Sunday, February 11, 2018

Germany's Fairy Tale Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle, taken from the Marienbrücke
            I have been loath to write about this particular castle, but I think the time has come. There are an estimated 20,000 castles and castle ruins within Germany – and so many interesting ones that people outside of Germany don’t know about. But, I would be remiss in having a blog about German castles if I don’t mention the most iconic castle in Germany, Neuschwanstein.
            Neuschwanstein was the dream castle built by the Bavarian king, Ludwig II. Ludwig was born in August 1845 in Munich to King Maximilian II of Bavaria. Maximilian had acquired the castle Hohenschwangau in the Bavarian Alps near Fussen. This site was the seat of the legendary Swan Knights from the middle ages. He rebuilt Hohenschwangau castle in 1832 in Gothic style, and had scenes of the famous legends and stories of the middle ages painted in murals throughout the castle. Ludwig grew up in the family castle at Hohenschwangau, and dreamed of the glory of the middle ages that surrounded him.
            In 1861, Ludwig saw his first Richard Wagner opera in Munich, Lohengrin, which recounted one of the many stories of the Swan Knights. He became enamored with Wagner’s music and operas.
Neuschwanstein Castle
Upon the death of King Maximilian in 1864, Ludwig II became King of Bavaria at the age of 18. Although he was well-educated and well-read, he was not well-versed in the intricacies of politics. A mere two years later, he was subjugated to the Prussian Empire and was no longer a sovereign ruler. He became a constitutional monarch, answerable to two houses of parliament in Bavaria. He withdrew from court, and many believe he began living in his own little world. In 1864, the same year he became King of Bavaria, he also became a patron of Richard Wagner.
On the 22nd of January, 1867, Ludwig was engaged to marry his cousin, Princess Sophie Charlotte of Bavaria. Unfortunately, he was really in love with her sister, Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sissy). The marriage coach was built and commemorative medals were minted. However, Ludwig dissolved his engagement on the 10th of October of the same year. From that point forward, he never again thought of marriage.
Neuschwanstein Castle
Ludwig visited Wartburg castle in Thuringia in 1867, and Wartburg became the inspiration for Neuschwanstein (translated as “New Swan Stone”). He built Neuschwanstein near his childhood home at Hohenschwangau in the place of two Swan Knight castle ruins – Vorschwangau and Hinterschwangau. Neuschwanstein was built in neo-Romanesque style, harkening back to a medieval castle style. Construction began in 1869, but the castle was never completed. He envisioned that Neuschwanstein would be the new center for the Order of the Swan Knights (according to some legends, the keepers of the Holy Grail), and he envisioned himself to be the Grand Master. The pictures and art in his castle were inspired by the medieval legends in Wagner’s operas. Richard Wagner died in Venice in 1886, never having seen Neuschwanstein. Ludwig moved into the incomplete Neuschwanstein the same year and holed himself up there. He lived there a total of 172 days.
            Ludwig was seen as eccentric in his day, and was renowned for his eccentricities much like Michael Jackson is today. He was an insomniac, and spent his nights wandering the castle, while sleeping his days away. He loved solitude, dreaming, art and history.  He had his castle outfitted with the latest inventions of the industrial revolution, such as electricity. Although heavily in debt, he continued to build his castle. Many felt he was using too much of Bavaria’s money on what they considered to be his folly.
View of Hohenschwangau, taken from Neuschwanstein
            While he was holed up in Neuschwanstein, scheming Bavarian ministers succeeded in taking over his power. They arrested him at Neuschwanstein for lunacy and put him in the Berg castle on the bank of Lake Sternberg. On the very next day after his arrest, on 13 June 1886, the King’s body was found in the lake. The body of the King’s doctor, Dr von Gudden (who had declared him insane and unfit to rule the day previous, without any examination) was found nearby. The King was an excellent swimmer, and his body was found in a very shallow part of the lake. Many conspiracy theories surround this incident. The official verdict was that the King killed Dr von Gudden and then committed suicide.
Before the construction of Disneyland, Walt Disney and his wife Lillian took a European tour. A Disneyland representative confirms that the time he spent at Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Neuschwanstein features prominently in the 1968 movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring Dick van Dyke and the 2014 movie, Monument’s Men, by George Clooney, among many others.

Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle

Friday, May 13, 2016

A LIttle Joust, Anyone? Burg Satzvey

Burg Satzvey
Last year, I enjoyed a day at Burg Satzvey at their Knights Fest--basically a medieval fest with a jousting tournament. It was a fabulous day, with the standard medieval festival but an extra-special jousting tournament.
First, about Burg Satzvey. It is a delightfully cute castle just south of Cologne. It is one of the few moated castles in Germany. Most castles in Germany were built on the top of mountains, and did not have moats. Of course, the moat serves a defensive purpose for the castle so for castles that are not on top of mountains, such as Burg Satzvey, they were essential.

Satzvey was first mentioned in 1368 as an estate of Otto von Vey Vogt, who was a vassal of the Archbishop of Cologne. His grandson, Heinrich von Krauthausen built Burg Satzvey from 1396 to 1406 on an island in the middle of the Veybach pond.
Knights of Satzvey
In 1561, Heinrich Spies von Büllesheim acquired the castle. In 1574, his son, Frederick William became the first feudal lord of Satzvey. From 1577 to 1581, the Duke von Jülich and his troops occupied the castle, until Spies von Büllesheim and von Jülich had to swear their allegiance to the Archbishop of Cologne.

In 1737, the castle was sold to the von Gymnich family. With the death of Johanna Maria von Gymnich in 1825, the von Gymnich line became extinct and her godson, Count Max Felix Wolff von Metternich inherited the von Gymnich possessions to include Burg Satzvey and eight other castles. His son, Dietrich, expanded the castle in 1878 to make it what it is today.

In 1944, the Countess Adeline Wolff von Metternich married Count Franz Josef Beissel von Gymnich (the current Count’s father). In 1981, they began having medieval and other festivals at the castle.

Now, I can’t discuss Burg Satzvey without mentioning the impressive Countess Jeannette Beissel of Gymnich. She is an American! She is the daughter of U.S. diplomat John A. Brogan and spent her childhood in the U.S., South America and Europe. She studied languages and literature in the U.S. and in France. She fell in love with current Count Franz Josef Beissel von Gymnich and, in 1984, married him. They have two children.
Countess and Count Beissel von Gymnich (used with permission)
Since becoming a Countess, she has made an effort to make a positive impact on everything she touches. Castles are very expensive and difficult to maintain. She and the Count have made the castle a viable business enterprise by expanding the festivals and events that the castle holds, incorporating stores and restaurants into the castle, establishing rooms in the castle where guests can stay overnight, hosting medieval dinners and a ‘knights school’, and providing wedding services, among other things. She has become an advisor to other castle owners on how they can build businesses surrounding their castles.
She is also an author. In addition to writing a historical novel, she has written four or five coffee-table type books about castles and the people who live in them. They are all in German. She has a new book coming out soon.

She has been featured on German television a number of times. In addition to interviews and the standard things you would expect a countess to do, she also has participated in the German version of the television show “Wife Swap”. Can you imagine switching places with a countess and getting to live in a castle as the countess for two weeks?  How fun is that?

The Countess has also established a foundation which helps children and adolescents who have been the victims of abuse, violence or neglect. Her foundation has established homes for these victims and provides for the special needs of these victims, such as various therapies, wheelchairs, special beds, etc.

Knights of Satzvey
Their children have now taken an active role in the administration of the castle and the foundation.  The daughter of the Count and Countess, the Countess Patricia Beissel von Gymnich, has now taken on the responsibility of running the events that are held at the castle. And, she is doing a rather fine job of it. 

I mentioned earlier the jousting tournaments at Satzvey, which the Countess Patricia not only organizes but also participates in. They are truly something spectacular to see. The Satzvey jousting tournaments are basically full-blown theatrical plays, which end with the “good guys” and “bad guys” dueling it out in a joust.
Jousting Tournament
Even if you don’t understand German, you can follow along with the plot of the play and understand most of what is going on. The jousters and the young Countess are accomplished equestrians, and stuntmen and stuntwomen. 
Jousting Tournament

Many have worked on Hollywood films and they bring this expertise to the jousting field. It is definitely worth the time to go to the Satzvey Knight’s Fest and enjoy the jousting tournaments. They are held every May and September, and this spring it will be the weekend of 14-16 May 2016 and in the fall on the weekends of 3-4 Sep and 10-11 Sep 2016.


