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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Wartburg Castle

Wartburg Castle is more than just a castle, it's a symbol of German unity, and sometimes called the ‘most German castle’, similarly to how (a previous post from us) St. Peter in Frankfurt is called the ‘most German church’. It's a fair assessment when you discover how much happened at this castle! Here are tidbits of history you need to know to get the most out of your visit of Wartburg Castle.

Standing in front of the cistern and bergfried in Wartburg Castle, Germany

Medieval Hilltop Castle Architecture
Any self-respecting medieval castle is built on a hill, and Wartburg Castle is no different. Wartburg castle went through four periods of construction. Hang on to your chair, we’re also going to introduce German castle vocabulary words that might prove helpful during your visit. The German words, as always, will be italicized. The initial building period of the Palas (great hall building) was between 1157-1162. The Romanesque-period gate arch, located inside the Vorburg (front castle) is from 1200. The majority of the Vorburg, which includes the Ritterhaus (knight’s house), Torhaus (tower house), Vogtei (castle bailiff’s lodge), and the sentry walks are all timber framing and built in the late medieval time, 1478-1480. Finally, the last building period, the historicist (1853-1860), included the Bergfried (free-standing fighting tower), Neue Kemente (Fireplace Room), the Torhalle (porch), Dirnitz (heated hall building), Gadam (granary), and the Ritterbad (knight’s bath). During the historicist period the Palas was opulently furnished with the fantastical frescoes of Moritz von Schwind and the Festsaal (festival hall). In 1912-1914, the final addition of the Wartburg hotel was built.

Wartburg is a medieval hilltop castle

What is a Landgrave?
I wouldn’t be surprised if you had never heard of a landgrave before, which means ‘provincial count’. The title was first invented in 1131 solely for the German state of Thuringia, and intended to put landgraves on equal level with dukes, and ultimately could become imperial princes. Becoming a landgrave was in thanks for the dynasty’s help to Saxon Lothar von Süpplingenburg in the election of a king of Germany against Emperor Heinrich V.

If you ever wondered what your room would look like if you were a medieval princess, look no further! Named the Ruler’s Room, although the furniture is not original to the room itself, it's been collected, the effect is jaw dropping. The views of the Thuringia forest from the windows, to the chandelier and the stencil ceilings, it's decadent.

Wartburg Castle Fuerstenzimmer, Ruler's Room

What are Minnesingers?
A minnesinger is a 12th-14th century German lyric poet and singer who performed songs of courtly love. All medieval courts had minnesinger contests, but it's alleged that Wartburg Castle held the most famous contest of the age with the six most famous minnesingers of the time: Walther von der Vogelweide, Wolfram von Escheenbach, Reinmar von Zweter, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, Heinrich Schreiber, and Biterolf. When imagining a minnesinger, be on the lookout for one of their instruments in the museum, the Quinterne, a small lute, likely made from a single piece of maple in 1450 with the marks of Hans Oth of Nuremberg, a master craftsman of the time.

Top: Dürer cupboard c. 1515 | Left: Lute from 1450 | Exhibits at the Wartburg Art Collection

St Elizabeth
First, St Elizabeth lived here for most of her life. What you need to know is that Elizabeth was a Hungarian princess who was betrothed to Ludwig IV of the Ludovingians. She was sent to the castle to be groomed as a wife at age four. She gave everything she could to take care of the poor in the surrounding area. If you’d like to read more about St. Elizabeth and the miracles associated with her, click here and you’ll be redirected to a Catholic Encyclopedia article.

The Refuge of Martin Luther
The second reason the Wartburg is a religious destination, is because Martin Luther found refuge here. You can visit the room where he stayed. This is the place where he did some of his life’s best works and translated the New Testament from Greek to German. The castle is fortunate to have a copy from 1541 that belonged to Wolfgang Wesemer with an inscription on the inside cover by Luther himself and his collaborator Philipp Melanchthon.

1817 Wartburg Festival
Four years after the Battle of Nations in 1813, and the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, student corporations met in Eisenach and marched to the Wartburg. They hosted speeches and symbolically burnt items. Five hundred students marched for the creation of a unified German Empire. It is said that one of the fraternity flags from the city of Jena that was carried during the march became the inspiration for the final German flag. You can read more about the stories behind the German flag in our earlier article here.

Where Martin Luther Translated the New Testament From Greek to German | Furnishing are reconstructions

Historicism
Historicism is architecture inspired by and recreates another period’s architecture. In Wartburg Castle’s case, the Romantics were inspired by the medieval architecture and sought to recreate it and expand the castle in the same style. Often, when castles were expanded or renovated, they wanted to replace the out of fashion architecture, in this period they loved it and wanted more of it. Historicist architect Hugo von Ritgen lobbied passionately for the commission to restore and continue building.

