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Aug 22, 2012

A Day at Burg Satzvey with Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnitch, Part I. Getting There

Put two women in a Mini and aim them away from Cologne. What happens? They get hopelessly lost, but because they are so righteous, they of course deny it. Just outside of Aachen, Tracie Mayer and I really had to admit it. Then we finally figured out how to program the %&$!?*# GPS and got ourselves headed in the right direction.

I was already plenty nervous as it was. I had been to Burg Satzvey many years before when we took my son to one of their jousting plays. I had been totally entranced with the authentically costumed purveyors of all that was medieval. There had also been a man flying hawks and falcons. It had been a magical day, and the grounds, including the courtyard, stuck in my memory so tenaciously, they served as a rough model when I designed the exterior of Burg Lahn, the imaginary part Gothic-part medieval castle near the Rhine, in my Schattenreich series (Book 1: Primary Fault).  

This courtyard inspired my fictional one.
 I'd never been inside the castle, so I was eager to see if anything – anything – I had thought up for the castle interior would turn out to be correct. I was nervous about meeting a real, honest-to-goodness German Countess and hoping I wouldn't do anything immensely stupid. Now nearly an hour late, we pull into the long driveway of the castle ( and debate where to park. Ever the intrepid reporter, Tracie pulls right up to the chain guarding the wide open courtyard flanking the castle. The castle and grounds are even more breathtaking than I'd remembered them. The formerly moated castle, still retains a large pond, populated by what appear to be very contented ducks. 

We approach the front door and ring the bell just as an attractive broad-shouldered man on a bicycle rides up. 

“Uh oh,” I said to Tracie.
The man asks us who we’re looking for.
“Jeannette,” Tracie calls out.
Die Gräfin,” I quickly chime in.
He holds out his hand. “I’m her husband. She’s waiting for you.”

Instantly charmed, we follow the Count of Burg Satzvey, Franz Josef Graf Beissel von Gymnich, through the rounded wooden door and into the castle foyer.

Jeannette, Die Gräfin, is exactly, precisely, the appropriate description of the slender, dark-haired Countess of Burg Satzvey. Tracie describes her so: pretty, poised and intelligent; she walks and talks with purpose. 

I couldn’t agree more as she shows us her home and tells us with much enthusiasm about the long history (officially est. 1368) of the castle, spiced with both honorable and scandalous incidents. I was pleasantly surprised to find some things (especially the dining room!) matched what my imagination had conjured quite well - except for the details about the hand-carved chairs. I may have to steal that. 
"No castle is complete without peculiar furniture," said Hagen von der Lahn, a fictional baron.
 After collecting Jeannette’s spry and witty 93-year-old mother (who could easily pass for 70), we adjourn to the cozy Italian bistro Da Marcello in the second courtyard that also houses a banquet hall (a former cow stall!) roomy enough to seat 400 people. 

Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich is the daughter of a U.S. diplomat and a refined woman of Irish and Viennese descent. Born in Bonn, Germany, she grew up in South America and Europe. Arriving in Hamburg at 19, she worked in advertising and remained there for 12 years. She met and then married Franz Josef  Graf  Beissel von Gymnich, who in 1981 began the jousting and other historical events held at the castle which is also his birthplace, Burg Satzvey. (He was born in an upstairs bedroom.) 
The Countess spoke to our club about her foundation at this year’s AGM, where she had club members in tears about the fates of the children her foundation supports. We wanted to hear more about her foundation, the Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich Stiftung. See Part II, The Interview.

There are many activities for all ages at Burg Satzvey throughout the year including castle tours (minimum of five persons), Ritterspiele (medieval tournaments),  Halloween fest, Maifest (with Hexenmarkt) , Christmas and Easter markets. Information and booking at

Not only does Jeannette successfully manage an entire castle in addition to having raised a family (son and daughter), she's also an accomplished author of both fiction and non-fiction works. Here's the bibliography:

1.   Luxury Houses Schlösser-Castles-Châteaux Germany: Castles in Germany (Luxury Books), ISBN 978-3832791735, teNeues Verlag, January 2007 – coffee table quality

2.   Und Flog in anderes Land, ISBN 978-3897053397, Emons Verlag, August 2004 – a medieval novel with a highly accurate historical basis

3. Aldikadabra, ISBN-10 3926224177, Zeitgeist Verlag (1999) – a collection of magical recipes from the supermarket!

4. Frauen und ihre Schlösser – mehr als Glanz und Gloria, ISBN 978-3868732528, Knesebeck Verlag, March 2011 – highly readable and a rare view of 19 chatelaines and the German castles they manage

Her newest book (no title as of yet!) will profile 30 businesswomen and entrepreneurs in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany and is due out in December 2012.