Sunday, December 01, 2019

Koenigstein fortress

On a hilltop in the sandstone mountains of Saxony, in a region called the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland, even though it's in Germany and not Switzerland), there is a hilltop fortress called Königstein. A literal translation of the name would be King's Stone, but the meaning is closer to "King's rocky hill". The king referred to in the name could have been King Wenceslas I, who was king of Bohemia from 1230 until 1253. Königstein passed to subsequent kings, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Karl VI, who was also king of Bohemia, stayed at Königstein in 1359. In 1408, the castle was captured by Margrave of Meissen. The principality of Meissen merged with the Duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg in 1423, and joined the Saxon electorate (electors of the Holy Roman Emporer).
The hilltop had a castle until the 30-year war, when castles became obsolete due to technological advances in cannons. Since the 30-year war, Königstein has been a fortress on the hilltop. Saxon princes have considered Königstein unconquerable, so they have retreated to it from Wittenberg and later Dresden during times of crisis, and they have deposited the state treasure and many works of art from the famous Zwinger in Dresden here.
The photo of the outside wall of Königstein show why it was so formidable. The mesa already had rock spires, which are seen as the dark stone in the photo. Prince-Elector Christian I of Saxony had stone added to that in order to create the walls that are visible from miles away.

The entrance to the fortress is heavily guarded, of course. After passing through a gateway in the outer wall, a steep wooden drawbridge leads up to the entrance to the castle.

The entrance to the castle is a steep tunnel with multiple traps laid along the way up. At the top of the tunnel is a wench used for helping the horses and men to pull the heavy supply wagons up the incline.  Four or five wagons per day delivered supplies for not only the soldiers but also their families who lived in the fortress too. There were also the prisons to care for.

After entering the fortress, it is obvious that a small town once was here. There is a bakery and a garden, there is a church and a parade grounds, and in Magdelene's Castle there was the enormous Königstein Wine Barrel (Königsteiner Weinfass), which held 66,000 gallons, making it the largest wine barrel in the world.

The Schatzhaus (treasure hause) held barrels of money in its vaults. Each barrel weighed 185 kg (over 400 lbs), and they were  moved on rails. There is a story in the Schatzhaus about the Au
stro-Prussian war in 1866. Dresden belonged to the Austrian-lead part of Germany, and the Prussians invaded Dresden on the 18th of June. A couple hours before the Prussian army reached the treasury in Dresden, 200 barrels along with bars of gold and silver were loaded on to a train and send to Königstein. (In the end, Prussia won the war, which is why Austria is a separate country today).

There are beautiful views from every part of the fortress walls. On one corner is a fancy lookout tower called the Friedrichsburg. It was originally a simple lookout tower called Christiansburg when it was built in 1589. On the ground floor was the guard room, and the upper floor was small saloon for royal functions. On August 12th, 1675,  Johann Georg II,  the Elector of Saxony, gave a party for an English ambassador, William Swan. The event nearly turned deadly for one of the pages, Heinrich Carl von Grunau, who after too much wine crawled through an arrow slit and fell onto a narrow ledge in the cliff face. He stayed there until morning, sound asleep. When the party finally broke up at dawn, a young nobleman from Denmark, Knut Jarthen, noticed the sleeper on the cliff edge. An alarm went through the entire fortress, and even Johann Georg was soon at the sight of the sleeping page on his bed. The electoral prince ordered quiet and had ropes lowered for retrieving the page. When he was safe within the fortress again, the prince had the trumpets and drums sounded. The Prince Elector decreed that the ledge should henceforth be called the Pagenbett (page's bed).
A contemporary illustration of the event is historically significant for its portrayal of the people present.   

We too part in an evening tour, given by a guide named Schließkapitän Clemens, who was dressed in period costume. He had lots of interesting stories about life in the fortress, its dangers (e.g. lightning strikes, wagon transport up the tunnel, drowning in water cisterns) and its pleasures (e.g. vegetable gardens, bakery), along with its military aspects (the jail for spies, the military training for the boys). He ended the tour in the Friedrichsburg, where an eight-sided table sat in the middle.
  He invited us all to have a seat around the large table, which was installed by August der Starke (August the Strong) in 1731, when he made the Friedrichsburg fancier with a barock stairway and a "mechanized table“.

 Then Clemens said told us the tale of August, who would impress his guests with the magic words, "Tischlein deck dich" (Table, Deck Yourself). When Clemens said the words, the floor in the hole in the middle of the table opened up, and a section of the table the size of the hole came slowly up through the floor. It was decked with Saxon wine and orange juice, and it had a nice centerpiece.

The phrase "Tischlein deck dich" was used by August was probably known to all of his guests due to the fairy tale called "The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack", as recorded by the Brothers Grimm. It's the story of a tailor and his three sons, and their adventures involving a table that decks itself with the finest food and wine, a donkey that poops gold, and a club that beats bad guys.