Lost in Translation: Nassenheide Re-visited

Old access to the Schloss
Old access to the Schloss. Photo by Juergen Weichbrodt. (Please click to enlarge)

Recently we were all surprised and pleased to read of the new statue of ‘Elizabeth von Arnim’ (1866 – 1941) which has now been erected in Buk, near Rzedziny, Poland. We read too that the town of Buk is now celebrating Elizabeth’s connection with the area by holding a rose festival there in her honour each June. We wish the organisers every success with this venture and hope it will bring many visitors.

When I visited Rzedziny in 2009[i], I realised that there is much potential for research into what remains of the extensive estate where ‘Elizabeth’ and her family lived from 1896 until 1909, long before the First World War.

View to the likely position of the Schloss
View to the likely position of the Schloss. Photo by Juergen Weichbrodt. (Please click to enlarge)

This location, then called Nassenheide and situated in Prussia, inspired her first best-selling novel: ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’ (1898). In the book, ‘Elizabeth’ writes a fictional diary, describing her love of the landscape and her ideas for creating a naturalistic English-style garden in her adopted land.

At the time of my visit, I could see that Nassenheide had remained virtually untouched since the end of WW2. The ruins of the former manor house, the surrounding estate and many of its outbuildings were covered in vegetation. This site must indeed be rich in undiscovered historic, literary and horticultural treasures.

Ruined builidng in Rzedziny
Ruined builidng in Rzedziny. Photo by Juergen Weichbrodt. (Please click to enlarge)

So I was interested to see, in the recent Polish article (translated and posted below) about the statue, a reference to a fairly recent visit to the site of the estate by Juergen Weichbrodt, who went there in September 2014. I contacted him through the British Society of Historical Gardens and he has been kind enough to send some photographs (attached) which convey the enchantment the place still holds. He was also able to tell me more about his visit there and his personal connection with the place. It is a fascinating story.

His visit came some seventy years after his boyhood refuge in the ‘Schloss Nassenheide’ (as it was then still called) in its last days, before its destruction by British bombs on 6th January 1944. Indeed, as he so graphically describes, he was a witness to this terrifying event. He and his family had been evacuated to the Schloss from Stettin (now Szczezin), which was a prime target for allied raids.

018 Different view same building
Building in Rzedziny. Photo by Juergen Weichbrodt. (Please click to enlarge)

He quotes (in translation) from the family’s history of the time, compiled from his and his sister’s shared memories:

      From the main entrance to the left are the windows where we lived. The building had been hit with phosphorus bombs and the slow burning allowed the removal of all our furniture, out into the snow. On the second day (the target of the attack was the nearby Stettin) all walls were pulled down to allow the smouldering and glowing fire to burn itself out. At this stage the big right wing of the building was already completely burned down.
      On the first evening of the fire many people ran through the door to see the fire, among them my sister. I saw the phosphorus run, or rather, drip like honey and the upper level of the building broke down with all the furniture already burning. For us children it was a thrilling experience.
The Old Park, formerly known as Nassenheide, now Rzedziny
The Old Park, formerly known as Nassenheide, now Rzedziny. Photo by Juergen Weichbrodt. (Please click to enlarge)
      We then had to move into a very small flat in the mayor’s house. Our father remained in Stettin. The mayor was also a farmer and his son protected me at school, where all the local kids, wearing wooden shoes, were amused when I appeared with my lace-up boots. There was only one class at school for all the kids of Nassenheide and we had only one teacher.
      I remember the visit of our father over the weekend while we were living in the manor house. The house was dark after sunset because any light could give away our position. There was a long, dark way to the toilets and at the weekends my father had to take my hand and walk me to the toilet and wait for me. I was afraid in the dark.
Exhibition of WWII Objects
Exhibition of WWII Objects. Photo by Juergen Weichbrodt. (Please click to enlarge)
      There was another family with four sons with us. The youngest was my playmate. We built little houses from reeds in the park. On one of the meadows, we found broken up bombs covered with a fine yellow powder; all were later blown up. On another meadow we found our sleeping ‘knight in silver’, there were strings and sheets of a white material. It was an airman, his plane had been shot down.

It is somewhat ironic that the final destruction of the site of Elizabeth’s famous ‘German Garden’ was brought about by British bombs, even if this was an accidental strike by returning bombers off-loading, after attacking the port and ship-building facilities of Stettin.

Mini Bunker
Mini Bunker. Photo by Juergen Weichbrodt. (Please click to enlarge)

We would like to extend our warm wishes to the inhabitants of Rzedziny and Buk, and hope that some of us might visit their beautiful area one day and celebrate with them the writer who loved their land all those years ago.

Jennifer Walker, March 2016

[i] I went with ACE Tours, Cambridge, whose 10 day tour includes a brief visit to Rzedziny and the former Nassenheide estate as well as visiting the Island or Ruegen.

Google Maps
Aerial view of the area formerly known as Nassenheide, now Rzedziny (Google Maps)

7 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: Nassenheide Re-visited

  1. Thank you very much! I found it fascinating. I had often wondered about visiting the garden but lack of funds prevented me. It’s rather sad to think of the estate being in ruins but such is the fate of gardens. They really do not last unless someone is on top of the job of caring for them all the time.

    1. Dear Michael

      I am just responding to your very welcome comment on the item on our website about the former estate of Nassenheide.

      I’ve had further communication from our contact in Poland, Elzbieta Bruska, who tells me that the present owner has decided to sell the land. However, she is in close touch with local officials and hopes that all will not be lost and possibly a reconstruction of the former rose garden might be made. The area remains, at present, open for anyone to visit. Our society is of course following this closely and we hope some of us may be able to visit the area next year, possibly to attend the ‘rose festival’.
      Jennifer Walker

      1. Dear Jennifer

        I have been studying Elizabeth and her German Garden as part of a lit class that I attend. It is a delightful work and I have become enchanted by research into the author and the novel. Having just received your wonderfully comprehensive biography of E v A I am thrilled to,find that your introduction echoes all I feel about the writer her identity and her work. It is a book Imshall treasure and look forward to,reading it all. I just wanted you to know how much I Admire your work.

      2. Dear Jennifer,

        I grew up in the Szczecin area and saw Nassenheide now Rzędziny many times… When I was a kid we drove past there several times. I was fortunate to attend The Rose Festival last year and it was such a fun fare with some ladies walking in long dresses, holding roses and stunning florist’s displays and few stands selling potted roses in bloom. There were also a few food and craft merchants who sold their fine goods.
        My high school friends run a theater group “TeART na Raz” and they performed on an outdoor stage a play “Róża” (Rose)- a comedy based on a story about a couple that is installing a new garden and they hired gardener whose name is Krzak (when translated it’s G. Bush). The rose festival was a lot of fun!

    2. The garden was largely fictional. The novelist E M Forster, who worked as the von Arnim’s children’s tutor in 1905, wrote in a memoir of his time there that the manor house was surrounded by fields and shrubbery, with some flowers coming up in summer, but there was nothing of note there.

      Still, it would be interesting to visit the place all the same.

  2. Dear Jennifer,

    Thank you for your message. A visit to Buk sounds very tempting, if only I had the money!


  3. Dear Jennifer–

    I am new to Elizabeth Arnim, but just finished Elizabeth and her German Garden–and have become an intrigued fan. Coincidentally, I am also reading a history of the U.S. First Armored Division in World War II, in which my father served, and there is a German General, Hans-Juergen von Arnim, 1889-1962, whom I’m guessing is a nephew of Elizabeth’s first husband? Checking in to see if you have run across this connection in your research. Thanks for any confirmation, if you have any.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *