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

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?