Neuschwanstein’s not only stunning, she’s famous: she inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, and she has featured in several movies. Located on a rugged hill overlooking lakes and villages in Bavaria – the palace is so removed it survived the two World Wars unharmed - Neuschwanstein was designed with romanticism and the opera music of German composer Richard Wagner in mind. From start to finish, the project took two decades (!), but that’s okay because the construction site was the main source of employment in the region. When the King got antsy for faster progress, up to 300 workers were active on site, working through the night via oil lamps. Still, Ludwig II only lived in the palace for a total of 172 days, and he died deep in debt, threatening suicide if his creditors seized his palaces.
The Palaces at Potsdam
Berlin-based Guide Heidi who deems her locale, “not a city to look at, but a city to understand,” directs travelers to Potsdam for some epic palace hopping; after all, in this beautiful city that is three-quarters green space, there are a whopping 6 palaces, not to mention striking towers, roman baths, and elaborate bridges and gates. Sanssouci Palace, (or sans souci, which is French for “without concerns” because it was intended to be a refuge from the seat of power) was Frederick the Great’s summer residence, and it is Heidi’s favorite, not because of the palace itself, but because the grounds are outstanding, especially when the walnut trees are in bloom. In stark contrast, two decades later, Frederick built the New Palace in the western part of the Sanssouci Park to display his power and strength (he made this clear by calling the construction his “fanfaronnade,” or “showing off”).
What stands today at the top of Berg (Mount) Hohenzollern is the third version of Hohenzollern Castle (the first having been destroyed during a 10-month siege in 1423; the second lost to neglect). Hohenzollern Castle is an idealized version of what a medieval knight’s castle should be, but the bottom line for its ornateness is that Frederick William IV of Prussia wanted to enhance the royal family’s reputation. At 2,805 feet above sea level, you’ll want to make sure you get some pre-Hohenzollern-Castle training by signing up for one of Sven Marx’s epic bike tours!
Armed with a BA in History, London-transplant Roy will give you the lowdown on Germany’s past (from the Cold War to life in Sachsenhausen’s concentration camps), but for knowledge on life as a Royal, head to Eltz Castle where, unscathed by wars, original furnishings amassed over eight centuries remain in place. Fun facts: from the 1960s to the ‘90s, Eltz Castle was printed on the German 500 DM banknote, and only two thirds of the castle are open to the public because some of the Eltz family still live there. Talk about turning green with envy!
Located on a mystical cliff at the edge of the Swabian Alps, Lichtenstein Castle is also known as “Württemberg´s fairytale castle,” and many describe it as “hobbit-like.” Disney movies, Lichtenstein sure puts your castles to shame!
Every kid (and adult, for that matter!) dreams to live in a castle, but for Ludwig II and Otto I of Bavaria this dream came true. The boys’ father, King Maximilian II, built the castle in southwestern Bavaria on the border with Austria, and while the parents lived in the main building, the children took the annex. When the King died, Ludwig II succeeded to the throne and moved into his father’s room in the castle. For lovers of the neo-gothic style, this is the gem for you.
What scores Mespelbrunn Castle extra awesome-points is its moat. Bonus: the lake-side location. You’d never know that her precursor was just a simple house built by a knight who was rewarded the land for his services against the Czechs.
Beaten up by battles and two bolts of lightning on separate occasions, Heidelberg Castle, much of which is overgrown with ivy, is a majestic ruin that epitomizes German romanticism. Here, pay a trip to the Hortus Palatinus pleasure garden, which for many years was deemed the eighth wonder of the world, despite never being completed. Heidelberg Castle has a hodgepodge look: it is an accumulation of several buildings (each constructed during a different architectural period) surrounding a common courtyard.