The rise and fall of the Hohenwaldeck family

In the year 1270 the Hohenwaldecks were the most powerful and influential family in the Freising cathedral chapter. They were the most important vassals of the Freising monastery and ruled the area in the Archbishop’s name. They already had three castles across the corners of the world, one in Miesbach, one in Parsberg and one in Holnstein. They had worked long and hard to reach this position, from the founder of the family 250 years ago through more than 15 generations to the modern era.

Mrs. Hohenwaldeck was pussing for a new castle.

“Everybody who is anybody has two or three towers. We are the most powerful family in the region, we must have at least four.”

Mr. Hohenwaldeck was a practical man. He knew the futility of arguing against his wife when it came to such matters. And he wasn’t in principle against the idea of a fourth castle. So he told his beloved wife that yes, she could have her fourth tower. Mrs Hohenwaldeck was ecstatic.

“We are going to build the best tower in Freising, right next to the Archbishop’s court. Oh how jealous all of my friends will be, and particularly that fat cow Inge who thinks they are better than us just because their single castle is closer to Freising than any of ours!”

Mr. Hohenwaldeck didn’t feel like seeing all of his wife’s friends in his living room everyday. In addition although the family wielded all of their power in the name of the church, he was of the opinion that the further away from the Archbishop’s seat his castle was, the better. He tried to explain to his wife that he thought that a location near Schliersee would be preferable. He had already chosen a beautiful spot overlooking the lake, very defensible in case of trouble and strategically placed to control all of the southern areas of their dominion. Unfortunately his wife wouldn’t be swayed.

“I should have listened to my mother’s warnings not to marry you! She always knew that at heart you are a sheep herder like your great great grandfather. I should have said yes to Max when he was begging me for my hand in marriage. He is now building a beautiful tower for his wife right next to Freising, in that village called Munich or something!”

“But dear,” said Mr. Hohenwaldeck, “Munich is just a pig stall. It will never ever amount to anything more. I am telling you, Max is wasting his money building there.”

Mr. Hohenwaldeck was an insightful man, but his predictions were known to be a bit of the mark now and then, particularly when it came to property development. Nevertheless, he was getting a bit tired of his wife. He was also noticing that she was getting rather old too. And not so beautiful. He had to do something about it, because he didn’t have the intention of building a castle in Freising for her. So he had her committed to a monastery to give her the opportunity to ponder about her vanity, married her youngest sister and started making plans for his new castle at his favourite location near Schliersee.

Burgruine Hohenwaldeck, Schliersee, Bayern, Notis Stamos
Must have been more spectacular in 1307.

Work on the stronghold started immediately and progressed at blinding pace. Just 37 years later, in 1307, the Hohenwaldeck Tower was proudly overlooking the lake and controlling the whole Schliersee area. By that time of course the old Mr. Hohenwaldeck had passed away and had passed on the baton so to say to his oldest son Arnold. Arnold was not only a very capable man when it came to managing a family fortune, he was also very ambitious. He just had one small problem that kept him awake at nights. It was really nagging him that technically his fortune wasn’t his at all. It all belonged to the church. Arnold decided that it was time to do something about it. Men were gathered and plans were made and put in motion. With a swift and unexpected strike, Arnold destroyed the bishop’s tower in Miesbach. The Archbishop in Freising was furius. Those insolent, good for nothing, ungrateful Hohenwaldecks, who had been scraping mad off pigs’ asses before the church gave them access to fortune and power needed to be taught a lesson. He immediately sent his forces (all 64 men and horses) to attack and punish the insolent, godless Hohenwaldecks. That’s when the newly erected tower played its role. Protected behind its high walls the Hohenwaldecks and their supporters were safe. No matter how hard the Archbishop’s men tried, they couldn’t get the Hohenwaldecks to yield. In the end the Archbishop had to capitulate and pass over sovereignty of all the worldly possessions of the Hohenwaldecks to them. Arnold became an earl and his area an earldom.

Schliersee, Ruine Hohenwaldeck, Notis Stamos, Bayern
Notice the difference in picture quality compared to the previous photo. This is what a good lens does for you…

Alas the story of the Hohenwaldecks was not to have a happy end in the long term. Unlike most other noble families whose members really couldn’t get enough of each other, the Hohenwaldecks just couldn’t get along with each other. It happens even in the best families (outside nobility). In fact, not only  didn’t they get along, they couldn’t stand each other. Earl Georg von Waldeck woke up one morning in 1444 and decided that he preferred to go fight against the Turks, than see his mother in law just one more time; and so off he went to the war. There however it didn’t turn out too well for him. He was captured by the Turks and was given the customary at the time hospitality, which included a stay at a dungeon, starvation and isolation. This hospitality made Georg re-evaluate his family members and see them in a new light. In fact he missed them so much that he made a vow to God to build three churches if he was given the chance to go back and see his family again. God, seeing the proposal for the bargain that it was (one escape for three churches) sent one of his agents in the form of a jailer to free Georg. God didn’t even finish the job by transferring the man directly to Schliersee. Instead He left him travel through Europe on foot. Fortunately, after many hardships and adventures Georg reached his homeland. And being an overall positive man, he decided to focus on the good rather than the bad and he didn’t hold it against God that he was captured in the first place and that he had to walk all the way back after his escape. So he made good on his promise and built the churches. Unfortunately not everybody in the Hohenwaldeck family had had the eye opening experiences of Georg and eventually the continuing internal strife drove them apart and destroyed them.

The last one of the Hohenwaldecks,  had the misfortune of seeing the tower over Schliersee being destroyed by a rockfall in 1480. Fortunately the tower had already been deserted for years by then, so nobody cared much about the disaster apart from the inheritors. After the last Hohenwaldeck had departed this ungrateful world, ownership of the Hohenwaldeck tower was passed on to other influential families until a few hundred of years later the tower became state property. Already accounts dating to 1568 describe the tower in a very similar condition to what we see today.

Ruine Hohenwaldeck, Notis Stamos, Bayern, Schliersee
Only tree roots on stone remain now.

This story is fictional. I have based it on true events (or as true as something you read on the internet can be) but I have taken great liberties with the characters of the story. Seeing the ruins and reading the story, I find it kind of funny how deep time softens the edges, eliminates passion and makes even the most important things to the protagonists of the story completely unimportant to those who follow by some centuries. Great events took place on that castle once upon a time, peoples’ lives were lived within those walls. Now the trees have taken over and their roots are one with the stones that once made up the walls.

This is a photography blog, so I feel I need to say a couple of things about the photos. I posted both the first two photos, just to show the quality difference between the Tokina 11-16 and the Nikon 18-105 lenses. The Tokina is so much clearer under the same conditions. Unfortunately the previous night I had done a really bad work at cleaning both lenses and particularly the Tokina and therefore I returned home after the excursion to find a hideous flare on the exposures that made up the photo I am posting here. It took really a lot of work to erase the flare from the photo. Both of the photos are a mix of 4 exposures manually blended using luminosity masks.

Yellow and Red leaves, Notis Stamos
Couldn’t leave without photographing this.

Just before leaving I saw this bush with the yellow and red leaves really sparkling from the sun. I couldn’t leave without photographing it. Unfortunately the background colours were very similar and the photo was less than spectacular. I resorted to manual desaturation of the whole background (took about 3 hours) to make the bush stand out.

All in all the Hohenwaldeck ruin is not the most spectacular place in the world. I highly recommend it though, if you are close and have a couple of hours to spare. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and the motivation it gave me to google a bit and explore the history of the area.


© 2014 Epameinondas Stamos

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