«We don’t have any ghosts,» declares Dieter Ruckstuhl, who has lived with his family in the baroque surroundings of Heidegg Castle as managing director and curator since 1995. «After all, we never had a gallows or dungeon here.» But he also knows that these ancient walls harbour things that can give you a good old-fashioned fright.
On an icy winter’s night, Dieter Ruckstuhl woke, worried that the water pipes in the castle might freeze. It was midnight when he entered the castle alone, climbed the spiral staircase and opened the old tiled stove to light a fire. «Suddenly there was a fluttering around my head,» he recalls with a shudder. Was there a ghost in the castle after all? He took his courage in both hands and looked the supposed spirit in the face: a tawny owl had fallen down the chimney and was trapped in the stove. «I’ve heard it call ever since that night.»
Countless stories trail around the Heidegg, whose first ramparts were erected on a lateral moraine around 1192. In the Battle of Sempach of 1386, Heidegg was the only castle to survive the arson attacks by the Swiss Confederates. Legend has it that it was suddenly blanketed in fog as the soldiers marched through the Seetal. The ancient walls of the castle have a lot to tell. And I listen. The cellar darkens. The walls come alive, transporting me back to the 12th century ...
The award-winning Turmkeller stories are Ruckstuhl’s latest project. He has realised a unique idea in partnership with a scenographer, a sound designer and the illustrator Jonas Raeber: «Every visitor should come away with a good feeling, having had an enriching experience,» explains Dieter Ruckstuhl.
After this excursion into the past, a staircase leads us to the small cafe with its medieval beamed ceiling. Painting tables are everywhere, and a disassembled model castle invites children to try out their building skills. We take a narrow spiral oak staircase to the living quarters. They smell of old castle. Paintings depict the people who once lived here: their serious, penetrating gazes are slightly disconcerting. The view from the window of the large ballroom with its painted ceilings and stucco work brings me back to the present, merging the then with the now. Countless couples have said «I do» here in the course of civil, religious and secular wedding ceremonies, Dieter Ruckstuhl tells me.
What follows is sure to delight children: building castles with modelling clay from quartz sand, making Gothic and Romanesque arches out of foam blocks, dressing up as castle attendants. A wall of the antique dressing room is decorated with a huge photograph dating from 1901 of the Pfyffer von Heidegg family, former owners of the castle. Stairs lead us through a narrow and very low door to the attic, where blue lights, mats with countless cushions, big building blocks and, in the middle, a giant marble run, which only makes a sound through team effort, is sure to fulfil every child’s dream! «It’s meant to give parents a break,» says Ruckstuhl with a mischievous smile.
Dieter Ruckstuhl and his thirty-plus staff want nothing better than to fill the castle with life – hence events that bring the historic site to life, such as the Castle Day, an open-air cinema, serenades, pop concerts and a castle festival every three years. «Readings take place during the Seetal Poetry Summer event, wine tours end at the castle, and the Seetal Heart Loop brings e-cyclists here.» Around 25,000 visitors make their way to Heidegg every year.