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This Edited Guide Entry is one of six sub-divisions of the mammoth Community collaboration on Great Castles. Links to the remaining five entries can be found at the bottom of the page.
Burg Altena ('Castle of Altena'), Germany
Burg Altena served as the headquarters for the 'Markgraf Engelbert' (Count Engelbert of the Mark). 'Mark' here is not the 'March of Brandenburg' but some kind of border area, namely the one east of the Bishopric of Cologne.
Today serves as museum for local history of the 'County of the Mark'. The area, situated in the western part of the Sauerland and is called 'Maerkischer Kreis' in honour of that part of history.
Furthermore, there is a major musical event, called 'Burg-Rock', which takes place every year at Burg Altena. One of the better known bands to have played there in the past decade was Toto. While Toto represents mainstream the Burg-Rock is rather a festival of independent music of a harder level.
Neuschwanstein was conceived by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as the epitome of the perfect fairytale castle. He had his architects design a bizarre, faux-Medieval wedding cake of a castle, a cluster of fanciful turrets and arches growing up out of the keep, which would stand on a ledge high in the Bavarian Alps, near the town of Fussen. Construction was begun in 1869. Unfortunately for Ludwig, before the castle was completed he was declared insane and forced to abdicate. The castle wasn't completed before his death in 1886, and remains unfinished today. Gold leaf and ornate decorations feature heavily in the interior décor. The strange charm of Neuschwanstein continues to draw many thousands of tourists there every year. Ludwig II was a very peculiar man. He was big buddies with Wagner and had that weakness for extravagant mysticism. He also didn't like contact with other people. Now, what has this got to do with the castle?
Ludwig's castles all have an artificial grotto of his own design with colourful illumination and artificial lakes where he would row about in a boat (sometimes with Wagner) and listen to (Wagner's) music. The Neuschwanstein grotto is quite small (compared to his other castles) and is probably also not completely finished. Another interesting thing is the Tischlein Deckdich-mechanism (a fairy-tale about a table that would serve a meal by itself). The dining table of Ludwig was mounted on an elevator that would go directly into the kitchen. There it would be prepared and lift up into his dining room. In that way, he wouldn't have to see any of the servants.
The castle itself was - as mentioned - was left as an unfinished carcass, leaving it beautiful from the outside, but empty from the inside. The over expensive entrance fees and the difficulty getting to it (eg, circa 80km from Munich) generally annoy people. There are many hiking tracks in the region around the castle, offering many views of the valley and the castle itself.
Schloss Neuenhoff (Castle New Court), Germany
This castle is situated in the town of Lüdenscheid, Sauerland and its owners are still the original aristocrats, named 'Freiherr und Freifrau von Busche-Kessel', who still live in their castle. They run a wood shop and a pretty exclusive wine shop.
The pretty small castle is located in a very small valley of a very little creek and the building is surrounded by a moat. Along the valley there are some minor buildings belonging to the castle, such as a barn and a mill.
The Emperor's castle of Trifels is the most formal of the forts from the Staufer period, and is situated on the highest of three mountains - all with castles - above the small town of Annweiler (this is near Landau in the Palatinate). The mountain (Sonnenberg = sun mountain) is 494m above sea level and 310m above Annweiler, and is built on a rock which has two clefts, therefore looks like three rocks, hence the name: Trifels (three rocks, if you mix the Latin and the German). It became the treasury and was a safe keeping place for the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. It also served as a prison. The locals claim to this day that Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned there from 1193 - 1194 and that this was where Blondel rescued him, but there is no proof of this.
The castle is open from April to September from 9am to 4pm and in the winter from 9am to 5pm hours, and is shut in December.
It has a large knight's meeting room, dining or ball room which is used for concerts (classical chamber music mainly). It is surrounded by woods and, of course, you can get a meal there, having hiked through the woods to get to it. However, be prepared to climb millions of steps, once you have climbed the hill to get to it!