Forget the news about efficiency, debt bailout packages, Oktoberfest records and NSA phone-tapping – Germany really is just one big fairytale.
Like many young girls, I grew up reading and was read the classical fairy tales from The Brothers Grimm (Die Gebrüder Grimm) and Hans Christian Andersen. Yes very cliched, but just for the record – Rapunzel, The Princess and the Pea and Snow White were my favourites.
Little did I know that decades later I would live amongst the settings and inspiration of my childhood fantasies. Since moving, I have managed to prance around the royal gardens and courtyards of some (or, lets say a handful) of Germany’s many palaces and castles.
With its rich royal history, it is no surprise that Bavaria’s landscape is dotted with elaborate remnants of the past. With over 50 royal residences in Bavaria alone, it is safe to say that what I’ve seen so far is merely a glimpse. Nevertheless, let me begin with one of the ‘favourites’,
Schloss Neuschwanstein, Bayern
Bavaria’s infamous Märchenkönig (the fairy tale king) King Ludwig II left his legacy of extravagance through the multiple architectural monuments he commissioned using royal funds. The most popular of such monuments, Schloss Neuschwanstein, is nestled in the mountainsides of Hohenschwangau, in the south of Bavaria.
Neuschwanstein, serving as an inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderalla castle and a popular tourist destination all year round, recently welcomed me with its grandeur. As a friend and doter of Richard Wagner’s, King Ludwig II took inspiration from Wagner’s operas in desigining the interior of the castle – resulting in some interesting features throughout – for example a room designed as a grotto, inspired by Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera. The winter backdrop was truly magical and walking through the open rooms you can’t help imagining yourself gliding across the marble floors in a beaded silk gown and a sweet Prince Charming on your arm.
Sadly, the young King didn’t spend too much time in the castle, nor was it complete before he died. The grand ballroom, with its excellent acoustics and top condition, is regularly used for exquisite concerts.
Please note my lack of photos of the castle’s interior, photography is not permitted within the castle.
Schloss Nymphenburg, München
The birthplace of the beloved fairytale King, Schloss Nymphenburg is located in the beautiful residential suburb of Nymphenburg in Munich. Serving as the summer residence of the electors of the Wittelsbach dynasty in the 17th century, Schloss Nymphenburg boasts luxury and finesse in its baroque architecture, set on a backdrop of pristine parklands. With various halls, some designed in Rococo style, the palace is also used as a meeting place for theatre and music.
The palace’s garden and parklands are overwhelmingly stunning, and hold title as one of Germany’s best designed gardens. Covering over 200 hectares, containing multiple smaller ‘special’ gardens, and its own canal (used as a popular ice-skating spot in the winter), the parklands have been designed in english style with elements of Palace Versailles baroque architecture completing the aesthetic. Well maintained all-year round – the parklands are definitely worthy of a royal stroll.
München’s city palace, which served as the royal residence’s for Bavaria’s monarchs of the Wittelsbach dynasty, is located in the heart of the city and holds title as Germany’s largest city palace (ofcourse, only in Bavaria!) With 10 courtyards, 130 rooms decorated in a mix of Renaissance, Rococo and, Baroque and Neo-Classicism – the palace in its original state was not short of gold trimmings and marble. Throughout their individual reign, the monarchs commissioned extensions and reconstructions of the palace, leaving their mark through architecture and interior design. Due to the damage left behind from World War 2, the Residenz has been largely restored, albeit with slightly simpler interpretations – (while the Kings would spare no expense, such use of taxpayers would be nowadays absurd!). Today the Residenz serves as a premier concert venue for classical music and with its large collection of royal paraphernalia, the Schatzkammer (treasury) is an excellent place to catch a glimpse of the lifestyle and wealth of the monarchs.
Whilst often the postcard photo of Munich’s tourist scene, the Residenz’s Hofgarten (royal garden) is one of my favourite spots in the city. With seasonal blooms and a fence of roses in summer, finding a moment of peace in the city here is not too difficult.
Imperial Castle, Nürnberg
In the politically-rich city of Nürnberg you will find the imperial castle, resting neatly above the city and old town. Dated back to the 12th century, the castle compound is contained within a solid wall foundation – revealing its medieval history. While I was too late to catch the castle tour the last time I visited the city, I managed to climb up to the tower – thus able to appreciate the best view of the city in my favourite autumn colours.
Heading now towards the region of Franconia in north Bavaria, and situated on the Main River, you will find Würzburg and its impressive Residenz. Located within the city, the Residenz was commissioned by two elected prince bishops in 1720 and was completed in 1744. There is no doubt that the Residenz can be described as grand, not only from its size, but also from its manicured gardens and in particular from its Baroque style staircase that leads your eye up to the fresco that covers the entirety of the ceiling in the Imperial Hall.
Festung Marienberg (Marienberg Fortress), Würzburg
I am yet to take the steps up to the Fortress, but it is easily admirable from further away…
With the Fortress serving as a picturesque backdrop, Würzburg’s ‘Alte Main Brücke‘ , the old bridge crossing the Main, is a popular destination in the warmer months for a sundowner and draws many people together – wine glass in hand – to enjoy the atmosphere.
Wertheimer Burg, Wertheim
Although not far from Würzburg, Wertheim – which is situated on the junction of the Main and Tauber rivers – crosses over into the state of Baden Würrtemberg.
Developments on the Wertheimer Burg began in the 12th century and after having withstood a while without harm, it faced multiple destructions in the 17th – and had remained in ruins for centuries to follow. Restorations in the 1980s took place to reconstruct a good portion of the castle’s shell, wall and towers – and in doing so reinventing Wertheim’s medieval past.
When Alex took me up to the Wertheimer Burg in the summer of 2011, I knew I was in my happy place. This was the first castle I had seen within Germany and I was impressed. I won’t rule out the possibility of a connection here, but it was only a mere two months after this visit that I decided to make the move over. It, and its town it strides above, made an impression on me.
On a clear day the Burg glistens in the sun on its perch amongst the hills of Wertheim. In the evenings, the lights of the Burg create a golden glow – a beacon in the hills above the town. During summer, the walls of the castle host summer concerts and festivals, as well as offerring a romantic spot to soak in the view with a beer.
I have ventured up the cobblestones a few times since, climbing the spiral tower to the top to see how far my eyes can travel along the Main river – all the while pretending I am a medieval princess.
Burg Eltz, Rhineland Pfalz (Rhineland Palatinate)
The royal tour continues west towards the Rhineland Palatinate (Rhineland Pfalz) where, sitting above the Mosel River between the cities of Koblenz and Trier you will find the baroque style castle Burg Eltz.
Belonging to one of Germany’s most famous castles, Burg Eltz was built in the 12th century and holds the interesting characteristic of being commissioned and lived in by three separate families of the Eltz heir, the castle castle quarters thus containing distint separations and living quarters.
For the last 800 years however, the castle has remained in hands of the one family and was recently restored and made open to the public through guided tours – to showcase the history and treasures of the castle’s heritage.
As you can see, I am a bit spoilt here. The abundance of luxury, history, architecture, art and landscapes means I am never short of inspiration and places to explore. And while a life of spiral staircases, hidden rooms of golden treasures, servants and royal balls does sound awfully tempting, I am certain that with the life and love I have I will live happily ever after.
P.S – here’s a vocabulary tip that used to often confuse Burg = a castle, while Berg = a mountain.