Tag Archives: #germany

Burg Hohenzollern: a nearly impenetrable castle

Castle Hohenzollern in Germany
Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern is one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe. Burg is the German word for fortified castle. Burg Hohenzollern is located in the German state of Baden-Württemburg between the counties of Hechingen and Bisingen The exact date of the castle‘ s construction is unknown, but is believed to be around the year 1061 C.E. The castle can be divided into three distinct periods. The first period from 1061-1423.  The second period from 1454 until 1634, and the third period is from the restoration in 1850 until the present.

The First Castle period

The First period
The first known resident of the Castle was recorded in 1061. The Castle Hohenzollern certainly lived up to it’s name because from as it was able to protect it’s inhabitants for 156 years and was only breached in 1423 after nearly a year long siege by the Swabian imperial cities, the Hohenzollern surrendered the castle, which was promptly destroyed. After the Hapsburg allies and the Francian branch of the Hohenzollern intervened, the castle was once again returned to the Hohenzollern family.

The Second Castle Period

Burg Hohenzollern was reconstructed in 1454 with improved fortifications and again inhabited by the Hohenzollern family. The Castle survived the 30 years war and remained in the Hohenzollern family until 1634, when it was conquered by the Kingdom of Württemberg and then by the Hapsburgs in 1744 in the war of Austrian succession.

The Third Castle Period

The castle then fell into disrepair and by 1798 only the chapel remained usable. Under King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, reconstruction began in 1850 and was completed in 1867 by King Wilhelm I. Though the castle was once again returned to the Hohenzollern family (Francian-Prussian branch), the castle never again became a residency of any of the Hohenzollern.

A brief history of the Hohenzollern

The Hohenzollern are one of the oldest noble families of Germany. The family originated in around the town of Hechingen and took the name of the Castle Hohenzollern. The family then split into two distinct lines with the Swabian branch remaining Roman Catholic while the Frankish and later Prussian branch became Protestant. The later branch went on to unify Germany, creating the German Empire in 1871.

Burg Hohenzollern: A nearly impenetrable fortress


The Hohenzolern Castle, like the Castle Lichtenstein, designed to survive military conflict in the middle ages. The outer walls are 10m thick at some points with tunnels going through the castle walls. Breaking the castle walls down as portrayed in the movies are works of fiction, and this is assuming the invading army makes it to the top of the 855m high peak with a winding road through the forest. In Game of Thrones, Ser Jamie Lannister beseiges House Tulley at Riverrun. Though that castle had a moat, what the enemy had was a nice flat field to dig trenches and set up support well out of the way of any archers. The terrain surrounding Hohenzollern castle is far less forgiving leaving little room to set up any siege equipment and plenty of room for forces loyal to the castle lore to set up ambushes. Any approaching army would be at a severe disadvantage as ambushes could be set to weaken the approaching army.

Difficult to reach
The unfriendly approach

 

When I first heard that the outer castle walls were 10m thick, I was skeptical, until I walked through the castle walls. Walking through the castle walls you can get an idea of just how formidable the castle’s defenses are. The weapons of the day were no match for these defenses. This is also an excellent place to store provisions for a long wait.

The main gate gives archers perfect firing position while keeping the distance from the main wail to prevent it from damage. This windows are perfect for raining volleys of arrows on a besieging army. Keep in mind, that in the middle ages, it wasn’t just the wounds from arrows which were dangerous. Defending armies often dipped arrows in human waste so that if the puncture didn’t hit a vital organ, the infection almost certainly killed the enemy soldiers. So in the end, the residents of Castle Hohenzollern have the advantage. They can weaken an approaching enemy and leisurely kill off any enemy outside of its gates. The only way to win for an attacking army is to starve the residents into submission and even then, it took nearly a year the only time siege was successful against the castle.

Inside the Castle Walls

 

After Hohenzollern castle was rebuilt, it never again became the residence of any Prussian Hohenzollern, except briefly in 1952 when the Crown Prince Wilhlelm, the stayed in the castle while fleeing Soviet forces at the end of World War II.

