As a lover of history, and a believer that the past should inform the present, I was excited to visit Wewelsburg. Built in 1603 the triangular castle has had a rich, varied and colourful use throughout the ages. It has served as the residency for the Prince Bishops of Paderborn in the Renaissance period, seen witch trials conducted and women hung, was a base for Heinrich Himmler and the highest-ranking members of the SS and has had a concentration camp constructed outside its walls. I was excited to visit Wewelsburg, my kids were not. However, it was time for them to take one for the team; the weekend before we’d been to Playbarn and I was almost deaf in one ear, but hey, variety is the spice of life after all.
The Wewelsburg museum thus consists of two parts to cover its two very different, oxymoronic, uses. The first, the Prince Bishopric museum covers the history of the castle from the first settlement in Paderborn to 1802, featuring my children’s favourite, the basement inquisition room where supposed witches were interrogated. Climbing down the narrow, claustrophobic stone steps, seeing the hangman’s noose and viewing, via a Perspex platform, the drop to a ‘guilty of witchcraft’ death really was incredibly evocative, and rather putting yourself in their shoes-worthy. As a said it was my children’s, who are fed on a reading diet of Goosebumps and Horrible Histories, favourite exhibits, and I confess one of mine.
The Memorial Museum with its ‘Ideology and Terror of the SS’ exhibition, located in the castle’s former guardhouse, commemorates the victims of the Wewelsburg-Niederhagen Concentration Camp and offers a stark insight into life as a Jew in Nazi Germany. The museum itself is one of those places where you feel the oppressive need for silence, a library atmosphere times a million; SS officer’s uniforms are displayed alongside the yellow star of the ‘Jude’, recordings of survivors of Niederhagen are juxtaposed by photos of smiling camp guards. Quiet retrospect then is to expected from a visit to Wewelsburg, my children however, who are old enough to know better, much to my utter embarrassment did not seem to feel the same, and I spent much of the visit trying to avoid being “that English family” with noisy, badly behaved children; my stress levels rising roughly proportionately to the squeak and tone of my forced whisper-shouting. A visit to Wewelsburg then is definitely worth a visit, I would though recommend picking a day when the kids are well-slept and relatively good-mooded, or perhaps bribing them with ice-cream from the café as I did.
Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, was said to be rather obsessed with the legend of King Arthur and his twelve knights. This can be seen from the design of the SS Generals Hall, the Obergruppenfuhersaal. Its twelve members were represented by twelve columns which divide the twelve-windowed room, while in the center of the marbled floor there is a sun wheel, symbolising the center of the castle as the center of the “Germanic world empire”. My daughter symbolised her understanding of the historical significance of this room, where war and genocide plans were made, by cartwheeling through it before I could stop her. My throat still hurts from the sonar-worthy whisper-shouting.
What about you, have you ever wanted to die of embarrassment at the lack of tact with your children…the supermarket tantrum is always a given huh!
**All pictures, bar the kidlets, courtesy of the Wewelsburg website (I was too busy being quiet-cross to take any myself unfortunately)