Indonesian goings-on at Schloss Sandizell Part I: Count Nikolaus of Sandizell

Work first began on Schloss Sandizell in 1048, however it has gone through several renovations. The current castle has a late Baroque façade. (photo: Graf von und zu sandizell)

IO – “During the Habsburg Empire the Catholic Church played a very im­portant role. I believe that one of the things that the society developing in Europe today is missing is spirituality and it carries a price,” declared Prinz Clemens of Croy moving his fine, slen­der hands through the air.

The Prince whose ancestors were once elevated to the rank of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire and who is very much concerned with some of the over secularization and lack of spiritual values that he perceives in the world around him, was attending the 60th birthday celebrations of Niko­laus Count of Sandizell at the Count’s Schloss in the countryside outside of Munich.

One of the knights’ camps in the grounds of Schloss Sandizell. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

In the castle grounds outside the moat a medieval fair had already been in full swing for the last 4 days with sword battles and archery con­tests; colourful stripped tents had been erected where people slept and cooked over log fires with black caul­drons filled with surprisingly delicious smelling pottages.

A stall selling all manner of instruments of war. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

Various stalls were set up selling medieval clothes and cloaks, swords, shields, battle axes and other bygone implements of war, honey, mead, all sorts of wursts (Ger­man sausages) made from wild boar or venison, some stuffed with truffles, cheeses and homemade wines with fine, manly names such as Ritters Blut (Knights Blood).

Medieval lady with her dog. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

Several women pa­raded around in their medieval clothes with aristocratic looking dogs on chains while the men had their wolf­hounds. Meanwhile, Dieter Hirsch was selling parchment and all the instruments of fine calligraphy including seals with water dragons and fire dragons and red sealing wax.

A group of Germans in love with Scotish traditions and costumes. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

German “Scotophiles” in tartans with an early type of bagpipe played music and marched around as did more traditionally clad knights in chain mail.

The Gothic band with ancient bagpipes. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

On the bandstand a Goth­ic band also played music. There were even round, wooden, communal baths for the knights which actually looked quite fun. A medieval camel calmly glided through it all carrying happy children on its back.

The Ritterpoet, Dentatus von Eichberg who speaks Indonesian. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

Dentatus von Eichberg, the Ritter­poet or troubadour of Burgau recited a poem about the murder of a Span­ish knight by the father of Brunhilde (Siegfrid’s nemsis) for the effrontery of trying to win her hand in marriage. He ended with a poem about the Dutch Knight of Gouda who apparently was once as irritating in his slowness to medieval Germans as Dutch drivers on the autobahn are to the Germans of today. Indonesian readers will no doubt be pleased to know that not only has von Eichberg been to Indone­sia but he also speaks the language. He is now apparently in the midst of preparing a medieval poem involving Indonesia. Surely, someone should be inviting the Ritterpoet of Bergau to the “Poets Grand Slam” at the Ubud Writ­er’s Festival in Bali?

Guests attending the medieval fair and the Count’s birthday. (photo: IO/Tamalia)
A Javanese merchant made it to the fair at Schloss Sandizell, selling cattle horns as were once used for drinking in the Middle Ages as well as jewelery. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

Meanwhile, in the inner court of Schloss Sandizell a blue and white stripped tent had been erected for the celebrations. The guests attending sat on wooden benches at long tables as once was the tradition in medieval halls. They were dressed in various medieval style costumes with ladies in long skirts and sleeves hanging down to the floor and men in heraldic tunics and slashed sleeves of various colours. There were knights in armor and chain mail.

A friend of Count Sandizell’s dresses as a cardinal. (photo: Graf nikolaus von und zu sandizell)

Besides Bavarian and Habsburg nobility, there were also historians, archivists, a sprinkling of politicians, the Mayor of Sandi­zell and the many multi-cultured friends of Nikolaus Graf von und zu Sandizell (Niki to his friends) whose numbers are legion. Some came in richly embroidered velvet or as brown robbed monks or even kings in ermine. The most eye-catching costume however, was a gentleman completely clothed in a particularly spectacular shade of flaming red in the guise of a cardinal.

