Eltz Castle is an iconic fairytale castle surrounded by nature in the German woods.

Captivating Castles of Germany

Germany is home to over 25,000 castles. The vineyard-covered hills, old-world architecture and the enchanting history can definitely sooth the wanderlust. These castles cast a spell over picturesque castles and are indeed a paradise for historians and explorers. Let’s embark on a journey to uncover the mysteries of a few castles in Germany.

Meersburg Castle

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“Die Meersburg” castle meaning the castle by the sea has claimed a heritage of over 14 centuries making it the oldest inhabited castle in Germany. The alternate name of “Alte Burg” meaning an old castle adds weight to it being the oldest castle of Germany. However the name actually relates to a new castle built in 18th century nearby which is referred to as Neue Schloss Meersburg meaning the New Castle. The Merovingian fortress, elegant plazas and scenic vineyards characterize the charming town on the tranquil shores of Lake Constance in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. One can definitely drift into the Meersburg on a boat for a memorable trip basking in the beautiful lakefront town.

There are different theories existing about the construction of the Meersburg Castle. The first theory claims that the Merovingian king Dagobert I built the Dagobertturm (Dagobert’s Tower), the central keep of the Meersburg, in 630. This theory was supported by Joseph von Laßberg who lived in the castle during the 19th century.  The second theory is that the castle was built in the early 12th century, and based on the name of the tower an association with the earlier Merovingian king was created. Similarities have been observed between the Meersburg and other 12th century castles. Joseph von Laßberg also presents the theory that the tower was built on the site of an earlier destroyed castle. He states that the castle was destroyed by Duke Gotfrid of Alemannia who was at war with Dagobert’s successor and rebuilt 80 years later by Charles Martel.

During the secularization of 1803, the Meersburg castle came under the control of Grand Duchy of Baden. In 1838 the castle was sold and Joseph von Laßberg and his wife Baroness Maria Anna von Droste-Hülshoff became the owners of the castle. The famous German poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff moved to the castle in 1841. After the death of the Laßbergs, their twin daughters acquired the castle. However, they couldn’t afford the upkeep and sold the castle in 1877. Karl Mayer von Mayerfels bought the castle in 1897 and managed to establish a Medieval Museum in the castle.

Portions of the castle are open for visitors on self-guided tours. Around 30 rooms are accessible and they bring the medieval ages to life with an extensive collection of weaponry, armour and coats of arms. The remainder of the castle is still occupied by the descendants of Karl Mayer von Mayerfels. The current owner and lord of the castle, Vinzenz Naeßl-Doms, has been in charge of the property since 1977, continuing the generous work of his ancestors in maintaining Meersburg as one of Germany’s important cultural assets. The tour through the museum has been extended several times, with the most recent addition being Dagobert’s tower, one of the oldest parts of Meersburg castle. Walking through the castle museum with its living quarters, great hall, former kitchen, armoury, castle dungeon and much more offers a fascinating insight into life in the middle ages. An idea of jurisdiction in the middle ages can be seen through the torture chamber. One can enjoy the wonderful view of the town of Meersburg and Lake Constance. Thus, as soon as visitors cross the former drawbridge, they can sense the magic of bygone days which are brought back to life. 

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The knight shop located inside the castle offers unique souvenirs like postcards of the interiors, literature about Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and much more. The knight’s market is freely accessible in front of the entrance to the castle and knights’s armour, costumes, decorative weapons etc can be purchased here. The castle is a welcoming destination anytime outside winter. It comes to life in summer, with evening performances of music, presenting the medieval culture from different epochs in an authentic way. Also, a visit in fall is recommended to experience the best wine season. Visiting Meersburg castle is an exciting journey into the middle ages.

