We arrived during the last week of an exhibition at Speyer on Richard the so-called Lion Heart. It was a magnificent affair. So the next day we decided to visit the Castle of Trifels where he spent a year waiting to be ransomed. Richard was on his return from a crusade in 1193 when he was imprisoned in the castle by Frederick II, later to become Holy Roman Emperor. Richard’ s ransom did eventually arrive in gold coins carried on six heavily-laden mules. While waiting for this ransom to be paid, Richard amused himself hunting to keep body and horse in form.

What price belief? A few days ago our friends took us to a magnificent baroque palace in one of the many small states to the east of the Rhine that divided France from numerous Germanic dukedoms, bishoprics or marquisates, often linked to distant small states through marriage. Inevitably there were disputes resolved more often by war than diplomacy. These territorial powers tried to outdo each other. One way of doing this was to build a palace like the magnificent one at Rastatt. In 1700, while Louis XIV was embellishing Versailles, Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden-Baden decided to expand the hunting lodge he had been building at Rastatt not far from the Rhine. He commissioned an Italian architect Domenico Egidio Rossi who had previously worked for the Viennese nobility. However, the margrave’s early death in 1707 left his young widow, Sybilla Augusta, to complete the building as well as send troops to help defend Vienna under attack from the Turks.

Rastatt is a magnificent baroque fantasy inside an imposing but restrained exterior. Large spaces are modelled into rippling plaster ceiling and fireplace decorations and carved into exciting shapes by grand staircases and balconies both inside and outside. Sybilla Augusta spared nothing. Her imagination and ambition soared while she fervently believed that her army should fight to defend Vienna from the infidels.

While staying in Karlsruhe with friends I was told about a distant relative of theirs. Herman Friedrich fought in World War I and in 1917 he led a revolution in Sigmaringen. He was a communist and early member of the National Socialist Party in Germany. Once he realised it would end in a dictatorship he left and in the early 1930s wrote ‘Mein Kampf geigen Hitler’ – my fight against Hitler. By then he had a wife and three children. As a result of the pamphlet they had to flee, first to the Saar and then to Strasbourg. In 1940 Herman was captured. His wife and children lived with her family from then onwards while he was imprisoned in Stuttgart. There he led an attempt to break out of the prison. It failed. He was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp. Though he had left the National Socialist Party, he still had friends in it and they ensured he didn’t endure the worst conditions in prison. He was freed for a short time, but couldn’t stop speaking out against Hitler and was consequently deported to the Maulhausen concentration camp near Linz. There again he tried to help other prisoners flee. This tie there was no escape. He was hanged and his body left for several days as a warning to others. His descendants are still living today.

Why did they do it? Belief and determination to follow their ideals come what may? Herman Friedrich was exuberant and wanted to tell everyone about his ideas. Richard was determined to gain a reputation as a crusader who freed Jerusalem and become an exemplar among Christian rulers. Sybilla Augusta too wanted to save Europe from the infidel invaders, and war seemed the only solution. So the war-stricken continent suffered until 1945. We are the first to live through 73 years of peace in Europe. What price belief

%d bloggers like this: