Wednesday, January 11, 2012

St. Goar - Rheinfels Castle

One of the big draws for us to go to St. Goar other then the Rhine, are the castels. These aren't the Fairytale Castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, but the war fortress real deal. We found a picture of the castle as viewed from St. Goar in old times.
The streets and new layout made it quite the challenge, but I got as close to I could with the modern view.
There was a touristy train that went up to the Rheinfels. And by train I mean converted tractor covered with painted plywood pulling an equally converted trailer thing. Needless to say we enjoyed our walk. Plus if we didn't do our walk we wouldn't have been able to wonder through the vineyards which are as old as the castle.
They are still tended to and wine is produced from their fruit. Plus it gives such a great view of the sleepy town below. You might think that it would be hard to care for and harvest these grapes on the hill. In the days of old I'm sure it was. Modern times gives you chair on a monorail that snakes along the hill. Simply sit on the chair with large basket for grapes / tools /... beside you and you're set.
Finally making it to the castle we could start exploring around. This is the inside of one of the towers. The old winding stairs are longer there, but just some fragments of where they joined the wall.
Part of the castle was a really interesting museum. For it's small size it packed a lot of really interesting things inside. Below is one of many scenes carefully crafted. From foreground to background the miniatures show the transition of armies in what they looked like over time. This particular display showed from roman times all the way up to Napoleon.
Various letters and writings were on display. Treaties and other minor history changing events were decreed on these old parchments. These were the originals, and it was a queer feeling thinking of the people who wrote them. Actual living breathing people with families, goals, and everything else. A bit of a window through time. The penmanship is magnificent. A art which is long lost save a few who keep up the craft.
Some cannon balls saved from one of the armories. Simple but very effective.
Poking out a window in the museum you can see along one of the walls and walking paths which takes you around the base of the castle.
This was one of the oldest pieces in the museum. It is a celtic grave stone dated at 400 BC. In double checking the date I found this Rick Steves write up on the castle. I'm sure much more informative then what I'm writing here.
Walking to one of the top towers of the castle you can see the layers that make up the castle. Each section very practical in offering defences during sieges, and other uses during peace time.
From the same vantage point you can look down into the inner courtyard.
Figured this would be a good place to stop and have a spot of lunch. Enjoying the sun and the view of the Rhine we thought that guards way back when may very well have done the same thing. Each a simple lunch of bread, cheese, cold meats, and water. Seemed very fitting.
Gotta get a couple shot while we are up there too.
I opted for the detour by exploring the mining shafts. This picture makes it look very bright since I'm using the camera's flash. Bright, the tunnels were not as the only light I had was from my iPod Touch. Ashley thought exploring with little light and no map wasn't a good idea. So I went in alone. While in there I discovered a family having a domestic issue. Father and mother were arguing where they were and how to get out. Children were starting to get less happy. I smiled and walked in the other direction. They decided to follow me thinking I knew the way. So I kept up the act. Going along a ways I ran into a group of high schoolers. There was a whole lot of German words flying which I didn't understand any of. I smiled and went back the way the high schoolers came. Figure they recently entered the tunnel. The family followed me and soon we were out. They thanked me, I said no problem, in German of course. So they think I knew the tunnels AND spoke German. HA!
Later we found some candles, as well as someone carrying a torch through the castles. Having a torch going through a castle is SO cool. So with candles in hand we could explore more of what the castle has to offer. One thing that was so very refreshing is the lack of liability crap. If this were a place in Canada there would be rope, and barriers, and signs, and guards everywhere. No you can't explore that really cool old mine because there is a 0.0001% chance you could sue us or because some parent got pissed off because he/she wasn't actually looking after her child. Here it was "there's the castle, respect it, and do whatever. If you get hurt, or lose a child it's your own fault." K, rant over.

Oh before I forget. Once these mines were done extracting ore they were turned into defences. The roofs of the mine were covered in slate. Then the bottoms were filled with gunpowder. If a advancing army were in the field approaching the castle, the castle could detonate one or many of the tunnels. This would send explosives and slate shrapnel everywhere. According to the history books they did in fact use this, and it proved extremely effective.
This great room is the large cellar. To gain some perspective, those red boxes at the end are about 9' tall. A castle had a lot of people to feed, especially in a siege. In a battle of attrition you needed a lot of food stores. So this cellar combined with a central deep well in the middle of the court yard, this castle did very well. Behind the red boxes (we couldn't get into it) was a single stone barrel which would hold 180,000 liters of wine. Oh, now a days they used this cellar to hold candle lit concerts.
The castle had by far the scariest men's room. One of those handles will flush. The other.... choose very carefully.
Another look at one of the old walls from outside the castle.
The merging of stone and plant made much of the castle quite fairy like. Ashley was very happy.

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