Chappels

On the grounds of Castle Hohenzollern, there are three chapels for the Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox denominations.

The oldest chapel is the Catholic chapel St. Michael. This building is the only structure which dates back to the second castle period and was build between 1453-1461. An interesting feature is the stained glass windows which date back to 1280 which were taken from a former convent of Stetten (now a district in Hechingen).

The Protestant chapel is the Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial chapel, modeled after the Naumberger cathedral. The apostolic gate is from the Kaiser-Wilhelm memorial church in Berlin.

The Russian Orthodox chapel was build by Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia for his wife Kira who was Russian Orthodox.

Armory and Treasury:
Crown of King Wilhelm II
Crown of King Wilhelm II

This room contains an assortment of medieval weapons and armor. It also contains personal belongings of the royal family including a gown from Queen Louise, a tunic which Friederick the Great wore in the battle of Kunersdorf, Also on display are his crutches, two flutes. Also on display is the King Wilhelm II’s crown which contains 18 diamonds (pictured above). For those interested in the American Revolution, there is original letters between Friedrich von Steuben and President George Washington. The letter from Friedrich von Steuben is pledging his financial support and military knowledge in exchange for receiving a commission as a General in George Washington’s army. The letter from George Washington is thanking Friedrich von Steuben for his service and support.

Of all the castles, this is easily my favorite. Burg Hohenzollern contains lots of priceless paintings and medieval artifacts. Walking around the castle grounds gives you the feel of living in the middle ages. This castle is a must see for anyone traveling to Germany.

Good bye from Hohenzollern!
Good bye from Hohenzollern!

 

Sources:

http://www.burg-hohenzollern.com/startpage.html

http://www.sirtripsalot.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=515&action=edit

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burg_Hohenzollern

Schloss Lichtenstein: an authentic medieval castle

Castle Lichtenstein
Schloss Lichtenstein

If you’re not from Europe and never visited Europe, your perception of a castle is probably very different from the reality of medieval castles. Thanks to fiction castles are often portrayed as as old fashioned mansions for the handsome prince and to whisk the princess to live happily ever after. They were luxurious for their time, but castles had one main purpose: battle. This will be part of our ongoing series of authentic medieval European castles. The Castle (Schloss) Lichtenstein is a small castle near the German city of Reutlingen which I can only recommend for any traveler for an inexpensive, yet educational visit.

Castle Lichtenstein
Schloss Lichtenstein-Old Castle

A brief history of Schloss Lichtenstein

After 50 years under construction, the castle Lichtenstein was completed in 1150 CE and first inhabited by the Knights of Lichtenstein1. The same noble family continued to possess the fortress at Lichtenstein until the last of their linage died fighting the Turkish invasion of 1687. Throughout its history the old castle was destroyed twice in battle between the citizens of the free city of Reutlingen and the lords of the castle in 1311 and 1388. After the castle was destroyed a second time, a new fortress was constructed. The new fortress was considered one of the best fortified castles and was never again destroyed. After the last of the Lichtenstein family, Ensign Anton of Lichtenstein died fighting the Turkish invasion of 1687, the castle was abandoned until King Friedrich of Württemburg purchased the castle in 1802 and turned it into a hunting lodge. King Wilhelm I of Würtemburg later sold the castle to Duke Wilhelm of Urach and the castle is still owned by the Urach family.

Castle Lichtenstein Armory
The Armory at Schloss Lichtenstein

Inside Schloss Lichtenstein

Above pictured is the armory with original weapons and body armor. One of the things that striking is how poorly nourished people were in the middle ages. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this particular piece of armor but visitors can view a display of a set of small squire’s armor. In those days, most boys became squires at 14 or 15. This particular armor would be about perfect for a modern 10 year old boy, but certainly wouldn’t fit a healthy 14 year old.
Chapel

The Chapel. Most of the noble class had a chapel for them to go to church within the castle.