Count Nikolaus von und zu Sandizell with a bird of prey at his 60th birthday celebrations. (photo: Courtesy Of Graf Nikolaus Von Und Zu Sandizell)

The medieval feast celebrating Count Sandizell’s birthday went off to a very fine start with two digni­fied ladies clothed tastefully in long gowns and sleeves, playing harps rendering the refined airs of a bygone era. They were succeeded by falcon­ers with large leather gloves carrying majestic birds of prey on their arms which they displayed to the startled guests. Then came the Germans dressed as ancient Scotsmen in kilts and tartans, bagpipes and swords who with a clash of steel fought the Schloss household guards protected in armor and chainmail. After much shouting and drinking the household guards carried the day triumphantly raising their blades with an ancient cry of victory before marching out of the tent. It was after this that things began to slide a little on the medieval side.

A lady in a long-skirted, pale green gown entered the blue and white guest tent carrying a yellow and white python hanging around her neck. Her companion who was in the simple tunic of a common man of the Middle Ages then held another black and white speckled python aloft.….. hmm… perhaps the medieval origins of the ancient Lindwurm?

This was then followed by the en­trance of a Germanic belly-dancer with long blond hair gyrating entic­ingly in graceful movements to what sounded uncannily like Middle East­ern music. The guests responded en­thusiastically.

“An ancient dance traditionally performed by Bavarians in the Mid­dle Ages?” hazarded a foreign guest.

“Absolutely”, replied Philipp, Prince of Hanau smoothly. Then without missing a stride the towering prince lowered his voice and with the barest of twinkles in his eyes added, “but, I think we must warn Niki that the Cardinal is taking pho­tographs of the belly dancer…”

St Peter’s church at Sandizell was designed by Egid Quirin Asam. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

Despite worries about Europe’s current loss of spiritual direction and loss of power and proper­ty through the centuries the Catholic princes of Bavaria have clearly not lost their sense of humour or joie de vivre. And Schloss Sandizell is very much a part of this atmosphere of Catholic nobility whose ancestors were once the Church’s main sup­porters and defenders.

Freiherr Maximilian Emanuel von und zu Sandizell , Grand Master of the Order of St George who merged the Order with that of Order of Malta in the 18th century. (photo: Graf Nikolaus von und zu sandizell)

In the 18th century one of Count Sandizell’s most illustrious ancestors, Freiherr Maximilian Emanuel von und zu Sandizell who was the Grand Mas­ter of the Order of St George rode his great charger to Malta to merge the St George Order with the Order of Mal­ta. Afterwards both he and his horse returned safely to Sandizell where the event was later commemorated by hanging his heavy gold and silver St George necklace from the ceiling of the little St Peter’s Church designed by Egid Quirin Asam, Bavaria’s most famous designer of Baroque church­es in 1720.

The chain of the Order of St. George. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

The Sandizells built the church next to the castle. Afterwards high from the church’s ceiling on ei­ther side of the chain hairs from the faithful horse’s mane were also hung. One can see them still today – if one has very sharp eyes.

Statues at the Baroque staircase in Schloss Sandizell. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

Schloss Sandizell was first built in 1048 with renovations through the passage of time reflecting the changing fashions. It now has a late Baroque façade and stands erect on a small island surrounded by a moat with wild yellow water-lilies and carp the size of a man’s thighs. When dragonflies hover over the water lilies, and the carp send an occasional rip­ple through the waters reflecting the Schloss on a fine summer day under cloudless blue skies …. it is difficult to imagine a more blissful and idyllic place on earth.

And yet, that is exactly what Graf Nikolaus von und zu Sandizell has done. He dreamt of deep blue seas with sunken galleons that hold the stories and secrets of long ago and he dreamt of Indonesia a land of myriad islands where in 1981 he experienced his first big professional success at the tender age of twenty-two.