Neuschwanstein Castle

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Schloss Neuschwanstein or the Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th century historical palace situated high in the Alpine foothills in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The fairy-tale castle is a dazzling site with an enchanting history. Due to its secluded location, the palace survived the destruction of two World Wars.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria built the iconic palace to withdraw from public life after losing his power in the Austro-Prussian war. It’s believed that he built his new castle as the centrepiece of an imagined kingdom—one in which he was the true king. Neuschwanstein is known as a castle of paradox. It was built in a time when castles were no longer necessary as strongholds, and, despite its romanticized medieval design. The lavish structure is complete with a walled courtyard, an indoor garden, spires, towers, and an artificial cave. The construction of Neuschwanstein castle began in 1869 with workers labouring day and night for more than a decade to complete enough of the home for Ludwig II to move in. Theatrical designers and artisans worked alongside architects to create the palatial home with state-of-the-art technology. It is interesting to note that despite its enormous size and the original plan of having 200 rooms, it was built for only one person to live in. However, Ludwig’s fantastical vision for his kingdom soon deteriorated. The King’s wishes and demands expanded during the construction of Neuschwanstein, and he paid for his construction projects by private means and from his civil list income. Contrary to frequent claims, the Bavarian treasury was not directly burdened by his buildings.  Foreign banks threatened to seize his massive property in 1885, but he refused to respond rationally. In retaliation, the government declared him insane and forced his removal from the throne. The private king was found dead just weeks after moving into his new home in 1886.In the end, Ludwig II lived in the palace for a total of only 172 days. Seven weeks following the mysterious death of the eccentric king, Neuschwanstein opened to a fascinated public, and remains the most visited castle in Germany.

Neuschwanstein embodies both the contemporaneous architectural fashion known as castle romanticism, and King Ludwig II’s enthusiasm for the operas of Richard Wagner. The king insisted on a detailed plan and his control went so far that the palace has been regarded as his own creation, rather than that of the architects involved. The suite of rooms within the Palas contains the Throne Room, King Ludwig’s suite, the Singers’ Hall, and the Grotto. Throughout, the design pays homage to the German legends of Lohengrin, the Swan Knight. These themes were taken up in the operas of Richard Wagner.  A phenomenal part of the interior of Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany is the grotto – a Disney-esque passageway of artificial rocks and flowing waterfalls, running along a corridor of the castle. The palace was fitted with several of the latest technical innovations of the late 19th century. Among other things it had a battery-powered bell system for the servants and telephone lines. The kitchen equipment included a Rumford oven that turned the skewer with its heat and so automatically adjusted the turning speed. Further novelties for the era were running warm water and toilets with automatic flushing. The shapes of Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine architecture and art were mingled in an eclectic fashion and supplemented with 19th-century technical achievements. 

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The emblem of the swan was another important image in the construction of the castle, and an entire corner of the castle’s living room is dedicated to this majestic bird. King Ludwig identified with the Swan Knight, whose tragedy and downfall was his everlasting loneliness. Neuschwanstein essentially means “New Swan Stone”, and Ludwig is still thought of today as being “The Swan Prince” or “The Swan king”.

The fairy-tale design and picturesque surroundings inspired Walt Disney to create the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland. It’s also rumoured to be the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s 1950 film Cinderella. The castle thus embodies the soul of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It is an unfinished masterpiece-with bare brick rooms to this day. Despite the hermit king’s unhappy ending, his vision has inspired many more happily ever after.

Eltz Castle

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Burg Eltz or the Eltz Castle is a German fairytale hidden in a wooded dell. Surrounded by forests, far from any roads or modern buildings, Eltz Castle epitomises the fantasy of the untouched middle ages like no other. The river Eltz almost entirely loops around the crag; making it a brilliantly defensive spot. The castle was erected in a strategically important position as it was built along a trade route linking the Moselle River which is historically one of the most important trade routes in the German Empire. The castle is still owned by a branch of the same family that lived here in the 12th century, 33 generations ago. The family and the castle are named after the stream Eltzbach and the castle is indeed set within a natural paradise.

The castle is also called Ganerbenburg, or castle belonging to a community of joint heirs. The brothers Elias, Wilhelm and Theoderich had a dispute and the family split up before 1268. The inner courtyard reflects, at a glance, 500 years of building activity, telling a colourful and often complicated story of the co-habitation of three branches of the Eltz family in a very confined space. The architecture of this castle unites all styles from Romanesque to early Baroque to form a harmonious ensemble. The existing castle was enhanced with three separate complexes of buildings.

The main part of the castle consists of the family portions. The castle developed into a “Randhausburg” with eight high-rise residential buildings grouped closely around the central courtyard. A village once existed below the castle, on its southside, which housed servants, craftsmen, and their families supporting the castle.

The tour of the Castle is exciting and an entertaining journey through 850 years of Western architecture and culture. Eltz Casle is considered the German knight’s castle par excellence. Its history is a wealth of myths and events, famous personalities and great art.

The development of medieval castles began in the 9th and 10th centuries. The prime period of castle construction was from the 11th to the 13th century – the period of the Stauffer dynasty. This eventful period also saw the first mention of the name Eltz. Platteltz, a Romanesque keep, is the oldest part of the castle, having begun in the 9th century as a simple manor with an earthen palisade.  From 1331 to 1336, the lords of Eltz confronted the Archbishop of Trier, Balduin of Luxemburg’s expansion politics by forming an alliance with neighbouring castles, the so-called “Eltz Feud”. The Armoury and Treasury of Eltz Castle is considered as one of the most important collections of its kind in Europe. The knights Hall is the most significant room in the castle. The walls in the Knights Hall of Eltz Castle, the central meeting place of the Knights of Eltz, are decorated with jesters’ heads. They symbolise freedom of speech, and a reminder not to overestimate one’s self-importance. The Rose of Silence decorates the Knights Hall as well as the canopy of the large bed in the Rübenach bed Chamber. It symbolised the promise that the spoken word would not leave the room.

The Rodendorf Kitchen is one of the favourite spots among visitors. It houses a vivid representation of medieval life. The Rübenach and Rodendorf families’ homes in the castle are open to the public, while the Kempenich branch of the family uses the other third of the castle.

Image Source: Burg Eltz

Many castles in the Rhine region were destroyed during the Palatine Wars of Succession from 1688 to 1689. During this period Hans Anton zu Eltz-Üttingen played an important role in preserving Eltz Castle. As a high officer in the French army, he managed to delete the castle from the official list of buildings to be destroyed. An “unofficial” French raid of Eltz Castle was only prevented by brave intervention of the people of Müden, who lured the marauders into a ripe cornfield and then set fire to the field with their unwanted visitors. It was a lucky turn that the castle never saw any battle action after the Eltz Feud. This was not least owed to clever family politics, shrewd diplomacy and occasional support from neighbours. The Eltz family was awarded the “Großes Palatinat”, the privilege to act on behalf of the Emperor, to elect notaries, to legitimise illegitimate children, to award coats of arms with shield and helmet décor to ordinary citizens, to appoint public judges and scribes, to free serfs and many more.

During the Romantic era in the 19th century and its rekindled interest in the Middle Ages, Count Karl zu Eltz began restoring his ancestral castle. Unlike many similar projects in the 19th century, he did not alter the castle, but cleverly restored it – something that is still praised by expert viewers today.
The present owner of the castle, Dr. Karl Graf von und zu Eltz-Kempenich, alias Faust von Stromberg, lives in Frankfurt am Main. With the help of German Stimulus Program II and the German Foundation for the Protection of Monuments the castle could be extensively restored between 2009 and 2012. From 1965 to 1992, an engraving of Eltz Castle was used on the German 500 Deutsche Mark note. 

The castles of Germany surely bring the fantastical world to the realms of reality. One can experience a fairy tale while getting lost in the charming history. The unexplored past adds to the mystery of these castles. So if you love a good mystery and history, then these castles are a good place to start with.

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