Hamelschenburg Castle — Hämelschenburg Castle — Schloss Hamelschenburg — Schloss Hämelschenburg — Hamelschenburg Palace — Hämelschenburg Palace
Near Hameln Germany
Hämelschenburg Castle Today
The palace, former farm buildings, mill and gardens are part of the so-called Rittergut Hämelschenburg (the Hämelschenburg Manor and Estates). The elaborate palace and other Renaissance buildings on the estate can no longer be supported by the yields from forestry and farming alone. The costs of the preservation of the buildings soar, while revenues from agriculture steadily decline. Nevertheless, the von Klencke family continues to apply the principle of sustainability in the use of the estate’s resources and does not seek profit at any cost. The principle of plantation forestry and intensive modern farming are still exercised and their revenues used to support restoration of the palace and grounds. All of the family members take an active part in the planning processes, management and daily work on the estate.
All of the historic buildings have been renovated during the past thirty years and are in use, albeit quite differently than in Renaissance times. In the old mill one finds an art gallery and a carft shop as well as a modern hydroelectric plant that produces enough electricity to supply the entire village. A stud farm is located behind the castle and a nursery and herbal cosmetics shop in the garden. The former farm buildingss house a visitors center and cafe. Civil marriages take place in the stately Charlotte’s Hall of the palace. Tenants, as well as the von Klencke family, live in the five flats above the rooms in the palace open to the public.
In 1993 a non-profit foundation was created for the preservation of the estate with its historic buildings and the parish church. The foundation has taken over the management of the tourism side of the family businesses. The entrance fees to the castle museum, which has been open to the public since 1973, also generate income for the upkeep of palace and grounds.
Guided tours through the historic rooms of the palace inform visitors about the art and architecture of Hämelschenburg, explain the Weser Renaissance style and give a good insight into 550 years of local and family history. The founders of the castle, Jürgen Klencke and Anna von Holle, greet the visitors from their portraits in the entrance hall. Here one also fins the former pilgrim hall, a resting spot and pass-through from the former kitchen to the courtyard, where food and drink were provided for the poor and homeless until the end of the 19th century. This was an act of charity in accordance with the family’s strong Lutheran faith. Today Hämelschenburg is one of the special points of interest on the old pilgrim route between the former Cistercian monasteries in Loccum and Volkenroda.
The museum is decorated with magnificent fireplaces, porcelain stoves and antiques from four centuries. On display are also ancient weapons, crystal, china and rare books from the family’s personal library collection. In addition to the many fine ancestral portraits, there is an exquisite collection of Louis Silvestre’s portraits of Elector Friedrich August of Saxony (1696-1763) and his family, painted in Dresden, as well as Georg de Marées’ portraits of Elector Karl Albert of Bavaria (1697-1745) and his family, painted in Munich.
The extensive gardens behind and below the castle are of historical importance and link the palace with the charming landscape. Created below the castle, the Renaissance garden of the early 17th century was surrounded by the estate’s medieval wall. It was full of herbs, orchards, arcades and elaborately landscaped designs, and reportedly second in splendor only to the pleasure gardens of the ruling Guelphs. In the 20th century, the garden was no longer used for leisure. First vegetables were grown for sale at market and in the 1960’s it became a horse pasture. Recultivation took place in 1999 to create a modern garden with structured lawns, shrubs, and roses. It is open to the public. Behind the castle in the English landscape garden begun in the 19th century, there is a mausoleum in the form of a pyramid build by Georg Laves of Hanover in 1855. Such structures were typical for the romanticist period and are also found in Hanau-Wilhelmsbad, Pushkin’s palace garden near St. Petersburg and elsewhere.
The palace chapel, built as a Lutheran house of worship in 1563, is located at the center of the manor. It was donated to the parish in 1652. Lutheran services are held every Sunday at ten o’clock.
The Founders of the Palace
The von Klenke family took over the feudal tenure of the Hämelschenburg estate in 1437. The family still owns the manor today after fourteen generations in residence. The construction of the palace and its upkeep throughout the centuries is entirely the work of the von Klenke family. The Klenckes came from the area around Thedinghausen, where their roots can be traced back to around the year 1260. They became opponents of the Guelphs in in the political factionalism of the town. Hämelschenburg Castle was occupied by Westphalian troops in 1485. A robbery that was reputedly planned there, caused Wilhelm von Brunswick to destroy the castle in 1487. The Klenckes lost their feudal tenure, but Wilken won it back as early as 1493 and probably initiated reconstruction. A fire in 1544 caused to much damage that further construction was not possible. Ludolf Klencke built the surviving outer courtyard in 1556 directly above the Emmer stream. It was enclosed by stone buildings in the east and west as well as walls linking the two buildings. A number or windows and an oriel facing the Emmer Valley indicate that the east building, which today houses the visitors center, was where the Klencke family resided before the palace was built. The two commanding buildings with their mighty roofs decked with Solling sandstone shingles have few ledges structuring the facades and no ornamentation. Nevertheless, they are important examples of early Renaissance architecture in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). Some details, such as the gable crowns, date from the late 16th century.