Goethe & Museum Treasures
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was emotionally impacted by the castle’s history; he demonstrated this through his writing, letters, and sketches. He hoped there would be a museum installed within the castle that would inspire even more pilgrims to visit. Inspired by Goethe’s idea for a museum and in Goethe’s memory, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna and her son Carl Alexander of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, began the process of a European art collection which would focus on the time period of the castle. Today, the Wartburg Art Museum has collected over 1,000 years of European art from the time of Wartburg Castle’s heyday.

Recommended Souvenir From Wartburg Castle
The souvenir to get from Wartburg is definitely the small booklet (60 pages) about the history of the castle, the architecture, and the legend of St. Elizabeth. The Wartburg, Part of the World’s Heritage by Günter Schuchardt, Translated by Margaret Marks. In such a slim, light volume, there’s a wealth of information alongside historical drawings, paintings, and color photos. Without it, I could not write this post with any credible facts.

Wartburg Vogtei (castle bailiff lodge) has a copy of the late Gothic oriel on the South Side. The Vogtei is where you'll find Martin Luther's room.

Still want to see more? There's certainly more to see! This is a nice video overview of the castle.

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The Most 'German' of German Churches

Outside the Römer, where a beautiful sandstone pedestrian bridge connects over the street, sits a church that’s not a church, that most Germans know very well. Paulskirche, or in English the Church of St. Paul. As an American, I had never heard of it, and without doing any research about it beforehand, went inside.

Outside the Römer, where a beautiful sandstone pedestrian bridge connects over the street, sits a church that’s not a church, that most Germans know very well. Paulskirche, or in English the Church of St. Paul. As an American, I had never heard of it, and without doing any research about it beforehand, went inside.

Entrance to the Paulskirche, with the mural The Path of the Representatives by Johannes Grützkeby just beyond.

When I walk in, I’m in the outer ring of a round marblesque room that instantly feels more like a contemporary art museum because I’m confronted by a larger than life mural depicting an incredibly stylized procession of people hugging the entire inner core of the building. Displays and exhibit cases line the outer core of the building.

Lower Hall of the Paulskirche with the mural The Path of the Representatives by Johannes Grützkeby

As I wind my way around the mural, I discover it really does continue around, and I find stairs. Ah! Now I’ll find the church!

No, not really. I climb the stairs and discover a very modern-looking, non-church arrangement of chairs, a lovely organ, and various German state flags hanging from a soaring ceiling. No one else was around, just me and a bleary-eyed security guard.

Upper Hall of the Paulskirche where the annual awarding of The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade takes place. The Paulskirche organ was designed by Maria Schwarz.

I was really confused. What was this place?

This is a prime example of how important it is to read up on the history of monuments before visiting, a tourist’s mistake I still make from time to time. However, my curiosity was piqued. So I resolved to figure this out at home and pass along the highlights.

In 1833, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul was a beacon of modernity in its classical architecture style while surrounded by ‘old’ gothic architecture, and it was the largest hall in Frankfurt. For these two reasons, in 1848 it was an appropriate place for the first all-German Parliament. The first democratic constitution for a united Germany was born here, and this is why Paulskirche is often called the Cradle of German democracy.

What German Church is the MOST German?

The German democracy was short-lived, and the Prussian king was unimpressed, but the building’s symbolism continues. After the building’s complete destruction during World War II, this was the first building to be reconstructed and it was consecrated in 1948, on the 100-year anniversary of the German National Assembly.

Paulskirche Highlights
The mural, The Path of the Representatives by Johannes Grützke, was installed as part of a larger renovation effort in 1991. Along with the mural, there is a really helpful permanent exhibit along the outer walls called "Symbol of Democratic Freedom and National Unity," that you should spend time reading. Speaking from experience, it is really difficult to find information on this topic in English, and the exhibit is bilingual and illustrated with diagrams, drawings and photos. Otherwise you can 'see' everything within 10 minutes, but to get more value out of your visit defintily soak up the details in the exhibit cases.

Now, Paulskirche, the Church of St. Paul, is a space for public events and awards, the most famous being the annual awarding of The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, as part of the larger annual Frankfurt Book Fair.

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Where Ten Kings Were Crowned

During reconstruction from the 1867 fire, the original 1415 plans by Madern Gerthener for a gothic spire atop the tower was finally brought to life. This Neo-Gothic tower is romantic and is a jewel on Frankfurt’s crown of a skyline. Nestled into the old part, you turn a street corner and it's a surprise.

Not just a parish church, St. Bartholomew's Cathedral in Frankfurt am Main is unique with it's honorific designation as Cathedral. Between 1356 and 1792 it was center stage for initially electing the kings of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, then ultimately where kings were crowned as well, ten kings in total.

This spot in Frankfurt has gone through at least five religious structures, dating back as early as 680 AD to its original Merovingian Chapel form.

