All roads lead to Mir
[b]Waif helped disclose unknown pages of history [/b]Recently a popular British website, called femalefirst.co.uk, compiled a list of the most beautiful castles in Europe. A fortress situated in the Belarusian village of Mir made its way onto the list, alongside Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, the residence of ‘Dracula’ in Romania, Trakai Island Castle in Lithuania and Prague Castle in the Czech Republic. The architecture of Belarus and other European countries is much alike, being elegant and romantic. Of course, we are tied historically on many levels.
Recently a popular British website, called femalefirst.co.uk, compiled a list of the most beautiful castles in Europe. A fortress situated in the Belarusian village of Mir made its way onto the list, alongside Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, the residence of ‘Dracula’ in Romania, Trakai Island Castle in Lithuania and Prague Castle in the Czech Republic. The architecture of Belarus and other European countries is much alike, being elegant and romantic. Of course, we are tied historically on many levels.
Although Germany has no common borders with Belarus, the tragic episodes of World War II bind us. Mir Castle is encouraging a cultural dialogue between our two countries, bringing German tourists to Belarus. In fact, Olga Popko, the Director of the Mir Castle Complex Museum, recently found a unique collection of portraits and decorative art objects once belonging to the 19th century owners of Mir Castle, in Germany: part of the inheritance of Princess Stefania Radziwill, they passed to her son, Peter Wittgenstein, and, after him, to Princess Mary Hohenlohe-Schillingsfurst — his sister and wife of the Chancellor of Germany.
Olga tells us, “I’d been searching for these things for several years but found them by pure accident. I’d been enquiring about a portrait of Stefania Radziwill, being curious to discover her appearance. Her daughter took her husband’s surname of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfurst and I hadn’t realized that Schillingsfurst is also the name of a city in Germany. Once I discovered this fact, I wondered if there might be a museum and conducted an online search. I found the Schillingsfurst Museum’s site and my trip really sent me into a state of excitement. I found a collection, which, alas, doesn’t belong to Belarus anymore; it includes four portraits of Stefania. It’s the most marvelous discovery we’ve seen in a long time!”
Prince Constantin Hohenlohe-Schillingsfurst, who owns the Radziwill’s collection in Germany, has agreed to help with exhibiting the rarities at Mir Castle. Historians are viewing the find as one of the most important in the study of the Radziwill and Wittgenstein family histories. The new materials are to form the basis for extending displays at the Radziwill Hall and at the Wittgenstein Hall in Mir Castle.
Meanwhile, in 2013, Belarus for the first time attended the F.re.e international exhibition dedicated to tourism, water sports and travel, held in Munich. Of course, our national stand promoted Mir Castle above all others, with Olga Popko helping encourage visitors to consider travelling to the ancient fortress. The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells us,“Our first experience of participating in the exhibition has revealed great tourist interest from Bavarians regarding visits to our country.”
All the formalities connected with bringing those Radziwill rarities to Mir and organizing the exhibition were settled between Olga Popko and Constantin Hohenlohe-Schillingsfurst, through the offices of the Belarusian Consulate General in Munich.
Naturally, there are many more stories of cultural liaisons with Germany. Belarusians often visit Frankfurt, but often only to transit its famous airport, which is one of the largest hubs in the world. On having a few hours between planes, on landing in Frankfurt, I once decided to explore the city briefly. Since ancient times, it has been the financial capital of Germany (and is now home to the office of the European Central Bank). These days, our publishers are keen to promote our editions there, at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair.
To reach the historical centre, take the metro from the airport, to the Romer District, changing at the main station (Hauptbahnhof). You’ll find the town hall, where the kaisers of the Holy Roman Empire were once crowned, and the first person you’ll meet will be Goethe; a monument to the writer is situated near the metro exit. Belarusians know this name well not only from school days but because he wrote the libretto for the opera Faust, for which our compatriot, Prince Antoni Henryk Radziwill, wrote the music. The latter is also well-known for founding the Berlin line of the Radziwill family; there was even a Radziwill Palace in Berlin.
For the first time, in Frankfurt, I visited a Lutheran church, where I was shocked at the bare interior, with neither icons nor sculptures on the walls. There were only two commemorative plates in honour of notable persons, inscribed in ornate Gothic script. While Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have the atmosphere of a museum, filled with majestic beauty, the Lutheran church had only a crucifix above the altar. Only God was present, no embellishment. Of course, Protestantism became the dominant religion in Belarus in the 16th century, as promoted by Simon Budny, who wrote the first book published in the Belarusian language within the territory of modern Belarus: a Protestant ‘Catechism’. It was printed in Nyasvizh, which was also owned by the Radziwills. That noble family connects so many cities and countries!
Nuremberg is even more famous than Frankfurt and is just half an hour away, by direct flight. The great artist Durer was born there, and the inventor of the globe, Martin Behaim, and the creator of the first wristwatches,Peter Henlein, both lived in Nuremberg.Belarusians are likely to be intrigued to know that Polotsk was mentioned in the Nuremberg Cartel: one of the first European newspapers, published in the 16th century. It’s Belarus’ first mention in the international media.
Nuremberg, like Minsk, suffered during World War II, losing about 90% of its architectural heritage through bombing;walking through the old part of the city, you may not feel it at once, even though the spaces between the Gothic Protestant churches are mainly occupied by new houses. These blend so well with their surroundings that it’s easy to forget. Some half-timbered buildings, of wood and stone, remain, with their crooked walls and authentic beams, which have survived the centuries.
The secret of Nuremberg’s resurrection is simple: the number of new buildings in the old centre is matched by the number of original buildings, while the new ones are designed to match in height and colour, having pastel shades in gray and lemon, and in using natural materials of stone, wood and metal.
Belarus has many similarities with other countries in Europe and with the wider world, which promotes mutual understanding between millions of people. We should certainly visit each other more often, following the example of Olga Popko. You may even find your own amazing discovery.
By Viktar Korbut