Time travel to the Middle Ages: a trip on Germany's "castles road"
By Horst Heinz Grimm Oct 19, 2010, 4:06 GMT
Heilbronn, Germany - Fortresses tower above the valleys, while baroque royal castles and Medieval towns recall earlier times.
A drive along the Burgenstrasse (castles road) is comparable to travelling back in time to the past. The name says everything: along the route through southern-central Germany and the Czech Republic, fortresses, castles and palaces line the way like a string of pearls.
'The historic route starts in Mannheim, goes via Schwetzingen, Heidelberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nuremberg, Bamberg, Coburg, Kulmbach and Bayreuth and then on to the Czech border,' explains Ariane Born, managing director of the 'Burgenstrasse' association in Heilbronn, Germany.
'It winds up about 1,200 kilometres away in Prague. More than 90 fortresses and castles, 15 of them in the Czech Republic, are found along the way,' she adds.
A trip to the historical sites along the route should be carefully planned. Visitors can select sections along it and should be prepared to spend a lot of time, Born advises.
One such visitor, Werner Wichers from the city of Dusseldorf, is now making his third trip to the area. With him are his two sons, aged 12 and 14 years. 'The boys are totally wild about the knights' tales. This time, three castles are on our itinerary.'
Wichers scored a bullseye with his selection on this trip. The more than 750-year-old Rosenberg fortress overlooking Kronach in northern Bavaria, close to the border with Thueringia, is regarded as one of the best-preserved of its kind in Europe.
Just a few kilometres away, the Veste Coburg rises up with its mighty bastions and deep moats. Reformation leader Martin Luther found refuge here as a church outcast in 1530. 'This is very much a charming location, one suited for studies,' Luther is reported to have said at the time.
The third site of this trio is the imposing Plassenburg castle towering above Kulmbach. Historians date its existence back to the year 1135. But when the fortress was destroyed in a war during the 16th century, construction soon began on a new one which today is regarded as a jewel among Renaissance-era architecture in Germany.
'The world's largest tin figures museum is located in the castle,' notes Hermann Mueller, Kulmbach's cultural affairs official.
Knights' tournaments, castle festivals and Medieval markets held each year bring in many visitors. Entire school classes and travel groups are in attendance as are any number of bicycling and motorcycle travellers.
'Often though it is families with kids between five and 12 years to be found here, looking for the romanticism of the knights,' Born notes.
Suitable lodgings can quickly be found on the Burgenstrasse route. 'Greatly in demand are hotels embedded in historical walls but which offer modern-day comforts,' Born says.
In Hassmersheim, north of Heilbronn, up to 60 vacationers can sleep on a layer of hay in the old stables of the Medieval castle Burg Guttenberg. Besides this 'rural servants camp' there are also 14 'bower' shelters where people can sleep. One concession to present times are the modern sanitation facilities.
In Burg Guttenberg, which is partly privately inhabited, there is an ancient tavern where staff dressed in historic costumes serve up 'allerley leckere Speysen' (all kinds of tasty meals). Some of these offerings are prepared from original recipes dating back to between the 13th and 15th centuries.
Often, guests order up 'Taveleyen' or knights' feasts. 'But this does not mean people are permitted to throw the food and plates around,' innkeeper Uta Kannegiesser is quick to point out.
The castle of Nuremberg is an internationally-renowned tourist attraction, just as are the historical centres of the small cities of Heidelberg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Born says. Some visitors might find these places too crowded and head, for example, to the town of Bad Wimpfen on the Neckar River instead.
'It was there that one of the biggest battles of the 30 Years War took place in 1622,' amateur historian Henrik Graf, a Munich native, relates. Like many other visitors, he rides his bicycle in a tour going from castle to castle along the specially-built bicycling paths.
In the Middle Ages, Wimpfen had much greater significance than now. Inside the strongly fortified imperial palace, the largest north of the Alps, the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire held court and governed the land.
The rulers also made Forchheim, in the hilly region dubbed the 'Franconian Switzerland,' their capital for a while. To this day priceless murals from the late 14th century are preserved there.
A classic location along the Burgenstrasse is Bamberg with its historic Medieval city centre still largely preserved. The city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the the most striking trademark is the Old Town Hall building which the citizenry built on a man-made island on the Pregnitz River in the 15th century.
Some places along the Burgenstrasse were also the settings for works of world literature. Classic German author Wolfgang von Goethe in his work 'Goetz von Berlichingen' created the character of the fighting knight 'with the iron hand' whose residence until his death in 1562 was the Burg Hornberg castle north of Heilbronn.
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