Crucifixion of Christ by Hans Backoffen, 1509, in the belfry chapel of the Imperial Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, Frankfurt am Main Germany.

During reconstruction from the 1867 fire, the original 1415 plans by Madern Gerthener for a gothic spire atop the tower was finally brought to life. This Neo-Gothic tower is romantic and is a jewel on Frankfurt’s crown of a skyline. Nestled into the old part, you turn a street corner and it's a surprise.

During reconstruction from the 1867 fire, the original 1415 plans by Madern Gerthener for a gothic spire atop the tower was finally brought to life. This Neo-Gothic tower is romantic and is a jewel on Frankfurt’s crown of a skyline. Nestled into the old part, you turn a street corner and it's a surprise.

Utilizing the nearby local red sandstone, which can be admired throughout the city of Frankfurt, after being restored in 1992-1994 the visual effect inside and out is unforgettable.

The red sandstone interior of St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Art Imitating Art
When I first saw the organ in the southern transept it reminded me of Caspar David Friedrich's painting, The Sea of Ice. Do you see it too?

The organ in the southern transept of the St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt

Altar Shrines Galore
Altar shrines assembled by E.F.A. Münzenberger, a priest and art collector makes you feel like you may actually be in an art museum after all. Of course many of the narratives repeat themselves across the various altar shrines, which reminds me that these didn't just come into being, that artists, many of whom are now unknown, did in fact MAKE these, which just seems incredible. Is it a lost art? Can anyone today still make these?

On the pillars of the crossing, as well as in some bays of the transept, are altar shrines assembled by the priest and art collector E.F.A. Muenzenberger | St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt

On the pillars of the crossing, as well as in some bays of the transept, are altar shrines assembled by the priest and art collector E.F.A. Muenzenberger | St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt

On the pillars of the crossing, as well as in some bays of the transept, are altar shrines assembled by the priest and art collector E.F.A. Muenzenberger | St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt

On the pillars of the crossing, as well as in some bays of the transept, are altar shrines assembled by the priest and art collector E.F.A. Muenzenberger | St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt

St. Mary's Chapel
And if you weren't blown away by the altar shrines, in St. Mary's Chapel, an intimate little alcove, you'll find this mammoth-sized stone-carved depiction of the Death of the Virgin, created in 1434-1438. Carved in stone! Its stunning.

Stone-carved representation of the Dormition (death of the Virgin, 1434-38) | St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt

Generosity of Frankfurt's Citizens
One wall in the northern transept seemed to have an unusual arrangement of items on the wall. A very ornately framed "Lamentation of Christ," by Anthony van Dyck and several stone monuments. This section of the cathedral is a testament to the generosity of the Frankfurt citizens. Since this cathedral isn't a typical cathedral where a Bishop ruled and could install works of artwork to fill the walls, this cathedral reaped the generosity of its own every day citizens, making it a true Cathedral of the people.

Lamentation of Christ by Anthony van Dyck 1627 and Tombstones of Frankfurt patricians | Northern Transept of St. Bartholomew's Imperial Cathedral in Frankfurt, Germany

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Art Lover's Guide to Speyer Cathedral

While we were climbing to the top of every aviation and boat exhibit we were allowed in the Technik Museum of Speyer, we could see the Cathedral waiting patiently, a jewel box on the horizon. It certainly built the anticipation. The museum and the cathedral are close enough, and Germany is in general pedestrian-friendly enough, that it was an easy, safe walk from one to the other. One weird intersection with crosswalks and a street until you’re in the larger park leading to the cathedral.

From the Technik Museum of Speyer to the Speyer Cathedral, about a 10 minute walk

Largest Romanesque Architecture
You could describe this cathedral as so many firsts, largest, best. Being a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List tends to suggest as much. Speyer Cathedral, or Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, Kaiserdom zu Speyer, is the largest example of Romanesque Architecture in the World, the first building constructed entirely from stone in Europe, the first to have an exterior gallery and system of arcades around the entire building, a pilgrimage site, the resting place of 8 Kings and Emperors, and was the biggest church in the western hemisphere at the time of it's completion in 1106. Phew! To say this is a very important building feels like an understatement.

Speyer Cathedral is the largest example of Romanesque Architecture in the World and the first building constructed entirely from stone in Europe.

But, how does it make you feel? Personally, it was a calming, solemn, space. Not in anyway creepy as some older European churches are. With minimal ornamentation and varying natural colors shining purely from the carefully placed red sandstone from the nearby Palatine Forest Mountains, this cathedral is the most naturally beautiful church I’ve seen. I have to wonder if the architect Antoni Gaudi hadn’t once visited the Speyer Cathedral? The smooth, soaring semi-circular columns offers the same feeling of being in a quiet forest, just as I had felt in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

The view of the nave from the western portal in the Speyer Cathedral in Germany

An Image Worthy of a Pilgrimage
A delicate, carefully painted standing Madonna statue quietly demands your attention at the front of the nave with fresh flowers at her feet and candles lit before her. This image, sculpted by German sculptor August Weckbecker, consecrated by Pius XI in Rome, was brought into the Speyer Cathedral in 1930. In doing so, the pilgrimage history for the Speyer Cathedral gained a new chapter to a centuries-long legacy.

