Sulisław – a palace from Hindu fables

Gabriel Garcia Márquez describes a scene in his “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, where the wife prepared her husband’s favourite soup. It is a daily ritual that has repeated itself for many years. The protagonist picks up the spoon, tastes the dish, and pushes the plate away. “This soup was prepared without love” – he remarks.

That fragment of the book reminds me of the palace at Sulisław, because here, everything seems to have been prepared with love. For even the construction site, in harmonious co-existence with nature, was chosen with love. Each ornament on the building was perfected to the tiniest detail, and the current owners of the complex have equipped the interiors with their favourite furniture. The meals are prepared by the chef in such a way that no one would ever push the plate away. Time itself flows differently in such places, it is warm and completely still. The unusual atmosphere of this place is brought out by the discreet rustle of the sari dress, worn by the multiple dark-skinned Ayurveda specialists flowing through the corridors. The palace staff specialises in this ancient Hindu healing art.

The Field Marshall is granted the estate

People say that nothing in life is subject to chance. The early years of Sulisław are lost to history, but we know for sure that the first settlement was created in a mysterious location. Sulisław has historically been a part of the Ziemia Grodkowska region. Oleśnica Mała, only 20 kilometres away from the Palace, was the first and biggest commandery of the Templar Order in Silesia. The Templars had come there from their chapter house located in Bamberg, Germany. Oleśnica Mała was the headquarters of the provincial administration of the Order. Around 10 villages were located in the Templar demesne, and, at the best of times, more than a dozen brothers had called the commandery their home. Even despite such a small amount of knights, the Order was seen as a key player by the Silesian lords. The castle was visited by Henry III the White, the son of Henry II the Pious; by the Bishop of Wrocław Henryk of Wierzbno; and by the Grand Master of the German Province and Order Commander of the German, Czech, Moravian, and Polish Templars. The enjoyed hunting in the nearby forests, around the early knightly settlement of Sulisław.

The word of mouth says that the estate in Sulisław was established in the Middle Ages by the Zedlitz family. The estate had changed hands many times. One of the owners was the Bucht family from Pruszyna. The earliest documents say that back in 1688, there was a manor estate with a mill located at Sulisław, and the village was home to twenty serfs, eighteen smallholders and sixteen landless cotters. By the end of the 18th century, Sulisław became part of the clerical estate of the Bishop of Gałązczyce Górne. After the secularisation of ecclesiastical demesnes in 1810, the property was taken over by Frederic William III, the King of Prussia and a member of the Hochenzollern dynasty.

When Prussia went to war against Russia in 1812, it was commanded by General Yorck. Under his command, the Prussian troops quickly changed sides and he marched against Napoleon at the side of his erstwhile enemies. Prussian armies led by Yorck have greatly contributed to the defeat of Napoleon. In 1814, in recognition of his achievements, the King of Prussia had granted the Sulisław estate to Yorck, who already had held the title of Field Marshall. A commemorative stone, with the name of the King carved on it, can still be found in the park. The Field Marshall went on to become the founder of the Yorck von Wartenburg family, and his most famous descendant was one of the founders of the Kreisau Circle, an anti-Nazi organisation located within Germany. We can see that the family was by no means insignificant. It is also worth noting that the Yorckscher Marsch that you can sometimes hear during military ceremonies, was composed by Ludwig von Beethoven in honour of Field Marshall Yorck.

The surrounding fields and plains are very favourable when it comes to horseback travel, and so, most probably, the Field Marshall had also used that method of transport within his estate. He held on to it for only a short time, however. In 1820 he had sold it to the Hoffman family. After that, Hugo Grosser, the county alderman, became the next owner of the estate. Despite being of humble birth, he must have had very deep pockets and an even great ambition.

A Cinderella Count

In order to be able to follow later developments at Sulisław we have to make a short stop at the nearby village of Kopice to hear a magical story. It might sound like a fairy tale, but it explains how the castle became the property of its next owner.

It was the year 1848. Karol Godula, an old loner and eccentric, was lying in bed in one of the rooms of the “Pod Złotą Gęsią” hotel in Wrocław. Despite being the owner of nineteen calamine mines, forty coal mines, three smelters, and five vast land estates, he couldn’t ignore the fact that he was dying. Many envied this old industrialist his fortune, and he had few friends. The emperor looked down on him because Godula was not of noble birth, and his workers were afraid of him because he was very strict when it came to drunkenness. As a young man, Godula had worked as a forester for count Ballestrem. One day, he had been crippled by poachers, who left him with a stiff leg and arm and hideous scars on his face. He never married. It’s possible he was infertile because of his injuries, too. His appearance itself made everyone afraid of him. Everyone, but the small Joasia Grycik. It was her who eventually inherited Godula’s fortune, even despite being completely unrelated to him by blood.

