Sometimes I plan my travels a little like my husband picks out movies to watch with me. I pull out my iPhone, open up Google, and enter “movie times” into the search box. Then I read to him the titles that sound interesting to me. If a title also peaks his interest, then I proceed to read the movie description and maybe watch a trailer, but this is where our experience differs. He doesn’t want to hear the description or watch the trailer – he wants it to be a surprise from the opening credits to the final scene. I love this about him, by the way.
Last Sunday, I took that same approach to travel. I knew the name of the city, I knew a castle would be involved (ok, I’m in Germany that shouldn’t be a surprise) and I knew I had a good guide. So, I set the alarm for 8 am, barely caught my train at 8:43, and met my travel buddy and her husband for a regional train to Bruehl. This trip has been in the works for about 9 months. The idea developed when I had a welcome to Germany lunch with a colleague I had met a few years back at a project meeting. When I arrived in Germany we met for lunch and he talked fondly about his hometown of Bruehl. Then he offered to host me for a day when the weather was nice in summer. Sunday was the perfect summer day for a stroll through Bruehl.
We originally planned to take an ICE train, they’re quick, but also expensive. Instead we selected a slightly slower, but much more economical option of a regional train. With a group of up to 5 people it’s possible to buy a day pass and save considerably on the fare. The train went fine, except on the way back when there was a problem on the tracks, but eventually we made it home. My friend met us at the platform and we walked into town. The first thing we encountered was the castle, directly across from the train station.
As we walked up our guide began to share the history of this place. The castle was built by a Baron in the 1600s as his summer home. He modeled the architecture after Versailles. I’ve never visited Versailles but my fellow travelers confirmed the similar style. We went into the gift shop and purchased a 60 minute tour pass. A 90 minute tour is also an option but it had already started. Since we had a few minutes before the tour we first explored the grounds outside the castle.
Inside the castle we picked up some English language audio guides. The main tour guide spoke German, and she was fast! I toggled between listening to the English audio guide, attempting to understand the German tour guide, and the occasional translation from my colleague. It was a great tour. No pictures allowed so you’ll have to visit yourself. The things I loved were the many nature-themed elements.
When the Baron visited the castle in the summer the main purpose was to host falcon hunts. Apparently skill as a falconer was necessary for success in political life in Germany at this time. The Falcons were trained to hunt blue herons in trios – two Falcons distracted the bird while a third went in for the attack. After the bird was captured, the falconer banded the leg with his band to show he had successfully captured it. After banding it was released to the wild. I’d never heard of this type of hunting sport and learned it was started by the Romans. Nearly every room in the castle had some sort of art or design element that spoke of Falcons or herons – these ranged from paintings to delft blue tiles from Holland to tapestries. The theme became stronger when we visited Falconlust – the small hunting castle on the grounds.
We learned that before reunification, Bonn was the seat of government and the German president used this castle to host visiting heads of state – including Reagan and Carter. The marble entry stairway was frankly stunning! I’ve hardly witnessed a more opulent design.
When we walked outside my colleague pointed out some fun-facts like this one. Study the castle. Count the windows to the left of the architectural feature, then count the number to the right. You’ll notice 5 to the left and 4 to the right. This happened because the baron began to run out of money during construction. The castle contains only one piece of furniture that was used by the baton – a writing desk. This is because his ancestors sold off his furniture to pay off his debts after he died. It appears to be a timeless story that when you have it all you still want more…
After we completed our tour we began the 1 kilometer walk to the smaller hunting castle called Falconlust. The walk is a beautiful stroll through the grounds and we were blessed with lovely weather. I particularly admire the keyhole type element the trees created as you can see in the photo above. It reminded me of something I saw in Rome.
We came to the end of the woods path and crossed a road and some train tracks following the signs to Falconlust. I have to admit I couldn’t help but think that in the US there would have been a shuttle service offered for such a long walk. I was glad that all we encountered were other people taking a relaxed walk between the castles. As we walked we passed potato and sugar beet fields.
Finally the hunting castle came in to view. My guide remarked that would be a big enough castle for him and I pointed out that quite a few private homes in the US are just about the size of this place. Really, it’s gotten a little out of hand I think…this place though, wow, I was very impressed by the strong singular focus on one theme – hunting Falcons. Again no photos allowed, you’ll need to see it with your own eyes.
The castle was really worth the walk and it made me want learn more about falconry. If you’re ever in the Rhein region, perhaps staying in Cologne and you have a nice day available to explore I’d recommend hopping the train the Bruehl to explore this gem. You’ll be impressed.