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 Ballenstädt 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

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sans Souci – Burg or Schloss?

            Today, I would like to highlight a different kind of German castle than the ones that I’ve discussed previously. I am going to focus on the castle Sans Souci in Potsdam, near Berlin.
            Sans Souci was built in 1747 as the summer palace of Frederick the Great of Prussia. "Sans Souci" is a French phrase which means “without concerns” or “carefree”, and this castle was used by Frederick to relax and get away from the stress of the court in Berlin. It was built in the Rococo style, and is often compared with the larger Baroque palace at Versailles. Frederick considered himself a patron of the arts and often entertained his friend, Voltaire, at Sans Souci.
            In the 19th century, Sans Souci became the residence of Prussian Frederick William IV. He proceeded to enlarge the castle and improve the grounds. In 1918, the Hohenzollern Prussian royalty left Potsdam for Holland, where they lived in exile when the Weimar Republic came into power. Later, after World War II, the castle fell under the control of the East German government and became a tourist attraction for the Eastern Bloc.

            In 1990, after the reunification of Germany, Sans Souci became a World Heritage Site, and currently falls under the protection of UNESCO. The castle is quite impressive and the gardens are extensive and truly spectacular—definitely worth a visit.
          Now, for a quick lesson in German terminology.  As you might recall from your history classes, the castles of Europe really began to be built in earnest in the Middle Ages, around the 11th century.  The “knight” class emerged with the feudal system. These knights were the warriors of society.  They fought for their kings, they fought in the Crusades, and they fought for their own territories.  In the beginning, these knights built their castles as defensive structures – often on top of mountains (in Germany, at least) or with moats surrounding them, and with thick walls made of stone with tall towers.
            As time moved forward, this class of knights became wealthier, and their focus shifted from being concerned about security to being concerned about demonstrating their wealth.  This shift in philosophy occurred starting around the time of the Renaissance.

            In English, we call all types of old large, residential structures of knights “castles”.  However, the Germans distinguish between them.  The older, Medieval, defensive castles in Germany are called “Burg”s.  The newer, Renaissance-style wealthy castles in Germany are called “Schloss”s (I think of these more like palaces, or manor houses).  So, Sans Souci is a Schloss.  The other castles I have highlighted thus far in this blog have been Burgs.

            An interesting side note – the famous German castle, Neuschwanstein, which is the castle that Disney’s castle is modeled after – is actually a Schloss, but it is built in a Burg style. 

Which type of castle is more interesting to you – the older Burg, or the newer Schloss?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Burg Eltz - Castle Intact

One cannot talk about German castles without discussing Burg Eltz. Burg Eltz is one of the very few castles in Germany that wasn’t damaged or destroyed during the Thirty Years’War, or subsequent wars that ravaged Germany. This is attributed to the Eltz Counts having strong relationships with their allies, who have helped them in times of need.
Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz was first mentioned in 1157 AD, when Frederick I (Barbarossa) commissioned Count Rudolf von Eltz to protect the trade routes between the Maifeld plateau and the Moselle river.

In 1268, the Eltz family split into three branches, and the castle complex was split into three houses to accommodate each family.  The Eltz-Rodendorf line was characterized by a silver lion on the coat of arms, the Eltz-Kempenich line was characterized by a golden lion on the coat of arms, and the Eltz-Rübenach line was characterized by buffalo horns on their coat of arms.

The most significant military offensive against Burg Eltz came in 1331 when Balduin of Luxembourg, the Archbishop of Trier, decided that he wanted the land that the Eltz Counts owned.  So, he built a tower, called Trutz-Eltz (translates to mean “spite-Eltz) on a hill above Burg Eltz and proceeded to bombard the castle.  The local allies of the Eltz Counts assisted them as much as they could, but after two years of the castle being seiged, the Eltz Counts sued for peace and swore fealty to the Archbishop (they had previously been vassals of the Emperor).

