Friday, 28 March 2014

Stolpe Castle and the Grützpott Saga

Cycling SE from Angermünde in Uckermark, Brandenburg, you might come across, as we did, a large heavily-built tower on a ridge looking over the Oder flood-plain to the Polish border. This is the keep of Stolpe castle, which was originally built in the late twelfth century by Danes.

Danes? Yes, this land was once owned by the Duchy of Pomerania to the north, which owed fealty to the king of Denmark. In fact the tower's lower layers (just before the brick) are constructed from lower Jurassic Höör sandstone imported from southern Sweden.

The castle was pretty much burnt down in 1445 when Elector of Brandenburg Friedrich II conquered the Duke of Pomerania, but the keep survived and rubble from the rest of the castle was piled up around it and protected it from the ravages of time.

It was restored around 1920 and though it took three shells from the Red Army in 1945 it wasn't significantly damaged. It took reunification before any further restoration, which was carried out from 2006 to Easter 2008 when it was opened for the first time to the public.

Note that that is the red and white flag of Brandenburg flying from the top, not an upside down red and white Polish flag.

An interesting feature of the keep is that the 'front door' is so high up. Visitors today have to climb a metal spiral staircase to get inside. The keep of a castle is the main residential space for the king or lord, so it was certainly secure from attack, as long as the besiegers didn't bring a tall ladder with them.

Looking down the spiral staircase
The area below the entrance was actually a large dungeon, said to be one of the most secure dungeons in Germany.

Visitors today can peer down a hole into the dungeon below. There is a guide who will turn the light on for you to see better. The prospect of ever being stuck down there in the dark is terrifying. Food (or worse) would be flung down at you, and the only way out would be if someone lowered a rope down for you.

Looking down into the dungeon
Inside the tower there are information boards about the history (in German) and a small display of mediaeval armour and weaponry.
Mediaeval must-have fashion
The best part of a visit to the tower though, is the view it affords over the canals and the Oder to the hills of Poland beyond.

By the way, these photos are from the archives, and a cycle we did from Angermünde to Schwedt back in September 2011, so don't go wondering why the gorse is out.

Oh yes, I promised you in the title a retelling of the Grützpott Saga. The Stolper-Turm is colloqually known as the Grützpott, and this is the legend of how it got its name:

According to the saga, many centuries ago there lived in the castle a robber baron by the name of Tiloff. He particularly targeted merchants who were travelling through his territory. One day he spied a merchant from Silesia who had a very large money-pouch (in German, eine Geldkatze, or money cat). When the merchant rode through Stope forest the knight Tiloff fell upon him with a drawn sword. But the merchant had a gun, loaded with a silver button from his wife's dress. The button hit the knight in the heart, and he fell down dead from his horse. His squire fled horrified back to the castle.

The villagers soon got to hear of the death of the hated Tiloff, and banded together to destroy the despised castle. They soon took over the castle, but not the dungeon tower. The defenders of the tower threw all sorts of things down onto the attackers. When they had nothing left, they threw down their lunch, a pot-full of 'Grützbrei' (a porridge of groats, or grits if you are southern USA). The slop of hot porridge landed on the helmet of the blacksmith from the village of Stolpe, who was standing on thr top rung of a ladder at the door at the time. He was totally enraged and with a cry of 'Den Grützpott war'n wi bald utschüren' (something like, the porridge pot is going to be soon stoked up - i.e. like you stoke up a fire under a pot in the kitchen) he struck the door fiercely with an iron bar and smashed it to pieces and gained entry.That was the end of the robber's nest. The walls of the castle were pulled down, but the thick tower, the Grützpott, was allowed to stand as a reminder.

So there you go!

From Stolpe we followed the canal running parallel with the Oder on a very pleasant cycle, eventually meeting up with the Oder-Neiße cycle path.

Barge sedately bringing goods out of Poland
Oder-Neße Radweg
And so to the wide river Oder itself ...

... and the Polish border.

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