January 6, 2009
Meersburg - Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle
The wind howled behind us as the three of us advanced through the dining hall of the old castle. Shivering, we rushed past the ancient windows as arrows of rain lashed the metre thick walls.
Manoeuvring past the sword-wielding sentries, we made it past the oubliette; the pit from where no man returns. The rain needled our faces as we ran down the ancient flagged stairs only to find ourselves in the romantic teashop on the terrace.
The teashop of the Altes Schloss Meersburg was closed that day but thankfully not the rest of the castle. Altes Schloss or Old Castle Meersburg eponymously dominates the town of Meersburg, a medieval German village of 5,500 situated on the northern shore of the Bodensee in the state of Baden-Württemberg; a short ferry ride from where Germany and Switzerland hold hands in Konstanz.
Meersburg is picturesquely situated on a steeply sloping hillside, with an upper town and a lower town. With its paint box colours and winding lanes Meersburg is a gem of medieval architecture.
While medieval in appearance, Meersburg has the air of a seaside town. An abundance of small hotels and restaurants line the Seepromenade, Meersburg's own little stretch of the Bodensee. Tethered yachts jostle in the waters known alternately as Lake Constance. Switzerland is clearly seen just 5km away.
Less than an hour earlier my husband George, my then 9-year-old Noah and I madly dashed to catch the bus departing hourly from the train station of nearby Friedrichshafen. Sitting cheek by jowl with a busload of gum-cracking German students I hadn't much hope for Meersburg.
The milk-run took a somewhat suburban route. But the 14th century lay just beyond the clock tower where the bus ambled to a halt. Despite the stinging rain and increasing wind, our spirits were buoyed by at the sight of the pretty town revealed within.
Resolving to shoehorn as much as we could into the allotted afternoon we headed across the drawbridge to the castle.
Schloss Meersburg known also as Burg Meersburg is Germany's oldest inhabited castle, founded in 628 by King Dagobert, the king of the Franks. With guide in hand we navigated chronologically through the thirty furnished rooms that gave us a taste of castle life from the 7th to the 19th century.
Once over the drawbridge and under the castle's yawning portcullis we weaved throughout the five towers of the ancient bastion like Dumas' Musketeers or Robin Hood's Merry Men. The spear-wielding sentinels are silent but the relics of a bloodier age are here, armour, helmets, axes and clubs. Piles of large stones are roughly stacked inside the windows, a reminder of when the enemy could have been brained by a well-aimed rock.
Moving cautiously amid the heavy timberwork we found the castle's kitchen with its fireplace big enough to sleep four. Of interest to Mum was the kitchen's stone sink that drained out a window about 25m above the ground.
The three of us peered down into the goose-bump inducing depths of well-like pit where prisoners were left to die. Noah surmised that there must have been a trapdoor for food. I don't think it was a consideration.
The more ancient of the castle's chambers were rudimentarily furnished with a smattering of rough-hewn benches and refectory tables. Deer pelts placed on the deep windowsills were the only attempt at providing warmth. More sumptuous were the rooms once occupied by the 17th century Prince Bishops and by the resident poet who lived and died here in the 19th century.
During her visits to Meersburg, revered German poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff stayed in the Old Castle, which in the 1840's belonged to her brother-in-law. In the Altes Schloss Meersburg Droste-Hülshoff's study and the room she in which she died are open to visitors.
If you go:
The town of Meersburg has a website www.meersburg.de
Visitor Information: Meersburg Tourist Office is located at Kirchstrasse 4 (tel. 07532/440400) and is open Monday to Friday 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 4:30.
Zurich is the nearest international airport 80km (49 miles) away.
Meersburg is reached from Switzerland in the south by ferry that departs Konstanz every 15 minutes during the day. The trip takes 15 minutes.
By Bus: Meersburg is not served by train. The nearest rail stations are in Überlingen 14km (9 miles) away, or in Friedrichshafen 17.5km (11 miles). From Friedrichshafen station, buses depart for Meersburg at 30-minute intervals. Buses display number 7395 on the front.
By Car -- Meersburg can be accessed by car via the E54 from Überlingen or Friedrichshafen or from the North via Highway 33.
Altes Schloss Meersburg is located at Schlossplatz 10. Tel.: 07532 / 80000
March to October its open 9.00 - 6:30, November to February 10.00 - 6.00. Admission is 8.50 Euros for adults, 5.50 Euros for children