The first castle my husband and I visited in Germany was Hohenzollern Castle in Hohenzollern, Germany. Where else?
We had been in Germany for less than two months and we were still getting over what my husband’s colleagues called the “German crud”. But it was a Sunday afternoon, and we wanted to do something but we needed to stay close to our apartment in Bonlanden, Fielderstadt (outside of Stuttgart). There were three castles to choose from less than an hour’s drive. We chose Hohenzollern.
I misspelled the name when I entered it in the GPS. Goodness but those German names are hard to spell! I was not yet proficient in spelling the cities and didn’t think I’d ever be proficient. Difficult was an understatement, German was nearly impossible to learn even though English has its roots in the Germanic language!
It was one pm when we arrived and we could see the castle in the distance. It was magnificent. This was the first castle my husband had ever seen. I’d seen a few when I was a teenager and traveled to Italy with my grandparents but this was different. These castles were high on hills in a defensive position and not in the center of a village.
We felt it was in our best interest to take the shuttle to the top of the hill where that majestic castle stood. The trip in that shuttle was a nail-biting horror. The road was narrow, and the shuttle was wide. There were shuttles going back and forth not to mention people who chose not to ride the shuttle walking up to the top of the hill. But the driver was skilled and took the road’s hairpin turns with ease. With a sigh of relief, we got out and walked toward the arched opening that perhaps had been the drawbridge centuries ago. Going through that arched opening led us to a road that had high walls next to it.
What’s exciting is you don’t know how long you’ll have to walk to get to the actual castle and you don’t know how high you’ll have to go. Upward we climbed on the cobblestone “road” walking through various archways. My romantic imagination thought those on horseback may have hidden under those archways waiting for severe rainstorms to subside.
As we walked on we went through another archway. This time, it was a tunnel of sorts. It was May, but that tunnel chilled us. On one side the tunnel had small windows that let a little light in but not much warmth and the other side had small gated cells. I thought they housed the horses but my husband seemed to think that’s where the castle kept their prisoners. Think dungeon and creepy.
We kept moving in a circular fashion until we finally saw sunshine and the castle rose above us. Seeing that huge stone castle made the walk through the cold, creepy tunnel worth it.
The Germans had transformed the gardens on the side of the castle into an area where people could buy a meal and sit outside. There was live music that day, too.
We took the tour of the castle even though we couldn’t understand the tour guide. At least we could see the inside of the castle.
The German castles are exceptional and so well-maintained. It’s a tourist attraction but still, there are many castles in Europe which are not well-maintained. Plus there’s a large army base right there in Stuttgart to bring in even more tourists. Like us.
We ambled along and realized the tour would take a good hour and hoped the tour would end so we didn’t miss the bus. We did not want another escapade like the one we had in Heidelberg. (That’s another story for another time.)
Anyway, we climbed the stairs into the castle. We were the last ones in and the tour guide shut the door behind us with a loud kerthunk.
We walked into an extraordinary room. There were about fifty or sixty people crammed into that small room. We sat on wooden seats attached to the wall. My husband pointed out the tourists were all wearing felt slippers. I didn’t see where or how they got them and since we didn’t understand the language we were at a loss. It’s confounding when you can’t communicate!
I snapped photos of the room (the family tree on the wall) then I noticed the ceiling was all wood and the chandelier had real candles in it. I couldn’t imagine trying to light those things every night, not to mention the fire hazard and being burned. But it was gorgeous.
Buying a tour book in English would have helped us follow along with the tour guide but we didn’t even know where to buy it. The tour guide droned on and on and seemed to describe the castle’s heritage and the family ancestry. The tour guide said something to me but I didn’t understand him and kept shooting photos.
An elderly woman with a cane pointed it at our feet and motioned we should have slippers on. Well, we would have if we had known where to get them. She realized we didn’t speak German, turned and pointed to the room behind us. At that point, we saw the large wooden boxes hidden from our view when we crammed in the ancestry room. I trotted back to the box and pulled two pair out. We weren’t being disrespectful, we just didn’t understand the instructions.
Back in the Dining Hall that same elderly woman turned to us and motioned to the camera and said, “Ist verboten.” We understood she meant taking photos was forbidden inside the castle. Now that bummed me out!
I apologize I don’t have photos of the many rooms we saw but the craftsmanship of the woodwork was extraordinary. The cost to repair or replace any of the woodwork details or the fine furniture and artifacts would be astronomical today. We were told the camera flashes have a negative impact on the tapestries and fabric so that’s why no photos were allowed. I wonder if that’s still the case especially with phone cameras.
We came to a room with a small door. Inside that small room was a small bed (a twin size but very short) and a dressing table with a mirror. I told my husband it must have been the King’s bedroom, but he thought it was the Queen’s bedroom. The tour guide who said he could only speak a little English told us it was the King’s bedroom. I would have thought it would have been more palatial, but it wasn’t. Three or four centuries ago maybe it was palatial. I had to wonder how the lower-class people lived and I shivered.
We toured more and more rooms and ended up on an enclosed circular stairway that led outside but the tour guide escorted us back into the castle’s first floor where suits of armor and various kinds of weapons were on display. What struck me was how heavy those suits must have been. How cold in the winter and how hot in the summer? I can’t even imagine it. Perhaps that’s one reason soldiers died young. Who knows?
Gold chalices, silver pieces, and place settings were on display. It’s amazing those priceless pieces have endured all these centuries. But in the final room, we came to a glass case with the King’s crown covered in precious jewels. Magnificent. I asked my husband if he thought the jewels were real. He said he thought so because it was an electronically monitored case.
Once back outside in the courtyard, the band had moved to the outdoor dining hall, and it was curious to hear a Simon & Garfunkel song in such an ancient setting. We had a snack in the courtyard to tide us over before dinner.
While having our snack we noticed the castle had dog bowls with water. The Germans love their dogs and allow them in restaurants and all stores except grocery stores. And those dogs behave themselves, too. I loved the sign above the doggie bowls. It translates to “Doggie Bistro”. Funny.
The wind picked up, and we took the shuttle back to our car and another work week then another adventure in the lovely country of Germany.