A journey through time in Tscherms
High above Tscherms/Cermes you will find one of the largest castles in South Tyrol. The lady of the castle, Anouschka van Rossem, gives us a tour of Lebenberg Castle, telling us stories about cellars that are upstairs instead of downstairs, about former castle owners and how to keep fit by carrying firewood.
“When living in such a castle, you can’t afford to be squeamish”, Anouschka van Rossem van Sinoutskerke says and smiles, tossing a small pebble over the wall fencing off the castle’s gardens. When she was little, the daughter of a Dutchman and a German used to jump over the castle walls – and now she is the lady of one of the largest castles in South Tyrol. Lebenberg Castle is situated at high above Tscherms, at an altitude of 505 metres (1,657 ft), and has been owned by her family for almost 100 years now. The stately, earth-coloured building and especially the 24-metre-high castle keep can be seen from afar,contraste against the green vineyard slopes in the background. Numerous castle buildings can be found snuggling to the stolid keep, like pieces of a puzzle.
“The castle was owned by many other families, including the Lords of Marlengo and the Fuchs family, before we ended up with it”, Anouschka van Rossem explains, pressing down the heavy cast iron door handle and opening the door leading out to the courtyard. “And it was expanded numerous times”. Our tour begins.
The first courtyard leads to a 14th-century chapel with a wooden shingle roof that stands out among the other castle buildings. Anouschka van Rossem especially loves the great acoustics of this building. Yet it is also the just recently discovered Medieval paintings on the northern wall that make the chapel one of the gems of the castle. It feels cold in the little church – so I ask about temperatures in the castle itself. The lady of the castle laughs: “No, there’s no heating in the castle. In winter, we use gas heaters and fireplaces, but the hallways always stay cold. That helps you toughen up. I don’t even know what it’s like to come down with the flu. But first of all, you have to drag all the firewood up to our living quarters. I sure don’t need to head out to the gym – I have my castle for that”, van Rossem says, laughing again. To reach the family’s private chambers, you have to climb a total of 104 steps from the courtyard below. Looking up from the gardens, you can see two Romanesque arched windows.
“That’s where we live”, the lady of the castle says, pointing up almost all the way to the sky with her slender hands. While looking up, she notices a bird circling the castle keep and grounds and explains: “Those up there are our pets. The falcons live in our tower”.
A flight of stone stairs leads us along the old castle walls and into the next courtyard. Only then do I realise how well all the additions that were made to the various buildings over the course of several centuries fit together, in spite of the different architectural styles. We pass the collection of arms, climb another flight of stairs and walk past a special tree of life: All castle owners and their coats of arms are painted on the walls of the stairwell. The tree starts at the very top with Konrad of Marlengo back in 1216, and the last branch down at the bottom of the stairs reads Cornelis Jan van Rossem van Sinoutskerke, the lady’s father.
After walking down the stairs, we enter the castle itself. The rooms are fully furnished and kept in their original style to show how people used to live back in the day. Crossing the first room, known as the farmers’ room, we reach an ancient parlour featuring one of the earliest folding beds made from wood, a fireplace and chests from the Gothic and Renaissance periods. The old wooden floorboards creak as the lady of the castle walks over them, leading us into the next room, the stately mirror hall. At Lebenberg Castle, stepping into another room is like travelling into a completely different era. The luxuriant furniture, ornate patterned wallpaper, oriental rugs and large chandeliers under a stucco ceiling are reminiscent of the Roccoco era. We move on to the next room, the knights’ hall with its dark and heavy wooden furniture. Looking out the window, you can see all the way over to the Lagorai mountain range. “I can see the peaks of Corno Nero, Corno Bianco and Pietralba from here”, she says while accom anying us to the next hall, the Empire Room. It’s much warmer in here. The room is located in the palas, and just like some other rooms on the upper floors, it was built into the rock. “This is how it was possible to erect a building that tall. We have cellars that are upstairs instead of downstairs”, the lady of the castle explains.
The last part of our tour takes us out to the well-tended French Rococco gardens at the foot of the castle. A large mulberry tree grows between the garden and the barn. “It is more than 200 years old”, Anouschka van Rossem says proudly, gently stroking the mossy bark of the tree. At night, she reports, when the sun goes down and you look up to castle from down there, the tree is illuminated in the most beautiful of colours. “Those are the moments when I truly enjoy living here”, she says.