Maybe the world – or at least Europe – has never been very big to begin with

Schloss Ruhental (Rundāle), Lettland Foto: Imants Lancmanis/ Creative Museum
Schloss Ruhental (Rundāle), Lettland, Foto: Imants Lancmanis/ Creative Museum

Uldis Zariņš , member of Europeana Foundation Management Board, is sharing his views on Europe in our blog parade #SalonEuropa, which is part of the experimental exhibition #SalonEurope: analog meets digital Networking then and now – Europe means to me …? You can take part in the blog parade until October, 23rd 2018. If you don’t have a blog yourself, we share your article here in the museum’s blog.

Genealogic research is always a complicated endeavour. Often it is quite impossible to trace ones bloodlines past previous five or six generations, everything before that becomes a blur, a more or less educated guess. But even the information one manages to obtain often contains unexpected surprises. We consider ourselves to be pure Latvians, Germans, Poles, but then we suddenly discover that some of our ancestors actually have an Estonian, Swedish, French or Russian origin.

And who knows what surprises a 500 or 1000 years old history would hold, if we would be able to unearth it?

We now tend to think that the world is now getting smaller and smaller, as both technology and societal values makes us more mobile than we have ever been. But maybe the world – or at least Europe – has never been very big to begin with, and we are much more closely related to each other than we think and would sometimes like to admit?

If it is difficult to establish a clear historic identity on a personal level, then for nations it is quite impossible.

Would it be possible to distil a pure original essence of a national culture? I very much doubt it.

Culture has never recognised any borders, and as a result our national cultural heritage is but a patchwork of various cultural influences, hailing from all over the Europe, reflecting the trends and values of the times and often morphing into local variations. For example, Rundale palace has a significant place in Latvian cultural heritage as the most precious late baroque building in Latvia. However it can also be considered a part of German heritage, as it tells the story of its German masters, von Biron family, including duchess Dorothea, and thus creating invisible ties with the Burg Posterstein (and in a sense making it a part also of Latvian cultural heritage). Moreover, it can be said that Rundale Palace is also a part of Italian and Russian cultural heritage, as Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, architect of the Rundale Palace, is an Italian (born in Paris) and most of his works are built in Russia.

Europe for me is first of all a shared cultural space

Thus Europe for me is first of all a shared cultural space – rich in its diversity, characterised by hundreds of different local flavours and colours, but based on the same fundamental values and traditions. Therefore we shouldn’t, for example, attribute Rundale to just Latvian or just German cultural heritage – it is truly a part of European cultural heritage. After all, it would not exist if Italians would not invent baroque in the first place. Culture is what makes us Europeans. European cultural bonds go back for hundreds and hundreds of years, shaping our attitudes and values, allowing us to recognise ourselves in the mirrors of other cultures. Culture is what stays with us when all the petty political squabbles have ended and been forgotten. Culture is what allows me to proudly say “I am a European”.

By Uldis Zariņš for #SalonEuropa

#TravelsMW: Travel routes through Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries

MuseumWeek:  we want to put travelling around 1800 in focus. Travel was undertaken on very different occasions. Scholars traveled to carry out their researches, to multiply and exchange knowledge. Young aristocrats were sent on “Cavalier’s Tours”, so that they could acquire the foundation of their training for the later court service at the foreign courts with the highest reputation. Travel to the Baths in Pyrmont or Karlsbad boomed. Artists flocked into the pulsating centers of European culture. A classic travel destination was Rome.

Educational journey

The focus on antiquity and the classical educational idea brought about a whole new travel culture – the educational journey. At first a privilege of the nobility, it became cultivated by the bourgeoisie. Those staying home could read the travelers’ experiences in their travel tales and journals. Landscapes, habits, culture and art were described therein as well as travel itself, political daily business or martial events. A whole industry of publishing houses was concerned with the publication of travel reports.

Schloss Löbichau ((c) Museum Burg Posterstein)
Löbichau Castle. Around 1800 it was usual to travel with the horse-drawn carriage. Poor roads, little light and hardly feathered coaches could quickly make the travel experience difficult.

Traveling at this time also meant hassle and abstinence of comfort. The roads were unsafe, in bad condition, dirty and even in large cities not always lit. Beds in the inns were infested with bugs. The horse-drawn carriages, poorly cushioned and ice cold in the winter, rocked and shook the passengers and brought little in comfort.

Sometimes insuperable obstacles forced the passengers to get out of the carriage

In France, Napoleon had straight avenues built, and good road connections were also reported from England. But in Germany most roads were unstable and poorly developed. There was often talk of axle breaks in the wagons, and it was not unlikely that the constant repairs to infrastructure and equipment were to generate good revenue for the local craftsmen.

Tolls and passport checks at the border stations cost time and money or even delayed the journey. Accordingly, trips took time, and it is said the distance from Berlin to Rome would have taken about two months to travel.

St. Petersburg – Paris – Vienna – Carlsbad: The Duchess of Courland was always on the move

Für eine Salondame wie Anna Dorothea von Kurland war eine musikalische Ausbildung ein Muss.
Salon host Anna Dorothea of Courland travelled through Europe many times.

Near the end of the 18th century, Castle Löbichau, along with the Tannenfeld Castle, developed into a center of intellectual and cultural life in Germany, just two kilometers from Posterstein. The Musenhof der Herzogin von Kurland of the Duchess of Courland, Dorothea of ​​Courland (1761-1821), in Löbichau was one of the most famous of its kind. The well-educated noblewoman drew important impulses from her first-class relations with the highest social circles in Europe and the associated network, and from her stays in famous salons of Berlin and Paris, as well as in the fashionable Carlsbad. She was acquainted with several important statesmen of her time.

Since the estates in Löbichau and Tannenfeld were conveniently located between the German cultural centers of the time, Anna Dorothea of ​​Kurland transformed them into a meeting place for the European elite by inviting artists, philosophers and leading politicians of her time. The most famous guest may well have been Czar Alexander I. of Russia (1777-1825).

Löbichau centrally located in Germany

The Duchess had chosen her estates not without reason. The two castles touched important routes of her time – strategically favorable, halfway between Berlin and Carlsbad, between Dresden and Erfurt and close to the intellectual centers of this time: Weimar and Jena. The nearby Ronneburg was still a health resort in the lifetime of the Duchess and thus a popular destination.

The travel experiences, at that time still in coaches, completely differed from the ones we make today. Nature, landscape and even the streets were perceived differently. A well-developed infrastructure enhanced the well-being of travelers. Breeches and bumps on the other hand could turn the trip into a seemingly endless odyssey.

The minister and the road construction


Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel’s priority were good streets and maps.

The roads in the Altenburger part of the duchy of Saxony-Gotha and Altenburg were easily navigable thanks to the efforts of the minister Hans Wilhelm von Thümmel (1744-1824). Writer Lili Parthey (1800-1829), sister of philologist Gustav Parthey (1798-1872), reported on the nature of routes at this time. She spent time with her brother and her parents at the Musehof of the Duchess Dorothea of ​​Courland (1761-1821) in Löbichau and can also be counted among the guests of the Thümmel family on their estate in Nöbdenitz. In her diary she wrote:

“Donnerstag, den 18. [7. 1816], war, obgleich die Welt untergehen sollte, das Wetter sehr schön. Ganz früh um 7 ging es fort; unsere Reise ging ziemlich schnell und sehr glücklich. Das Altenburgische Gebiet ist ein ganz wunderhübsches Ländchen, mit herrlichen Wegen und Aussichten. Die Verbesserungen der Landstraße und Wege sind vorzüglich Herrn von Thümmel zu danken. Wir empfanden diese Wohlthat doppelt nach den wahren Mordwegen von Leipzig bis Krona. […] Um 7 waren wir in Löbichau, dem Ziel unserer Bestimmung angekommen. Es ist ein reizender Aufenthalt.“

During one of her trips to Carlsbad Anna Dorothea of Courland met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was just one of many encounters with poets, thinkers, politicians and well-known personalities of society. The Duchess had some formal encounters with Goethe in 1808, 1810, 1812 and 1820. In 1820 the poet even followed an invitation to Löbichau. On the 29th and 30th of September he spends cheerful hours and describes the castle of the duchess as a “well-located house of joy”. After this visit, he went on to Altenburg.

On the way from Schleiz to Gera on May 30., 1816:

“Von früh halb 4 – bis 8 Uhr Abends sind wir auf eine strecke von 7 u. eine halbe Meile gefahren die Wege sind überaus schlecht. Ich bin viel zu fuße gegangen u. wäre so nach Auma gelangt hätte der Wagen mich nicht daran behindert.”

