Thursday, September 4, 2014

Reichsburg Castle in Cochem – Sleeping Beauty’s domain?


      One of the more charming castles along the Mosel River is Reichsburg Castle in Cochem. Some have dubbed it “Sleeping Beauty’s” castle because of its picturesque appeal. And the town that supports it, Cochem, readily boasts its own charm. In the heart of the Mosel wine region, Cochem’s cobbled streets, abundant shopping, marvelous castle and fantastic restaurants with views overlooking the river attract tourists from all over the world.  But, Reichsburg’s history has elements which aren’t quite so charming.

Reichsburg Castle, Cochem
Cochem itself has been settled for quite a long time. Remnants of the Bronze Age, Celtic colonization, Roman occupation and Franconian-Carolingian settlement have all been found in and around Cochem. The castle itself dates back to the early 11th century, when it was held by the Counts Palatinate.

There is a rather gruesome account from the year 1060, with the Count Henry I “the Furious”.  Henry had been at war with Archbishop Anno II of Cologne, and had suffered a major defeat there. He returned to Cochem castle and whether in a fit of jealous rage, or a fit of insanity, he beheaded his wife with his battleaxe in their bedroom. He was then fettered by his men and brought to Echternach Abbey as a prisoner, where he died in 1061.


Medieval Dinner at Reichsburg
Successive ownership of the castle was passed through other Counts Palatinate. Count Wilhelm von Ballenst├Ądt resided in Cochem and, childless, proceeded to give large sums of money away to surrounding Abbeys.  In 1130, he exempted ships from the various Abbeys from paying tolls at Cochem. The Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nations, Conrad III, saw his power waning in Cochem and when Wilhem died, he confiscated the castle. In 1150, during the rivalry for the palatinate, Count Hermann von Stahleck conquered Cochem, which his rival had been using as a military base. Emperor Conrad III put an end to the disputes, and unexpectedly moved to the castle at Cochem and brought the surrounding imperial lands under his control.


Hexenturm with original Medieval plaster
 
This was how Reichsburg got its name. Reichsburg means “Imperial Castle”, and this designation has carried on through history well beyond Emperor Conrad’s reign. It retained its status as an imperial castle until 1294. At this time, the newly-elected Emperor Adolph von Nassau pledged the town of Cochem, the castle at Cochem, and the surrounding imperial property of nearly 50 villages to the Archbishop of Trier in order to pay for his imperial coronation and election promises.


The castle thus fell under the administration of the Archbishops of Trier. Most of Germany’s castles were damaged or destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War, and Cochem was no exception. However, the damage sustained at Cochem was repaired soon after that conflict. It was later in the Wars of the Palatine Succession when the troops of King Louis XIV of France (called the “Sun King”) proceeded to destroy the castle. It was first bombarded in 1673. In 1688, French troops occupied the castle and town. In 1689, they set the castle on fire and blew it up. The castle burned for 3 days.

The castle ruins at Cochem became property of the Prussian State in 1816. It was bought by Jakob Louis Frederik Ravene in 1868 for only 300 Gold Marks. He proceeded to renovate it for 9 years. His family then possessed and lived in it for 75 years. It was bought by the Third Reich in 1943. In 1978, it was turned over to the town of Cochem for the sum of 664,000 Deutsch Marks.
 
 
Image currently painted on Reichsburg's plaster
The town of Cochem has opened up the castle for tourists. It is well-renovated, and still contains many of the features installed by the Ravene family. The Ravene family used a copperplate picture of the castle from 1576 as the model to renovate it in the Late Gothic style. One interesting architectural point that I learned when I visited this castle was that, in the Middle Ages, these stone castles were actually plastered over and painted bright colors. This is shown by the remains the original Hexenturm tower that survived destruction through the ages, complete with its medieval plaster. I had always assumed that these castles were stone structures with no outer decoration in their heyday. I was wrong.
 
 
The castle houses birds of prey, and provides a demonstration several times daily. Medieval dinners are held for groups of tourists in the castle “basement”. One nice bonus for tourists who visit this castle is that tourists are allowed take pictures inside (many castles don’t permit inside photos). It is definitely a castle worth visiting.

Birds of Prey demonstration