Burg Hohenzollern

November 8, 2010

LTC . Steven Lamb,
US AFRICOM Public Affairs wrote

There is always something to see or do in Germany; you need only hit one of the many tourist sites to pick up a fistful of pamphlets covering everything from upcoming fests to castles or museums.  When my wife and I were at an appointment, she saw a photo of a beautiful castle on the wall.  She asked the receptionist about the picture we were suddenly planning a day to trip to Burg Hohenzollern or as the English speaking world knows it, Hohenzollern Castle.

 Located a short one-hour drive south of Stuttgart, the 80km (50 mile) drive down B27 to the castle winds through beautiful and scenic forests and fields which were particularly striking due to the fall season’s changing of leaves.  As far as we could see were green fields of grass separated by copse of trees of every fall color.

 You don’t exactly get surprised in finding this castle; it sets 855 meters above the Swabian Alb and the city of Hechingen.  There is a narrow road (very narrow for our Chevy Suburban) which winds half way up the hill to the main parking lot.  Here you have two choices, shuttle bus or hiking up this steep mountain….. I am no billy goat!  Besides, my wife and my 70 year-old parents were my reason / excuse for paying to take that shuttle!  The day was overcast, windy and quite cold; I love modern convenience when learning about history.

 The road just kept winding back and forth up the side of this mountain and through each break in the trees we saw more and more beautiful vistas. 

 When we finally came to the top were found ourselves staring up at the ancient walls of a real, honest-to-goodness medieval castle.   Our journey up didn’t stop there however, we had to continue hiking up a circular drive for another good stretch until we finally reached the battlements.

 The view was incredible.  The castle sits atop the mountain and you can get a 360 degree view of the entire region.  The castle itself is simply astounding.  It isn’t “commercial” like Disney’s inspiration the Neuschwanstein Castle; this place is rough rock and steel covered in ivy and populated by life-like statues of warriors.

  On the tower you can see the eagle shaped crest of the castle with all the individual heraldry of the families of the Prussian lineage.  Architectural art surrounds you with small alcoves and gardens which unfortunately were now dying due to the cold. 

 We opted for the guided tour, in part because you always learn more but also because it got us quickly inside and away from the weather.  It was a great decision though because what we saw inside was even more impressive than what was outside.  Regrettably they don’t allow cameras inside the buildings so you will just have to visit yourself to see the ornate carvings, the colorful paintings and the very regal furnishings.

 The main entrance hall has the family tree stretching up the walls with names dating from the 14th century.  At the very top the final name on the tree is the current owner of the castle.  George Frederick, the Prince of Prussia, who, according to our tour guide is a 34-year- old who studied business and economics and currently lives in Berlin.  Oh, she also said he was single; not sure where that benefitted us but she seemed excited about it.

 It turns out this isn’t the original castle but actually the third to be built on this site.  The first castle was built in the first half of the 11th century but it was destroyed in 1423, reportedly as a result of two brother’s feud over birthrights.  We learned that there had been a nine month siege preceding its destruction which was ironic to my father and me because, we both being Soldiers, had discussed on the shuttle bus up what a great defensible position this was.  I even made the comment that back in the 1400s I would want a Keep atop a mountain where I could stave off a siege for several months; weird! 

A second, larger castle was constructed between 1454 and 1460.  It had numerous owners until it became an Austrian military compound late in the 18th century.  According to our guide the military didn’t know how to take proper care of the castle and it fell into disrepair until it was uninhabitable. 

Finally, the current and largest of the three castles was reconstructed between 1850 and 1867 under the direction of King Frederick William IV who visited the ruined castle when he was a 23-year-old Crown Prince.  

The main entertainment hall is 25 meters long but it is slightly narrower at one end than the other to give the visible impression that it is much longer.  This hall can be rented for special occasions such as weddings and concerts.  It is lit by huge chandeliers which each hold around 42 real candles.  It is said that historical visitors could tell how wealthy the lord of the castle was by how long the candles were.  If they were having money problems the candles were shorter, oftentimes reused but if times were good they were very long.  On such evenings that they entertained, when the candles burnt out it was time for the party to end, although my first thought was how harrowing the trip down off the side of that mountain would be at night in a horse drawn carriage. 

The tour wound through the library and reading rooms of the former kings, queens and German emperors who inhabited it years past.  Their bedrooms lacked the gigantic grandeur of Hollywood created castles and its parlors were small and quite drafty.  The last residents of the castle, Prussian Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife Crown Princess Cecilie, lived in the castle for about 5 months following WW2 but since that time it has been simply maintained as a part of history.

 We wrapped up the day with a delicious meal at the castle’s restaurant “Die Burgschenke” which had a warm atmosphere, kind service and very reasonably priced and tasty Schwabian style offerings.

 As we slowly made our way down to the bus stop we noticed how quickly it was getting dark at only 5 p.m. The wind picked up even more and the temperature continued to drop; I thought to myself, “a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live here!”

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