In Thuringia, not far from the city of Jena, high above the small town Kahla stands the Castle Leuchtenburg. We didn’t exactly luck out wåith the weather but low hanging clouds can sometimes look quite atmospheric in pictures.
There are two signposted car parks below the castle. One is a pay and display car park, the other one near the roundabout is free! The distance from both car parks to the castle is almost the same, the free one being maybe 100 meters further away, so we opted for the free car park.
Two paths lead up to the Leuchtburg. The first one is a street (closed for cars) with a slight incline that is very pleasant to walk. The second one is a path with many stairs that is considerably shorter but also quite a bit more exhausting to walk. Whichever way one chooses, both lead right up to the visitor centre in front of the castle.
The history of the Leuchtenburg
Stepping into the Leuchtenburg means stepping into a 1000-year-old space.
The first document to ever mention the castle dates back to 1221. Around that time the castle was an important military base of the Lords of Lobdeburg on the upper river Saale. The castle changed owners a lot over time and in 1396 it became the administrative centre of the Wettin villages. The castle towers and the chapel were built later and in 1553 a well was added that, with its 80 meters in depth, was the second deepest well in Thuringia at the time.
The administrative centre was moved to Kahla in 1705. From then on parts of the castle were used as a gaol, poor house and asylum. Around 5200 people lived in the castle until they were moved to Zeitz in 1871.
The castle was then converted into a hotel. In 1920 the first youth hostel of Thuringia opened its doors on the castle grounds and welcomed visitors until 1997 when it sadly had to close down due to the state the building was in.
The castle had been owned by the Free State of Thuringia since the German reunification. In 2007 it was sold by auction. The Leuchtenburg Foundation was created and bought the castle. They thought up new concepts for the use of the castle as an exhibition space and in 2014 they opened the first permanent exhibition „Porcelain World“.
Today, visitors will find the old structures of the castle but also newly added modern buildings that stand in stark contrast to the historic architecture. The modern visitor centre, the museum and the „bridge of wishes“ are designed as a connection between the past and the present.
A tour through the Leuchtenburg
We arrive at 14.00 and the weather is pretty grim. The clouds hang low and block the otherwise lovely view from the castle. That said, I find the atmosphere with the clouds to also have something special about it.
We stroll across the courtyard. We see the castle tavern which we came back to later in the evening to have dinner at their „grill & chill“ restaurant with live music.
The well, the corridors into the basement and the big knight’s hall give us an idea of how life might have looked like in the past.
What would a castle be without a tower? We climb up some stairs to the top of the tower. Compared to other old stairs, especially in towers, this staircase is luxurious – wide, level steps and also quite modern.
At the top we stop by the watchmen’s chamber first. Watchmen were on duty here between 1724 and 1871. They would fire warning shots from the old canons if they spotted a fire or a jailbreak. In the event of an alarm, they would place a flag at the top of the tower during the day and a lantern at night.
I really enjoy looking down into the valley. And there is one spot where the view of the courtyard is very good, too.
From prison church to porcelain church
Back in the times when the castle was still used as a prison, the castle chapel was open for the 5200 prisoners. Singing, praying and services were part of the daily routine of the inmates.
When the prison was closed in 1871 the use of the church changed as well and it was transformed into an exhibition space.
Today, it is a Porcelain-Church and I am very curious about what that might mean.
We enter a room that is almost entirely white and very modern. The benches are made from light wood without backrests and the altar matches them and is very subdued. At first glance, I don’t quite get where the porcelain is. There are no vases, plates or bowls to be seen anywhere. The porcelain is worked into a sophisticated lamellar curtain that has mirrors on one side. The technical porcelain is a matt white colour and stretches all the way from floor to ceiling. The curtain has 30 lamellae that are angeled in a way that gives the church special acoustic properties.
Whilst moving around I realise how the mirrors on the lamellae change the character of the room. Wherever I move there are new visual stimuli, very fascinating.
I like the design concept of the church. It is a much simpler church compared to some of the really pompous ones and instead fascinates with its charismatic interior.
Porcelain World – the exhibition
The history and origin of porcelain was a well kept Asian secret through the ages. Many myths shrouded the true origin of the material and led to the wildest speculations. The Porcelain World exhibition starts with a reflection of these speculations and some of the ideas really made me smirk.
