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A Noblewoman from Schleswig-Holstein Reflects on her Idyllic Childhood in the Late 18th Century (Retrospective Account)

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I remember with particular delight the summer in Rudegaard, whose beautiful surroundings appeared to me even then in the magic green light that to this day transfigures all of the coastal regions in my memory. I still hear the rustling of the mighty forest adjacent to our garden, the forest that inspired a sense of both fear and delight in me. I still take pleasure in the more open, sunlit spaces in it, where I picked such delicious strawberries. My greatest delight back then, though, was my dealings with the old housekeeper Sagern, who went for walks with me and told me fairytales. It gave me such joy to hide her little belongings; once I even cut off the tail of her sack dress, announcing triumphantly that I had modernized it.

Antwortskow Castle was very dear to me. Originally, it formed a quadrangle in whose middle was located the castle yard. One wing of the castle was partly dilapidated. The chapel, the great hall, the castle yard, the low, old-fashioned gate that was used as front door, the long, deserted monastery passageways, the narrow stairs, everything appealed to me romantically. My mother’s apartment was furnished pleasantly. From the bright garden hall one stepped onto elevated terraces, where the wind seized me with such merry force and whirled me around. Down in the narrow valley there were plenty of strawberries. For the large forest, too, of which we discovered new parts all the time on our walking and driving promenades, I had a fondness mixed with a degree of dread. One spot, where on dried trees, felled or half knocked over, one could see hundreds of herons’ nests, is still in my mind’s eye like an apparition.

Here in Antwortskow, on August 28, 1796, my father organized a splendid birthday party for his father-in-law, the Minister Andreas Petrus Bernstorff. The party was combined with a harvest festival. After we children had crowned grandfather with wreaths, also reciting poetry to him, I hid away between his chair and my grandmother’s chair, which had been set up in fine weather in the castle yard opposite the large gateway. Peering from this cozy hiding place, I delighted with admiration and amazement in the magnificent rural parade of so many well-mounted peasants and the large number of wreathed floats fitted with leafed canopies on which male and female peasants, jubilantly shouting, waved wreaths and scarves. During the subsequent dance on the planked cartilage, decked out with festive decoration, I was often drawn into the lines of the dancers as well. However, I had to pay for the excitement and the flush from the dancing with the first illness of my life. For on that night, I was suddenly stricken with nasty cramps that recurred at night from time to time over the following two to three years; on me, though, they made such slight impression that I never understood why they cost my mother so many tears. The remedies, on the other hand, that I was instructed to use, especially the innumerable leeches with which I was tortured, seemed to have no effect on the ailment whatsoever, instead apparently harming my hitherto unshakable health permanently. [ . . . ]

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