The Duchess of Courland traveled much herself, and with pleasure. Paris, St. Petersburg or Vienna, Kurland, Switzerland or Italy – she was always drawn back to Löbichau. Thus is the case with her last journey in 1821. In May 1821 she finally set out from Paris, with her health in a bad condition at this time. The change from Paris to Löbichau is supposed to ease her suffering. On 30 June 1821 the Duchess’ two daughters, Pauline and Johanna, leave. The mother describes this day as “a day of great mourning”. She will not see her daughters again.
On Aug. 20, Anna Dorothea of ​​Courland dies in her castle in Löbichau.

The daughters are already in Switzerland at this time. It’s not until May 9, 1822 that Johanna returned to Löbichau.
For the Duchess’ funeral on August 29, 1821, 7000 guests arrived.

By Leon Walter & Franziska Engemann / Museum Burg Posterstein; translation: M. Huberti

#FoodWM: A whole new food culture in medieval times?

Day 1 of #MuseumWeek 2017 from June 19th to June 25th: We have prepared a new blog post each day. Today’s hashtag is #foodMW. Leon, who did an internship at Museum Burg Posterstein, was interested in medieval food culture:

When thinking of the Middle Ages and food, many people picture knights dining at kingly laid tables as well as the starving farmer sitting in his deteriorating house. But which of these images comes closer to the truth? How did people in medieval times actually eat?

How did people in medieval times eat?
How did people in medieval times eat?

As a matter of fact, a whole new food culture of its own developed in medieval Europe. Contrasting the culinary arts of late antiquity, which had heavily influenced the early medieval cuisine, the chefs in western Europe almost completely renewed their seasoning arsenal. Weeds and spices, such as nutmeg and clove, first entered medicine, and later found their way into the kitchen. Up until the 13th century new rites and traditions of consumption developed in a slow, barely interrupted process. Though „Lucullian“ paralleles as well as equivalences to Byzantium and the Arabian world are to be found, Western Europe brought forth a very own and specific food culture.

But attitude towards food was not the only thing to change. There were also differences in positioning between ancient and medieval times. Roman banquets were often taken in lying down. Accordingly, the served food came in small and handy portions. The medieval man however sat upright. The cutting of food, especially of meat, became an intricate part of dining, and such an honorable chore at a feast was the privilege of the „Steward“.

Dependent of Christian year there was a big difference between „fat“ and „meager“ days.
Dependent of Christian year there was a big difference between „fat“ and „meager“ days.

Between „fat“ and „meager“ days

Medieval Christian man discerned, dependent of Christian year, between „fat“ and „meager“ days. At least one out of three days a Christian was to make do with fish and vegetables. On fast days (as before Easter) dairy, eggs, meat and other forms of animal fat must not be eaten. Exceptions were made for pregnant women, the poor, the sick, the old and children. Fish was not considered meat and thus often served as a replacement. The abundance of food on „fat“ days, which were the holidays, was all the more.

The gorgeously feathered pheasant served as an adornment at every knight’s table

The medieval diet heavily depended on social status. This does not necessarily mean that peasants starved while lords feasted. Crop failures indeed brought upon famines, yet in years of good harvest such troubles were far away. Grain was the basic source of nutrition, mostly made to bread and brought to courts an manors. With bread came meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, fat, cheese and wine. Besides that, grain was also gladly taken in the form of porridge or beer.


Smoked fish at the medieval marked at Burg Posterstein.
Smoked fish at the medieval marked at Burg Posterstein.

Roots and weeds growing on or near the ground were considered rough and rural. Precious fruit grew on trees. The higher it hang, the higher it was considered. This does not mean that the consumption of vegetables was limited to the world of farming. Especially town citizens appreciated soups and stews and build gardens around and within the cities.

The last centuries of the Middle Ages saw a rise in meat intake. Cattle breeding and hunting brought various sorts of delicacies. Poultry was regarded classier than pork, and the gorgeously feathered pheasant served as an adornment at every knight’s table. The knights of Posterstein were most likely no exception.

So, food in medieval times depended on several factors: social status, religion, season. Knight’s did not exclusively eat meat, and farmers didn’t necessarily starve. Quite the contrary, a new and own food culture developed.

By Leon Walter and Franziska Engemann/ Museum Burg Posterstein