Joanna was born in 1842 in Poręba, close to Ruda. Her father was a bailiff and it is assumed he had worked at one of Godula’s plants. He died young and his widow left Joasia alone together with her 6-month-old sister Karolina. In 1847 a family court had appointed a caretaker for the girls by the name of Emilia Lukas, a servant of the industrialist. The girls were accepted into Godula’s home. He must have very much liked the Joanna as, just for her, he hired a private tutor. When Godula was diagnosed with serious kidney failure, he took the girl to accompany him to Wrocław, where he had hoped to find a remedy for his condition. It was in Wrocław that he died. In his last will, drawn up just a day before his death, he gave 50,000 thalers to the miners who had worked for him, only 200,000 thalers to his relatives, and the remainder of his vast fortune to his servant’s adoptive daughter. It is hard to say today why the old man decided on such a course of action, but – maybe by chance – he had chosen a great heir. The six-year-old millionaire had grown into an intelligent young lady and eventually she married count Hans Ulrich von Schaffgotsch. The 25-year-old impoverished aristocrat was looking for a wealthy wife. He was a young lieutenant in the hussar regiment and had already received the Maltese Cross. Moreover, he belonged to one of the greatest families in Europe. That, eventually, proved to have been somewhat of a problem. Joanna was not, after all, of noble birth and therefore was not a suitable candidate for a magnate to marry. However, thanks to an intervention from the Prussian king himself, Joanna was granted the necessary titles. And so the poor Joanna Grycik became Countess Joanna Grycik von Schomberg-Godulla. A misalliance was avoided and the young couple went on to live in Kopice. At that time it was one of the most beautiful residences in all of Silesia, and many aristocrats gladly visited it. Joanna felt a strong connection with Kopice, it was there that she felt the best. Despite all that, however, she travelled very often with her husband. Additionally, the millionaires devoted a lot of time to charity. She continued purchasing new estates and industrial facilities. This is how we come back to Sulisław. In 1888, acting on behalf of her oldest son, the 29-year-old Hans Karl Graf von Schaffgotsch, the Countess bought the Palace and the surrounding grounds, totalling 510 hectares.

Hans Karl made Sulisław his seat of residence. The estate remained in his hands for 20 years and it was here that two of his children were born. His wife, Paula von Furstenberg gave him Hans Ulrich (born 9.12.1889) and Hedwig Maria (born 22/23.6.1891). In 1909 Sulisław passed on to a wealthy neighbouring family from the nearby town of Jędrzejów – the Francken-Sierstorpffs. To be more precise, Johannes Graf von Francken-Sierstrorpff rented out the estate at first, only to buy it later.

Interestingly enough, the same family used to be the owners of the village of Kopice, before Hans’s mother came to live in it.

The treasures of the Palace

The Francken-Sierstorpffs were very affluent. The new owner of Sulisław, Johannes Graf von Franken-Sierstorpff came from the Jędrzejów branch of the family.

Sulisław at that time must have welcomed many fine guests – a luxurious set of silver cutlery was discovered in the vaults of the Palace in 2013. The pieces were very impressive and were meticulously engraved with the coat of arms of the Francken-Sierstorpffs. The estate remained with the family until the end of World War II. Once per year, on Christmas Eve, the owners would invite all their servants to the castle to celebrate the holiday together. They’d exchange wishes and sing carols. The daughter of the last coachman at the Palace, Franz Stenzel, had received a beautiful set of ruby earrings from the owners, as a gift for her First Communion before the war. She wears them to this day.