The fire of 1544 destroyed not only the castle but also the palace chapel. The chapel was rebuilt in 1563 by Ludolf Klencke, the nephew of the above mentioned Ludolf. It is thus one of the earliest Protestant church structures in northern Germany. The new single aisle stone chapel was probably erected over the old foundations, which explains the chapel’s skewed orientation. The interior still has the intimate atmosphere of a palace chapel. The coffered ceiling, divided into a grid of recessed square panels, is supported by a wooden beam resting on a row of freestanding wooden supports along the central axis. The altar, which was assembled in its present form in 1913, bears a beautiful late Gothic wood relief depicting the Virgin Mary surrounded by six saints. Carved around 1480, it is probably an early work by the so-called Epiphany Master from Hildesheim. The plain baptismal font has the original ornate wooden lid with caryatids forming the Crown of Life.
On the balustrade of the north balcony are engravings by Christoph Schwartz. They are mounted on canvas and depict scenes from the Passion of Christ. The large epitaph on the south wall was added in 1609 as a memorial for Jürgen Klencke and his wife Anna, the founders of the palace. A richly ornamented Renaissance frame surrounds an exquisite painting of the crucifixion, dated around 1530-1540 and ascribed to Lucas Cranach the Younger or his school. The members of the Klencke family are portrayed in carved wooden figurines, kneeling at the foot of the cross.
A Mercenary Soldier Founds the Present Day Castle
The estates of the Klencke family were redistributed in 1578. Hämelschenburg went to Wilken and Jürgen, the sons of the older Ludolf, who died in 1562. Wilken exchanged his interest in the manor for property in Siedenburg in 1583, so that Jürgen Klencke became the sole owner of Mämelschenburg. Born in 1551, Jürgen was the youngest son of Ludolf. He attended the Latin school in Minden and spent seven years serving the Count of Nienburg. For the following nine years, he led mercenary troops abroad, switching from side to side according to who would pay the most. The huge chest in which he received his salary and share of the plunder in on display in the pilgrims’ hall. He became a very wealthy man. Jürgen then took a position at the court of Bishop Eberhard von Holle in Verden, where he was exposed to humanistic ideas. He made friends with Johann Caselius, professor of philosophy in Helmstadt, who must have influenced his personality. More important was his marriage to Anna von Holle in 1587, the astute and well-educated niece of Bishop Eberhard, and fifteen years younger than Jürgen. She was an orphan and had been raised in the Bishop’s household. She could read and write and spoke or understood German, Latin, Greek, French and Italian. Her dowry was considerable, it would be reckoned in the millions of Euros today. Part of her dowry included a large Renaissance wardrobe approximately twelve feet wide and twelve feet tall, and filled with fine linens, can be seen in the couple’s bed chamber still today. Anna enhanced the intellectual interests of Jürgen Klencke, who was already unusually well educated for a country nobleman of the 16th century.
He soon won his sovereign’s trust, not least because of his honesty and education, and earned a fortune with his achievements. This enabled him to build a magnificent palace. A large terrace was built on the slope above the outer courtyard and surrounded by deep moats and high ramparts.
History and Description of the Building
Construction of the palace began in 1588. It is one of the greatest achievements of the Renaissance in northern Germany and is considered the most important work of the Weser Renaissance. The abundance of architectural monuments from this time was made possible by the astounding flourishing economy of the region. The amount of building activity led to the creation of numerous mason’s guilds and architectural schools, which influenced one another and shared a preference for certain stylistic forms. There are very few written documents from this period so that the masters are largely unknown. Nor do we know the name of the architect of the Hämelschenburg.
The stately three winged palace was most certainly built according to only one master plan, as there are no walls dividing the wings and each wing housed a different function. The two storey north wing once housed the court of justice on the lower floor. This was of great importance for Hämelschenburg, as it was the seat not only of the low court, which settled minor offences, but also of the high court — first heavily contested, but finally acknowledged in 1606. The surviving executioner’s sword of 1606 gives testimony of the severity of these court cases. The upper floor of the north wing housed the great hall, which occupied the entire length and breadth of the building. The interior was completely changed in the 19th century, as was the wide central wing. Originally it had three storeys and housed a distellery, a brewery, the family’s private stables and the kitchen, while storage rooms were located above. The towering south wing has three storeys and is wider than the other wings. Jürgen Klencke and his large family resided there.
The official rooms, the utility rooms and the living rooms are thus grouped in a logical sequence. The different wings were presumably also constructed in the mentioned order. Construction began with the north wing in 1588, as the fireplace in the great hall — which was formerly the kitchen — bears the date 1593, the northwest stair tower is inscribed with the date 1592 and two fireplaces in the south wing are dated 1606 and 1607.
