Three German Castles

The view from Burg (Castle) Frankenstein

In Europe it is difficult to visit a country and not go to a castle (unless you’re European in which case castles are everyday sights for most). There were three castles that I visited that I’d like to talk about. One because of the name, another because it was hidden and beautiful, and the other because it was grand even in ruins.

An important thing to note is that in Germany there are different classifications for what we generally refer to as Castles. One is Schloss: generally referring to buildings otherwise known as château, palace, manor house or stately house. Another is Burg: an ancient mediaeval fortress or walled town.

Approaching Burg (Castle) Frankenstein, GermanyBurg Frankenstein is real. It exists and I went there. It is a small castle, only a shell of the once impressive structure, first mentioned in the 10th century (previously thought to be the 13th but recently discovered documents have changed this), situated 400 metres above the Rhine valley it still has a great view of the surrounding countryside to the west and a beautiful wood with walking trails to the east.

When I came to visit the castle I was not impressed. I walked around the ruin within half an hour, and climbed the short staircase in the tower living quarters and took in the view, but I was thinking “How is this tiny ruin the inspiration for Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein?” I couldn’t even imagine this place looking imposing (for a castle, in a region with many of castles) let alone inspiring. Castle Frankenstein may not be a grand ruin to visit, but when you get to know the history of it, the experience becomes better. When you buy your entrance ticket I highly recommend that you also get the Burg Frankenstein booklet to enhance your visit of this fascinating site.

Castle Frankenstein is of a different design to others in the area. This is due to the location and terrain. When this castle was built, the woods immediately surrounding the castle were farmland which provided the castle with exceptional views over all the Frankenstein’s lands. An easily defensible location, sentries were able to spot invaders and archers to shoot them, the hilltop offers only a small area on which to build. As such the castle has only a singular dwelling tower built into the inner wall, and where a central tower could have been located rests a well. The inner court was part of specific defence strategy if the main tower was taken – aggressors would have to enter the open court to access the well and granaries, allowing the defenders to strike them easily. Aside from the inner court with giant lime tree, most of the area inside the battlements was granaries, living quarters, the chapel, and livestock pens. If you are interested in mediaeval history, military strategy or architecture, this castle provides a unique perspective on the region. Also, they have a trebuchet, which is just cool.

The Frankenstein’s were in the region for over four centuries, but they sold the castle in 1662 to the Landgrave of Hessen. The castle also has many legends and stories which add a flavour to the experience, or my case the memories. ‘The Donkey Fee of Bessungen’ is an interesting story about the patriarchal society. There is the legend of Knight George and the Dragon, a blending of local history and the legend of Saint George. Then there is the story of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

Burg Wertheim, GermanyBurg Wertheim is located 90kms south east of Frankfurt where the Tauber River enters the Main. The castle sits high above the town and even in ruins looks impressive. The area was first settled in in the 7th century and the castle was constructed in the 12th century. The castle was severely damaged in a gunpowder explosion in 1619 and further damaged during the 30 Years War in 1634. An interesting thing to note is the Wertheim family became divided in 1630 into Protestants and Catholics. Since 1995 the castle has been owned by the Wertheim municipality and has received much needed restoration.

Entry cost 1€ is well worth it to wander the ruin with its hulking battlements. In its centre is a gorge with enhances the already impressive walls. When you look down into the gorge from the central tower you feel a little vertigo and when you look up at the tower, you feel dwarfed by the immensity. The views of the town from the battlements, tower and the restaurant are excellent, with several signs detailing the buildings in view and in the distance you can still see a watchtower on the hill.

Burg Wertheim, GermanyBurg Wertheim, Germany

The castle is also associated with Grail legend of Parsifal written by Wolfram von Eschenbach, an impoverished knight who apparently served at Wertheim, although the only references I could find confirming this was ‘Parsifal’ itself.

Surrounding the castle is a beautiful mediaeval town centre that is very well maintained and has an excellent example of a Gothic Cathedral. It a great place to visit and an excellent counterpoint to Burg Frankenstein.

Schloss (Castle) Mespelbrunn, GermanySchloss Mespelbrunn is a small but beautiful castle located 35km south east from Aschaffenburg. It lays in a beautiful wooded valley and is one of the luckiest castles in Germany as it has not been destroyed or damaged in the 30 Years War nor any later conflicts. Construction of the tower began in the 15th century with later buildings added over the centuries. One of the things that makes this castle so beautiful, aside from the surrounds, is that it if fronted by a square pond the width of the castle.

The castle offers guided tours in German regularly but in English only by pre-arrangement and for a group. There is however a small brochure that provides many details of the rooms that you visit, so even if you don’t understand German you can read as you go in order to get a greater appreciation of the tour. The tour goes for approximately thirty minutes and take you through half a dozen rooms.

The Knights Hall is the only room on the tour where you are allowed to take pictures. It contains a number of antlers from royal hunts, some armour and a few weapons. On the far side of the room is the family chapel which is very ornate. An interesting part of this room is the window overlooking the pond, which uses stain glass coats of arms to detail the genealogy of the family.

The remainder of the tour takes you through rooms that are loaded with artefacts. The Banquet hall contains some excellent porcelain pieces and a range of weapons including crossbows, pikes, swords, pistols and rifles. At the end of the hall is the family ceremonial sword. The other rooms show you more of the history of the family including artefacts of their history and importance including portraits, documents and correspondence, and furniture as well as items from their various hobbies over the generations.

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