One of the places we used as a “home base” this past June was Bad Pyrmont. It is a town with fascinating geology, in the Weser River Valley, tucked away in some hills. It has limestone around it, and a great deal of natural faulting, probably related to the Rhine Graben, or rift-valley, not too far away. Because of the faulting, there are a number of mineral springs that bubble up, and some sinkholes of interest, and a CO2 cave where people used to go and “dry bathe” in CO2 up to their chins. In 1556-1562, it became a princely seat, and a Baroque hunting lodge was added in 1706, and then a spa developed. Goethe and a few other minor German cultural figures spent time there, as did Peter the Great of Russia, and today it is a very nice, quiet, city with good historical guides, lovely parks, and several spa hotels. And a water-castle.
The water-castle has a little museum in it, a concert and theater venue, a restaurant, and lots and lots of tunnels. One Sunday morning, early, I wandered over to see what could be seen. The museum has the usual hours, but the castle part opens earlier and closes later. There were swans on the moat, and it turned out that someone had left the gate open into the castle, or had opened it early, over half an hour before “official” opening.
The first thing I saw as I entered the open gate were tunnel openings leading off each side of the entry tunnel. Because this really is a fortress, despite the nice rococo addition in the front. look again at the overhead view. Where those trees are, inside the water? They are growing on the wall of the castle. It is 15-20 feet thick. There are all kinds of passageways, ramps, stairs leading down to the water level, stairs leading below water level (I didn’t go that far), chapels, bakeries, an infirmary, all kinds of spaces tucked inside the heavy stone and brick walls.
You actually go through the main gateway about 100 feet or so and enter the first small courtyard after passing under the main palace part of the castle. Then you go under a second, smaller palace, into a secondary courtyard. The cafe is in the first courtyard, the theater stage and a fountain are in the second courtyard. Each courtyard has ramps leading up to the walls. The ones in the first courtyard are open, but steep. The second courtyard’s ramp requires you to double back into the wall and climb up through the darkness, emerging at a small bastion overlooking the far corner of the palm-garden.
Heavy fog had drifted in overnight with a cold front, and it was still ghosting between the trees two hours after sunrise (sunrise was at 0530. It got light at 0415). There were fish leaping in the moat, and swans being scenic. The air inside the castle walls was cool and still, like the other fortresses I’ve been in. I had the place to myself and so I wandered, poked my nose into all sorts of nooks and crannies, followed every stairway that looked safe, meandered the ramps, sauntered on the wall, and enjoyed some early bird song. And then the music from the worship service in the Kurpark began.
No, it wasn’t “Ein Feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress, AKA the Lutheran National Anthem). It was “Lobe den Herren” (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation). What was especially intriguing was that a week and a half before, while poking around an old church in a small town, the organist had started playing variations on that choral as he got ready for something. And the members of another group who were visiting the church started singing along, so I chimed in.
Yes, every so often, everything turns into pure magic. The rest of the day, Hameln for the rat-catcher play, and a few other old towns, was pretty good, too.