One of the most popular activities for tourists visiting Germany is visiting some of the country’s remarkable castles. There are over 25,000 castles and palaces throughout the country; some are in ruins, but others are in magnificent condition. Visitors can tour many of them; in some, you can even have dinner or spend the night.
The erection of castles in what would become Germany began around 900 to 1,000 A.D. At that time, the European countryside was divided up into small feudal territories rather than the distinct countries we are familiar with today. Castles and palaces were erected for defensive reasons, to protect the leaders of each feudal state, as well as the villagers under their protection, from attacks by competing lords. After this period was over, the castles and palaces often became seats of government or landed in the hands of wealthy occupants. Others fell into disrepair and ruin. Many of them have restored and preserved so that their beauty can be admired and shared; Germany’s castles are a major source of tourism revenue.
When Americans think of castles, the image of the Disney Cinderella castle comes to mind, but what most people don’t realize is that it was modeled after a real Bavarian castle built by Ludwig II, the King of Bavaria, who was sometimes known as Mad King Ludwig. Although it is not known whether Ludwig was actually insane, he was certainly eccentric. His two passions were the composer Wagner and the construction of castles that were extreme flights of fancy.
The best known of these is the castle known as Neuschwanstein; unlike the ancient German castles, this castle was built for pleasure rather than protection. Ludwig built it for himself as a summer castle, and equipped it with modern conveniences, included toilets that flush. It is characterized by soaring spires, and is built high on a mountaintop. Because of its remote location in southeast Bavaria, it escaped damage during both world wars, and the Nazis used it as a place to store stolen works of art during the war.
In 1945 they ordered that the castle be destroyed in order to prevent what they considered to be a German treasure from falling into enemy hands, but the people made responsible for the demolition didn’t carry out their orders. Today the castle is open to the public and is one of Germany’s most visited sites; it has received over 50,000,000 visitors since it was built.
Famous German Castles