Visitors to Schloss Lichtenstein can view centuries old, hand carved wooden alter decorations and medieval paintings.

Above you’ll find the family’s dining area and the lord of the castle’s bedroom.

Outside Schloss Lichtenstein

 

I really enjoyed my visit.  I visited the castle with my parents who’ve never been to Europe.  My dad is in the picture  in front of the castle gates.

Main gate Schloss Lichtenstein
Main gate Schloss Lichtenstein

Admission to the castle costs on 7 Euros for a guided tour and is a nice educational stop. There’s also a great beer garden to have lunch.

Fun facts about Schloss Lichtenstein:

1) A recent german language version of Sleeping Beauty was filmed at the castle in 2009.

2) The Castle was the primary inspiration for Cammy’s stage in Super Street Fighter II2

Footnotes

1http://www.schloss-lichtenstein.de/en/history-family/history
2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lichtenstein_Castle_%28W%C3%BCrttemberg%29

Out and about in Munich

Though I live in Munich, I am not a native of this city so I can fully understand tourists being impressed with this great city. I would like to point out a few of the most impressive sights that everyone must see when visiting Munich.

Marienplatz in Munich
Marienplatz: City Hall

One of the most impressive sites in Munich can be found at Marienplatz. One first notices that Marienplatz is a pedestrian only zone. In fact, the walkway between Marienplatz and Karlsplatz, roughly 1 kilometer, is a major shopping area that’s closed off to motorized vehicles. Being free from the distractions of cars, it’s a peaceful place to take a stroll. The building above, is the city hall. Munich’s city hall building is one of the more impressive city halls. It features Gothic architecture and figurines which move when the Glockenspiel plays music.

Glockenspiel
Glockenspiel

The figurines  portray a procession of people followed by a Bavarian knight jousting and defeating and Austrian knight.

Munich City Wall
Remnants of the Munich City Wall

Munich is a very old city. In Old German it means “where the monks live”, because the city originally settled by the Catholic church who immediately saw the strategic advantage of the city’s location and erected a toll bridge for all who wished to cross the Isar river. According to historical records, it was actually in 1156 Herzog Heinrich “the Lion” recognized how profitable controlling this area could be and seized the bridge from Bishop Otto. Herzog Heinrich then established the city of Munich (München), though the territory was disputed for an additional two years.  Like many medieval cities, Munich also had a city wall with a city gate because life was extremely dangerous at that time.

Marienplatz during the Beer Hall Putsch
Marienplatz during the Beer Hall Putsch

Marienplatz was where the standoff between forces loyal to the Weimar Republic and Hitler’s “Beer hall Putsch” in 1923. This was Hitler’s first attempt to seize power, but it failed, and Hitler was sentenced to 5 years in prison (serving only 6 months) for treason.

Odeonplatz
Odeonplatz

Another place that’s a must visit in Munich is Odeonplatz. Pictured above is Feldherrnhalle. It’s a replica of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florenz. The building was completed Friedrich von Gärtner at the request of King Ludwig I (the straight one) in 1844. The two marble lions guarding the entrance contain a hidden political statement. The left lion on the side of the baroque style Church of St. Kajetan has his mouth closed represents the church, while the lion with its mouth open represents the monarchy. Meaning in those days, “feel free to criticize the monarchy, but criticize the church.”

Victory Gate, Munich
Victory Gate

Though the Victory Gate in Munich was commissioned by King Ludwig I of Bavaria.  The victory gate was completed in 1852.  Instead of the chariot being pulled by horses, the chariot is instead pulled by four lions, the symbol of the House of Wittelsbach, the royal family of Bavaria.  During World War II, the Victory Gate sustained heavy damage.  After the gate was restored, the inscription ” Dem Sieg geweiht, vom Krieg zerstört, zum Frieden mahnend” or “Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, and dedicated to peace”.

Don’t miss our next tourist attraction article where we show the sites of Paris.