by Thomas (DM1TBE)
The last weekend was too rainy to operate outdoors. So I welcomed the public holiday on Thursday, which allowed me to take a day off on Friday and have four days off. We call such days “Bridge Day” in Germany, they “bridge” a public holiday to the weekend.
Some time ago, I have suggested a new protected area to the WWFF, the World Wide Flora and Fauna program. The nature reserve Eybtal covers an area of over 1331 hectares / 3300 acres and is the largest nature reserve in the Stuttgart administrative district. The nature reserve is on the edge of the Swabian Alb, and the ruins of the medieval castle Helfenstein are well within the WWFF activation zone.
The Helfenstein Castle is a historic fortress can be traced back to around 1100 AD when it was constructed as a strategic stronghold to protect the surrounding territories.
During the 13th and 14th century it was the seat of the Earls of Helfenstein. After a lost battle in 1372 things went south and in 1396 the family of Helfenstein had to sell a large part of its territory, including its family seat.
The new owners expanded the castle into a formidable fortress. They extended the castle walls to include a fortified tower and a second ring of walls.
Around the year 1400, a tower was built on the nearby rock. It served as a lookout and was intended to prevent the castle from being cannon-fired from that location.
During the Second Margrave War in the 16th century, Helfenstein Castle was besieged and heavily damaged. It was subsequently abandoned and fell into ruins. In the 19th century, there was a renewed interest in medieval architecture, and efforts were made to preserve and restore Helfenstein Castle. The ruins were partially reconstructed, and today, visitors can explore the restored sections.
The place has become a popular tourist attraction due to its stunning location and panoramic views. As mentioned, the area is at the steep cliff-like edge of the Swabian Alb. At the foot of the rock is a so-called Alb Ascent, one of the few natural opportunities to ascent to the Swabian Alb.
The road was already used by the Roman Empire, which ruled over the area until 260 AD. The castle is in a perfect position to overlook the valley with all its traffic.
A bit further towards the lowlands, behind the mountain with the wind wheels in the image below, is the municipality where I live. Next to it was a fortified base of a Roman Cohort, a military unit of approximately 500 in the 2nd century.
I started with the activation at 10 a.m. and the castle was nearly empty.
I had a bunch of wire antennas, a 10 meter / 33 ft fiberglas mast and my new Icom IC-705 with me. As often, I started with CW on the 30-meter band with a wire antenna tied vertically to the mast. I wasn’t sure, how popular WWFF activations are and the number of 44 required QSOs for a successful WWFF activation did not make me overly optimistic to complete it on one day. However, immediately after spotting myself, a long-lasting pileup started.
As mentioned earlier, the Friday was right between a public holiday on Thursday and the weekend. Most schools were closed, but some offered child-care for parents who had to work. One of those schools decided to make a field trip to this castle, so the place become crowed with maybe 100 kids after 30 minutes operating. The background noise made it very hard to operate, and a few kids started to ask me questions, so I stopped the activation. After a while, they left, and I switched antennas to continue with SSB on the 40-meter band.
If you have read my last post about my experience with SSB during a SOTA/POTA/WWFF-activation, you may understand that I was skeptical, but it worked nicely. So I ended the activation after app. 2 hours when the demand for SSB QSOs dried up.
At the end, I had 54 QSOs in my log, although a higher than usual number of hams calling me twice. Interestingly, I made a CW-QSO on the 30-meter band to the US, very unusual for the time and band.
The activation was great and hopefully, I have the required 44 QSOs after eliminating for duplicates. I will also submit the logs to the World Castle Award and Castles on the Air program to ensure chasers of those programs get their deserved credit.
If you have the chance to visit the area, even without a radio, I can recommend it. On weekends and public holidays, you can buy snacks and beverages at the castle tower.