“I worked for M.A.N. Roland which was the largest company in the world that manufactured rotary printing machines. There I was given the choice of working in Venezuela, Indonesia or Malaysia. Being an am­bitious young man, I just looked at the population of each country and with 180 million people Indonesia im­mediately won. Also, it did not have a single newspaper rotary press which I thought was a great challenge. I wanted to be the first to sell one in Indonesia…”

The Count sits in the castle library (photo: IO/Tamalia)

His first big break came when he met Ani Idrus the feisty owner of a newspaper in Medan called Waspada (Watch Out). She must have taken a liking to the young German for she began to teach him basic Indonesian manners: don’t show people the soles of your feet or touch their heads, give them your name card with both hands – never the left etc. Meanwhile, Niki must have done a good job ex­plaining to her the advantageous of a rotary printing press for one night he was awoken at 2 am in the morning by a phone call from her plant man­ager with the news that their printing house was on fire. Niki immediately caught the next flight to Medan and arrived while the plant was still burn­ing. “I was deeply impressed to see the journalists in the garden with their typewriters on their knees, typ­ing away. Despite the fire Ani Idrus managed to bring out a four-page edition the next day.”

She then said to him, “Well, let’s try your rotary press because I need a new printing machine,” and so Ani Idrus and Waspada became the first in the country to own a rotary press and it was the first sale in Niki’s life of a rotary printing press. He remem­bers coming back to Jakarta and telling his office that he had sold a machine for US $12 million and no one believing him because they had been trying for quite some time. “And here comes a 22 year old rookie, and sells one in 8 weeks,” recalled Sandi­zell happily.

After that all the major newspa­pers in Indonesia wanted one. His next went to Rorin Pande from Sinar Harapan and it was also how he be­came friends with its famous editor, Aristides Katoppo. He met many of the big names in Indonesia’s news world. Mochtar Lubis of Indonesia Raya whom he describes as a great man ordered a Roland machine as did also Tempo, Indonesia’s foremost political magazine. He remembers selling Mr Tjoa, the founder of Gu­dang Garam cigarettes a machine to print cigarette packaging. “Later when Mr Tjoa died I attended his fu­neral. The streets from Kediri to Sura­baya were packed with people coming to pay their last respects. There were thousands and thousands of people. It was the most impressive funeral I ever attended. The procession was unbelievable,” reminisced Sandizell.

The charmingly modest young count found himself received with warmth and enthusiasm in Jakar­ta and many people took him under their wing from Awaluddin Djamin, the Indonesian chief of police at the time to Dewi Sukarno, the late Pres­ident Sukarno’s beautiful Japanese wife who invited him to her regular Wednesday dinners for close friends. Awaluddin Djamin who was Indone­sia’s ambassador to Germany before becoming chief of police told him to call should he ever be in trouble and he was part of a charmed circle of friends that included the likes of talented fashion designer Ghea Pang­gabean, Suharto era businessman Setiawan Jodi, Karina Sukarno, the international model Ani Sukanto and others. In 1985 he became Roland’s regional manager for Southeast Asia but chose to keep his headquarters in Jakarta.

A young Niki von Sandizell trav­elled to many parts of the country which fascinated and drew from him a surprisingly emotional response, “Indonesian people are special, es­pecially the Javanese. I like their sophistication of culture and heri­tage and getting to know Indonesia was like an expedition: I had to try to learn to understand a culture very different from my own European cul­ture. The Javanese culture is a very refined culture with an amazing her­itage. I looked at the Borobodur with awe and I was fortunate that my work allowed me to travel to nearly every major island of the Archipelago.”

In 1988 Niki married his English translator Cindy Dewijanty in the Wantilan Lama at Wia Wawarunto’s legendary house in Batu Jimbar, Bali which had hosted the likes of David Bowie and the Rolling Stones at var­ious times. Together they had two children Tassilo and Maximilian von und zu Sandizell, the future Counts of Sandizell. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

The family’s coat-of -arms (photo: IO/Tamalia)

To read Part II of this article please go to: