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July 2003

Picture Book Castle

From hunting seat to library

As soon as you leave traffic-congested Verdi Strasse in Munich’s district of Obermenzing and drive along the small road that leads to Blutenburg Castle, a sense of other-worldliness sets in. The roar of traffic fades to a gentle hum and the vista spread before you is more reminiscent of an 18th-century etching than a 20th-century cityscape. Though much altered over the centuries, the original 15th-century moated castle of Blutenburg with its fortifications and towers, spacious outbuildings and church has lost none of its charm. The unsuspecting visitor will also be pleased to learn that the building, rather than being home to a collection of historical paraphernalia, houses the largest library for children’s literature in the world, and plays host to concerts, seminars, exhibitions, language and painting courses and even the occasional summer wedding.

Blutenburg Castle, first referred to as “Blyutenburg” in 1425 and later as “Pluedenberg,” is situated on the River Würm. It was commissioned by Duke Albrecht III in 1430 as a hunting seat. In 1467 his successor, Duke Sigismund, who had abdicated in favor of his brother Albrecht IV, withdrew to the castle. Sigismund, an esthete, devoted himself to building churches and palaces and extended Blutenburg by adding a chapel in 1488, a work by the same mason’s lodge that built Munich Cathedral. The simple brick building is still furnished with the original Late Gothic art that was made for it, such as the wooden statues of the twelve Apostles and the figures of the Risen Christ and the famous Blutenburg Madonna. The three altarpieces, by the Polish artist Jan Polack, are considered to be among the best examples of panel painting in southern Germany. The present main building was constructed in 1676, after the Swedish forces had destroyed everything but the chapel during the Thirty Years’ War. Over the centuries Blutenburg, like many historic buildings, was used for a variety of purposes. For example, it was rented out as private accommodation in the early 19th century—the infamous Lola Montez, “Spanish” dancer and mistress to King Ludwig I, numbered among its residents—before being leased to the Institut der Englischen Fräulein (Institute of English Ladies) in 1866 and later becoming an old people’s home. Finally, in 1980, the building underwent the latest renovations to date, including an extension to accommodate the library.

Jella Lepman was a German Jewess who had spent the Nazi years in exile in Britain and returned to Munich as a cultural attaché with the Americans after the war. Lepman believed that one way to rediscover hope and moral values lost through the years of terror under the Nazi regime was through literature and, in particular, children’s literature. To this end she founded the International Youth Library (Internationale Jugendbibliothek) in 1949. Initially no more than a collection of boxes, the library changed addresses a number of times before being moved to Blutenburg in 1983. The current collection consists of some 530,000 books, including children's and youth books in more than 130 languages, secondary literature and historical documents. Each year, 1,000 publishers from around the world send copies of their latest books to the library and approximately 9,000 books are catalogued. In addition to this, the library occasionally receives donations. In 1969 the Bureau International d’Education (of the League of Nations in Geneva) donated its international children’s and youth literature collection to the library. Other notable acquisitions include the Schulz Collection, with numerous historical editions of adventure novels and folktales, and, in 1998, the Mischke Collection, with its extensive range of picture books. The library also has valuable first editions, some of which are signed, as well as manuscripts, autographs, original artwork and poster collections.

The children’s lending library is free to use and boasts 20,000 books in 15 languages and a media collection in five languages, as well as offering a wide variety of programs, such as story hours, language courses in English, French and Italian, art courses and a children’s choir. Events such as author readings, game and crafts days, puppet-theater, quizzes and stamp collector exchanges are also scheduled throughout the year. Another part of the castle accessible to the public is the study library, where visitors can use the reference collection of primary and secondary literature, including current professional periodicals and historical children’s books. Three “reading museums” invite guests to explore the life and work of the well-known German authors Michael Ende (open Tues.-Sun. 2-5 pm), Erich Kästner (open by appointment) and James Krüss (open Tues.-Thurs. 10 am-4 pm). These colorful collections, which include personal belongings such as furniture and books, offer a glimpse into the spiritual and intellectual world of these great storytellers.

The halls of Blutenburg also house temporary exhibitions on a wide range of themes—original works of illustrators, surveys of the children’s literature of different countries or cultures and current or historical aspects of children’s and youth literature. All exhibitions are designed for both children and adults, and often a special program of activities for school classes is offered. With all this great work being done at Blutenburg Castle, this landmark is worth visiting for more than its impressive exterior.

Blutenburg Castle is situated at Seldweg 15, and can be reached by
taking the S2/4/5/6/8 to Pasing, then bus 73/76 to Blutenburg.
General information is available on the Website or at
(089) 89 12 110. The children’s lending library is open Mon.-Fri. 2-6 pm
and can be reached at (089) 89 12 11-60. Please note that the interior of
the castle is not open to the public, although the church may be visited.

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