To visit a German castle is to step into a fairy tale setting, where castles sit atop high mountain peaks, their towers and turrets reaching to the sky. Germany is famous for its castles, with their pasts filled with knights, dukes and the devastation of wars. The castles, which boast a rich history, have been restored to their former glory and, in some cases, are lived in by families of the founders. Their treasures include previous artifacts, paintings, furniture and weapons.
The Reichsburg Castle in Cochem was built around 1000 by a palatinate count, and later changed hands when an emperor pawned it to pay for his coronation. It was nearly destroyed in the 17th century when French King Louis XIV invaded the region. The castle was rebuilt in Neo-Gothic style. Sitting on a hill overlooking the Moselle River, the castle has an impressive display of Renaissance and Baroque furniture.
Mespelbrunn Castle began as a simple house built on the water by an early 15th century knight. Located within the Spessart forest between Frankfurt and Wurzburg, the castle may lack the gingerbread look of other German castles, but its simple beauty makes it one of the most visited water castles in Germany. Indeed, it has been described as one of the loveliest castles in Europe. This northern Bavaria castle is privately owned, but the family opens its doors to tourists throughout the year. Taking a walk on the paths throughout the castle grounds is highly recommended by past visitors.
Wartburg Castle was founded in the 11th century, but its fame dates from a few centuries later. Located in Eisenach, Martin Luther hid out here while he finished translating the Bible in the early 16th century. In the 20th century, Adolf Hitler wanted the castle to take down its cross and replace it with a swastika. One of the best preserved medieval castles in Germany, visitors have the option of taking a hike up a steep slope to reach the castle or take a shuttle bus.
Lichtenstein Castle is one of Germany’s newer castles, built only in the 19th century to honor the medieval knights of Lichtenstein. A castle stood on the site as early as the 12th century, but fell into disrepair until the current castle was built. It stands boldly atop a hill, accessible by a stone bridge stretching to another hill. Located in the Swabian Alps near Honau, the Neo-Gothic castle is known for its collection of historic weapons and armor.
Schwerin Castle sits on an island in the main lake at Schwerin, where a castle reportedly stood as early as the 10th century. For many centuries, it was home to the grand dukes of Mecklenburg. In the 20th century, it was a college for kindergarten teachers and a museum. Today the castle serves as a museum and as a government building for the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state parliament. Visitors with an interest in the paranormal will want to look for Petermännchen, the resident ghost who has been spotted wearing 17th century garb. The castle, with its many towers and turrets, is considered a prime example of Europe’s historicist architecture.
Heidelbeg castle is located 80 meters (260 ft) up the northern part of a hillside, and dominates the view of the old center of Heidelberg. The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. It has had a long and turbulent history since the earliest castle structure was built in the 13th century. Having been totally destroyed during the Thirty Years War, and later by the French in the 17th century, the castle was struck by lightning in 1764 and even its stones were taken to build new houses in Heidelberg. All the subsequent rebuilding has led to a variety of architectural styles which adds to the castle’s charm.
Maximillian II, father of Ludwig II, discovered Hohenschwangau Castle when he was still the Crown Prince. The vicinity in which he found it pleased him immensely. In spite of it being in ruins, he bought the castle and had it renovated. When the work was complete, Maximillian used it as a hunting lodge, and for a summer palace. Ludwig II reigned after Maximillian died in 1864. He never married, so his mother remained at this home for the rest of her life. It is located in the village of Hohenschwangau near the town of Füssen.
Burg Eltz Castle is situated near the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier. It has been the ancestral home of the Rübenach, Rodendorf and Kempenich families since it was built in the 12th century; the castle still boasts some of the original furnishings. The castle sits on a huge rock in the middle of a forest. Its medieval architecture is unique; also contributing to the uniqueness is the fact that it has never been touched by war. Its armory, filled with gold and silver artifacts, as well as porcelain and jewelry, is considered one of the best in Europe. The castle’s exterior was featured in the 1979 movie, “The Ninth Configuration”.
Sitting atop Mount Hohenzollern, the castle had its beginnings in the 11th century. The original castle was destroyed over the centuries with only the chapel remaining. The present castle was built in the mid-19th century by King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Located 50 km (30 miles) south of Stuttgart, the castle is the ancestral home of the Hohenzollern family, from which emperors and kings have emerged. Today the castle is a museum unlike any other. It is filled with treasures including the crown worn by Prussian kings and a uniform worn by Frederick the Great. One of the most visited castles in Germany, it is privately owned.
The most photographed building in Germany, Neuschwanstein Castle, is also one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Nestled among the breathtaking beauty of the Bavarian Alps near the town of Fussen, this fairy-tale castle served as the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Constructed in the late 1800s, Neuschwanstein was never built for defense purposes as most castles. Instead, this castle was created as a fanciful retreat for Ludwig II of Bavaria. Dazzling chandeliers and beautiful paintings adorn every room in the castle while the third floor is devoted to Ludwig’s fascination of swan scenes from operas by the famous composer Richard Wagner, whom Ludwig deeply admired.