The double gotz


High above the Neckar lies Hornberg Castle, where Gotz von Berlichingen breathed his last 450 years ago. The famous knight "with the iron hand" still fires people's imagination. In an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA), the current lord of the castle, Dajo von Gemmingen-Hornberg, talks about pleasure and burden with the prominent property – and of course about the spirit of Gotz.


CBA: Mr. von Gemmingen-Hornberg, 450 years after his death, Goetz von Berlichingen is still the talk of the town – why??

von Gemmingen-Hornberg: This is surely first of all because of his famous saying…
CBA: … That has something to do with the buttocks.
von Gemmingen-Hornberg: In his memoirs, dictated as a nearly blind man at the end of his life, he recounts a dispute with a bailiff. Finally, he shouted to the opponent that he should "lick his hand". The saying has been translated into some 80 languages in its various variants. This makes Gotz von Berlichingen probably the most quoted person in the world.
KNA: But the man also had his dark sides. "Now I was still of the mind to make the region a little unsafe" – with such sentences begin his memories of various raids and feuds. Certainly not a fine move…
of Gemmingen-Hornberg: Nevertheless, the figure remains in the eyes of many positively occupied. His impetuous appearance has also something liberating. And then there is the matter of the iron hand.
CBA: A shot from a cannon shredded the then 24-year-old's right hand.
von Gemmingen-Hornberg: Gotz did not let this get him down, but set off again a short time later with a specially made prosthesis. Everyone is allowed to fall down once in a while, but should then also get up again
stand up: I believe this message still moves people – far from actual events.
CBA: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe also took a rather liberal approach to historical facts in his play about the knight.
von Gemmingen-Hornberg: Yes, but the piece made Gotz at the end of the 18. The first real popularity of the winegrowing industry of the twentieth century. But the literary and the historical von Berlichingen are two completely opposite figures – right down to the fact that Goethe lets his Gotz die decades earlier than was the case in reality. But many people don't even know that. And this is how fiction and reality merge together.

KNA: In reality, Gotz von Berlichingen acquired Hornberg Castle in 1517, where he died as an old man "uber etlich und achtzig jahr alt" – to what extent does this contribute to the fascination of the place?

von Gemmingen-Hornberg: The ghost of Gotz already hovers within these walls here. But Hornberg is apart from that also the largest castle in the Neckar valley, which still looks back on a long wine-growing tradition. When my ancestor Reinhard von Gemmingen acquired the area here in 1612, exactly 400 years ago, the castle was no longer of any particular importance. Much more interesting were the vineyards in sunlit steep slopes with nine kilometers of hand-laid stone walls. That was and is already something very special.
CBA: What role does viticulture play for you today?
from Gemmingen-Hornberg: I've come to the point where he's no longer taking casualties. One can calculate badly in the area. In 2009, we had 30.000 liters a good harvest and wine with an approximate value of 200.000 euros. In the following year, the harvest was 6.000 liters – and the value of the wine was only 40.000 euros.
CBA: The preservation of the castle complex is unlikely to be possible without this.
of Gemmingen-Hornberg: I have to live on other things. Some castle owners say yes, they have a cash cow. Others complain about a million-dollar grave. I have both. The upper castle, in which Gotz once lived, is constantly threatened by decay. There is always a piece of wall breaking away somewhere. That's why we want to start an extensive renovation in August. A total of around 60 individual building projects for
1.7 million euros planned. Then, hopefully, there will be peace for two generations.
CBA: Who finances that?
von Gemmingen-Hornberg: Subsidies come through the public purse and from foundations. But I have to bear a part of the costs myself. That is then quite in the order of magnitude of a single-family house – for a ruin.
CBA: So much for the million grave. And what about the gold donkey?
of Gemmingen-Hornberg: This is the lower castle where we live – incidentally, the largest residential building from the Hohenstaufen period north of the Alps. "Does no good, does no harm, either," was written, mutatis mutandis, in the documents relating to the sales negotiations of 1612. But although my family moved there only in the 1930s, the building fabric remained amazingly intact over the centuries. The indoor climate is pleasant, even in winter there is rarely any need for heating.
CBA: Nevertheless: Never once thought of giving up the castle?
von Gemmingen-Hornberg: No. It is perhaps sometimes a burden to have so much responsibility. But it has been in the family for so long. There one does not give it away so simply.

The interview was conducted by Joachim Heinz.


Potztausend! Some 500 years ago, parts of the German aristocracy were truly not in the best of health. For some young people, complained Count Reinhard zu Solms, there is nothing else to do "but sleep until high noon, spend the other half of the day idly slinking and dancing with the women or playing with the dogs and drinking half the night away. Nasty accusations – behind which a profound social change was hidden.

Gotz von Berlichingen is one of the figures in which this change becomes tangible. 450 years ago, on 23. July 1562 "at 6 o'clock in the evening", the knight "with the iron hand" died in his castle Hornberg – at the blessed age of 82 licenses. During his lifetime, Columbus landed in America, the universal genius Leonardo da Vinci celebrated triumphs in Italy, and the reformer Martin Luther formulated his 95 theses. What could be left for the once proud knights, those armored remnants of the Middle Ages??

Their place as warriors was taken by less demanding mercenaries, their posts as princely advisors by the more learned "Doctores" from the universities, their independence on the ground undermined by high nobility and aspiring cities. Who could, waited for better times and gave itself to the idleness. Those who calculated placed themselves under the rule of a more powerful man. And those who played poker fought tooth and nail for their traditional freedoms. Like Gotz, who, however, kept a cool head in many of his actions.

In his "description of life" it does not always read like that. There the honorable "Reichs-Cavalier" stages itself as hotspur, which feared neither death nor devil. By his mid-20s, he had lost his reputation as a daring "hedge rider" – with the iron hand as his unmistakable trademark. During the siege of the city of Landshut in 1504 a cannon shot had shattered his right hand. Since then he made do with probably the most famous prosthesis in the history of orthopedics.

Seen in the light of day, von Berlichingen ran nothing more than a highly lucrative predatory collection command, whose sphere of influence extended far beyond Swabia and Franconia. However, Gotz was scrupulously careful to declare these "that-actions" as chivalrous feuds on behalf of third parties. One way or another: With his raids on villages, castles and above all rich merchants, he and his up to 200 companions sowed fear and terror and raked in a lot of money.

Again and again, aristocrats were involved. When the Nurembergers, unnerved by constant attacks from Gotz and one of his fellow soldiers, the one-legged Hans von Selbitz, turned for help to Emperor Maximilian I. turn, should this proclaimed
have: "Holy God, holy God! WHAT IS THIS? the one has one hand, the other has one leg, when they would have two hands and two legs, how would you do then??"

The knight's star began to decline at the time, of all times, when he acquired a permanent domicile in 1517 with the purchase of Hornberg Castle, about 45 kilometers east of Heidelberg. In the war between the Swabian League and Ulrich von Wurttemberg, he sided with the duke and suffered a severe defeat in 1519. Once again he appeared in 1525 as a captain in the Peasants' War. Whether out of coercion, power tactical considerations or honest interest in a settlement is still disputed today.

The last 30 years of von Berlichingen's life were spent in Hornberg Castle, litigating and dictating his memoirs. His famous quote "He can lick my ass!as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe immortalized in 1773 in his drama "Gotz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand" ("Goetz of Berlichingen with the Iron Hand"). Incidentally, this quotation reads surprisingly tamely in the memoirs of "old iron pants", which are rich in hefty details: "He should lick me hinden!", was there the nevertheless clear announcement.

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