OUR INHERITANCE Past, Present and Future Part 16
by Loretta Leonard
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THE MYSTERY OF FURSTENAU CASTLE
From the night spent at Furstenau Castle, there were probably many more stories about the war but regrettably we were unable to record any more. However, the castle intrigued us and so we worked to learn more about.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE CASTLE PICTURE
We discovered the picture mounted with scotch tape to an old sheet of plywood in the attic. There were some words inscribed on the bottom of the drawing that were in German but other than that there was nothing else to identify the penciled etching. No signature. We knew it had some connection to World War II. since we had heard the old stories.
We had asked questions about the war since it was so closely connected to our time of birth. Dad had described some of his encounters for our family history and I vaguely remember interviewing him about his life so that we could hear his stories one more time. Until now that had not seemed relevant but as we prepared to handle the estate, we had to separate things of importance. We knew where some of the special heirlooms were hidden but we had never seen the picture of the castle. When we located it we decided to rescue it and have it mounted in a frame. We knew very little about the castle itself and maybe sometime in the future we would be able to uncover more details about the castle. That was in 1988.
From 1988 until 1996 we had moved from Louisiana to Tennessee to Virginia and then down to Arkansas. The children had grown up and finished high school and college. Three of the boys were married and all of them were living away from home. We were adapting to a quiet house and empty nest. Although I had never made time to research into the castle and its connection with World War II, it was not until a friend came over one night that I was motivated to actually begin research.
Our first step was to see if we could determine who the artist was. The picture looked like a print from a distance but upon closer look it was a very detailed pencil sketch that covered about a 16 x 20 surface. The lines were drawn with precision and I was amazed at the amount of time it must have required to actually focus on such detail. There was no signature anywhere but at the bottom of the picture were the words “Schloss Furstenau mit Torbogen (Odenn)”. Somewhere there had to be information on the castle and the part it played in the war. My friend Linda had been in Germany with her husband and she gave me a couple of possible insights and some direction in my search.
THE MEANING: SCHLOSS FURSTENAU mit TORBOGEN (ODENN)
The word “schloss” is loosely translated “castle. There are a variety of castles throughout Europe but this “schloss” is a dwelling place set aside for royalty. These castles were known for their beauty and for the large grounds surrounding the castle. These “schlosses” came with a certain prestige and usually indicated that wealthy families owned them. The grounds were large enough for hunting and for holding lavish social occasions. They were normally placed high on a hill so that it was easy to observe any visitors or troops that may have come into the area.
I did discover that the word “Torbogen” had a Swiss derivation and after some more research I found out that the translation for the word was “archway”. There is an archway that extends from one part of the castle to the other side and there is a walkway above the arch where soldiers could observe any action below.
Furstenau was the name of a small town in Germany. It had a small airstrip that was just large enough for US bombers to land. From an old photo album from the war, I discovered that Michelstadt and Ehrbach are small towns in the German region often identified by the word “Odenn”. This area is often referred to as the Black Forest.
The area of Ehrbach-Furstenau was formed in 1532 as part of the Holy Roman Empire. The castle appears to be built in the 14th century and then restored in the 16th century after fighting caused destruction to parts of the original structure during the Medieval Ages. The Allied invasion into that part of Germany was on March 24, 1944, and as a result of that fighting, several of the buildings in this area were destroyed by the devastation of the war.
Furstenau also identified a royal family from the same area. From the early feudal system, the baron was the lowest rank, way below the rank of duke or count. The rank just above baron was lord and since the lord couldn’t protect all his property he assigned a baron to oversee certain areas. In a genealogical table about Royal families during World War II there are several names with the last name Ehrback-Furstenau. The chart goes back five generations so there definitely was royalty in the region.
Dad had mentioned Baron von Furstenau so I researched for more information. Although my search revealed many references to the Furstenau family I had no real way of uncovering the actual name of the baron who occupied that castle. I did locate one Furstenau name which could be part of the royalty from that area. The time frame for this person is 1755-1821, if I have the correct information. The name is Adelbert Ludwig Albert Eberhard Freidrich von Ehrbach Furstenau. I have no idea whether or not this is tied directly to the castle so my research in that direction stopped.
THE CASTLE GROUNDS
Nobles had to build the castle on mountain tops where there was very little space. The grounds usually were large enough to use for hunting. The homes have extremely thick stone walls around the house to make it even more secure from intruders. The walls around the castle are usually quite thick, about 7-12 feet thick and around 30-44 feet tall No windows were in the lower part of the castle making it even harder to penetrate the interior of the castle. The upper levels of the castle had windows with seats in each window making it easier to determine if there was any approaching danger. A guest house, storehouse for supplies, an armory, and stables along with a, blacksmith and other workshops all made up part of the inner part of the area surrounding the home,
The schloss was used for large social events. German castles not only have a garden but the lawn has a fountain [in the center] with a lime tree which is considered a proper tree for social parties. The branches of the lime tree are widely extended with a seat below. Benches may actually be found in boughs of branches lower to the ground although they are not visible in this drawing. The whole tree is surrounded by a barrier which appears to be brick making the entire area heavily fortified.
It is hard to describe the detail in the picture but it certainly took quite some time from start to finish unless the person was an accomplished artist. The drawing shows the archway extending from the castle area to the other part of the residence. There is what appears to be an ironwork fence above the archway to protect anyone walking the sentry point.
Just before the courtyard and directly in front of the archway is a fountain. It appears to be concrete. One side of the fountain is partially torn down, probably due to the elements of time or possibly awaiting reconstruction. To the left of the fountain is a man that is walking a dog towards the castle who I assume is the baron himself. The area directly to the castle is partially obscured with trees as a camouflage to prevent soldiers from noticing it.
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