In the 18th Century, the Eltz-Rübenach line became extinct.  In 1815, the Eltz-Rodendorf line sold their interest in the castle.  The current owner is Count Karl von Eltz-Kempenich of the golden lion line.  He is the 33rd generation of Eltz counts and is a doctor.  He and his family still occasionally reside in the castle.
Knight's armor from the armory/treasury

The Eltz family has opened some of their rooms up to tourists.  They have taken great pains to furnish and decorate the rooms in the style of the Middle Ages, and many of the items in the rooms are original to the houses.  Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed inside.  One of the more interesting items is a Renaissance-style painted bed from 1525 in the Countesses’s bedroom.  It is the oldest bed of its type in Germany.  There is also a breastplate and battleaxe in the Countesses’s bedroom.  This belongs to the castle’s resident ghost, Agnes, who, as the story goes, died defending the castle and her honor from an undesirable suitor.  She is definitely someone I want to research further…


The castle also houses an armory and treasury, with artifacts that the Eltz family has held for years.  Tourists are allowed to go through this museum-style set of rooms and take pictures (no flash).  There are some truly beautiful pieces that document Eltz family history.  If you ever come to the western part Germany, Burg Eltz should definitely be on your list as a 'must see'.
Burg Eltz

Monday, October 22, 2012

Frankenstein’s castle – or should I say castles?

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster
in Frankenstein (1931)
We all know the story of Victor Frankenstein and the monster he created, thanks to Mary Shelley.  Mary was vacationing in Geneva, Switzerland in 1816 with her then-fiance, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, her step-sister Clara Mary Jane Clairmont (who was pregnant with Lord Byron’s child), Lord Byron and Doctor John William Polidori.  It was the coldest summer on record, and it was very rainy.  In order to pass the time, Lord Byron challenged the group to each write a ghost story.  Mary Shelley had a nightmare that night, which inspired the story of Frankenstein.  After edits by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary published it in 1818.

Tower at Frankenstein castle near Darmstadt
I can’t go any further without discussing the name “Frankenstein” first.  It literally means “Frankish Stone”.  As we all know from our history, the Franks were a prominent Germanic tribe.  They were united under Charlemagne, and Charlemagne proceeded to conquer other German tribes and establish a large kingdom.  The kingdom was later divided among his grandsons at the Treaty of Verdun.  This division became the basis for the countries of Germany and France, as we know them today.  Of course, France is named after the Franks.  But, within Germany, you still find many references to the Franks.


So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I found not one, but two, Frankenstein castles!  I also found another town called Frankenstein out by Dresden, but I don’t believe there’s a castle there.


Frankenstein Castle near Darmstadt
The first castle, near Darmstadt, claims a loose affiliation with Mary Shelley, as she took a cruise down the Rhine a few years before she went to Geneva – and it is fairly near the Rhine.  Also, there was an alchemist named Johann Konrad Dippel who was born at the castle in 1673, and there have been claims that he had influenced Mary Shelley.  Because of this affiliation, they hold a huge Halloween celebration every year – decorate the castle and have actors play different scary beings – almost a “haunted house” concept.  This goes for a few weeks before and after Halloween.  I have not been, but I do plan on going this year.  And, as far as the affiliation with Shelley – maybe, maybe not – but, why not claim it?  These castles cost a lot of money to maintain, and if they can capitalize on something like this to help maintain the castle, I say go for it.  People who have gone to the Halloween celebration tell me that it’s a lot of fun, too.


Another Tower at Frankenstein castle near Darmstadt
As far as the real history of the castle goes, Lord Konrad Reiz von Breuberg built the castle sometime before 1250, and named himself Frankenstein.  He had other holdings in the region, and was a vassal of the emperor. In 1292, the Frankenstein’s aligned themselves with the Counts of Katzenelnbogen.  In 1363, the castle was divided in two, to support two Frankenstein families living in it.  In the early 15th century, it was enlarged and the Frankenstein’s severed their alignment with the Counts of Katzenelnbogen.  In 1662, it was sold to the Landgraves of Hesse-Darmstadt.  Later, it was used as a hospital and a refuge.  In the 18th century, it fell into ruin.  The two towers were rebuilt in the 19th century, but they are not historically accurate.  In 1976, American soldiers stationed in Darmstadt established the first Halloween party at the castle.  The US base at Darmstadt was closed in 2008, but the proprietors of the castle still maintain the Halloween tradition.


