The drive up to the castle is a narrow, windy road. Perched on a rocky spur at a height of nearly 800 m with unobstructed views of the plains below, you can see why it would have been a strategic choice for building a fortified castle.
As we neared the top, we began to see cars parked on the side of the road and traffic police keeping an eye on things. The line of cars stretched for over a km on both sides of the road and we began to wonder if it was going to be so crowded that we wouldn’t actually enjoy the visit. We decided to go ahead regardless since we were already there. Once we got inside, it actually didn’t seem crowded since it was such a large area to visit and everyone naturally spreads out.
Warning: I'm going to include a lot of historical information about the castle since I really enjoyed this castle and also because it gives some context to the pictures and descriptions - I may have plagiarized a bit from various brochures in the process of trying to convey all the facts. The castle is first mentioned in historical documents in the 12th
century but during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), it managed to resist the attack of the Swedes for a month and then it was looted and burned. It lay abandoned for nearly two and a half centuries after that. In 1899, it came into the possession of German emperor William II oh Hohenzollern (the Kaiser). William was determined to see the castle restored to its former glory and thus set aside a considerable amount of money for its restoration. The restoration took only eight years to complete from 1901-1908. The finishing touches and acquisition of collections continued until 1918.
Bobo Ebhardt, the architect in charge of the restoration, painstakingly rebuilt each part of the castle using a series of photographs, a detailed survey and extrapolation of the remaining ruins, and advanced archaeological and architectural observations. He was essentially putting together pieces of a very large puzzle: 2.5 tons of debris and 32,000 stone fragments were collected at the Haut-Koenigsburg site. Items dated from the 12th
century and items from everyday life (clothing, decorations, crockery, etc.) were mixed up with military equipment (crossbows, cannon balls, arrow heads, etc.) …parts of doors…chests and windows….roof tiles…ceramic stove tiles…animal bones…cut stone. All these items were catalogued meticulously and became part of the foundation for the accurate restoration of the castle. His research included visits to numerous castles in Europe to ensure it was being reconstructed accurately. The restoration of the castle itself was quite a feat because it used the latest technology of the times: electricity (this was essentially the first place in the surrounding Alsace region to get electricity), large construction cranes, vacuum cleaners and fire extinguishers to name a few.
Our self-guided tour started in the lower courtyard that included the stables and other buildings
that enabled to castle to remain self-sufficient. Going from the lower courtyard to the main courtyard, we had to cross through a gate and drawbridge over a moat (which were the last lines of defense before entering the heart of the castle). As we entered the courtyard, there is a 62 m deep well that supplied water to the castle. The well was fortified so that it could not be cut off from the living quarters by an artillery attack. Going on from there, we entered the inner courtyard, which was one of my favorite parts of the castle (the others being the Kaiser room and the Grand Bastion). It contained the kitchens (which contains a sink and two fireplaces preserved during the restoration), the polygonal staircase leading to the keep and private rooms, and another tank to supply more water. The tank was strategically placed near the kitchens and filled either via rainwater (which was directed into the tank via a network of pipes or filled by hand – from receptacles left outside the chateau and carried in by hand). The kitchen contained these massive fireplaces and in the adjacent room, the oldest and largest oak wine barrel in Alsace!
I won’t go into the details of each of the rooms because there is far too much to describe but here are a few highlights:
- The intricate ironwork throughout the castle – the restoration was such a large project that there were permanent blacksmiths that lived on the premises for the project and they had to build a forge to cater to all the ironwork required
- The Kaiser room with all its amazing frescos and woodwork
- Ceramic fireplaces, one with a built-in heated seat!
- The Grand Bastion – the highest part of the castle with commanding views of the plains below and intricately detailed cannons
Today we were on our way to Strasbourg. We had picked up brochures for Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg earlier on in our trip but weren't sure if it was worth visiting. We didn’t have anything else planned except the drive to Starsbourg and since the castle was pretty much on our route, we figured we should check it out. And it was a very good thing we did because it was a remarkable medieval castle that was so well restored and the tour so well laid out that you could almost imagine the knights, peasants, and royalty all going about their duties in the castle as we wandered through. Complete with draw bridges, moats, artillery platforms, kitchens and medieval gardens it was a feast for the eyes.