I love castles. There’s something captivating about their somber, aloof, don’t-give-a-damn demeanour. Like ancient sages banished from the modern world, they straddle the realm between human and divine, bearing secrets of a long forgotten past. At the same time, these architectural wonders stand testimony to mankind’s perennial ambition (or folly) to surpass limits and attain the impossible. Building stone fortresses was difficult enough without the aid of cranes or trucks; to have done so on a steep hill far removed from urban centres seems almost like an exercise in masochism. One can read centuries of hope, fear, and perseverance on these fortress walls.
The most famous castle in Germany is undoubtedly Schloss Neuschwanstein, a fairytale complex nestled on a lush hilltop above the village of Hohenschwangau in southern Bavaria. But I was looking for something less Disney and more Edgar Allan Poe, i.e. a place more suited to hide a dismembered body under the floor boards than to host a family of singing, anthropomorphic mice. With this criterion in mind, I settled on seeing Hohenzollern Castle, which has recently been used for the filming of Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness, a psychological thriller about —SPOILER ALERT —- a mysterious spa retreat where patients were being killed and then fed to eels (I swear I’m not making this up) to produce an elixir of immortality.
Perched on the verdant slopes of a large hill near the edge of Hechingen, the castle is the ancestral seat of the aptly named Hohenzollern family. “Hohe” means “high” and “zollern” is derived from “der Söller,” which denotes a raised platform or balcony. Therefore, scions of this dynasty are the Higher-ups literally, figuratively, and spatially speaking. In 1218 the family spilt apart into two branches. The Protestant Prussian line ascended to the throne of the German Empire in 1871 and dominated politics until the monarchy was abolished at the end of World War I. Its Catholic Swabian counterpart floundered in comparison, as members became embroiled in endless internal feuds. Today, ownership of the castle is divided proportionally among the two branches, and smiling portraits of its main proprietors, Prince Georg Friedrich and his wife Sophie, appear ubiquitously on all the tourist brochures.
Surrounded by flowers blooming is the fair palace door, through which came sparkling, shimmering, twinkling, is the gold décor. Once inside, the tall arched ceilings and opulent interior furnishings instantly drew sighs and murmurs of admiration from my fellow visitors. “This is so much better than the Kardashian house!” one woman exclaimed loudly, prompting a most gif-able look of horror from our tour guide. Unlike Neuschwanstein, which is heavily associated with the romantic persona of its creator Ludwig II, Hohenzollern is clearly designed to pay homage to the entire dynasty. Large, solemn portraits of various Prussian emperors and counts flank all sides of the castle halls. There are in addition two great chambers filled with jewels, weapons, and antiques amassed by various family members throughout history. However, those who wish to pry around the private royal bedrooms are sadly out of luck. Since the fifteenth century, Hohenzollern nobles began to acquire new properties elsewhere in Germany, and the castle remained unoccupied through several generations onward except when needed as a temporary refuge shelter during times of war. By the nineteenth century, most of the buildings had fallen into dilapidation. They were later rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style under the auspices of King Frederick William IV who wanted to create a showpiece edifice to honour his ancestral heritage.
Brillat-Savarin once wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” I think any family history would be incomplete without some consideration of the family members’ gastronomic predilections. As it turns out, present-day descendants of the Swabian Hohenzollerns have made some interesting career choices. There is Prince Ferfried of Hohenzollern, a real Renaissance man who had been a race-car driver, then a reality TV star, and finally a cooking show host. I found a recipe for chocolate soufflés attributed to him, and tried it out. The first two attempts came out as a gloppy mess because I couldn’t get the chopped chocolate and flour to mix evenly with the egg whites. So I took some creative liberties and adjusted the recipe a tad bit. If you are ever in the mood to try a slightly plebeian-tainted royal dessert, please give these gooey melty chococolaty puffs a bake.
Makes 4 servings
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 pinch of salt
- 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
- 160 g dark chocolate, chopped
- Some butter to grease the ramekins
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 F or 180 C.
- Generously grease four ramekins and set aside.
- Melt the chocolate over a double boiler, then set it aside to cool slightly.
- Whisk the chocolate, egg yolks, and vanilla extract together until well combined.
- With a clean mixer, start beating the egg whites with a pinch of salt on low speed. As the egg whites begin to increase in volume, gradually drizzle in the sugar. Keep beating until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
- Divide the batter evenly among the four ramekins and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the top has cracked slightly but the centre is still a wobbly, gooey mess.
- Transfer the ramekins out of the oven, dust on some icing sugar, and serve immediately. For maximum effects, wrap a faux red cape around your shoulders and enjoy your royal treatment 🙂