Speyer Standing Madonna Statue Sculpted by German sculptor August Weckbecker in 1930

Also in honor of the cathedral's patron saint, the Blessed Mother Mary, along the walls of the nave is a 24-part series depicting Mary’s story painted by Johann von Schraudolph in the mid 1800s. These frescoes were part of an even larger installment and collaboration with Joseph Schwarzmann that was unfortunately removed in the 1960s in an attempt to make the cathedral appear more ‘romanesque.’ Some of the frescoes that were removed have been restored and are now in a new display in the Emperor's Hall of the Cathedral.

Also in honor of the cathedral's patron saint, the Blessed Mother Mary, along the walls of the nave is a 24-part series depicting Mary’s story painted by Johann von Schraudolph in the mid 1800s.

The Mount of Olives
Beside the Cathedral in a leafy clearing, you discover the sculpture ‘The Mount of Olives’, once part of the cloister grounds that were destroyed in the fire of 1689. What survived from Hans Syfer’s original piece was incorporated into the present day replacement by Speyer sculptor Gottfried Renn in 1856. A roof was built above the statue to prevent further wear and tear. Not sure why the roof has a rooster on top. Puzzling, but charming.

The outdoor sculpture ‘The Mount of Olives’, once part of the cloister grounds that were destroyed in the fire of 1689. What survived from Hans Syfer’s original piece was incorporated into the present day replacement by Speyer sculptor Gottfried Renn in 1856.

Speyer Cathedral Bowl
Outside the western entrance of the Speyer Cathedral stands the Cathedral Bowl. Many, many years ago it was often used as a loophole for those hoping to escape prison sentences, as the bowl marks the separate bishop and city territories. Prisoners would make a run for the bowl in order to be out of the city's jurisdictional area, now being protected by the church. And historically, to welcome a new bishop, the bowl was filled with wine for the citizens to freely enjoy.

Outside the western entrance of the Speyer Cathedral stands the Cathedral Bowl. Many, many years ago it was often used as a loophole for those hoping to escape prison sentences, as the bowl marks the separate bishop and city territories.

The view of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilianstrasse

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The view of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilianstrasse

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Crash Course in Prince-Bishops at the Neues Schloss Meersburg

Grimm’s Fairy tales and Disney princesses does nothing to explain Prince-Bishops, but when you visit the Neues Schloss in Meersburg Germany, you’ll sufficiently round out your education.

There are three things you need to know about the Prince-Bishop situation in Meersburg.

  1. Being a Prince-Bishop was not a hereditary role.
  2. Prince-Bishops are called such because first they were elected as a Bishop, but after becoming Bishop they may take on more princely, governing roles that were outside the Church.
  3. Having a dual-role as a Bishop does not cure the urge to impress.

Before building the Neues Schloss, Meersburg Castle, Germany’s Oldest Inhabited Castle, was the home of the Prince-Bishop. In the 17th century, the medieval-ness of Meersburg Castle was not suitable for the entertaining and governing role of the Prince-Bishop, or so according to Prince-Bishop Johann Franz Schenk von Stauffenberg. In 1710, construction officially began. The palace was tinkered with over many years, and ultimately became the residence in the 1860s.

The new castle sits prettily up on a terrace with sweeping views of Lake Constance. Today, the ground floor has a small shop and an inside/outside garden cafe. The shining star architectural feature of the palace is the Baroque staircase up to the large reception hall on the second floor. It’s white, open design filled with windows, larger than life statuary on the landings, and the trompe l'oeil fresco on the ceiling is what truly makes this palace feel like a palace. Balthasar Neumann designed the staircase. The illusionist frescoes were painted by Giuseppe Ignazio Appiani.

During a visit, you’ll discover the typical sequence of rooms for a Baroque court. Immediately off the landing of the staircase is the large festival hall, and a true centerpiece with it's dazzling chandelier, murals, mirrors, and view overlooking the lake. On either side are princely offices, and beyond that are living spaces. The apartments and offices are peeks into interior decorating tastes in the 1800s.

Surprisingly, the Prince-Bishops had time for accumulating a vast collection of fossils and shells, and even stranger they loved hunting. Seems oddly counterintuitive to being a Bishop, but you’ll see these hobbies and more throughout the palace. There's also a castle church within the palace that is not visible from the exterior facade. A stable was converted into a Rococo-style feast for the eyes.

The staircase ceiling fresco photo was taken by Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg/ Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg.

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