Let’s face it: We are all more or less fascinated with castles. In Europe we almost take them for granted. Our ancestors have been exploited during their built. And though the US have managed to break away from aristocracy long before Europeans, there are still quite a few architectural structures that imitate the grandeur of castles, palaces, halls, and aristocratic mansions over here.
One of the most imitated European castles is what so many call Disney castle – probably because “Neuschwanstein” is so hard to pronounce. Actually, it’s not. Just try it: Noy-‘shvuhn-shtine. There you go! Maybe it’s because of its turrets and its (not so unique) location on a rock that people love it so. Also, it looks as if it were from the Middle Ages. It is not. Because, let’s face it, most of those medieval structures have been razed by hostile forces in their times. Basically, Neuschwanstein is pretty fake in comparison to other German castles and palaces – and as insignificant. A creation of a 19th century slightly unbalanced Bavarian king with minor historical importance, who used to roam his palaces in solitude.
Other touristy castles are Heidelberg, of course, and Sanssouci in Potsdam. Both played their roles in German history, for sure. And if any of you ever took a cruise on the River Rhine, you will have encountered the numerous castles and ruins on top of the cliffs overlooking the Rhine gorge.
My hometown, Stuttgart, boasts two castles smack-dab in its center. The older one was built in 1292 as a water fortress, and today it is used as the state’s museum. And there is a so-called New Castle, built in baroque style, just kitty corner from the old one on the central Schlossplatz (pronounce ‘shloss-pluts), i.e. Castle Square. This one is very much in use for official purposes of all kinds, and European royalty has set their foot into it quite regularly. As a “normal” citizen you usually get to see only very few rooms of the new castle. Which is why nearby Ludwigsburg Castle gets all the tourism – but we have to be fair: The Ludwigsburg’s baroque park is as astonishing as the castle’s interior. And a further attraction is the fairytale theme park within its boundaries.
Yes, Germany is peppered with the ruins of old fortresses, with old castles, palaces, and mansions. If you’d like to get an impression of what you miss out on while you are still contemplating “Disney Castle” for your next trip, just check out Lakewood author Ed Kane’s beautiful book “Roads to Ruins” (www.roadstoruins.com). Maybe you will reconsider your traveling route.
Apropos: Lakewood has its own very beautiful castle, built in Tudor gothic style (though obviously with state-of-the-art sanitary engineering) – Thornewood Castle. It even comes with presidential history. Hollywood used the location for a number of series and movies, amongst them “There Will be Blood” with Daniel Day Lewis. Built as the gift for a bride shortly after 1907, the building and grounds contain ancient elements sold off by British castles and might make you reconsider about going to the trouble of traveling to Europe at all, as you can even book a stay there. I have a feeling even the British might be fooled by this fine piece of historical castle architecture.
Whichever – European castles are a bit like our archetypical princess dream, I think. For a moment we step into a world that is unreal. We breathe history. And then we return to enjoy our modern creature comforts.