Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Germany is home to many great things, including incredible beer, Christmas markets, and a top-notch train system. But the German cultural imaginary would not be complete without the many castles that are scattered across the country. There are roughly 12,000 castles in Germany, but the ten listed below are amongst the most fascinating.
1. Hohenzollern Castle
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Hohenzollern Castle is located in Baden-Wüttemburg, and with its original site dating back to the early 11th century, has an extensive history. It was the home of the House of Hohenzollern and is still privately owned by the family to this day. The castle was clearly built with military intent: its strategic location on top of a hill, at 855 metres above sea level, and its drawbridge and a winding Zwinger were all designed to improve defence. However, the castle’s aesthetics were also a clear priority, with the influential architect Friedrich August Stüler appointed for its design.
2. Neuschwanstein Castle
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Perhaps Germany’s most famous castle, given its influence on Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and its appearance in several films, Neuschwanstein attracts 1.3 million visitors each year, and even made it to the final of the 2007 ‘New7Wonders of the World’ competition. It was commissioned for Ludwig II of Bavaria, though he sadly died before its completion. It is relatively new, with construction beginning on 5th September 1869 and finishing around 1886. Originally, over 200 rooms were planned for the castle, however only around 15 were ever fully completed.
3. Lichtenstein Castle
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Wilhelm Hauff’s novel Lichtenstein inspired the construction of this castle in Baden-Wüttemburg. It is reminiscent of castles from the Middle Ages despite having been built between 1840 and 1842. Numerous designs were put forward for Lichtenstein, but ultimately Carl Alexander Heideloff was chosen as its architect, and he used the castle that had been on the site since 1390 as the foundations for the modern structure. Its interior boasts many decorative pieces, including one by Michael Wolgemut, who famously taught artist Albrecht Dürer. The castle was damaged during the Second World War, but has thankfully been restored to its former glory.
4. Eltz Castle
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One of only three castles in Rhineland-Palatinate which has never been destroyed (the other two being Bürrescheim and Lissingen), Eltz Castle has existed since the 9th century. Although its origins were humble, since it was not originally built as a castle, it now has over 100 rooms. Interestingly, it is divided into different sections because it is owned by three different family branches. This is also reflected in the appearance of the castle, which boasts various architectural styles. It is clearly recognised as an important aspect of German heritage since, from 1965 to 1992, it featured on the German 500 Deutsche Mark note. Between 2009 and 2012, the castle underwent a lot of necessary restoration and, along with other sources of funding, the German federal government provided €2 million to the work.
5. Schwerin Castle
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Schwerin Castle was the home of the dukes of Mecklenburg, or later Mecklenburg-Schwerin. An impressive example of Romantic historicism, the castle is sometimes given the nickname “Neuschwanstein des Nordens” (the Neuschwanstein of the north). A castle stood on its site as early as 973, but the official founding date is considered to be 1160. Many features of the castle are a lot newer, such as its 19th-century tower, dome and frontal gate, built under Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. There are many stories of the castle being haunted by a goblin called Petermännchen.
6. Braunfels Castle
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Braunfels Castle stands 328ft above the Lahn Valley and has been inhabited by the Counts of Oppersdorff and Solms-Braunfels since the 13th century. The castle was initially built as a defensive strategy to keep the Counts of Nassau at bay. Unfortunately, a great deal of the castle was destroyed in a fire in 1679. However, thanks to Count Heinrich Trajektin, it was reconstructed. It has had many additions since its initial construction, including its Knights’ Hall.
7. Wartburg Castle
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The construction of Wartburg castle began around 1067 and it has a very rich history. One of its most impressive claims is that this is where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German. The castle was extremely important as a court in the German Reich and hosted many great minds, such as Walther von der Vogelweide, a famous lyrical poet. However, despite its reputation, it became partially abandoned and was used as a refuge during the Thirty Years’ War. Additionally, after the Second World War, its famous weaponry collection was stolen by the Soviet Occupation Army, and most of the items are still missing to this day. UNESCO, recognising its importance, added the castle to the World Heritage List in 1999.
8. Wernigerode Castle
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Similar in style to Neuschwanstein, Wernigerode Castle is located in Saxony-Anhalt. It was completed in the 19th century, but its history goes back much further. In fact, the first mention of a settlement on its site was in 1121. The castle was rebuilt in a Baroque style during the 18th century, and then once again rebuilt in a Neo-Romantic style in 1893, under Count Otto.
9. Nordkirchen Castle
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It is unsurprising that Nordkirchen is often referred to as “das Westfälische Versailles” (the Versailles of Westphalia), given its extensive gardens of over 170 hectares and the fact that it is the region’s largest Wasserschloss (moat castle). There are many statues on its grounds, including many by Johann Wilhelm Gröninger. It was originally built for the von Morrien family, but has been home to several families since its construction. Today, it is now the site of the University of Applied Sciences of Finances North Rhine Westphalia.
10. Heidelberg Castle
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Lying in ruins, Heidelberg Castle is visible from most parts of the university town of Heidelberg in Baden-Württemberg. It was sadly demolished in the course of the Thirty Years’ War and the Nine Years’ War, leading to its abandonment. This attracted many famous artists, with J. M. W. Turner particularly fascinated by the ruins, depicting them in several of his paintings. Charles de Graimberg, a French count, campaigned for the castle’s preservation, and it was eventually partially restored, though at a huge financial cost.