To add to the mystery of the white gold, visitors are led through a Chinese shadow theatre that tells a fairytale about porcelain.
The porcelain’s journey to the west didn’t always go without accidents and it took a long time before the ships reached their destination. The goods on board were very rare and therefore very pricey. Their owners loved to put them on display in cabinets of curiosities, often alongside other curious pieces. There even is a little cabinet of curiosities in the Porcelain World museum.
How is porcelain made? This is a question not only prominent in the western world but also dealt with in its own section of the interactive exhibition. I embarked on the quest to find the perfect ingredients in the right quantities – and succeeded!
Next, I tried keeping the temperature of a furnace in its optimal range. If the furnace gets too hot, the vase would shatter. Luckily nowadays there are instruments to precisely read the temperature inside the furnace. I believe otherwise I would have not succeeded in the porcelain making process ever.
What else is there to explore?
Next to the world’s smallest teapot (0.4 x 0.3 x 0.3 cm), which sadly is way too small for a picture, towers the world’s largest vase. This piece of art is 8 meters tall and is made in a honeycomb-like structure with 360 handmade segments that are glued together. Every segment roughly weighs 4 kilograms and is painted by hand in cobalt blue and gold. Every tile was given its own design by artist Pasht-Han. Upon closer examination one discovers, for example, unicellular and multicellular organisms, insects, mammals, humans and the universe.
Take your time and just be with the vase for a moment. It is slowly rotating so that visitors can see the different pictures on all sides of the vase. There is also a light installation in the room that simulates the passing of time, from sunrise to nightfall.
And then it is time to explore the Porcelain World exhibition. There is a lot to see.
Archive of wishes
The exhibition ends in the archive of wishes. We take a porcelain plate (with little imperfections and therefore not sellable) and enter a little cubicle. It is completely dark and only objects that are white glow brightly under the blacklight in the room. I pick up a pen and write a wish on my plate in brightly glowing ink.
The sky is the limit for the visitor’s creativity. If you feel like drawing, you draw. If you feel like writing, you write. And if you are content as it is you leave your plate blank as it is.
We take our plates and leave the blacklight room – and just like that, we can’t see the ink on the plate anymore.
Bridge of wishes
Our plates still in hand we walk onto the bridge of wishes. A skywalk about 20 meters in height, takes us over the abyss.
We look down and see heaps of broken porcelain (which is regularly picked up and discarded). The saying goes “break a thing, mend your luck” and maybe broken things also grant wishes. With that in mind, we throw our plates over the edge and they shatter in a myriad of pieces. Now nothing should go wrong with our wishes and they soon should come true.
Why don’t you come along for a little tour of the Leuchtenburg? We made a short video.
Temporary exhibition: 100 years of Bauhaus – Porcelain
The temporary exhibition will reside at the Leuchtenburg until the 31st of October 2019. The exhibition “Die neue Formenwelt – Design des 20. Jahrhunderts aus der Sammlung Högermann” / “New world of shapes – 20th-century designs from the Högermann collection” displays porcelain the way I know it. Classic consumer items in aesthetically pleasing shapes.
Dieter Högermann (design-historian, curator, collector) passed away in 2012 and left the Foundation 1100 banana crates full with collectables from all areas of life. The objects were viewed and catalogued and it became apparent that many of the items were a perfect fit for a Bauhaus exhibition.
The pieces are designed with their contemporary use in mind, they are modern and aesthetically pleasing. The simplicity of the design is what makes it beautiful. A closer look at product ranges from current porcelain manufacturers reveals that many Bauhaus design elements are still in fashion.
In this temporary exhibition I find myself exclaiming things like “we used to have one of those!” and “Oh, this is so beautiful!”. We spot porcelain from the 30s and 40s that strongly reminds me of my grandparent’s tableware as well as pieces from the 70s and 80s that I used to eat from at my parent’s house. The famous Mitropa tableware from the GDR brings back memories of our trips to the German Democratic Republic. It is surprising that a cup or a vase has the power to trigger memories.
The trip to the Leuchtenburg was certainly something a bit different and we really liked the Porcelain World museum.
April to October: 09.00 – 19.00
November to March: 10.00 – 17.00
Discounts are available
Our visit to the Leuchtenburg was a cooperation with the Leuchtenburg Foundation. We really enjoyed our stay, thank you! The blog post is our own personal opinion.