Tag Archives: Hans Christian Andersen

Egeskov Castle: A Danish Midsummer Night’s Dream

This year I am in pretty-far-north Minnesota for Midsummer’s Eve, but I have to say that Minnesotans don’t celebrate the Longest Day of the Year with much panache. So I’m hearkening back to my Scandinavian travels by remembering Egeskov Castle on the island of Funen in Denmark.

Egeskov was built in 1554 by one Frands Brockenhuus. I’m guessing it has stayed more or less within the same family; it’s still the home of the much-hyphenated Count Michael Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille.

The Protestant Reformation brought civil unrest in addition to actual civil wars between various noble families in the 1500s. So they tended to fortify their castles. This one was built on oak pilings in the middle of a lake, at one time only accessible over a drawbridge.

The name “Egeskov” means “oak forest.” Legend has it that it took an entire forest to build it.

If I could read Danish, I’d know more about the military history of the castle’s families. Anyway, I think the armor on display looks impressive and I’m willing to believe it’s authentic. I do have to say, I’d be tripping on my own feet in the footgear, though.

There is plenty of military hardware on display too.

And like all European aristocrats, the family clearly enjoyed hunting in their private forests.

Want to imagine genteel aristocratic life in Victorian Denmark? Mannequins are happy to demonstrate how it’s done.

The beloved author Hans Christian Andersen was a regular visitor. He was born in the nearby town of Odense.

He used to amuse the ladies and children after dinner with paper cutouts, all accompanied by stories.

At some point, a friend of the family lavished years of work on a fantastic dollhouse, Titania’s Palace, which came complete with its own fairy mythology.

The British Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visited as preteens.

I like the fine details of castles. Everywhere in the castle there’s exquisite wood carving and cheerful Scandinavian painting.

I love costume displays. Egeskov shows outfits that family members actually wore.

Head to toe, the Counts and Countesses of Egeskov were all set for any occasion.

One family member somehow acquired a section of a gown being made for Marie Antoinette. Now the embroidered pieces look a little forlorn, grafted into a plain white gown. (The room has a rather gory display of a bloody guillotine, which I could do without).

Of course I can’t help thinking that if any of my ancestors found themselves anywhere near Egeskov, it would be as servants.

The family has done a great job of monetizing their Renaissance castle. I’m sure it draws crowds in the high season of summer, but attractions are spread out all over the grounds in various outbuildings. Any one of the collections would be a destination all on its own.

For example, the vast vehicle collection is really fun. How about a sleighride through the forest?

Yes, but I want the crocodile sleigh!

I think my favorite thing in the entire visit was a luxurious but homey camping truck, apparently custom-fitted in the 1950s. Now that’s what my idea of camping. It’s my idea of Danish hygge, too. I want it!

Back in the castle, the attic houses a fantastic collection of antique toys.

The attic itself is pretty interesting–many more of those oak timbers.

And there’s a legend that if the life-sized doll lying in the middle of it all is ever moved, the entire castle will sink into the lake at Christmas.

But right now it’s midsummer. Someone is returning from the long day’s celebration to this cozy room in the castle.

Sweet dreams!

A postscript: on June 21, the first day of summer 2019, I drove cross country from Minnesota to the mountains of northwest Colorado, only to encounter several inches of treacherous slushy snow and blizzard conditions on the mountain passes. So I won’t be complaining about whether or not the Scandinavians of Minnesota celebrate Midsummer properly. Hey, it’s all good!