Over the centuries, Sweden's mystical Rockelstad castle, located in the province of Sörmland in eastern Sweden, has been a magnet for international visitors—including Nazi leader Hermann Göring who turned up regularly in the interwar period.
On his first visit, the notorious Göring landed at Rockelstad's private jetty in a seaplane on during a nighttime snow storm in 1920.
My own beeline to Rockelstad was more roundabout.
In the spring of 1968, I alighted in Sweden during my first foray into Europe and boarded a pokey overnight train chugging from Malmö northwards. It wasn't easy to sleep with the glimmerings of dawn at around 1am as we ambled across the somnambulistic landscape.
I finally nodded off until early morning when we disembarked for a long stopover.
I wandered around the train platform aimlessly until spotting a fellow passenger, pert and pretty. I decided to exchange a few words with her.
“Hello, do you speak English?” I asked.
“Yes, I do,” replied Astrid von Rosen. “And what a shame there's no place to have breakfast.”
I told her it felt bizarre hearing birds chirping at one in the morning. “Yes, I do understand,” said Astrid.
“Sweden is a strange country, you know. Take me, for instance. I live in a castle.”
“Do you really?”
“Yes, I really do!”
I told Astrid I had turned up in Sweden to reunite with my Swedish girlfriend whom I had gotten to know in the States.
“Well,” she said, “perhaps the two of you would like to visit me at Rockelstad? That's the name of my castle. Would you find that interesting?”
A few days later, my Swedish girlfriend Lisa and I bussed to Rockelstad, near Sparreholm in Sörmland.
Astrid was waiting for us at the red-brick edifice of towers and turrets, sort of medieval but sometimes not. Although the foundations were laid around 1380, the “medieval” turrets were built as late as 1889 as a salute to Nordic romanticism.
Moments after we entered the Great Hall, I couldn't help noticing painted swastikas here and there. It turned out they had nothing to do with Nazis. The swastika was a Viking symbol that made its way into several cultures.
“But then there's Göring,” remarked Astrid as we moved into the huge castle kitchen for an omelet lunch.
Hermann Göring was a World War I fighter pilot and war hero before embracing Nazism, ultimately rising to second in command after Hitler.
His Rockelstad connection occurred during the rugged winter of 1920, years before Hitler came to power.
Astrid's grandfather Count von Rosen was in Stockholm but needed to return to his Rockelstad property urgently. Trains had been cancelled because of the weather, so he drove to the airport to find somebody to fly him home.
German commercial pilot Hermann Göring was available–and stepped forward. During the storm Göring and the Count flew low along the railway line and landed at the Rockelstad jetty on icebound Lake Båven.
The two men were thawing out in front of the fireplace in the Great Hall when the Count's sister-in-law, Carin von Kantzow, came down the stairs. According to some accounts, Göring was immediately attracted.
But Carin was married: and her subsequent affair with the handsome war hero scandalized high society until her divorce and marriage to him.
They moved to Munich, briefly, but had to flee Germany after the botched 1923 Nazi “beer hall” putsch led by Göring and Hitler.
The Görings then spent several years of “exile” in Sweden where he was temporarily cured of morphine addiction, and also learned Swedish.
Never in good health, Carin died of heart failure at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. Göring and Hitler led the funeral procession in Berlin in 1934 that honored her as “First Lady of the Party.” Göring continued to visit Rockelstad as a friend of old Count Rosen. Reichmarschall Göring became No. 2 Nazi after Hitler, and was convicted of crimes against humanity in the Nuremburg war trials in 1946. He swallowed a cyanide capsule two hours before his execution.
All of this was a very long time ago, of course, and only an interlude in the life of an old castle. Astrid's father was a fervent anti-Nazi and humanitarian, and over the years Rockelstad has drawn a constant stream of visitors, ranging from oil sheiks and film stars--and ordinary folk like me.
I caught up with Astrid von Rosen not long ago after a 43 year interval. She had much to recall. Astrid thought the very best aspect of castle life were the constant visitors.
“Of course we had plenty of rooms which made it easier, and the castle also served as focal point for our extended family,” she recalled.
The lakeside setting itself is a huge draw. It was a boyhood haunt for Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf The celebrated Swedish troubadour Evert Taube loved Rockelstad and turned up regularly.
As a private residence now owned by the von Post family, the castle is not open to the public except by appointment, but does cater to special occasions such as weddings and conferences.
Accommodations can also be rented, along with row boats for a spin on the nearby lake where Göring's seaplane frequently landed.