Epilogue

A love story that will never come to an end

Text by Annika Kiehn, September 2022

lead picture: Kathrin Harms/group-pictures: Antanas Ulčinas

I feel tired but delighted recalling the past three days. I came to Lithuania to join a study group traveling all over the country to explore the manorial heritage. I was supposed to give a lecture, which simply meant telling them about my work as a manor journalist. A friend of mine said: “You are invited to speak about your job. How cool is that? “And I started to think: “She is right; what a privilege! “And in a sense, it highlighted the end of my journey for the South Baltic Manors project. 

In the sophisticated location of the Vilnius Klub, an elite and private club in the heart of the capital, I sat in front of a very interested audience eager to hear about my eight-year exploration of the field of manors. It started with a regular visit to a manor in my home province, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It was national heritage day, and I came by a castle, which was a bit extraordinary. So was its owner, a middle-aged alternative woman who chain-smoked as she showed the group around her manor. She bought it in 1994, and was essentially in the same condition as when she first purchased it. Her unconventional approach moved me in a way, as it made me curious. Why would a left-wing alternative buy such a big house, and what dreams did she have with it (which obviously had not worked out). So I thought: Why do ordinary people these days buy such houses, which, due to the absence of field land, no longer generate income? Back then, in the mid-17th century, people had their houses rebuilt according to their imagination. These days, due to vandalism and property changes, most manors are in different, rather difficult situations, making it even harder to make them economically profitable. So, what drives today’s space pioneers to maintain such a lovely beast of a house like a manor? 

My focus on this topic is on the contemporary aspect that stems from the past. And ever since, I have read lots of history and spoken to countless manor owners to get an idea of their spirit. And all I can say is that it is about passion on a very sophisticated level! What had started as a vague attempt turned into a never-ending story of wonders. Besides, it gives me shivers whenever I recall the many good moments it has brought me. It literally gave my life a tremendous shift, as it has become a holistic concept of who I am now and what matters to me. Old houses, traditional crafts, hard work, and finding joy in being busy leave an imprint in some way. This topic combines my private and professional life in a continuous flow.

I was fortunate to be introduced to like-minded people, such as the Lithuanian art historian and manor-expert Marius Daraškevičius. He is the director of Panemune castle and knows almost all the manors in Lithuania. Moreover, he wrote his Ph.D. on the meaning of the dining room in manors. So I dubbed him the “Lithuanian manor pope,” and it fills me with joy to have found such an enthusiast in him as I am myself. 

When we first met in September of last year, he had invited me to hold a lecture at this year’s manor summer school. I was humbled and honored that someone would recognize my passion and work as a serious matter. So I accepted his invitation and found myself on a hot day in July 2022 in front of 20 (+) manor enthusiasts, who were the ideal audience. And as I began to speak, words just poured out of my mouth, and based on the rousing applause and many personal compliments I received afterward, I felt approved that I had given them a good time with my stories. What is it I could ask for, I wonder? 

“No matter where I went – Lithuania, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, or Germany – it felt homely. I met the most wonderful people, all of whom were ambitious, kind, and humble. They know that they are only creating history for a certain period and that this alone is worth the effort if it helps to preserve the treasures for future generations.”

It was mainly 3 intensive days spent with like-minded peers visiting the most beautiful places. I went to visit the oldest wooden manor in Lithuania. Wherever we went, we were always accompanied by the art historian impact of Marius and his colleague Dr. Aistė Bimbirytė–Mackevičienė. I met amazing business people with a strong mind, an inspiring path, and even more inspiring plans for their manors. And I was surrounded by locals, which gave me a deep insight into this fascinating country within the shortest timeframe. I was happy to find relics of our shared history of communist rulership. The Soviet past and its peculiar but also dark consequences, both of which our countries have suffered to a similar extent. What I like most about this EU project is that it brings us closer together by allowing us to see what we have in common and where we differ, only to be reminded over and over again that, in the end, we share the same historical evolution to some extent. 

No matter where I went – Lithuania, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, or Germany – it felt homely. I met the most wonderful people, all of whom were ambitious, kind, and humble. They know that they are only creating history for a certain period and that this alone is worth the effort if it helps to preserve the treasures for future generations. As a result, they are completely committed to preserving these old bricks, even if it means incurring personal costs. 

The South Baltic Manors, a four-year EU project, introduced me to wonderful places within the Baltic manorial landscape and the people acting in them. This blog is meant to highlight some of them; they are all dear to me, and I truly hope that they inspire you just the way they inspired me and that you feel inspired to visit these places.

All of this passion lingering in those places fuels me with good faith that there will be plenty more to witness in this wide-spanning renaissance of manorial heritage. All I can say is that these old bricks bring us closer than we like to think, and we, from the South Baltic Manor Team, hope that we did our best to demonstrate how you can explore history in your own unique way. There is this saying for manors: you will never be finished with them. It is a self-chosen lifetime topic, and I hope this will also stick with me. 

                               Yours sincerely, Annika