Castles have always held a hypnotic power over me. Not so long ago, Mei nurtured my obsession and tracked down one of the most naturally light-colored stone castles in the world: the Lichtenstein Castle in Baden-Württemberg, Germany’s Swabian Jura.
Leaving the Hohenzollern Castle behind us, we drove for 40 minutes under a cerulean sky. Despite the many detours due to the carnival parades, the meandering roads finally led us to the filming location of Dornröschen, a German adaptation of the popular fairytale Sleeping Beauty.
Now imagine a gigantic precipitous rock, which rises straight up from the depths. On top of it, a white tower defies altitude, overlooking the Echaz river way, way below. Impassible as a silent guardian, it peers down to the lowlands. Its ragged rocks and steep walls plunge in such an unconceivable angle that we watched the towering structure on the escarpment with disbelief. Is this for real? Wrapped in complete isolation, 817 meters above sea level, the Lichtenstein Castle really seems… unreal.
Out of nowhere, I felt a tug at my sleeve. A little girl asked if she could get into the castle to visit the princess. Her mother smiled apologetically and whispered: “My daughter is really obsessed with castles and princesses”. I cracked a polite smile. There are thousands of ways to deal with an obsession. Ignoring it would be one of the options. Delightfully giving into the yielding yet another one.
Just like that girl, I’ve always been obsessed with castles. But not in a fairytelling way though. I never dreamt of becoming a princess, nor meeting one. I was an adventurous kid, always invested with a mission. One of the recurrent quests was to locate the secret pathway to another dimension. I saw myself explore hidden cisterns and underground tunnels – I did in fact explore sunken places that were scary and festered with muskrats.
I never came out empty handed. At least I’d come up with a stone. But not just any stone. It was a piece of the building, of the whole, a trophy, a memento. A stone was never just a stone. It had color, texture, markings, etchings even. It could behold magical power. Bring back the dead or provide you with super powers for example. It soon became evident that showing my treasures to adults was pointless. They couldn’t get it. Whether I showed them marble, quartz, slate or basalt, they would always feign enthusiasm and coin the exhibited mineral as stone. Pointless.
Contemplating the Lichtenstein Castle, I suddenly realized that this “Shining Stone Castle” gathers three of my obsessions: castles, stones, and literature. In fact, the castle as we know it today exists only because one man dreamt it up in his novel. And this man was Wilhelm Hauff, the German “Walter Scott”.
When Hauff’s book was published in 1826, the original medieval castle was long destroyed. Nevertheless, it was this bestseller that prompted the construction of the actual Lichtenstein Castle in 1840-1842. While reading the book, the German patriot Duke Wilhelm von Urach fell in love with the fictional castle. He then inquired about buying the estate, which was merely crumbling ruins in 1836. Four years later, he commissioned Carl Alexander Heideloff to design an emulation of Hauff’s fantasy castle, which was to be built on top of the medieval castle’s foundations.
This modern castle is everything one could expect of the German Gothic revival. It perfectly embodies the romantic infatuation with medieval structures…
As we finally walked back to the entrance court, past crenelated towers, parapets, ivy-grown walls, punctuated by occasional antlers, I felt like strolling through 19th century romantic literature, with a local Swabian touch. It was all there. Every pitched roof and roof gable perspired romanticism. To celebrate the sheer beauty of human imagination, we kissed at the entrance gate, right below the coat of arms of the dukes of Urach.
Pin this for later