The south wing was built at an angle a bit off kilter to the rest of the buildings to fit in a pre-existing gate house — a half-timber building of 1603 that no longer survives.
The magnificent gate at the entrance to the bridge is adorned with the coat of arms and was the last part of the construction project, finished in 1613. It is modelled after the Arch of Titus in Rome. The inscription on the frieze tells us that the palace was built by Jürgen Klencke, son of Ludolf, favored by God’s mercy, for himself and his descendents. He never saw the finished building, however, as he died in 1609.
Jürgen Klencke’s descendents have preserved the precious inheritance and still live in the palace together with other families. The palace itself has remained largely unchanged, except for the remodelling undertaken in the 19th century. The high ramparts in the east and west were removed in 1845-1850 and the north moat was filled in. The Solling sandstone shingles (i.e. the sandstone is from a German town called Solling) on the north and west wing were replaced by slate during the restoration of the palace in the 1880’s (the south wing was reroofed with slate in 1974). The small dormer windows were also added in this period. The plaster, which can still be seen in old views of the palace, was removed to reveal the bare stone wall, as was the Romanticist fashion at the time. These measures probably also removed most of the original paint. Surviving traces show that the palace was once beautifully painted. The bay window, which was originally on the north wing, was moved to the west wing; the interior was completely changed. The pilgrim’s hall, which was originally located outside the kitchen, was moved inside. These changes are minorin relation to the whole complex, however, so that we can still admire the magnificent palace with its four elaborate gables, seventeen dormers, two large towers, two oriels and several ornate portals.
The Historic Significance
The south side, towering steeply above high substructures, is particularly impressive. The four slender triangulations would appear to be too tall without the wide cornice and ornamental bands of chip carving adding a horizontal emphasis. This, as well as the entire complex, reveals an exceptional understanding of architectural forms. It is this, far more than the sculptural details, that makes Hämelschenburg a significant milestone in architectural development from the medieval castle to the baroque palace. This is no longer a gothic castle that was enlarged randomly over the course of time, but rather a palace designed as an entity. This building shows an enormous progression compared with other, older buildings in the Weser region a fact which, once again, leads us to the question of the architect involved.
The Architect and a Stylistic Analysis
Until recently the name Cord Tönnis had been associated with the design of the north wing of the palace. This architect worked in Hameln and is considered to have built the Gerd Leist house at Osterstrasse 9 there in 1589. Stylistic comparisons lead us to assume that Cord Tönnis also worked on the palace in Detmold under the influence of Jörg Unkair. The latter had moved from Tübingen to the Weser region in the second quarter of the 16th century and worked on the palaces in Neuhaus, Schelenburg, Stadthagen and Detmold. He was the first architect to introduce Renaissance forms in this region, combining a repertoire of designs from Italy with late gothic elements.
Initially Cord Tönnis followed this style, for example on the palace in Detmold and the Archivhäuschen (Little Archive House) in Rinteln. Later, however, he was influenced by the Dutch renaissance, which had a great effect in the Weser region. Therefore it was assumed that he not only built the houses in Bäckerstrasse 16 and Osterstrasse 8 and 9 in Hameln, but also the north wing of Hämelschenburg Castle. It is indeed similar to the Leist House in Hameln, particularly the forms of the bay window (on the north wing until 1876, since then on the central wing) and the motif of the half columns flanking the window jams. However the similarities end there. The form of the dormers is comparable with the Hochzeithaus (Wedding House) in Hameln, built in 1610-1617; there they are more elaborate, as the friezes of chip carving continue over the pilasters, which is not yet the case on the north wing of Hämelschenburg. The west gable of this wing is reminiscent of the west gable of the palace in Barntrup (1584-1588), which is a documented work of Eberhard Wilkening. Therefore, based on recent research by Thorsten Albrecht, the northwing and probably also the plain central wing of the Hämelschenburg should be ascribed to Wilkening. In the past Johann Hundertossen was considered to have designed the south wing. Today, however, we can no longer determine whether there were really two architects building the Hämelschenburg or not.
The different designs of the three wings are determined by their differing functions. The central utility wing is, therefore, quite plain. The south wing, housing the living quarters, on the other hand, is deliberately elaborate. The stylistic differences between the north and the south wing may be explained by the period of fifteen years it took to built the entire palace. The forms of the south wing are very similar to those of the Hochzeithaus. A comparison of the gable and the dormers allows the assumption that they were built by the same architect.
Master Eberhard Wilkening would thus have begun his work on the Hämelschenburg with the north wing, changed his style during construction of the building and, after completion of the palace, built the Hochzeithaus in Hameln. Both buildings indeed share the same general approach: the abundance of detail that was typical of the 16th century is abandoned in favor of a regular structuring of the surfaces, which emphasises the massive monumental character of the buildings. Like the Hochzeithaus which juts out from the row of houses in the form of a mighty cube, Hämelschenburg castle also towers as a mighty complex above the Emmer valley.