Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Another Day, Another Castle

Hohenschwangau Courtyard Fountain
Burg Stahleck in Bacharach Germany
It is amazing that something as cool as a castle can become, well sort of common place. Both my husband and I wanted to see a castle or two. He absolutely loves the history, the architecture and of course all that armor. It turns him into an 8 year old boy. 

We started our trip in the Rhine Valley where there seemed to be a castle on every corner, quite literally. They liter the banks of the Rhine as they overlook what was the major shipping channel of the age. Today they've been turned into magnets for tourism, hotels, some are hostels and a quite a few are just left as ruins. No matter, we loved them all and could not get enough of them. At least in the beginning. Absolutely every one we saw would be a shout out "oh! look another castle!" We'd pull over, and start snapping away. Several of the them ended in muddy back roads that led to nowhere as the castle didn't have a road and wasn't receiving the hoards of tourists.

Burg Eltz
By far the best castle we toured was one of the early ones. Just over the hills of the Rhine in the Moselle Valley is one called Burg Eltz. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, not strategically positioned for anyone. And likely why it survived the bombings of WWII, and one of only 2 castles in the area that were never destroyed through the ages. The castle is still owned by a branch of the original family who have lived there since the 12th century (33 generations).

One of the most interesting things about this particular castle was the family's ability to share. There were three family branches living here, which meant 3 households, 3 kitchens, and multiple additions to house for their growing needs. So each successor, whose inheritance was too small to build a castle on his own, simply contributed to building a castle together. Today the castle is 8 stories, has fortified walls with over 100 rooms. This also meant 100+ family members could live in the castle, which meant reinforcement when attackers arrived at the doorstep. The family ecosystem was a built-in process to collaboration and sharing. A model to learn from.

Hohenschwangau Swan Fountain
So after touring this castle, we started to compare them all to this one. And we saw quite a lot of them. 

Neuschwanstein in the distance
All along the Romantic Road of Germany (a concept that was developed after WWII to encourage a return to German tourism). It runs through 28 towns (dating to the medieval age) along a scenic route that rambles from the lower Rhine Valley to through much of Bavaria ending at the fantasy castle of Neuschwanstein (the one everyone photographs and Disney uses as it logo). 

We did end our travels along the Romantic road in Fussen as we thought it would make more sense to stay overnight near the castles vs. trying to do a day trip from Munich. Which is smart if you want to visit this area. However, be warned this is hands down the most touristy location of our entire trip. We honestly had no idea it was.  Upon arrival we were swarmed with bus loads of tourists coming in for the day (presumably from Munich). And while we arrived at noon, tickets (yes you must buy a ticket to tour a castle) were completely sold out for the day. The lines were long with waiting times of several hours. We decided that since we were there, we would bite the bullet and try for tickets the following morning. Highly recommend this strategy since you cannot reserve in advance. 

The hike up to Hohenschwangau
Hohenschwangau Two Swan Fountain 
Both castles require a hike up to the location. All castles seem to be built on hills, steep hills. It gives them a strategic advantage to the surrounding area. We decided to tour Hohenschwangau (meaning highlands of the swans, and yes everything seemed to be a swan throughout the castle). This is the castle that the legendary (aka crazy) King Ludwig II grew up in. He decided that he would build a second castle over on the other hill that was bigger, grander and with more bragging rights. This is the famous Neuschwanstein castle, which he supervised the building of, but which was never fully completed (at least on the inside). Had it been completed, it would have had 200+ rooms, but ultimately only 15 rooms were finished. Thus why we toured the original castle and snapped pictures of the other. The castle was still incomplete when King Ludwig died in 1886, and there after became a lucrative revenue source for the Bavarian royal family who opened it to paying visitors.

Due to its secluded location, the castle survived both WWI and WWII. In addition the Nazis used it as a hidden depot for plunder taken from wealthy Jews. Hitler's dream was to create a "Furhrermuseum" with an estimated 5 million pieces of artwork and cultural items he had stolen which included masterpieces from artists like Michelangelo, da Vinci and Vermeer. In April of 1945, the SS considered blowing it up to prevent the building and the artwork falling into enemy hands, but was in the end surrendered to Allied forces. Clearly, we enjoyed touring the many castles and learning more about the history behind each one. They all have stories to tell.


  1. My now deceased ex husband was allegedly related to Mad King Ludwig, which actually explained his raging mental health and alcohol issues. His family also was from the town of Tann (fam name being von der Tann) and they owned a castle there too. Small one. When his grandparents visited Germany, they tracked down the address and went there. Apparently the distant German relatives were less than thrilled at the Americans that showed up to say hi. I think it was literally a meeting at the door, 'that's nice, bye' and shut the door.

  2. Spectacular! So many beautiful things to see and so much history. I absolutely love it.

  3. The photos are fantastic! Castles are so intriguing. King Ludwig II is definitely an eccentric I would have loved to have met in another time. I watched a documentary on his structures and was glued to the tv! The towers of Burg Eltz are so charming. How interesting about the branches within it.

  4. Burg Eltz is spectacular! We have a couple of castles in this area too, but none as large as along the Rhine. I visited Neuschwanstein as a child. Crowded, but beautiful place :)

  5. Incredible! The only castle I've ever seen is the Hearst Castle! :) What amazes me is how they built these huge places in the time periods they did. Another reason I need to go to Europe!

  6. The closets I have been to a castle is the Disney on ah! but seriously these castles are amazing!

  7. Wow, can you imagine watching one be built! Layer by layer all the way to the top!

  8. So very cool! I've been to a lot of castles in the UK, but none on the Continent that I remember. We'd really like to visit Europe, but we're waiting until we're on the East Coast again! Or least on the Mainland. It looks like your trip was pretty cool! I'm somehow not that surprised that the tickets were sold out at Neuschwanstein. I feel like it's the most recognized/popular castle in Germany! Maybe even the world.

  9. What a wonderful vacation!

    One of my all-time favorite memories is of the Neuschwanstein castle. While visiting my brother (who was stationed in Germany at the time), we took a road trip. Out of the misty morning appeared this castle. Just like a fairy tale. When we got closer and pulled off the road for pictures, I could hear all of the cow bells ringing, as a herd moved towards us, probably wondering what we were doing.

    So magical.

    Your blog posts are bringing back lots of happy memories.

  10. Looks like an absolutely stunning, spectacular, amazing vacation!! Great photos. I can't imagine how they are harvesting the grapes on that vineyard in Germany!!!


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