As little children we all grow up watching Disney’s fairy tale movies and then have high expectations of finding prince charming and living happily ever after in a castle. Then we’re told to grow up, get our heads out of the clouds and have more realistic expectations of life. I would have done that had it not been for the simple fact that I moved to Germany, a country with an overabundance of hilltop castles and charming fairy tale towns fit for the setting of Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella. Once again, Wartburg Castle has shown me that fairy tales are true!
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Germany has no shortage of castles and you can always find one within a short distance from wherever you are! Thuringa, one of the 16 federal states of Germany, conveniently located right smack in the middle of the country. Nicknamed “the green heart of Germany” (das grüne Herz Deutschlands) thanks to the dense forest within its borders. And perched atop one of those hills surrounded by lush, green forest is Wartburg Castle, the first German castle UNESCO World Heritage Site which holds significant importance to the identity of Germany, was a place of refuge for Martin Luther and even inspired an opera, Tannhäuser, therefore, making it one of the best castles in Germany to visit!
History of Wartburg Castle
Built during the Middle Ages, supposedly after Ludwig der Springer discovered the land during a hunt and yelled “Wart’ Burg! du sollst mir eine Burg tragen!” (“Wait, mountain – you shall bear my castle!”) a simple play on words and soon set to work to building his castle here. Perched on a 410 m (1,350 ft) bluff overlooking the nearby town of Eisenach, the castle was continuously fortified by members of the family. The castle was home to several notable people, from Elisabeth of Hungary, also known as Saint Elisabeth of Thuringa, as well as a more notable name, Martin Luther, the persecuted reformer.
From the 12th to 13th century, Wartburg castle was considered to be one of the most important princes’ courts in the German Reich. Hermann I was a big supporter of poetry and therefore, often held the legendary Sängerkrieg, or Contest of Minstrels, pitting one poet against another. The castle even won recognition as a Mecca for the best poets and minnesingers of the time! Artists of all kinds were encouraged to to express themselves while living here.
Poets like Walther von der Vogelweide and Wolfram von Eschenbach who was a six time winner of Battle of the Bards, and many others competed in these medieval style poetry slams and this event later inspired Richard Wagner to write his opera Tannhäuser, which would later inspire King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who was a devoted patron of Wagner, to build Schloss Neuschwanstein, the ultimate castle for all fairy tale dreamers!
The opera itself is a combination of two German legends derived from a collection of Thuringia legends, Tannhäuser, the legendary medieval German Minnesänger and poet, and the tale of the Wartburg Song Contest. Still popular in the 21st century, the story depicts the struggle between sacred and profane love to redemption through love.
As mentioned, the most notable resident of the Wartburg Castle would be Martin Luther who sought refuge within the castle after being excommunicated and declared a heretic in 1521 for refusing to renounce his doctrine. The priest was then kidnapped and brought to Wartburg Castle for his safety. While hiding incognito, he spent 14 months translated the New Testament from Greek into every day German which has since held a special place in the hearts of Germans and modernized the German language.
Visiting the Castle
To reach the castle, you can park below the castle and do a small hike up to the castle. Unfortunately, the castle is not very wheelchair friendly, however, there is a shuttle bus for elderly visitors or those with restricted mobility which runs from the car park to the castle. The castle is open 365 days a year!
Once you have reached the top, you can enjoy a view of the castle from a small viewing platform and enjoy my personal favorite aspect of the castle: the half-timbered frames and the conglomeration of a variety of architectural styles which had been incorporated in over a long period of time. Wartburg Castle is definitely one of the top 10 castles in Germany to visit for its beauty, history and romance!
After you’ve taken your fair share of photos, you’ll cross over the draw bridge into the inner courtyard, you’ll buy your tickets either for a guided tour or a self-guided tour with an audio guide.
Before we began our schedule tour, we walked around the inner courtyard admiring the variety of architectural structures, of which you know I looooved the half-timbered portion the best! We meandered around, check out the tower for an extra euro and then made our way to the entrance.
Your tickets will include a visit to the Palas, the oldest portion of the castle which have several rooms with vaulted ceilings that umbrella from a single column in the center of the rooms, each immaculately designed.
The most impressive are the former women’s quarters, also known as the Elisabeth Room, which shimmers with faux-Byzantine mosaics depicting St. Elisabeth’s life as the Hungarian princess who renounced all splendor for a life helping others. The castle served as her haven and still today, her work in known and honored all over the world. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the castle, but you’ll have to take my word for it, the room is stunning!! You’ll also pass through a long hallway known as the Elisabeth Gallery.
Next, you’ll come to the Hall of Minstrels, the elaborately decorated room where the poetry slam contests were held. Although, no one knows for sure if these contests ever actually took place or if purely a legend. The large hall has a medieval-eqsue appeal to it and rows and rows of chairs facing towards the stage, which might look familiar if you have been to Schloss Neuschwanstein. It is said that Ludwig II visited the castle and wanted a similar stage in his own castle. Today, the hall is used for visitors to enjoy high standard classical concerts in the summer months.
Finally, you’ll come to the Lutherstube (Luther’s Chamber), a simple room with no furnishings other than a writing desk, stool and a simple ceramic stove heater. Unfortunately, the chair and desk are supposedly replacements given to the castle by the family, as over the centuries, religious pilgrims chipped away at his belongings until nothing was left. There was also once an ink stain on the wall where Martin Luther had throw his ink bottle at the wall, which today has also been chipped away by pilgrims and nothing remains. Martin Luther is considered to be the father of the Protestant Reformation.
In 2017, Germany celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation by hosting a national exhibition titled ‘Luther and the Germans’ from May 4th to November 5th at Wartburg Castle. This ambitious project enlightens visitors to the history of Martin Luther and Germany, from the very moment that he nailed in 95 theses to the Wittenberg castle church door in 1517 to the present portraying him as a national symbol.
There was even a section of the exhibition that I found most intriguing, about Lutheranism in the Nazi Reich. Nazis had replaces the gold cross which tops the castle with a swastika and the town and castle went crazy and three days later, the gold cross was returned to its rightful place.
Overall, Wartburg Castle was one of the most beautiful castles in Germany we have thus visited! While I was hoping for some snow, you can never go with with a castle at any time of year! Tourists only seem to focus on visiting the most popular castles in Germany like Schloss Neuschwanstein, but I would say Wartburg Castle is one of the best castles in Germany! But, then again, perhaps I’m biased because its a partial half-timbered castle! And I quiet enjoy the bird coup located throughout the inner courtyard!
Where to Stay Near Wartburg Castle
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Romantik Hotel auf der Wartburg – At the Wartburg Castle, of course! Enjoy a five-star stay at the Wartburg Hotel which is richly decorated with amazing views of the Thuringian Forest, the castle and the town of Eisenach!
The Nearby Town of Eisenach
A rather low key, but charming town at the foot of the castle, is the town of Eisenach. If you plan to visit the castle, than a quick visit into town might be worth your time, after all, it’s also the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach! The town is quite compact and easy to be explored within a short amount of time.
The Georgenkirche, located next to the spacious Markt is where Johann Sebastian Bach was baptized and where the excommunicated Martin Luther preached a sermon. The church itself is quite unique inside as it was once a catholic church before it was converted in a Lutheran church with very little decoration inside.
Just a few steps from here is the Stadtschloss (City Castle), or more realistically, a minor residence of the Saxony-Weimer dynasty. Today, it also serves as the tourist information center and the Thüriger Museum next to the Rathaus (City Hall).
Schamels Haus at 9. Johnnisstrasse is considered to be Germany’s narrowest half-timbered house at just a whopping 2 m wide (just barely 10 feet wide!). Of, course, being a fascinated by superlatives of Germany, we had to visit, and even more, it’s half-timbered! The house was saved from being demolished in the 70s and locals jokingly call it the “towel” because it’s just about the size of one! No one lives here, but since 1991 there has been a small exhibition and historical furniture inside for visitors to take a peek at!
If you have more time you can visit the Bachhaus and the Lutherhaus which both share more information and history on both men. Not being religious nor into classical music, we opted to skip these. And throughout the town you’ll find a few statues of both men. In general though, the town is super cute with a town gate connected to the nearby church.
We also saw a tower perched on an opposite hill from the Wartburg Castle which we decided to take a closer look at, plus we figured it might offer an amazing view of the castle. Turns out, it’s a fraternity monument called the Burschenschaftsdenkmal (Fraternity Memorial) built to commemorate the 87 fallen brothers who fought in the German-French War of 1870.71. From here we did have a pretty great view of the Wartburg Castle just as I had assumed, although the winter clouds were rolling in quick thick!
Where to Eat in Eisenach
By now were deathly hungry and becoming hard core hangry and neither one of us was carrying a Snickers bar.
Das total Verrückt Kartoffelhaus (The Crayz Potato House!) – Heading to northern Germany, it’s quite popular to find these “Kartoffelhauses” which serve traditional German food, with some interesting potato-related options like a Kartoffel-pizza…. ya, I’ll let you sit and think about that one for a moment. Katroffelhauses are also typically decorated in a variety of memorabilia and vintage signs and this one was definitely uniquely decorated! We ordered a platter with traditional Thüringer sausages and lamb with a side of potatoes and sauerkraut. You simply can’t go to Thuringa without trying a Thüringer sausage!
If you’re interested in visiting Germany and are looking for more information, I highly recommend using the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide! Without these guides, I would be lost! This is my travel Bible!
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