Turelbaach: like a fairy tale
The Turelbaach estate is a one-of-a-kind, dream-like structure, as visitors see it. Both poetic and functional, it is an architectural fantasy born of the vision of one man, Pol Gilson.
Situated between the towns of Mertzig and Dellen, Turelbaach is hidden away in idyllic surroundings, with a lake, woods, birds... It is a private property, with no unauthorised access. So it was in the company of the owner, Anny Gilson-Schaack, and her daughter Pola Gilson, that we had the chance to visit this wonderful place.
Many people in this world take the beaten track. Some, like Pol Gilson, prefer the byways. By bringing this UCO (Unidentified Constructed Object) to life, this resident of Mertzig, who has a great passion for music, has fulfilled a childhood dream. Patiently and passionately, for more than 40 years, he has designed, shaped and built a singular structure, with his taste and desires as the only codes. The result is this astonishing building, unclassifiable from every point of view, blending Mediterranean, Germanic and Oriental influences.
Pol Gilson: a builder of the unusual
A native of Mertzig, Pol Gilson spent his entire life working as a municipal secretary in the communes of Mertzig, Colmar-Berg and Heiderscheid. Even though his career was as far removed from the building trade, Pol Gilson had a strong attraction for everything to do with craftsmanship, doing things himself, and sustainable work. "He came from a line of stonemasons, it was in his blood, he was a jack-of-all-trades who wasn't afraid of any task," explains Anny Gilson.
As well as creating crafts, Pol Gilson also had a passion for music, which he learned as a child and always played in various brass bands. In 1960, he founded the Turelbaacher Musikanten band. For many years, he directed the band of the « Lycée classique » High School in Diekirch.
He dreamed of living on an island
The combination of these two passions led Pol Gilson to a particular building project. On the one hand, he was looking for a place for his band to rehearse. On the other hand, he owned unused land on the natural site of the Turelbaach stream, as well as other plots obtained by exchanging land with neighbouring farmers. In his mind was born the idea of a building on this site that would be a creative workshop, a place to get close to nature and a platform for musical exchange. "He'd been dreaming of living on an island since he was very young," says Ms Gilson. As there was no island near his home, he decided to create one! In fact, at the heart of his estate was a vast marshy meadow, watered by the course of the Turelbaach. In 1964, Pol Gilson laid the foundation stone for a project he had no idea was going to take on such proportions. First he built the house, then, four years later, he decided to work on the pond with the help of a contractor friend. Using the excavated earth, he shaped the banks and created two artificial islands, which he reinforced with rough stone fill.
L’économie circulaire avant l’heure
The site became the open-air workshop of Pol Gilson, who spent all his spare time there. A cousin, a marble mason, supplied him with a large quantity of stone salvaged from other sites or from local quarries. Anny Gilson: "People in the village also brought in materials they no longer needed, because they knew Pol would find a way to use them.
The Gothic window frames in the outbuilding are an example of this spirit of recycling. In fact, they
come from an old balustrade from the Luxembourg Cathedral, For many years, these stones had been lying around on the building site of the contractor Agnes, until the day he decided to offer them to Pol to give them a new lease of life.
All the elements that make up the Turelbaach estate are part of this approach, which combines pragmatism, functionality and eclecticism. Pol Gilson made do with what was in his hands, disregarding any architectural style. What mattered was his intuition, his desire and his enjoyment of the game.
So it was that, with considerable help from his children and, for the heavier work, from a few parents, the budding builder gradually built an ensemble that was as monumental as it was moving. It's a truly unusual castle, fascinating in its radicalism, humour and bonhomie. The comma-shaped structure comprises a bridge, a dwelling house, a belvedere, a music room, towers of various shapes and a gallery with arcades. The whole is arranged around a semi-open patio punctuated by a beautiful central fountain.
We spent almost every weekend at the Turelbaach," recalls Anny. But we didn't come just to relax. There was always something to do, to transport, clean, prune, plant or repair! What's more, we'll never forget the superb family celebrations and the 25 years of musical gatherings that attracted hundreds of participants from all over the country every year. Thanks to all these activities, Turelbaach has remained a site with wonderful, unforgettable memories for the whole family.
Until his death in 2007, Pol Gilson never stopped working on his property at Turelbaach, his magnificent "castle on an island".
Music is in the air
Musical symbols abound all over the site, and in the interiors too, in a wide variety of media. Pol Gilson was a jack of all trades, carving, painting, decorating and engraving. He produced an astonishing series of stained-glass windows depicting musicians, as well as a large chandelier in which an orchestra is carved.
Although Turelbaach was always a work in progress to which Pol Gilson was constantly adding and adapting, from the outset its owner wanted to open it up to life and to sharing. From the outset, its owner wanted to open it up to life and to sharing. The site gained national notoriety as a place inseparable from music. A naturally cheerful and generous man, Pol Gilson loved to welcome musician friends from all over to his little corner of paradise.
Far removed from any urban area and disconnected from the electricity grid, Turelbaach is a world imbued with poetry, at once eccentric and biblically simple. It's hardly surprising that the site has been used as a film set for national and international films!
Text & photos : P. Lobo