Frankenstein castle near Bad Dürkheim
The other castle Frankenstein lies above the town of Frankenstein near Bad Dürkheim.  The Knights of Frankenstein were first mentioned in 1146.  The castle itself was referred to as a property of the Counts of Leiningen in 1237.  In 1251, the Knights John and Frederick of Frankenstein confirm that the Abbot of the monastery of Limburg is their liege lord, and later that John is a vassal of the Bishop of Speyer.  In 1340, the Frankenstein male line became extinct.  In 1350, Count Fritz of Leiningen-Rixingen bought the castle from the canon of Mainz for 600 gold florins.  In the subsequent years, the castle was bought and sold by various nobles.  In 1586, a dilapidated tower was demolished, but parts of the castle were still inhabitable.  In 1621 during the 30-Years War, the castle was taken by Spanish troops, under General Ambrose Spinola.  In 1788, through an imperial court decree, the castle went to the Prince of Leiningen-Hardenburg.  After going into state ownership, in 1883, 1938, 1971 and 1988, extensive conservation measures were taken at the ruins.


Frankenstein castle near Bad Dürkheim
Now, to be true to the fiction, in Mary Shelley’s book, Victor Frankenstein did not create his monster in a castle.  Rather, he created it in an apartment in the town of Ingolstadt just north of Munich.  Hollywood has embellished the story quite a bit in this regard.  But, if I were to choose a castle to set a story such as this in, I would choose the castle near Bad Dürkheim, rather than the castle near Darmstadt.  In looking at what’s left of the architecture, this castle was at least 4 or 5 stories high…which leads one to imagine a damp, dark basement in which to create a monster. Although, having said that, the Frankenstein line of Bad Dürkhem castle did die out in the 14th century, and the book was set in the 19th century, some 500 years later…which would make this setting historically inaccurate.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Amateur Archeology at Burg Waldeck

Have you ever been somewhere where you’ve wished you had a shovel and metal detector?  That is how I felt when I visited the castle ruins at Waldeck.

OK, now I’ll admit that I love archeology.  You’ll find me glued to the TV set watching a program called “Time Team” on BBC…where they go around to farmers’ fields in Britain and dig up old Roman ruins, or traces of Anglo-Saxon settlements…or whatever they can dig up, literally.

When I poke around old castle ruins around Germany, I usually want to know a little more about the site…but the urge to start digging doesn’t normally hit me as hard as it did here.  The only other time I can remember wanting to dig so badly was when I visited the Incan ruins at Ollantaytambo in Peru.  I just “knew” there was something important buried there.

I found Waldeck much in the same way that I find most of the castles in Germany…I see it referenced on a map, and then I go looking for it.  This Waldeck (there are a number of castles named ‘Waldeck’ in Germany) was out near the Mosel, but not actually on the river.  So, as I drove around, getting nearer to the point on the map, I was stopped at a checkpoint where I had to pay to park in a field.  Hmm, they were having some event at the castle.  OK, I’m always game to join in…

As it turns out, there was a folk music festival on the castle grounds.  But, you couldn’t see the castle from the grounds. I was told that the castle was run by a youth organization and that the general public couldn’t go in.  Bummer.  So, I decided to enjoy the folk music instead.

Ahhh, but I talked to one of the local ladies, and she told me about other castles in the area.  Then she asked me if I had seen the ruins of the “old castle”.  What?  Yes, there are two castles “Waldeck” there – the newer one, run by the youth organization – and the older one, that anyone can go see.  So, she led me on a 15 minute tromp through the woods to the “old castle”.  Perfect – just what I wanted!  As we came upon the castle ruins, it was almost like a scene from ‘Tomb-Raider’, where the overgrown ruins seemed like they had been untouched for decades (well, except for the graffiti on the old castle walls).  That’s when I wanted to start digging!

Most of the castle ruins in Germany are cared for by some organization –it may be the local town, or the State, or an interested organization.  Even though they are ruins, they usually have evidence of the care – a bench, or signs, or railings for the stone steps.  But, Waldeck seemed uncared for – untouched…and a perfect place for an amateur archeologist.