Thursday, 05 May 2011 21:34

Landau: A Tale of Two Castles

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Landau might seem like a quiet country town but the Palatinate region has been fought over for centuries, and its story moves from royalty to revolutions. The histories of many countries converge right here. Nowhere is this eclectic heritage more apparent than at Trifels castle, where a monument marking the capture of an English king sits against a backdrop of Nazi stonework.

In 1192 the English king, Richard the Lionheart, was captured on his way back from the third crusade by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. It was here in Trifels that he was handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, and imprisoned, to be held for ransom. It was also where the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire were kept for nearly a century.

Photo: Markus Petz
Memorial to the capture of Richard the Lionheart.

Trifels was last rebuilt in the 1930s; its role in humiliating an English king and in housing the regalia of powerful German emperors made it a perfect fit for Nazi ideals. Instead of restoring the castle to its original form however, they followed the model of the Italian castles of the Staufer family, who had ruled in central Europe for centuries. It was said that whoever owned Trifels owned the Palatinate, and the castle's history is one of constant power struggles between vying rulers. But on the other side of Landau, high up on Mount Schlossberg, sits a castle that witnessed a very different kind of struggle. 

In 1832, the ruins of Hambach Castle were the setting of a landmark demonstration that saw tens of thousands of people, from all walks of life, protesting against the repressive Bavarian administration. Local people, including citizens of Landau, were joined by French and Polish supporters to demand civil rights and national unity. It was the first time that a republican movement had made any impression in Germany, and the first time that the German tricolour was flown.

Ever since, Hambach Castle has been described as the "cradle of German democracy". But as one of our tour guides pointed out, these two castles aren't just important for Germany; they are hugely significant milestones in European history.

Thursday, 05 May 2011 21:15

Landau video diary: Preview

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Throughout our week reporting at the Citizens Convention in Landau we'll be making a video diary to show you the Citizens of Europe event and introduce some of the articles we are writing.


Saturday, 30 April 2011 10:13

Chernobyl Commemorated

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The sun was shining on Gendarmenmarkt as we approached the French Dom (cathedral). We were supposed to be at the commemoration ceremony at 1pm, but when we got there we were told that the ceremony would not start until 2pm. The extra time gave me the opportunity to look at who, apart from the organised group, had decided to spend the afternoon commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy instead of being in a park with friends and a barbeque.

We were definitely the youngest ones there. 40 students out of around 170 people in the Dom; I would have guessed the average age to be around 60. Many of the older people had to support themselves with canes or were in wheelchairs. They were "time witnesses" - people who themselves had had their lives changed by the catastrophe 25 years ago. Some of them looked like they were suffering from medical conditions, perhaps a legacy of their brief experience of Chernobyl, but I cannot tell for sure. Nevertheless, they were all dressed up, and it was clear that this moment was important for them.

Sunday, 24 April 2011 12:13

I dream of Europe

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Juliane Dybkjaer is reporting live from the Eustory "25 Years After Chernobyl" event in Berlin. As part of the commemorations Eustory have brought together young Europeans from across the continent to interview survivors, write a new history of the event, and discuss what the future of Europe will look like. More about the year long project can be found here.

An amazingly beautiful mansion right by the Kleiner Wannsee is the setting of something extraordinary this week. From Finland in the North to Italy in the South, from Tomsk in the East and Seville in the West, 37 participants from 19 different European countries are gathering here to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, to debate the present and most of all to discuss the future.

What happens when you put 37 young people from different backgrounds into one room and make them talk about the current situation of our continent, what is good and what should be done better? Quite a party, I can tell you that. People come from religious or secular, wealthy or poor, peaceful or troubled societies, and agreeing on one common idea of a better Europe for the future is not an easy task and surely not one that will be completed during a one-week seminar. Nevertheless, when we were asked to write down some notes on how the Europe of our dreams would look, each and every one of us, without exception, imagined a continent with more co-operation; less division and more solidarity between the countries. So the only thing we can agree on is that we would like to see more of each other!

The debate got me thinking, though. In the aftermath of an economical crisis that left Europe more divided than united and in a world situation that leaves many things to wish for in terms of global solidarity, the youth of Europe dreams of a future filled with closeness and interaction. And once in a while, what we may need is just to dream, to be unrealistically positive and to imagine the best possible scenario and not always be shot down with crisis talk, obstacles and a no-can-do mentality. Maybe, our dream could be closer than we think - and anyhow, as we discovered here in Berlin, we might just all share the same dream.

When I dream of Europe, I dream of more collaboration, less regulations, and, of course, more beautiful sunny days like the one I just spent by the banks of the Wannsee lake. 

What do you dream of when you think of Europe?

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