Castle of the Week 115 – Berwartstein Castle, Germany

Berwartstein Castle

Berwartstein Castle is located on a pinnacle of rock in the southern Rhineland-Pfalz region of Germany. It is unique because originally the only entrance was a single “chimney” in the rock on the east side. One person at the top could defend the castle by pulling up the rope ladder and pouring boiling oil on the head of any would-be attacker. In later years other entryways were added, and today the chimney has been blocked off from inside the castle.

The nearby town of Erlenbach was settled in 740 A.D., and it is thought that the castle pre-dates it. The first written record of the castle is not until 1152 however, when Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) gave the castle to Bishop von Speyer. From 1201-1343 the castle belonged to robber baron knights, who terrorized the countryside. Finally having enough of it, the cities of Strasbourg and Hagenau joined forces and stormed the castle. After a siege the knights of Berwartstein surrendered and the castle was sold.

Berwartstein Castle

An interesting time for the castle was during the later 15th century to the mid-16th century. The Palatine Elector, Frederick I, was in a dispute with the Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Weissenburg. Frederick I occupied Berwartstein in 1479 and then granted it as a fief to Hans von Trapp (aka von Trotha or van Drot), another robber baron. Von Trapp eagerly partook in the dispute against the abbey. He dammed the river above the abbey thereby damaging its mills, only to later flood the land by destroying another dam. Abbot Henry complained to the Pope, who excommunicated the Elector, von Trapp and his knights. Excommunication was followed by an Imperial Ban by Prince Maximilian I. Von Trapp was still held in great regard by Palatine Elector Philipp II, however, who sent him to France where he was given the honor of being made a Knight of the Golden Fleece. Hans von Trapp and his son Christoph had possession of the castle from 1485-1545. He built the Tower of Little France (Vorwerk) and modernized the castle.

Berwartstein Castle

The castle has a torture chamber and two tunnels leading out from the catacombs, one to the Tower of Little France, and the second to the town of Erlenbach. The knight’s hall (which is now a dining hall/restaurant) is decorated with frescoes of knights in armor. The well, 104m deep through rock, helped the castle residents to withstand sieges.

A fire destroyed the interior of the castle in 1591, and it lay uninhabitable for centuries. Captain Theodor von Baglenski restored Berwartstein between 1893 and 1922. Next it was owned by Aksel Faber. He lived mostly abroad, however, so the upkeep of the castle went to his neighbor, Alfons Wadle, who lived in the town nearby. Wadle bought it in 1955 and repaired the damage sustained during World War II. During the war, villagers from Erlenbach had taken refuge in Berwartstein and its catacombs and tunnels. Today Berwartstein is still owned by the Wadle family.

ground plan of Berwartstein Castle

Photographs courtesy of Burgenwelt.
Write-up by Kester.

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