by Rick Steves, September 11, 2020

As we have had to postpone our travels because of the pandemic, I think a weekly dose of travel dreaming can be great medication. Here’s a reminder of the entertaining that awaits us in Europe at the other end of this disaster.

Germany can overwhelm you with far too quite a few castles in far too minimal time. My three favorites are the distant and wonderfully preserved Burg Eltz, the ruined but powerful Rheinfels, and the nineteenth-century fantasy of Neuschwanstein.

Burg Eltz is my preferred castle in all of Europe. Lurking in a mysterious forest above the Mosel River, it is furnished during as it was 500 many years ago. Many thanks to good diplomacy and intelligent marriages, Burg Eltz was by no means ruined. It’s been in the Eltz spouse and children for 850 many years.

The first burg (castle) on the Eltz creek was designed in the twelfth century to guard a trade route. By about 1490, the castle looked like it does nowadays: the houses of three massive landlord people gathered all over a tiny courtyard inside 1 formidable fortification. Today, excursions wind by way of two of individuals houses (the 3rd is the caretaker’s residence). The elderly Countess of Eltz traces her roots again 33 generations. She enjoys bouquets and has had the castle’s community rooms adorned with grand floral preparations each 7 days for the past 40 many years.

It was a snug castle for its working day: eighty rooms produced cozy by 40 fireplaces and wall-hanging tapestries. Many of its twenty toilets ended up mechanically flushed by a rain drain.

Rheinfels Castle, both of those a great deal mightier and a great deal much more ruined, lords more than its bend in the nearby Rhine River. It sits like a lifeless pit bull above the village of St. Goar. This most formidable of Rhine castles rumbles with ghosts from its hard-fought earlier. Burg Rheinfels was designed in 1245 and withstood a siege of 28,000 French troops in 1692, the only Rhineland castle to face up to Louis XIV’s assault. But in 1797, the French Revolutionary Army ruined it. As soon as the largest castle on the Rhine, it spent the nineteenth century as a quarry. So nowadays, even though nonetheless mighty, it is only a tiny fraction of its original size, a hollow but evocative shell.

For hundreds of years, the enormous Rheinfels was self-sufficient and prepared for a siege. Throughout the age of sieging (which lasted right up until the advent of modern artillery), any proper castle was geared up to endure a 6-thirty day period assault. Circling the central courtyard, you would come across a bakery, pharmacy, herb backyard garden, brewery, well, and livestock. Throughout peacetime, about four hundred individuals lived in this article. Throughout a siege, there could be as quite a few as 4,000. Those 4,000 individuals needed a lot of provisions. The depend owned the surrounding farmland. In return for the lord’s security, farmers obtained to preserve twenty percent of their manufacturing. Afterwards, in much more liberal feudal situations, the nobility let them preserve 40 percent. (Today, the German federal government leaves personnel with 60 percent soon after taxes…and provides a couple much more solutions.)

Neuschwanstein is completely diverse. It’s the finest of the fairy-tale castles of King Ludwig II, whose extravagance and Romanticism gained him the title “Mad” King Ludwig…and an early demise.

Though it is only about as aged as the Eiffel Tower, Neuschwanstein Castle is a textbook instance of 19th­-century Romanticism. Immediately after the Middle Ages finished, individuals disparagingly named that era “Gothic,” or barbarian (“of the Goths”). Then, all of a sudden, in the 1800s, it was hip to be square, and a new Gothic model — or “Neo-Gothic” — grew to become all the rage. In the course of Europe, aged castles ended up restored and new ones designed, wallpapered with chivalry. King Ludwig II set his medieval fantasy on the hilltop not for defensive good reasons, but only because he liked the watch.

The lavish, Wagner-inspired inside, protected with damsels in distress, dragons, and knights in gleaming armor is enchanting. Ludwig had excellent taste…for a mad king. He was a political misfit: a poetic hippie king in the realpolitik age of Bismarck. Immediately after Bavarians complained about the cash Ludwig spent on castles, his sanity was questioned. Shortly soon after that, the 40-calendar year-aged king was observed lifeless in a lake underneath suspicious situation, ending perform on his medieval fantasy-occur-accurate. Ludwig practically bankrupted Bavaria constructing Neuschwanstein. But nowadays, Germany is recouping its financial investment a hundredfold as massive crowds from all more than the entire world spend to pack Europe’s most common castle.

Germany’s record is extended and quite a few-faceted. Regardless of whether noble residences with bouquets, feudal fortresses with rat-crammed dungeons, or Passionate palaces match for a king, its castles have turn into both of those amusement parks and lecture rooms.

This post was adapted from Rick’s new guide, For the Enjoy of Europe.

Rick Steves ( writes European guidebooks, hosts travel shows on community Tv and radio, and organizes European excursions. You can e mail Rick at [email protected] and comply with his site on Facebook.

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