World War II arrived late to Sulisław. The day when the brutal siege of the nearby Grodków started on 5 February 1945. Russian troops have captured the city three days later, and the soldiers have also entered Sulisław at the same time. Most probably, they have devastated the interiors and used the 1820s fireplace as a grill. The slow deterioration of the Palace began. For two years after the war, Sulisław was the winter home of the „Arena” circus troupe. The palace and the surrounding area must have looked like an enormous, eclectic ZOO. At one point, an elephant lived in front of the residence. The chambers of the Palace were waiting for better times. For a short while, the headquarters of the “Służba Polsce”, a paramilitary organization for the young, were located here. Then, the buildings were taken over by the Ministry of the Interior and, later, the Opole Provincial Police. The palace was remodelled into a sanatorium. Between 2000 and 2006 the palace stood empty and forgotten. However, as we know by now, it is a unique building, and its luck had to turn around at some point. As if by chance (yet again!), Jerzy Bar, the head of the BTA Investment Company, an entity specialising in investing into new generation office buildings in Warsaw, has encountered the desolate estate. He felt the positive energy of this place and had bought the palace along with the manor grounds in 2006.

May the force be with you!

Acting under the oversight of the Provincial Monuments Conservator-Restorer, the new owner has renovated the run-down Palace, retaining, and even partially restoring, the original look of the façade. The interior was redecorated according to a design by Jerzy Bar himself. Mr. Bar is a true visionary, always brimming with new ideas that might seem impossible to execute, at first. Nonetheless, he makes them work through a mixture of determination, devotion, and a large dose of hard work. His work did not go unnoticed – he received the “Hero of Polish Economy” award in 2014 for, among other things, the reconstruction of historical monuments.

Sulisław Palace is equipped with original antique furniture. It is an ideal spot for a moment of relaxation and peace. It is a green place, full of harmony and beautiful items, with its own soul and history. There is a chandelier in one of the rooms that used to belong to Sophia Lauren, the Italian icon of style. Any rock’n’roll fan will instantly fall in love with the ground floor chamber, where you can find a table that used to decorate the Scottish castle of Mick Jagger. Mick, the leader of the legendary The Rolling Stones, had bought the table from one of the royal residences of Elisabeth II. Noblesse oblige, you could say. Art connoisseurs will instantly recognise one of the sketches in the lobby as coming from the workshop of no other but master Jan Matejko. It is hanging above a 300-year-old polyphone, a musical device created for the king of Sweden. It is still functioning, and its discreet tunes add subtle charm to the stay at the castle. Another very important decoration is a rich collection of porcelain from the nearby Tułowice, originally manufactured in the later part of the 19th century. There are also beautiful crystal glass pieces from the, now defunct, Józefina steelworks located in the Lower Silesia region. Oddly enough, the Schaffgotsch family used to own that facility, as well.

All those beautiful items create a warm atmosphere, or maybe it is the other way round? Even though the old architect who constructed the Palace has probably never heard of feng-shui, the ancient Chinese art of space arrangement, he was nonetheless able to create a neo-gothic building of complicated design. It is a place where everyone feels at home. Naturally then, the location was an excellent place to house the Polish Ayurvedic Yoga and Medicine Centre. The Centre opened in July 2012, and guru Chandra Mohan Bhandari, a world-class yoga and Ayurveda enthusiast was appointed to head it. The guru wrote several books about yoga and one of them has been translated into Polish. The title concerns the balance between the spirit, the body, and the mind. Mr. Ch. M. Bhandari, educated as a physicist, has for many years worked as the Indian Ambassador in to different countries. He spent the last 4 years of his diplomatic career in Poland, so we are certain he knows how to merge our expectations with a bit of Far-East experience.

Ayurveda is more than five thousand years old and is the oldest medical system in the world. The word itself comes from Sanskrit and means “knowledge of life”. The system is based on maintaining balance between one’s body, soul and mind. Those energies are called in Ayurvedic lore the three “Doshas” – Pitta, Kapha and Vatta. An imbalance between these biological currents can lead to a multitude of illnesses. Balance can be maintained by a cleansing diet and a series of treatments. The castle today is filled with good spirits – doctors and masseurs from India and Sri Lanka are flowing through its glistening halls, and oriental smells are coming out from the kitchen. A popular mentalist who visits the castle often says that there is a major concentration of positive energy here. What’s more, he even mentioned a chakra. The clairvoyant sees many other things, as well. For example, he uncovered the tunnels going into the four directions of the world that are located underneath the castle.
Jerzy and Beata Bar – the current owners of the castle – know that the biggest pleasure is in following the rabbit, and that’s why they have left the uncovering of future treasures, of which surely there are many more left, for later. Today, they concern themselves with treasures of a different nature. They want to build an interfaith chapel at the castle, they want to open the artesian springs to the public, and want to establish an Ayurvedic school. All that they do, it seems, they do with love. For as Marquez has told us – things served with love taste completely different.

Joanna Lamparska