Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rotenberg am Neckar: a tragic love story


Rotunda of the Royal Mausoleum of the House of Württemberg  

Rotenberg is the hill outside of Stuttgart on which sits the memorial to a beautiful but tragic love story that took place almost 200 years ago. Württemberg's second king, Wilhem I, had fallen in love with and married a lovely young Grand Duchess of Russia, daughter of Tsar Paul I. Katharina came to Württemberg and immediately took to her new role as consort, mother and patron of a number of lasting causes for the people of her adopted land.


Steps leading up to the chapel


Despite the fact that young King Wilhelm did love his wife, he was still a subject of the times and his station, and he took a mistress. Understandably to us today, Queen Katharina had a hard time accepting this and begged the king to stop the relationship. For whatever reason be it self-control or arrogance, the king could not find it within himself to end it.

On a January evening in 1819, the young queen, upon learning that the king was with his mistress at their rural retreat, decided she would confront them. In her haste, wearing only a shawl, she commanded the coachman to take her there. She ordered the coach to stop across the field from the house so that she might go the rest of the way on foot to surprise them. After confronting them, she ran from the house back through the damp and chilly field catching a cold in the process. Within one week, the popular and beloved queen was dead. 




It is said that she died of a broken heart. For his part, the king was completely stricken with guilt and grief. As a result, he chose the hill bearing the ruins of the castle seat of the House of Württemberg, which could be seen from his small palace of Rosenstein near Stuttgart on which to build a mausoleum for her. People have said that Queen Katharina had often admired the silhouette of the ruined castle from a distance. The king had the ruins dismantled and the present chapel was erected with a crypt for her marble tomb. He would be buried next to her 45 years later. With the chapel directly visible from Rosentein Palace, the king would be forever reminded of not only his beloved queen, but also of the guilt he bore in causing her early death. 


The Chapel on the Rotenberg

It is said that during the funeral procession from Stuttgart all the way to Rotenberg chapel, the king was heard crying the entire way.

The way to the chapel on the Rotenberg   

King Wilhelm I married once again, but despite the best attempts of his new consort, Queen Pauline, their marriage was never truly happy, and she spent much of her time trying to bring peace between the king and his heir, Crown Prince Karl. Toward the end, they lived apart. He left her nothing in his will and she died with very little.



As for his family life, King Wilhelm I was never really happy. The rifts between the king and his heir, as well as that between him and his own father were always problematic. Queen Paulina spent much time trying to bridge these differences. Yet, despite his unhappy private life, the king remained popular with his people. 



Wilhelm is buried next to his beloved Katharina on the Rotenberg, and visitors can see the crypt and chapel today.





                                                                             Wilhelm                                                                        Katharina
                                                                  King of Württemberg                                                               Pavlovna
                                                          born the 27th of September 1781                                      Grand Duchess of Russia
                                                [ascended the throne] 30th of October 1816                                  Queen of Württemberg
                                                              died the 25th of June 1864                          born 10th of May 1788, died 9th of January 1819

The vistas from the hill over the immense vineyards and the town of Untertürkheim below are splendid. The hike from the Untertürkheim train station up to the Rotenberg, which can be seen from the train, is worth the effort. It takes you through the vineyards, some of which are still owned by the present-day Dukes of Württemberg. The dukes are the descendants of the last kings. The village of Rotenberg which is directly below the chapel is lovely, with a nice restaurant which boasts a fantastic view of the vineyard lined valley beneath it. The 18th century church in the middle of the village is worth seeing due to its unique design and balcony for such a small church. It is not always open, however.


Village church of Rotenberg








Cycling to the village of Rotenberg, just behind the chapel 

One set of many such steps wending through the vineyards. 


How to get to the Chapel on the Rotenberg: take the S1 local train to Untertürkheim from the Stuttgart main train station. The trip is about 15 minutes.