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Denmark : Holidays in the Middle Ages
On the Danish island of Bornholm there is a village where guests can feel the life of that time. And look at this: it also had pleasant sides.
At first sight everything is perfect: the small, resistant cattle grazing on the pasture, sheep, geese, two woolen pigs, which are cooled by the rain-heavy Bornholm soil. You have to be as well versed as Lena Mühlig in order to recognize where they tricked here in the medieval village, so that the historical claim comes in line with the tourist one.
It is not known which cows grazed on the Danish island a thousand years ago – that’s why Dexter cattle, originally from Ireland, stand here. The East Prussian Skudden sheep, whose wool is so easy to spin, also feel at home on Bornholm. And the geese? They fulfilled an important function in every medieval settlement: “You can bribe dogs, not geese,” says Mühlig. Only the guard geese were allowed to move freely through the village at that time. Today’s geese live behind a fence; the visitors’ shoes thank them for it.
The children can dye yarn, weave straw dolls and learn how to write runes.
Living History, the history lived and thus brought to life, has been a bestseller in many places in Europe for years. There is hardly a castle complex that doesn’t try to make a profit out of the medieval enthusiasm of the people; the medieval festival including archery or the jug at the Christmas market are also so nice. Parents and children also want to offer them something on Bornholm in the Middelaldercenter, but not at any price. There are no plastic knights in the shop and no stalls on the premises.
The village lives from people like them: Åsa Martinsson, who deals with medieval weaving.
Lena Mühlig, who lights the oven.
And Klaus Thorsen, who explains military techniques here.
But then they fight with plastic swords.
Of course you can also use archery on Bornholm.
And here’s the treasure chest of precious spices. Only the landlady had the key.
If you want a souvenir, you can buy pottery and mouth-blown souvenirs. Or rabbit skins, which are particularly popular at Reenactorn – those people who take the Middle Ages so seriously that they relive them – because caps and hoods can be lined softly and warmly with them. It is easy to get to the skins on Bornholm; there are no foxes here and therefore rabbits in abundance.
Of course, they must also earn money with the center, which was established in 1996. “But we still want to remain true to ourselves,” says Mühlig. So commerce has been cut back and replaced by a wide range of activities for children: Dyeing yarn, weaving dolls from straw, making pottery, playing like children played in the Middle Ages, writing runes with pen and ink, searching for buried glass beads in the sand. If you’re unlucky, you’ll find an old shoe sole instead. On a sandy surface, specially made coins are buried – the children can search for them with the metal detector.
The Bornholm native Klaus Thorsen, one of the few permanent employees of the center and of course, like everyone here, dressed in clothes that are as true to the original as possible, is also a hobby archaeologist. He has researched the history of his island and has gathered around him a group of like-minded people who regularly set off with metal detectors. Only that they don’t keep their finds to themselves, as others do illegally. Thorsens troops hand over their finds to the Bornholms Museum. Most of what is known about the Middle Ages on Bornholm comes from such archaeologically valuable sites – “or from old pictures,” as Thorsen says.
They also reconstructed the village on the basis of old records: with the weaver and the potter, the centrally located “Gildeshus”, where people gathered for important occasions and in whose door frame a straw sun cross hangs, which was once intended to ward off evil spirits. Above all, however, a Stormandsgård towers above the village, a kind of manor house built on Bornholm in the 14th century: with a farm building, a stable – traditionally covered with rye stalks -, a dwelling house for the nobility and a central tower, which served as the last escape point during attacks.
At that time, Mühlig explains, there was civil war in the country, a simple farm would have been slightly overrun. A Stormandsgård, however, was surrounded by high palisades and usually protected by a moat. However, they had to do without the moat in the medieval centre – too many rocks in the ground.
Between May and October, when the centre is open, school classes from all over Denmark come here. There is a direct ferry connection between Rønne on Bornholm and Ystad in Sweden. You can communicate well anyway, the languages are related. Though: the language did not exist earlier on Bornholm, says Thorsen, rather there were four dialects. One in the north, where stonemasons from Sweden found work and helped shape the language, one in the west around Rønne, “those were the fine city dwellers”.
The island is considered to be the most diverse part of Denmark. It is not for nothing that many alternatives retreat here. From Hans Gasser
According to Thorsen, the dialect of the rural population was spoken in the middle of the island centuries ago, and in the south with a Slavic influence. It was just different times; people got married in the village and stayed on the island. Today, there are not many young people who speak a Bornholm dialect at all. “For a long time one was ashamed of it”, says Lena Mühlig. “People are just beginning to appreciate their history.”