Once upon a time, a girl called Heide Hansen was born into a middle-class Munich family. She was destined to become a princess, married to Prince Godehard von Hohenzollern, whose family is linked to German kings and emperors.
But real life intruded upon her fairytale. The 14th-century Rhine River castle she and her husband inherited in 1988 threatened to ruin them – it was derelict and full of junk. Water had destroyed ceilings and wall panels. Trees were growing in through smashed windows. Selling the Hohenzollern family seat seemed the only option.
Instead, the Prince and Princess of Hohenzollern's appetite for classical music liberated them. Instead of selling the moated medieval pile on one of the most picturesque settings on the Middle Rhine, they devised a cultural and music program that indulged their passion while beginning to pay the bills.
They raised Castle Namedy's profile through cultural events such as the Andernacher Musiktage am Namedy, a chamber music festival that has as its patron the violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin, and in doing so attracted visitors and funding.
Heide's beloved Prince Godehard died suddenly in 2001, leaving the princess to manage the castle and business alone. Two-thirds of the castle still required renovation. Among many things, the heating, plumbing and electricity needed replacing. She accepted the challenge, proving that it isn't the name you carry that really matters, but the character you show.
The princess transformed her event business into a professional operation, adding weddings, conferences, and tours to the cultural program. Today, that program offers about 30 art events including jazz, classical music, theatre, readings, dance projects and fine art exhibitions.
And it's this resilient, down-to-earth woman we meet one luminous evening at Schloss Burg Namedy. Dressed informally in pants and sensible shoes, she welcomes us to her home with champagne and canapes. We've come to Namedy Castle and the 2000-year-old town of Andernach as part of a 15-day APT Magnificent Europe river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam.
The enchanting evening begins in the rose-swathed gardens as the sun mellows, continues as we explore the castle, including the red-walled baronial Knight's Hall, and ends with a three-course gala dinner and piano recital in the elegant Hall of Mirrors. It's a spectacular room of burnished panelling, parquetry floors, deep windows interspersed with mirrors with the grand piano as centrepiece.
Our dinner, which includes terrine with salmon and St Peter's fish and corn-fed chicken breast with tarragon, rosemary potatoes and seasonal vegetables is accompanied by a nice dry Grauburgunder, semi-dry riesling spatlese and cabernet sauvignon from Carl Finkenauer wines. The winery belongs to the husband of Princess Luise Dorothea, Prince Godehard's sister.
A highlight of this gala dinner – which ends with a perfect punctuation of coffee and delectable Goufrais pralines – is a performance by 25-year-old Galyna Gusachenko. The Ukrainian pianist, who trained in Moscow and Hamburg, has already been recognised with numerous international piano prizes. She is completing her Masters degree at Europe's largest music academy, The Cologne University of Music.
Her beautiful rendition of pieces by Bach and Saint-Saens, Vladimir Horowitz and Franz Liszt are a poignant reminder of Prince Godehard's passion. After clearing out and renovating the Hall of Mirrors, he was delighted to discover its acoustics were good enough to attract eminent performers.
It's a really fun night, made more enjoyable with the knowledge that the fairytale appears to have a happy ending.
This survival-of-the-fittest scenario is replicated in other countries, including England. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, for example, have managed to maintain their family estate, Chatsworth, which has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. Thanks mainly to the iron will of the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the 11th Duke's widow, Chatsworth House became one of the nation's most popular stately homes. When she and the Duke inherited the family seat, they faced a massive tax bill, but transformed the estate into an international business through sheer determination.
Back inside our German fairytale, Princess Heide calls her castle "a meeting place – or begegnung – of past, present and future" and our visit has introduced us to a slice of German history and resilience.
Alison Stewart travelled as a guest of APT.
Singapore Airlines flies daily to Budapest and Amsterdam from Sydney and Melbourne. See singaporeair.com
APT's Magnificent Europe 15-day River Cruise Amsterdam-Budapest and reverse costs $6995 per person with a Fly Free deal or Fly Business Class deal for $2995. Tours operate from March to December. Phone 1300 196 420 or see aptouring.com.au