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.