One Castle, Two Events, Two Centuries

Last week I introduced you to the castle in Torgau, Germany - the one with the bears in the moat. This week I'm going to tell you about two important events that happened at the Schloss Hartenfels 400 years apart. 
The first event happened in 1544 and is important to Lutherans. Duke John Frederick, nephew of Frederick the Wise, commissioned Martin Luther to design the new chapel in the palace. It was the first space specifically designed for Protestant worship. 

The free-standing altar was unique at the time, allowing the pastor to consecrate the Lord's Supper facing the people. The simplicity of the design was in contrast to the ornate decorations in Catholic Churches in Europe.
The same design became the model in other churches built subsequently for Lutheran worship. 

The pulpit was built in the middle of the worship space, as was common in many churches, so that the preacher could be heard throughout the chapel. The choir loft was built in the rear of the chapel area. 

Luther h…

Yikes, Bears!

When we were in Germany last month, we visited a castle that had a unique way of defending itself since 1425. Instead of filling the moat separating the castle from the city with water, the duke living in the castle was protected by a bear pit.

When the enemies were approaching the castle, the duke could raise the drawbridge and have the enemy face a moat with bears in it. I'm guessing that the threat of a bear attack kept most enemies from climbing down the twenty foot wall to cross over to the castle walls. 

Protected by the bears, Schloss Hartenfels was located in the city of Torgau along the Elbe River in eastern Germany. Over the 500 years of its existence, the castle has seen many phases of construction. Today it is a beautiful fortress with a spacious courtyard in the center.

One of the unique things about the castle is the tower protruding into the inner courtyard. It was built between 1533 and 1537.  The highly decorated tower holds a spiral staircase, leading to the ent…

Why Roosters?

Last week I wrote about cats being on the roof of a building, but today I'm going to share the reason that we have roosters sitting on the tip of churches in Riga. When we first moved to Riga, we noticed that some churches have the usual crosses on the top of them, but others have roosters sitting on top of the steeple.

I couldn't recall ever seeing a rooster on top of a steeple. On doing more research, I was wrong to think that other countries don't have these on steeples. I found out that's it's common in European countries to see roosters on top of Lutheran churches.

The more common cross on the top of a steeple is found on Catholic churches in Europe. We have a couple of them in Old Town Riga as well. And, some Catholic churches in Europe have roosters sitting on top of crosses.

So, the question popping into my head is why a rooster? After looking at several sources, it seems like there are three reasons for this steeple top. Almost every site mentioned the st…

Furry Felines in Riga

If you're a cat lover, you'll probably feel at home in Riga. Cats seem to roam the city whenever I go out walking. I'm not a cat-lover, but I'm sure that if you are one, you'd love it.

Last winter when we moved here, I remember seeing cats sit on the hoods of black cars parked near our flat. At the time, I didn't think much of it, but I bet that the hoods were warm yet, hence the perfect spot to take a nap.

The cats don't appear to be the wild type, afraid of people. I've seen tourists walk up to them and start petting them and even pick them up. I'm not sure if they are owned by people and roam during the day, or if they are just city cats in general. They certainly look like they are well-fed.

The most famous cat-related thing in Riga, however, is a building that is known as the "Cat House." This particular building has a very interesting story connected with it.

This building was built in the early 20th Century by a wealthy Latvian me…

Postcard from Jurmala

We took the day off on Monday to visit a town not too far from us. Four years ago when we visited Jurmala, we flew in from Prague, but now it's only a 45 minute bus ride from our house.

Much smaller than Riga, Jurmala is to the west on the Baltic Sea. It's THE place to access a beach for tourists from central Latvia or even farther east. We purposely went on a gloomy Monday because we heard that the crowds were so large on the weekends.

Since it's so touristy, in many ways Jurmala reminded us of Riga with all the restaurants and souvenir vendors on the main walking boulevard. I imagine that this year is much slower with the travel ban from Russia. I know this is a favorite spot of Russian tourists in summer because it is easily accessible by train from St. Petersburg.

Since it's on the sea, we, of course, spent some time with our feet in the sand, strolling on the beach. It was interesting to see how shallow the shore was. People could walk rather far out and still be…

If the Ground Could Talk

If the ground could talk, what tales would it have to tell us over the 819 years of life in the city of Riga. Our city is celebrating it's "birthday" this weekend, so I know exactly how many years it's been.

The interesting phenomenon about living in a city that is so old is that the ground level that was here in 1201 is now about ten feet below ground. We have seen it explained over and over again.

We ate at a medieval restaurant several months ago that was a former wine cellar. Today the restaurant is what we'd call the basement. We had to walk down several steps to get into the restaurant. We were told that the window which was high up on the wall was originally above ground. Now it isn't a window any longer because it's below the level of the street.

The building is still standing where it originally stood on top of the ground when built, but the ground around it has risen over time with all the building and moving of dirt, so now it's below grou…

Experiencing a Cold War Soviet Bunker

Have you ever felt as if you were living in a Cold War era spy novel? We visited the perfect location for one last month during our exploration of Latvia. This location was filled with telephone and communications equipment from the 1980s.

Deep in a bunker below this building in central Latvia, we had the chance to visit the actual headquarters of the Soviet leaders during the height of the Cold War. This 2000 square foot bunker was built in case of nuclear war as a place where the USSR Latvian leaders would gather during an attack. This would enable the Soviet government of Latvia to keep functioning even if the US sent a nuclear missile in the direction of their country.

Besides the communication rooms, the bunker held everything that was needed to exist for 40 days which included beds, kitchen and dining areas, map rooms, and meeting rooms. The bunker was maintained around the clock by minimal staff monitoring phones and news feeds in preparation of an attack.

It was never actuall…