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April 07, 2017

Walk Through Germany’s Castles To See Fairytales Come Alive

Text by Apeksha Harihar

Imagine the knights and ladies of yore as you walk through ancient halls and rooms…

Germany’s heritage goes beyond a bounty of world war memorabilia and spilling mugs of draught beer. The true history of the country seeks refuge on the steps leading to its medieval castles. Home to ancient kings, who sprinkled these castles around the country like pepper (20,000 to be precise), these are built in every size and shape. They lie within clandestine villages that might not make it to the typical European backpacking itinerary of a traveller, but have a magnetic effect on a seasoned one.

Since time immemorial the castles have been arousing fantasy and escape in the minds of millions. Even King Ludwig of the 19th century, probably the most famous German royal, fell prey, building the Neuschwanstein Castle that went on to inspire Cinderella’s castle in the Walt Disney film and become a world-renowned destination. Adding to the experience here, are several horse carriages waiting to give visitors a ride to the main entrance. It’s no wonder that the Grimm brothers who lived in Germany penned popular fairy tales like Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel and others — the stories hardly feel delusional after setting foot here.

King Ludwig acquired the Bavarian throne at a young age and was diagnosed as mad after losing several battles. To escape reality, he began spending lavishly on commissioning the construction of plentiful castles down south. The fairy- tale architecture became epic in the 19th century, influencing other princes throughout Germany; each contributing a fantastic treasure for future generations.

The Hohenschwangau Castle, where Ludwig grew up, lies in the same valley as Neuschwanstein. With the backdrop of the looming Alps, you can only imagine the royal life replete with hunts and balls. His bedroom still has the golden telescope, which he used to supervise the construction of Neuschwanstein. Walking in the corridors of Hohenschwangau and listening to the stories of royal history beats watching animated fairy tales hands down. The wooden doors of the castle, gold-washed interiors, relics and mostly intact antique furniture give it a more homely feel than the commercialised Neuschwanstein.

Begin travelling towards the north and many more iconic castles that homed the royals invite holidaymakers for some exciting time travel. The Hohenzollern Castle is a three-hour drive from Neuschwanstein. The first of three fortresses on that site, rising above the towns of Hechingen and Bisingen, dates back to the 11th century. The silhouette of the castle, with its innumerable towers and fortifications, can be spotted from a great distance away. The closer one gets, the more vivid its earthy colours seem to become. It was only between 1846 and 1867 that Frederick William IV, the King of Prussia, renovated the abandoned castle. In a letter he wrote, ‘The memories of the year 1819 are exceedingly dear to me and like a pleasant dream, it was especially the sunset we watched from one of the castle bastions…now this adolescent dream turned into the wish to make the Hohenzollern castle habitable again….’ Though no member of the Hohenzollern family was ever in permanent or temporary residence here, the castle was full of life, Prussian art, and gold and silver antiques. During December, Hohenzollern castle hosts a charming Christmas market. At this time of the year, hundreds of visitors hang out here.

The area around Hohenzollern is influenced heavily by neo-Gothic architecture. Lichtenstein castle is just a few valleys away and has been nicknamed Neuschwanstein’s little brother. It is probably the smallest castle in the country, inspired by Wilhelm Hauff’s novel Lichtenstein which translates to ‘light coloured stone’. The castle was used for the filming of Dornröschen, the original Sleeping Beauty by the Grimm brothers, in 2009.

Speaking of pop culture, another castle in Germany that has featured in a film is Eltz Castle, which appeared in the Golden Globe-winning The Ninth Configuration. It is perched atop a rock in the middle of thick forest between the Koblenz and Trier regions in the north of Germany. Today, it is privately owned by the 33rd generation of the Eltz family and houses 800 years of rich antiquity. More than 80 rooms with private fireplaces and hand-painted beds are beautifully restored and an original kitchen illustrates the domestic lives of the German nobility. What makes it really interesting, however, is its dark past. It has come to be known as a haunted castle, the staff claims, while narrating an old love story, adding further to the romance and mystic of the German castle of yore.

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