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.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trifels Castle – Where Richard the Lionheart was held for Ransom

I live in Germany, and you can’t go anywhere in this beautiful country without practically tripping over a castle or castle ruins.  I read somewhere that there are 20,000 castles or castle ruins in Germany. 

This month, I’m posting about one of my favorite castles (well, I should really call it a castle group) – Trifels castle.  The three castles of Trifels sit on hills above the town of Annweiler, in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz.  While visiting the main castle at Trifels, it is only a short 20-minute hike to visit the other castle ruins on the adjoining hills.

Trifels Castle
The main castle is called Trifels.  It was first mentioned in the year 1081, and we know that by 1115 it was an Imperial castle.  The Hohenstaufen Dynasty (Frederick Barbarossa’s line) made Trifels an important stronghold, and it stood in the center of major historical events in Germany for many years.  The castle held the crown jewels from 1125 until 1298.  It was also a prison for high-ranking political prisoners, and is known as the prison where Richard the Lionheart of England was held for ransom.

As Richard the Lionheart was returning to Europe from the 3rd Crusade, he was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria (whom he had publically insulted during the Crusade) in 1192.  Duke Leopold then turned Richard over to German Emperor Henry VI, who held him at Trifels for almost a year (from 1193-1194) for ransom.  His ransom of 150,000 Marks (a huge sum at the time) was paid, and Richard returned to England briefly to regain his crown.  Less than a month later, he went to France to try to regain lands in Normandy that he had lost.  He died in 1199 from complications from a wound he received in a battle in France.

With the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, Trifels diminished in importance.  By the middle of the 14th century, it was minimally manned and reconstruction efforts were restricted to makeshift safeguarding measures.  In 1602, it was struck by lightning and burned out.  It was completely abandoned by 1635, and its walls were robbed out as a stone quarry.  There was renewed interest in the castle in the late 19th century, and efforts began for planning its reconstruction.

Inside Trifels
In 1937, the Nazi premier of Bavaria, Ludwig Siebert, pushed for its reconstruction in order to create a national shrine as a symbol of the “old and the new Reich”.  He commissioned Rudolf Esterer (who reconstructed the Nuremburg Castle and the Marienberg Castle in Würzburg) to complete the reconstruction.  Esterer deliberately strayed from historical accuracy in his plan – instead focusing on making it a national shrine and having it fit in aesthetically with the landscape.  After the War, Esterer was consulted again, and the renovations were complete.

Anebos Castle

On an adjoining hill are the ruins of Anebos castle.  It is speculated that this castle was built in the 12th century to protect Trifels castle.  This castle was already abandoned by the mid-13th century.  All that currently remains are the bedrock that the castle was built into, and a few castle walls.  You can see the holes in the rock, where the castle was anchored – a true visual of the genius of German engineering.

Scharfenberg Castle

On the next adjoining hill are the ruins of Scharfenberg castle.  It was also originally built to protect Trifels.  In the 13th century, it became the German mint.  During this time, it picked up the nickname “Münz”, meaning “coin”.  After the family von Scharfenberg became extinct, the castle was turned over to the Church.  In 1525, the castle was destroyed in the Peasant’s War.

The three castles form a triangle which Viktor von Scheffel refers to in his poem, Trifels, written in 1867.  The castles are open to visitors year-round, and there is a quaint restaurant lower on the hill with spectacular views of Trifels.

Do you have a favorite castle in Germany?