Last week-end I went to hear a book reading from the diaries of Heinrich von Ende. I didn´t hesitate and decided to go as the name “von Ende” was well known to me. How often did grandmother tell of “Baron von Ende” and her time in the castle of Altjessnitz…And how often did I play in the labyrinth of Altjessnitz, searching for hidden treasures…?
The reading from the handwritten diaries was very interesting and entertaining. Heinrich von Ende was born in Altjessnitz castle in 1871 and later went to school in Dessau. He became a Prussian officer in Potsdam and chief steward of Prussian prince August Wilhelm. In 1918 he came to Dessau, living in what today is Ferdinand-von-Schill-Street. Until his death in 1942 he eagerly wrote about his experiences with and in the Dessau society and about his contact to the Anhalt duke house. He also wrote genealogical books among which is a voluminous autobiography that ends in 1938.*1
This reading caused memories of the past, of my childhood and inspired me to this blog entry. With my schoolmate I rode my bike countless times from Wolfen to Altjessnitz. Back in about 1986 the baroque maze was pretty “natural” and overgrown. Here and there we found fallen tombstones on which you could read “von Ende”. What an adventure for an explorer like me!
Altjessnitz is about 20 km south of Dessau-Rosslau, embedded in the meadow landscape at the eastern shores of river Mulde. In 1694 Hans Adam Freiherr von Ende bought the former manor from Mr. von Reppichau. He modified the house in late baroque style to be his family’s headquarters. The bell tower has always been right above the entrance gate and can still be seen today.*2
The manor survived Word War I and II but partly burned down in January of 1946. Today you can see only a part of the stables and the bell tower.
The castle was family owned by Freiherren von Ende until the end of WW2. Its last owner was Hans Adam Freiherr von Ende (born in 1870, died in 1952). He lived there with his daughter Gisela von der Schulenburg, born Freiherrin von Ende. Both families were forced to leave Altjessnitz after the War in 1945. The country seat was expropriated.*3
My grandmother Ida Auguste Tangelst, born in Jagatschütz/Trebnitz (Silesia), was working in the manor from May 1926 until October 1930. She lived with her mother and siblings in Hauptstrasse 40, right opposite the castle and flanking the gardens. I was told that in the beginning she was helping the gardener. From that period I still have one photograph showing my Grandma (second from left) and other employees (probably among them the stable master on the far left). The photograph was taken in about 1926.
As staff was not allowed to access the garden, my Grandmother climbed over the fence when it was dark. That way she and the others explored the garden. Later on Grandma worked as a maid. The insides of the castle must have been beautiful with long stair railings. She loved to slide down on them…
Within the park you can still find the small fieldstone church. It was built in the 12th century and is said to have been part of a former Franciscan monastery.*4
I often sneaked around the church, searching for secret entries, peeked through the keyhole to cast a glance into its insides. Around the building I found some very old fallen tombstones, some leaned against the stone wall, covered with moss. Everywhere around the maze I found erratics and tombstones on which I could hardly read any incravings. As already mentioned the baroque style maze in Altjessnitz was a part of the gardens.
The labyrinth itself was designed by order of Leopold Nicolas Freiherr von Ende in the middle of the 18th century. This garden is the biggest and oldest preserved historic maze in Germany. What makes is more special are the almost 2 meter high hawthorn hedges, through which you must find your way to the center.*5
My fascination for old, abandoned places revealed when I was about 10 years old. We often went to take a walk in the maze on a Sunday. One day I stole away while the grownups chatted and went to the abandoned house that was once Grandmother´s home. I vividly recall the brown darkness of this tiny house. It smelled stale. I remember the following spatial layout: on the left and right side from the entrance was a room. Some fragments of furniture were still there. When I entered the house, stairs led upstairs. At first I passed the stairs on the right and went to the back door that led to a small garden. I think I remember another room in the back and stairs leading to the cellar. The tiny garden was wild and overgrown. I went upstairs but the steps were rotten and I was very lucky not to fall. I must admit I felt disgusted by the dirt. However I was disturbed in my exploration as my family noticed my disappearance. They knew where to look though….
Unfortunately the house doesn´t exist anymore. It was torn down and rebuild by new owners.
Last but not least you can see some photographs of the castle in its original layout**: