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What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg

The Imperial Castle of Nuremberg sitting on its hill with the odd juxtaposition of a modern parking lot in front of a medieval castle

Although the sun was shining brightly, it was bitterly cold as we walked up the steady incline towards the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg. When we reached the base of the castle, a parking lot stood just before it, posing an odd juxtaposition of modern and medieval. We were early, the castle hadn’t opened yet, but there were still school groups already posing for group photos in the frost bitten castle gardens. I admired their youthful daring as they leapt onto craggy rocks for selfies. I was timidly walking on the inclined cobblestones, wondering where the handrail was.

What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg | Double-Headed Imperial Eagle Ceiling Mural

Heathen Tower and Stables from the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Inner Courtyard & Kunigunden Lime Tree
Sebastian and I were hoping that perhaps the ticket area had a heated waiting area, and ventured in towards the castle’s inner courtyard. After all these years, Germany’s castles still make my jaw drop. I was torn between wanting to take pictures while there were few tourists in the viewfinder, and wanting to find heat. We found the inner courtyard and saw several other like minded couples sitting on frozen benches looking at the Kunigunden lime tree 3.0. The original tree was replaced in 1934, but that planting did not have enough space for the roots between the rocks, and the current tree was planted a few years ago.

The Kunigunden Lime Tree in the Inner Court of the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

The Legend of the Kunigunden Lime Tree
“The Empress Kunigunde planted it, says the legend, some seven hundred years ago. For once, when King Henry was a-hunting, he came in the pursuit of a deer to the edge of a steep precipice, and this in the heat of the chase he did not perceive, but would have fallen headlong had not a lime-branch, at which he grasped in his extremity, stopped and saved him. And he, recognising the special protection of the Most High, broke off a twig of the lime-tree in remembrance of his wonderful preservation, and brought it to his anxious wife, who planted it at once with her own hands in the earth, and it soon grew into a beautiful tree.” Excerpt From: Cecil Headlam’s “The Story of Nuremberg,” published in 1901 and available for free as part of The Gutenberg Project, click here.

Always punctual, an elderly German gentleman walks slowly with keys jingling in hand towards the ticket office. Our cold colleagues started to gather behind him. We bought our tickets, and went back out to the inner courtyard to enter through the Knight’s Hall. It was an expansive stone room devoid of furniture. On the wall with the windows overlooking Nuremberg, there was a moving illustrated border wallpaper of the imperial processional. I looked around and wondered how we would get into the next exhibit, as the only door in the hall was so impressive and authentic looking there was no way it was intended for our use. It receded into the wall with a pointed arch, and being at the top of a few steps it seemed so tiny. All around the door frame was a gothic mural of Emperors on either side, and Christ on the cross over the top of the arch. When someone else reached for the door handle, I still hung back, suspicious an alarm would sound. Instead, only an obnoxious squeak from the hinges and a smiling attendant greeted them from the other side of the door.

The Romanesque Double Chapel in the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Double Chapel
The door opened to the double chapel, the lower level. It's in the Romanesque style and survived the bombings of WWII for the most part. Graceful, simple columns connect the two levels, the lower for the court, and the upper for the Emperor. You can even peek down below your feet into St. Margaret’s Chapel. It wasn’t accessible to tour. In the back corner we found a stone staircase to continue up to the Emperor's level of the Chapel.

The Dining Hall now has modern exhibits explaining the Holy Roman Empire in the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Imperial Hall and Apartment
The next room was by far my favorite. They allocated the space that was the original dining hall for the Emperor and lengthened it an additional third and created a wonderful and modern interactive exhibit space that explains how the Emperors were elected in the Holy Roman Empire. It always seemed a contradiction to me that Emperors were elected, and not inherited. The German lands are unique compared to the United Kingdom and France in this aspect. This exhibit really brought the distinction to clarity to me. Do you understand how Emperors were elected? Let us know in the comments. We may do a post about the process in the future.

Imperial Castle Museum, a branch of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum
After going through a few more smaller rooms of the Imperial Apartment, we stepped into the Bowery. Here was endless artifacts from history, coins, toys, weapons, armor, shields (with deflection marks!), a throne chair, and more.

Suit of armor of a member of the patrician family Rieter, end of the 16th century, on display in the Imperial Castle Museum, a branch of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany

Sinwell Tower & Deep Well
If you’re not opposed to steps or heights, definitely climb Sinwell Tower. The view of Nuremberg is fantastic, and they have black and white photos of how the city looked after WWII for comparison.

The Sinwell Tower and its beautiful views of Nuremberg | Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

For the Deep Well, you visit with a guide at assigned times, and yes it is more than a really deep hole in the ground. The guide pours water down the well so you can hear how long it takes for the water to splash. Then the guide lowers a candle all the way to the bottom with a video camera all while sharing the history of the well. It was really interesting and definitely worth the time.

Planning Your Trip to the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg
To do everything, tickets are 7 Euros. You can choose your own adventure and visit for less. Walking through the courtyards and gardens is free. Audio guides are an additional 2 Euros. Prices subject to change. Be sure to check the website for the most up to date prices and hours.
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg Admission Prices
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg Opening Hours
Printable English Brochure

View of the Heathen Tower and Inner Court of the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

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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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Flowers and Whimsy at Mainau Island

An island of flowers? It's not the first image that pops into my mind when I think of Germany. As we were planning our family trip to Lake Constance and it's towns, the flower-filled island of Mainau popped up. I’m passionate about flowers, and deeply appreciate the labor that goes into making beautiful gardens. Seeing the recommendations that you can easily spend a half day, or full day there, I was really looking forward to exploring Mainau.

To kick off our flower adventure, we needed to cross Lake Constance. We rented a house for the week in Meersburg, and the fastest, cheapest way to get there was by ferry boat. And not just any ferry boat, a ferry boat that carries cars! It would be my first time on a car ferry. We were so lucky, as we pulled up to the ferry boat, we realized we would be the first in the line of cars. Our view from our car would be perfect! While we were waiting, a man walked up and down the cars selling newspapers. It boggled my mind that this was for many an every day commute! Lake Constance was foggy this early in the morning, and there was a nip of chill in the air. Torn between wanting to hear the water and the birds or staying warm inside the car, we compromised and rolled one window down. It made for better photos that way too.

After the ferry ride, it was just a short drive to the parking lot where we left all wheels behind. We paid our admission, and walked along a short path by the lake and spied the feathered residents enjoying breakfast. We saw several ducks and swans diving down and up again.

Birds resting on a foggy Lake Constance | Germany

Birds resting on a foggy Lake Constance | Germany

There are several circuits that you can take around the island and we chose to walk counterclockwise. Right away, we saw a group of duck sculptures built out of flowers, then an extravagant peacock built out of flowers! It was like being in Cypress Gardens again. There was once a fantastic botanical park in Winter Haven, Florida called Cypress Gardens, and they had numerous animal sculptures built entirely of flowers. My grandparents used to take my brother and I every time we came to visit. It's no longer open, and has been transformed into a Legoland Theme Park. It made my heart smile to know in Germany flower animal sculptures still exist.

Duck Flower Sculptures on Mainau Island, Germany

Peacock Flower Sculptures on Mainau Island, Germany

Then we discovered a miniature farm where a rabbit had chickens and roosters for roommates. The rabbit had an extra espresso carrot that morning and sprinted in between the roosters, startling them. It was comical to watch. There was a goat who said good morning, and we visited with a calm, orange tabby cat that was not phased by anything. With the morning sunshine starting to bust up the fog clouds, his orange fur was angelically lit.

Mainau Island Farm & Petting Zoo | Germany

The farm was beside an area with a charming wooden bear stuck in a tree log, and a moss-covered troll couple.

Wooden Bear Stuck in a Log Garden Statue | Mainau Island, Germany

'Together in the Garden' Planted Statue in Mainau Island, Germany

The path we were on wound up and down the shore of Lake Constance. I loved the Dahlia garden which were in season, and they had about 75 to 80 different varieties on display.

Posing by the stunning Dahlia Gardens in full bloom on Mainau Island, Germany

Further along, we saw the Italian cascading fountain, and the map of Lake Constance illustrated through flowers.

Italian Style Flower & Water Cascade | Mainau Island, Germany

Floral Map of Lake Constance

We took a break at a garden cafe where the tables had built-in flower planters. It was just what we needed, walking halfway around Mainau Island already.

Garden Cafe Where Tables Had Built-in Flower Planters | Mainau Island, Germany

On top of the hill, the 13th-century Baroque palace and church stands from the time the Teutonic Knights owned the island. Alongside the church is an Italian rose garden complete with statuary and fountains. Wherever we looked there were colorful blooms surrounded by lots of greenery.

13th-century Baroque palace and church | Italian rose garden | Mainau Island, Germany

We passed giant redwood trees on our way to the butterfly house. The butterfly house was overwhelmingly crowded, both with people and butterflies. A pond with a waterfall entertained a gang of turtles, gorgeous orchids hung from the ceiling, and butterflies were everywhere. Specific feeding trays put out for the butterflies was a sure-fire way to get a good photo. I made myself dizzying trying to photograph a few of them! There was always a fluttering of wings passing overhead.

Mainau Island Butterfly House

By the end of the day it felt like we had seen the entire Nature Encyclopedia. It was refreshing, and a wonderful experience not to be missed, if your ventures take you to Lake Constance.

Flowers of Mainau Island

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Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle

Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle: Meersburg Castle

It really had been a long day. We’d already visited two castles as a family of five, Sebastian, his parents, his sister, and I. It was my 31st birthday, and everyone’s energy level was starting to wane. Yet, with a third castle looming literally on the horizon, the sun setting on my day, I looked deep into Sebastian’s eyes, gauging if he was up to the challenge. His parents had had it, and his sister sensed better shopping opportunities outside of Germany’s reputed oldest castle. It would just be us two going for three castles. And it was just I, who would climb ...the tower!

First, let me say it was so very much worth it. Meersburg Castle was medieval fun, unusual, creepy in good ways, and an adventure! In this very real, Choose Your Own Adventure, I elected to do the additional tower tour on my own. Sebastian’s fear of heights beat him this round. We hurriedly went through the entryway looking for the meeting spot for the tower tour, afraid we’d miss it. It was the last one of the day. We waited in a white-arched room with Bambi’s friends all over the walls. Since it was late in the day, the tour group was small. I left Sebastian behind, to be reunited after the tower.

Antique Hunting trophies in Meersburg Castle

I had guessed it would be exactly a tower climb up and climb down, escorted. Nope! It was actually a very-involved 20-minute German-language tour, which kindly reminded me how bad my German is. None of my core vocabulary words were used in the making of this tour; apfelstrudel, bier, kaffee. I made use of my time by taking photos, and trying not to be a nuisance taking photos. After a full day as a family of five, suddenly being alone with a group of Germans I didn’t know was odd. However, I think there is something appropriately poetic about having a solo adventure on your birthday though.

The highest lookout of Germany's Oldest Castle, Meersburg Castle

We finally started climbing some stairs. A good sign, on a Tower Tour! We ultimately ended up in an attic! I was expecting an open, stone platform with the stepped gable wall surrounding us, but instead we were in a wholly wooden attic which creaked and croaked every time we moved from one window to the next, and there were four windows. The stalwart tour guide continued on talking, but everyone’s attention was torn away by the stunning views of Lake Constance and the lower city streets below. Another window overlooked vineyards, and then even still a third window spied the pink ‘Neues Schloss’ around the corner. I tried to take a few selfies, but they either captured me with a blown-out white background, or a beautiful lake scene with a black silhouette. I was too shy to ask in my broken German for someone to take my photo. I concentrated instead on taking a deep breath and living in my own moment in my own little world in this tower.

After the tour I looked through empty medieval-appearing rooms for Sebastian, finding him exactly where I left him at the beginning.

You’re allowed to navigate the castle unescorted, and its labyrinth of rooms. The castle is so much bigger than it first appeared. There were various dioramas and figurines set up in many of the rooms, a medieval kitchen, dungeon, knights hall, and more. It's easy to get lost in the rooms.

Knight's Hall in Meersburg Castle, Germany

Throne in Meersburg Castle, Germany

When we discovered Annette von Drost-Hülshoff’s rooms, I was curious who she was. Her poetry hasn’t been widely distributed in English, although I’m told she’s part of German curriculums. Although she lived in the time of Goethe, her work doesn’t fit into the same style of Goethe’s, or anyone else for that matter. One interesting tidbit I read was that she and her sister actually contributed folk tales to the very famous folktale collectors, the Brothers Grimm. She lived and worked at Meersburg Castle for eight years, visiting her sister and her sister's husband who owned the castle at that time. In cross-checking for this post, I found a scholar who has translated many of her works and contextualized them with her biography for English readers. The scholar's name is Marion Tymms, and she has two books out, the first is Gods Sorely Tested Child: The spiritual life of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff with a translation of Das Geistliche Jahr (affiliate link).

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's Work Rooms and Bedroom in Meersburg Castle, Germany

The Castle has a garden that you cross to get through more exhibits. The museum made use of some of the outer buildings to recreate more dioramas of medieval life.

Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle: Meersburg Castle Gardens

And be sure to check out the gift shop, if nothing else to see these impressive medieval helmets! I find the goose one the most intimidating! For information on visiting the castle, check out the tourism site of the city of Meersburg am Bodensee. Its a privately-owned, and inhabited castle, and the official castle website is unfortunately German only. You can find it here.

Strange Medieval Helmets in Meersburg Castle, Germany

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler