Prof. Dr. Helmut-Eberhard Paulus: Preserving and conveying a cultural heritage – the Thuringia Castle and Garden Foundation

Thuringia is extraordinarily rich in monuments to courtly culture. They reflect artistic and social ideals of various historic eras as the basis of their special ­fascination and attraction. To preserve them in future for the region and to ­present them beyond the borders of the state is the defining aim of the work of the Thuringia Castle and Garden Foundation.

The Thuringia Castle and Garden Foundation of the Free State of Thuringia, which was established in 1994, has 31 monumental ensembles and exemplifs the entire spectrum of the state’s history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Besides fortresses and ruined cloisters, the castles and their gardens form a special point of emphasis of which Thuringia possesses an unusual quantity. The “cheek-by-jowl” existence of several royal houses and frequent territorial divisions has left behind a large number of residences and summer lodges. As striking witnesses to Thuringia’s history, they characterise its cultural landscape to the present day. For centuries, the seats of power and the residential towns that grew up around them, were political, social and cultural centres. The still-extant variety of representative build­­ings, theatres, orchestras and museums is due to the tight network of minor territorial states in modern-day Thuringia.

In their high artistic quality and as the embodiment of architectural tradition and regional history, the castles and gardens are places of all-embracing education and culture, reference points of social identification and – not least – tourist destinations. Great residential castles such as Schloss Heidecks­­burg in Rudolstadt with their splendid structural works of art and the museums attributable to a princely passion for collecting, but also all commercial centres make it possible to understand in a true-to-life way what life at the court was like. The summer residences, away from the seats of government and power, combine the programmatic with dispersion – embodied par excellence in the Dornburg castles and gardens with their richness of style of several centuries.

For the historic monuments to fulfil their social function and be passed on to future generations, major efforts are necessary. Continual care of the artistic buildings and gardens is one of the main tasks of the Thuringia Castle and Garden Foundation. In the castles’ history, this means having to continue a traditional custom of preserving what has been passed down and sometimes continuing to correct mistakes from earlier work. If that succeeds, an experience of historic developments and contexts perceptible with all senses will become possible.

Beyond wear and tear and the need for restoration, the major problem buildings, whose long-term preservation must be ensured with extensive renovation projects, are also a constant worry. The reasons are as varied as the buildings themselves. In many cases, the castles have only been partially repaired since they were first built and, after several centuries, major repairs are now unavoidable. In many buildings, partial repairs have been thoughtlessly made, thereby causing long-term weakening in many places. In other cases, excessive structural overloading or stresses have been added, for example where storage depots have been erected in attics which cannot take the extra weight. This has been the case in many castles that have been used as museums since 1918. But wanton destruction in the past has also cast its long shadow into the present, such as at Schloss Schwarzburg, where the National Socialists began a radical conversion project in 1940, only to leave a structural ruin two years later – a heavy burden for one of Thuringia’s most historically significant castles.

The major renovation work, which often takes years, can only be tackled with the help of financial aid. The European Re­­gional Development Fund (ERDF) and various programmes of the German government have already made great pro­­gress, for example the total renovation of the Greiz Summer Palace and parts of the Greiz Princely Park or reinforcing Castle Schwarzburg. With a scheduled subsidy of 60 million euros for Castle Friedenstein and the Ducal Park in Gotha, the German government and the Free State of Thuringia recently made an important residential castle remarkably well-known outside Thuringia.

Once the renovation work is completed, it will benefit not only the continued existence of the buildings but also (directly) users and visitors. For example, the renovations to Castle Heldburg were a prerequisite for the construction of the German Castle Museum at Veste Heldburg, the first museum in Europe to provide an overview of this subject. And in 2018, the Ducal arms collection will be moved back to the renovated arsenal at Schloss Schwarzburg, which will mean the return of a unique group of castles and arms in German-speaking Europe. Both projects are of major significance for Thuringia as a centre of cultural worth and as a tourist destination.

But it is not enough to physically preserve these monuments. Only the experience of art and culture in historic rooms and gardens really passes on the courtly heritage. There is the brand “Treasure Vault of Thuringia”, which belongs to the tourist umbrella brand “Discover Thuringia”. In this case, the Thuringia Castle and Garden Foundation cooperates with the residence museums in Thuringia. Together, the content and offers are being prepared and marketed, such as the annual “Thuringia Castle Days”, which take place every Whitsunday and which are now becoming a visitor magnet. The Foundation also works closely with supporters’ organisations whose volunteer efforts are vital. Besides the seasonal openings and autumn symposium, the highlights in the Foundation’s own annual programme includes the Dornburg Castle Night. This festival, now a fixed series of events in Thuringia, with a variety of musical events and artistic performances, makes the idea of the princely summer residence in today’s culture come alive again for an August evening.

autorenbild_paulusProf.Dr. Helmut-Eberhard Paulus
After completing his university studies, including a doctorate, lawyer and art historian Pro­fessor Helmut-Eberhard Paulus worked initially at the Bavarian State Office of Preservation of Historical Monuments in Munich. He became a contract employee in 1981 and in 1986 be­came an official of the Monument Preservation Authority of the city of Regensburg, which he headed from 1987 to 1994. He was promoted Director of the Thuringia Castle and Garden Foundation based at Heidecksburg in Rudolstadt in 1994. Paulus has been an Honorary Professor at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg since 2010 and is a member of the Thuringia Historical Commission.