My Life in the Castle

by Jurgen Lett

Moving to Hohensolms Castle was a journey of nearly 200 kilometres from my home in Wuppertal. It was 1943 and the castle was managed by my Tante (Aunty) Rikele as a church youth centre . During the World War II it served as emergency accommodation, away from the bomb-ravaged cities. Built in the 14th century, this Medieval castle is now an international language school.

Hohensolms Castle

Fuel was in short supply and a solution had to be found to take my mother Martha, sister Iris and I to our new home. Our neighbour, who owned a trucking company, agreed to take us in a truck which had been modified to run on timber. A wood oven behind the cabin heated the wood without burning it, producing gas which fueled the motor. These wood gas generators were not uncommon during and immediately after World War II, as Germany produced Holzgas kits to retrofit to cars, trucks and even tanks to preserve the limited supply of fuel.

Truck running on wood gas

I remember stopping to gather more timber from the forest, before continuing on our way. The truck had insufficient room in the cabin for our little family, so I traveled in the back amongst our belongings. I found a space between the furniture, and made a nest of straw. A spare tyre was fastened on top of the nest and I popped my head up through the tyre to watch the view. I felt pretty special.

Living in the castle was like living in a commune. The meals were taken communally, starting and ending with prayer. Tante Margarete and Tante Amanda managed the kitchen, with the older children helping to prepare the meals. Finding food for so many people every day was a constant struggle. We kids collected bucket loads of stinging nettles, which were made into a delicious spinach. We were careful to avoid touching the leaves, as the sting from them lasted for days.

Most of the people in the castle were cousins, uncles, aunties or extended family, with only a few families who were not related to me. Most of the men had been recruited to the army, or, like my father, who was an architect and a master builder, to essential services. Consequently there were only two men at the castle, Onkel (Uncle) Theo and Onkel Paul, who were too old for military service. Occasionally other uncles came to visit while on leave from the army. They were happy times. My favourite was Onkel Gustav, Tante Margarete’s husband. Sadly he was killed in the war.

A bomb in the garden

by Jurgen Lett

When I was two years old my mother’s mother was living with us.
She was a loving generous lady and we called her Grossmutter (grandmother). Before our home town of Wuppertal was bombed, she moved to Hohensolms Castle near Frankfurt, in 1942.

My mother Martha, sister Iris and I remained in the family home in Wuppertal-Beyenburg. When the air raid siren sounded, we retreated to the cellar, which had been prepared for extended stays, with food and bedding. Another siren rang several hours later indicating that it was safe to leave the cellar. One day we heard the second siren and came out to inspect the damage. We found an incendiary bomb against the wall of the house, which fortunately had not been ignited. However the window of Iris’s bedroom had been smashed and glass was found under the covers of her neatly-made bed. Official documents from the town hall ten kilometres away were found in our garden.

Beyenburg is a village on the outskirts of Wuppertal and the village suffered only minor damage. In contrast, other districts of this industrial city were extensively bombed with incendiaries. In February 1943 the British bombed the Goldschmidt adhesives factory, which made wood adhesive used in wooden air frame components. The pharmacology firm Bayer was targeted, as were other factories. Over 6,500 people died as a result of the bombing of Wuppertal, and 38% of the built up area was destroyed.

Wuppertal town hall, where my father Ernst worked as the city architect

My mother (we called her Mutti) decided it was time to move somewhere safer. After the first bombing in 1943, Mutti packed up the house and we moved to Hohensolms Castle.