castle, the heart of Burghausen resembled a well defended island.  After a few pictures, we jumped back into the Opel to look for a crack in the town's outer defenses.  We hoped we could slip through without notice from potential archers nestled within the castle's towers.  It was a little intimidating.

Burghausen High Tech Parking
Andy pulled the van into an underground parking lot that turned out to be immense in size and served the dual purpose of concealing hundreds of modern vehicles from public view.  The lot was packed and appeared full but drivers were guided to open spaces by way of a small light that appeared above each space.  Red lights marked spaces that were already occupied and the green ones, which were sparse this afternoon, designated an available slot.  The overhead lights were helpful when peering down the long row of parked cars ahead, as the view of any open parking spaces would normally be blocked by all the parked cars.  The green light on the ceiling in the distance let you know which way to go to find an open spot.  The clever system was connected to several strategically placed electronic signs displaying how many spaces were available in each direction.  Andy eased the Opel into an open space and the green light went red.  Parking spaces are much smaller in Bavaria than the United States and you often have to maneuver your vehicle into position through trial and error.  Often passengers exit the vehicle before the delicate dance begins, since the vehicle is often so tightly nestled into the parking space, it would be difficult to open the doors on both sides!  We emerged from the underground parking garage via a wide stairwell out onto the upper streets of Burghausen.  The city streets were quiet and vacant of normal activity with most people attending the Castle Festival.  Many of the people we did see out and about were dressed in Medieval and Renaissance style dress, coming and going from the castle gate.  Apparently, you received a discount on the admission fee if you attended the Castle Festival in historically appropriate dress.  I was surprised how many people were all decked out wearing authentic looking costumes, which really enhanced the historic atmosphere of the castle.  However, wearing my Carhartt t-shirt, cotton shorts, and newly purchased German style white hat, I was forced to pay the full tourist price!

 Castle Burghausen Exterior Courtyard Walls
The site where Burghausen Castle resides was first settled as early as the 8th Century and grew over multiple centuries to eventually become known as the longest castle in the world.  The ever expanding castle went through its largest growth span between the 13th and 15th Centuries.  During this extensive building phase, most of the thick stone walls, observation towers, and various other fortifications were constructed, giving the fortress its impressive hard shell.  Some of the castle's walls are over 16 feet thick (5 meters) making it one of the strongest castles in the world during the Middle Ages.  Over a period of several centuries, the entire ridge above the Salzach River was fortified, creating five additional exterior courtyards flowing north away from the main castle courtyard.  The castle and accompanying walled sections extend over a half mile in length (1,051 meters) resting high above the historic community of Burghausen.  Following an extensive restoration period that encompassed over a half century to complete, 90% of the castle and supporting structures have since been preserved to their original state.  The castle now includes several museums, one of which is dedicated to the castle itself, while others house prized art and photograph collections.  However, the true highlight of the site is the castle itself, designed as a complex and defensive tool of war. 
 Castle Festival Encampment
We entered the far northern end of the extensive hilltop castle and the interior walled space was packed with visitors from ancient and modern times alike.  The Castle Festival, also known as Burgfest, is an annual summer tradition for three days in early July.  The scene reminded me of the Renaissance Faire held on weekends every fall at the Mount Hope Estate and Winery back home in Pennsylvania.  However, this was on such a grand scale, far beyond anything I could ever have imagined!  It was amazing!  Hosting a Renaissance Faire in an actual real-life castle multiplies the coolness factor of the event by at least ten fold!  The first thing we encountered upon entering the outer most courtyard was a historic encampment filled with canvas tents organized in a rough circular pattern.  As a Civil War reenactor I really admired the attention to detail invested by the participants of the group to make their campsite as authentic as possible.  The iron cookware in use over an open fire, period correct weaponry on display, and a detailed historic ensemble of supporting accessories completed the scene.  Even the acting participants themselves were dressed in authentic costumes from the Middle Ages with every possible detail of ornamentation included to give the illusion an enemy threat may actually exist.  The group's sacred colors in the form of flags and banners were proudly on display to reveal the identity of their legion.  The civilian and soldier reenactors naturally moved about the camp without script, giving the scene an element of realism.  The encampment's culminating details successfully provided the visiting crowd a view through a window of history, revealing a moment in time from an era long past.

 Minstrel Serenades the Crowd
We continued walking through the outer most Fifth Courtyard, absorbing all the history contained within... there was a minstrel playing the harp, merchants selling their handcrafted wares, fair maidens conversing with lords, and traditional foods being prepared over open charcoal fire pits.  Little Leo was quickly drawn into a colorful tent selling old world play weapons carved from wood.  He carefully surveyed the items available and selected two essential tools associated with knighthood.  Leo emerged from the tent well armed with a wooden sword and matching shield displaying a bright red dragon.  I instantly felt safer with Leo, now well armed, escorting me on foreign soil as we approached the gateway to the Fourth Courtyard.  His younger sister Amalie remained in the stroller and appeared perfectly content with her bottle of juice.  She was making me thirsty and all in attendance from past or present seemed ready to partake in the abundant availability of cold beer.  We passed by a large biergarten that was filled to capacity with patrons seated on long wooden benches, nested around crowded tables full of cheer.  I noted one table was occupied by several knights, who appeared to be in no shape to defend the caste!  Thank goodness little Leo was on patrol, alert, and ready for action!

Grilled Meat on a Stick
We continued past the crowded biergarten looking for another spot to grab a bite to eat.  We soon came to an area off to one side where a crowd of people gathered to watch a puppet show from a small box shaped theater.  The two old world characters seemed to be having an argument of some sort but it was hard for me to follow since the dialogue was in... you guessed it, German!  However, it seemed to have a happy ending and it was fun entertainment for me and the other kids in attendance.  After the show, Andy was able to secure table space for five in the shade of a small seating area where food and drink were readily available.  The Galneder extended family squeezed in to share a table with another family and were soon approached by a bar maid from the 16th Century.  She looked good for her age.  With our beverage order taken, it was time to take turns to explore the various food stations to purchase nourishment.  The food choices appeared to be authentic period fare of the Middle Ages but for a carnivore like me... it was all good!  Grilled meat on a long wooden skewer topped with a hearty bread roll, it was like fast food to go from long ago!  Hey, that rhymes...  It was simple and delicious.  Leo was content with a small sausage on a roll and his little sister Amalie... Well, she could eat almost anything and be happy.  It's one of the reasons why we got along so well...  It was something we had in common!  You Go Girl!

 Castle Living Quarters and Gardens
As we ate our meal, I noticed the space was flanked by large stone interconnected buildings that appeared to have been converted into modern housing units that remained hidden behind the historic facade.  The building had several balconies on the second floor that contained beautifully manicured potted gardens with colorful flowers overflowing from their decorative containers.  Down below, were more substantial gardens growing vegetables and other hearty plants, protected behind a tall wooden picket fence.  It appeared some of the castle's former living quarters that once may have housed tradesmen, merchants, shopkeepers, and countless others who once supported daily castle life over the past centuries were now re-purposed as apartments.   Old world seemed to meet the new as the castle was still alive with continuous life, housing a much more modern group of residents who today call Burghausen Castle, home.  A woman and her cute dog appeared within a second story window, surveying the festive carnival scene below.  I could only imagine what her apartment looked like on the inside... was it historic, ultra modern, or a combination of the two?  Either way, it would be an awesome address to call home, with sweeping views of the river valley below in both directions.  Now that we had eaten, it was time to move onward toward the southern end of the castle complex.  There was still so much to see with several more courtyards and the main section of the castle still to explore.  Leo with sword in hand led the way toward the next gateway.  Tune in next time as we further penetrate the interior defenses of Burghausen Castle...

Castle Apartment Terrace
Please stay tuned for the next installment of our adventure!

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