Living a fairy-tale life in a gothic castle in Germany
Working Abroad: My bedroom has its own turret and I wear a crown as part of my uniform
Margaret Haverty with the key to Lichtenstein Castle, where she has been living and working since May.
I am living a fairy-tale cliché every day, in a magical setting in Germany. My bedroom has its own turret, I have a key to the castle’s front door, and I sometimes wear a crown as part of my uniform.
Since May I have been working as a tour guide at Lichtenstein Castle in Württemberg in the south-west of the country, which is actually known locally as Württemberg’s Fairy-tale Castle. This 19th century neo-gothic style building, perched atop a free-standing, rocky promontory overlooking the glorious sloping landscape of the Swabian Alb, has been my home for the past three months and will be until the season comes to an end in November.
The castle is 40km from Stuttgart and draws 100,000 visitors from all over the world annually, so it is relatively small fry in comparison to the other German heavyweights of the castle category, such as King Ludwig’s II Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, which inspired the castles in Walt Disney’s films.
Württemberg is a province in the south-west, part of the state Baden-Württemberg, the third largest state in Germany, with its capital Stuttgart. It was created by the Allies in 1952 following the second World War, out of the historical territories of Baden, Prussian Hohenzollern, and the Württemberg part of Swabia.
“Province” is perhaps too strong a term for Württemberg, as it officially belongs to the larger state. But, like the proud citizens of Cork denote themselves as the republic, Württembergers (Swabians) like to think themselves as a separate entity. Schwabenland, the endearing nickname the locals give their province, maintains a healthy rivalry between Baden and their more famous neighbours, Bavaria.
I landed on my feet in many other ways. I will be eternally indebted to my boss and colleagues at Lichtenstein for their unbridled kindness and generosity, and for giving me a chance. I was hired based on a cover letter, a CV and a 20-minute telephone conversation.
Since I was collected from the train station and brought into the magical world of the castle, I have been made to feel, not as an imposter or a foreigner, but as an adopted Swabian, which my colleagues reinforce with daily lessons in Swabian, the local dialect. Think a west-Kerry man speaking German dialect - a far-cry from the textbook Hochdeutsch I was taught at Trinity.
Nothing delights our Swabian guests more than hearing the Irish tour guide spouting Swabian seanfhocail and leading them through the history of the castle, the royal house of Württemberg and the Swabian Alb. Many of our Swabian guests have visited Ireland, or have members of their own “generation emigration” settled in Ireland.
Shortly before my departure for Germany, my father gave me a copy of Anam Cara, a book of Celtic wisdom by Irish poet, Hegelian philosopher and Gaeilgeor John O’Donoghue. O’Donoghue, who completed his doctoral studies on German philosopher Hegel in the picturesque Swabian university town of Tübingen, where I spent two idyllic semesters on Erasmus, saw the beauty and the good in the Irish spirit. But he mourned the corruption of this good nature through modernity and modern life. The Swabians have somehow managed to retain the perfect balance.
A stronger work ethic is not to be found anywhere in the world than here in the heart of Swabia. But come 6pm, the locals down tools, get together and enjoy their free time. Be it cycling, hiking, drinking a few beers or going to a local festival, the Swabians maximise the time they have and spend it with family and friends, doing things which enrich their lives and benefit their physical and mental health. Many of their customs I have really taken into my stride, such as the typical German custom of 4 o’clock coffee and cake. What’s not to like about a local tradition that involves compulsory sitting down to baked goods?
At every turn, the people I have encountered here have thoroughly invalidated German stereotypes. They are extremely generous, to the point of absurdity, taking me on holidays with their family, on road trips, and inviting me for meals; accompanied by stern threats should I attempt to take out my wallet.
Talk of my flights home to Dublin for my graduation is accompanied with plans to help with my moving to Stuttgart, and to drive me two hours to the airport. Despite the four-hour roundtrip, my friend will not hear of me taking the bus. Having endured the uninformed, snide remarks from relatives or friends about Nazi Germany and the supposedly stern, humourless Germans throughout the years, the Germans, and particularly the Swabians, have done nothing short of put the Irish to shame. I feel more welcome here, my skills more valued, my person more appreciated than I ever did at home in Dublin.
Right now, there is nothing that could persuade me to swap my life here in Württemberg for a life in Dublin. As a language graduate at home, it seemed my future lay in call centre work or a graduate programme with a big multinational and exorbitant rent in a city with minimally functioning and highly expensive public transport. I saw no option but to leave.
I am still a proud Irishwoman. I still wear my fáinne airgead on my Schloss Lichtenstein uniform and am quick to correct visitors who mistake my German for that of an American. I am and always will be a Dubliner - of the eighth generation no less, but for the moment, the thought of living in Ireland doesn’t appeal. With the prospect of living, working and further studies here, there is little chance this Dubliner will be leaving my new land of a hundred thousand welcomes any time soon.
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