As I mentioned in my last post, How Germany Has Changed Me., since moving to Germany, Sunday is a day of leisure. Usually, this involves a Sunday outing of some kind. This weekend we visited the Externsteine, an imposing sandstone rock formation that rises from the wooded hills of the surrounding Teutoburg forest. Not just a stunning place to spend time outdoors, it is also a place steeped in history and speculation.
There are many theories regarding the uses of Externsteine over the centuries, and even with modern tools and methods, some have been impossible to confirm or deny. Excavation and research has confirmed that there has been activity on the site since the 10th century.
The Externsteine rocks have served many purposes having been a resting point for travellers, a hermitage, possibly a hideout for bandits and an observatory, amongst other things. The relief of the Descent from the Cross, carved into the rock face by medieval stone masons, means the site continues to have great religious and historical importance.
In around 1660, Count Hermann Adolph designed a Lustschloss around the rocks. Not as rude as it sounds, a Lustschloss is a small palace or residence designed for recreation, usually hunting or hosting guests. I imagine many a good days hunting, drinking and feasting was had here. Part of a coat of arms can still be seen and is believed to be associated with this era.
There is also some old (and some not so old) grafitti to be found towards the top of one of the pillars. I couldnt help but wonder if some of the great and good invited to relax at the lustschloss were responsible for any of it. My overactive imagination runs away with me sometimes.
By the late 1800s the potential of Externsteine as a tourist attraction had begun to be realised. A nearby stream was dammed to create an artificial pond and hotels were built. This wasn’t to last, though, as the area became a focus of nationalistic propaganda in WW2. The area was deemed a sacred site and the tourist infrastructure removed.
Post 1950s the area has been carefully maintained and developed as a nature reserve and tourist attraction. Research into the history of the site continues, but much remains unknown. The climb to the top of the stones is quite steep, but the view from top and the feeling of passing through history and folklore make it worth while. Externsteine is a meeting point for nature and culture. Even on a busy Sunday afternoon, there is still a sense here of something mysterious, something just a bit different.
Until next time,