Saturday, May 21, 2016

#626 Kransberg Castle, Usingen, Hesse, Germany

In an unusual InterNations social event, Schloss Kransberg was opened up for an evening gathering. I thought it would just be a nice event at one of the many castles of Hessen, but little did I know that it would be at one of the few Fuhrer Headquarters that had recently been bought by a Turkish investor to use as a hotel and function complex.

This room was discovered only recently during the renovations and a wall was cut into the stone to access it.
First begun around 1170 it has circulated through numerous owners throughout the centuries, all of whom have added their personal architectural style and design according to their needs. From the noble families of Falkenstein, Koenigstein, Eppstein, Stolbery, Darmstadt, Mainz, and the Duchy of Nassau to being a society events location under the 1926 owner Emma von Scheiltlein until it was seized by the Nazi military for use as (among other things) the airforce headquarters under Hermann Goering from 1944, to being an interrogation center of high ranking intellectuals and scientists for "Operation Dustbin" after the war. Fifty bunks were in the bunker, apparently, and the metal bars are still on the interrogation room windows. A US military spy base (used for missions into East Germany), before being handed over to the German then Hesse governments, then later it was the home of an IT Entrepreneur and used as a business park.
The rooms used for high ranking discussion during WW2.
Named for Kranichsberg (Crane Mountain)It has seen illustrious visitors from the likes of Michael Jackson (as his European office), Elvis Presley (who someone on my visit mentioned performed here during his military service though I have no verification of that), the German intellectuals and scientists held for interrogation after World War II which included Werner von Braun (designer of the V-2 rocket), Ferdinand Porche, and Albert Speer (German minister for armaments, and ironically, the designer of the WW2 military complex itself ), among others, likely Eisenhower, Goering, Himmler and of course, Hitler (delivering his 1945 New Year's speech from the Pressehaus here), who didn't seem particularly impressed with it as a military headquarters. 
The architecture is quite a hodge-podge of eras with the stables being turned into a night club while we were there. Goering's office was empty in 2012 (see here) but has now been filled with antiques. Someone murmured on my visit that the renovations in the three years since purchase have already surpassed 4 million euro. The Officer's Club, a beautiful arched medieval hall with grand fireplace is now a banquet room. Apparently only the the outer walls and the central towers are of the original 900 year old construction. Some walls are gothic and others almost modern. Several of the other guests and I wandered through the partially finished hotel where beds were covered with candlesticks and other antiquities and walls were propped with paintings or spread with tapestries. They've created a pretty authentic feeling ambiance!
A view of the foundations of the castle from the road below.
Entrance to the unfinished tunnel to the town below.
What I didn't realise when I was there, was the extensive size of the Alderhost (the underground bunker system built during World War II) -- I saw just a few rooms and the start of the escape tunnel, but the entire hillside was a dedicated shelter, confidentially built and a pretty well-kept secret. The complex was hidden by a collection of seven cottages over a large bomb shelter, (Haus 1, no more luxurious, was of course the Fuhrer's). It was fascinating to see how the giant square structure with 3 feet deep concrete walls was just plonked down in the middle of what would have been the castle courtyard (between a medieval castle extension right next door) and a charming chapel on the hillside.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#642 Paramaribo, Suriname

The charming riverside city of Paramaribo may be the capital of the small South American country of Suriname, but it has the feel of a small town with friendly citizens, quaint restaurants and a cute harbour. Farms are a short drive from the city centre and you can be in the wild tropical jungles of the national parks on the outskirts within a couple of hours. Of the three Guianas, it's capital is probably the safest and most dynamic, with a bizarre European feel of Amsterdam meets the Amazon, and it is famed for the diversity of its inhabitants, including Creoles, Hindustanis, Maroons, Javanese, Indigenous, Chinese, Europeans, Lebanese Brazilians, Guyanese and Jews despite it's relatively small population of just under 250,000 inhabitants.
Known locally as 'Parbo', it is located approximately 15 kilometres inland from the Atlantic Ocean on the Suriname River, and it's riverside main street is still adorned with the historic old settlement homes, recognised by UNESCO for its connection to the Dutch colonial settlement from the 17th and 18th centuries and laid out in a grid pattern from 1683, although much was destroyed in a fire in 1821.
The homes are all in timber with elaborate decorated balconies, some in various states of repair. The best ones along the 'Waterkant' riverside road catch the afternoon sun which makes their white paint sparkle. There is even one of the oldest synagogues in the western hemisphere dating back to 1685.
Just off Independence Square are the Presidential Palace and Ministry of Finance building. Independence Square also hosts early morning 'whistling bird' competitions.
The Palmentuin (Palmtree Garden) in the middle of downtown Paramaribo near the Parliamentary palace is a charming oasis of calm amidst traffic noises and bustle.
Fort Zeelandia
Originally a wooden structure built by the French in 1640 near an indigenous village and from 1651called Fort Willoughby by the British until it was captured by Abraham Crijnssen in February 1667 and renamed. The 17th century era star-shaped fort built to protect the Dutch East India Company's interests in what was then Dutch Guiana. It has been well restored and holds a small collection of historical buildings on the riverside near the Waterkant and home to one of the main museums in Paramaribo, the Stichting Surinaams Museum.
The Harbour

Small fishing boats line the riverside of the Waterkant, along with ferries and small canoe-like boats that cross to the plantations and settlements on the other side of the Suriname River.
The modern centre of Paramaribo in a tropical afternoon storm.
Sunsets over the Suriname River are pretty spectacular.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#643 Saint George's, Bermuda

St. George's Town was first settled in 1612, the first permanent British settlement on the islands of Bermuda and its capital until 1815. Some claim it is the oldest continually inhabited English city in the New World. Originally called New London, it was a stopping place for the ships of the Virginia company on their way to Jamestown and other settlements.
Ordnance Island is connected to St. George's by a short causeway, and much of the waterfront is reclaimed land.
With quaint names and narrow alleys, the town is fun to visit, and prettily decorated in a traditional style, with the typical Bermudian water-collecting roofs on display.

The main town square, King's Square, is bounded by the 1782 Town Hall to the east, the Bermuda National Trust Museum to the north-west, and Ordnance Island.
The location of hangings, Ordnance Islands guns signify its past, but is now used as a cruise ship terminal.
A replica of the Deliverance, one of two boats built by survivors of the 1609 shipwreck Sea Venture that was stranded (deliberately sent onto the reef) on Bermuda on their way to Jamestown, VA, and led to the first settlers of the islands.
Other historic landmark sites to see in the town include the first stone building, the 1620 State House, the Old Rectory, St, Peter's Church, the Tucker House, and the Mitchell House (housing the St. George's Historical Society Museum, and the Featherbed Alley Printshop Museum), along with the oldest structure on the island, the L-shaped Bridge House. Along with its fortifications, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
The unfinished church is above and behind the town on a hill. Construction began in 1874 after the town's main church, St. Peter's was damaged in a storm. The local populace was divided, however as to whether to repair the old church or construct a new one, so it was never finished. In 1926 a bad storm significantly damaged what was there. It is closed to the public for safety reasons, but you can peek through a window like me!