One of the more fascinating aspects of Germany are the many castles throughout the various regions of the country. Germany wasn’t united until the late 19th century, until then independent city states ruled various regions. Since the Rhine was a major trading route, many castles were set up along the river to collect taxes for those passing through and helping these small city states prosper.
Rheinfels castle (Flickr: Nigel’s Europe)
One of the biggest of these castles along the Rhine is Rheinfels castle in St Goar. Built in 1245, this castle was a menacing fortress which not only intimidated with its presence but also provided a strong defense when called upon.
In 1692, it withstood a siege of thousands of French troops as it withstood a fierce attack. The castle employed many people and with its size and location, was tough to overtake. In 1797, the French Revolutionary Army finally overcame the castle with barely a fight and destroyed most of it leaving what we now see today.
The castle, with its size and accommodations, is quite impressive even in its current state. Even its location is part of the attraction as it rises high above the Rhine. The castle sits high upon the hill of St Goar and is a 15 minute uphill hike or a few minutes ride on the tourist train to the castle entrance.
The interior remains of Rheinfels castle (Flickr: pixie_bebe)
Like many famous fairytale castles, the entrance includes a bridge and a moat which leads to the ticket office. From there, you can call in advance to book a tour or round up enough people to request a tour from an English or German (and other languages) guide.
You can begin the tour of the castle with a stop in the museum to see a model of the castle during its glory years. The fortification of this castle was impressive and the museum details the strength of the castle. After its defeat by the French, it served as a quarry for many years. The castle has stood ever since and unlike much of Germany, wasn’t subject to bombing in WWII.
Wandering deep inside the castle, you begin at the Medieval Castle Courtyard which served as a market and home for some servants. Livestock, bread, fruits and vegetables, and more were inside this courtyard. From there, wander through the castle garden and up to the highest lookout tower to see the view of the Rhine.
A view of the Rhine from the castle (Jeremy Branham)
Near the lookout tower were the soldier’s quarters, catapult areas, and slits in the tower for crossbows. The soldiers were kept close to the primary areas of defense so they could get to their posts at a moment’s notice. Other areas of the castle include a prison, slaughterhouse, a cellar, and even mine tunnels used to detonate explosives to unsuspecting invaders.
After touring the castle and its impressive views of the Rhine, enjoy a walk through St Goar with its many shops and eateries. While the town is a fun stroll, the main attraction is one of the mightiest castles on the Rhine. While Rheinfels is no longer a functioning castle, its place in history and its significance along the Rhine is worth making a visit if you love German castles.
If you want to explore more of the area, St Goar is just a few minutes boat ride from the town of Bacharach where you can explore more of the Romantic Rhine in a beautiful, German town.