Okay, I’ve already written a post about our trek to Bonn, which included the train ride down to Königswinter, however that post was simply a brief overview of our day trip, and in a way there is so much more to Königswinter, and Drachensburg, that it probably deserves a post of its own. Actually, it probably doesn’t, but since I do enjoy writing (and it is more of a hobby than anything else, since I don’t actually make any money from it, and can’t be bothered to put the huge amounts of effort into turning it into a profitable venture because, well, there are any other things that I also enjoy doing, such as watching pointless Youtube videos), I’ll write about Königswinter, and the castle we traveled to anyway.
Mind you, I would have never discovered Königswinter if it wasn’t for the fact that I discovered that the Bonn U-Bahn goes all the way down here, and half the reason that I ended up coming down here was because I wanted to travel to the end of the line. Well, Königswinter-Faree isn’t actually the end of the line, but it is close enough, and it was also where I discovered that they had a Sealife aquarium, which we didn’t get to see because we missed out by a factor of five minutes (namely because I insisted on having a beer down at one of the pubs on the main street). However, it wasn’t actually the Sea-life Aquarium that attracted me, or even the fact that it was located at the end of the line. Hey, it didn’t even have anything to do with the fact that it was on the banks of the Rhine because, well, both Bonn and Cologne were on the banks of the Rhine, and there were plenty of things to see and do there that it didn’t warrant a trek by U-Bahn out to one of the surrounding villages. No, rather it had a lot to do with the mountain that sat behind Königswinter.
Through the Back Street
First of all we had to actually get to the mountain and the U-Bahn doesn’t actually drop you off at the terminus of the Funicular Railway that will take you to the top. As such you get the opportunity of wandering through this lovely Westphalian town. The thing with Königswinter is that it didn’t come across the same way as, say, a suburb in an Australian city does. Sure, during the school holidays Mum would take us on day trips to the other side of the city simply to take us to the other side of the city, which is probably where our propensity to explore came from. However, just because we traveled that distance didn’t necessarily mean that there was all that much to see there. Actually, come to think of it that is probably the case in Europe as well, and like Australia, there are no doubt suburbs where even the locals try to avoid.
Well, Königswinter isn’t one of those suburbs. In fact it comes across as one of those towns that people travel to for short holidays or day trips. Obviously, having a Sea-life aquarium just next to the Rhine helps a lot, but of course Drachenfels is also a pretty major drawcard (even if you only come down there simply to go for a ride on the Funicular railway). However, Königswinter itself has a rather lovely feel about it as you wander around the traditional looking buildings, and the numerous outdoor restaurants. Mind you, being on the banks of the Rhine means that there are also quite a number of restaurants along the promenade, but we sort of avoided them namely because they seemed as if they were way too expensive. The other problem I faced is that other restaurants were closed, for a multitude of reasons, so my goal of grabbing a coffee while there was met with frustration. So, after meandering around some of the back streets we found ourselves at the base of Drachenfels, where the Funicular railway takes you to the top.
As I have suggested, one of the major drawcards is not so much the castle, or the palace, or the reptile farm, but the train that takes you up to the top. The thing with the train is that it is incredibly useful, even if they only run once every fifteen minutes or so (there are actually two, and one goes up while the other comes down, and they pass somewhere in the middle), namely because you don’t have to walk up to the top of the mountain. Okay, some of us do quite enjoy hikes, and if you are all that familiar with the trek, then there is a chance of you missing out on something, such as the reptile park (which was the case with us – I suspect one of the reasons there is an aquarium here is because of the reptile park).
However, the train is also an attraction, and wandering around the station at the base of the railroad there are displays as to its history. The thing with a funicular railway is that it is a railway that can go up hills. One of the biggest problems with trains is that they must run on a flat, or a near flat, surface – they simply cannot get traction to be able to go up inclines (which is why when they do the slope is very, very slight). However, the funicular railway solves that problem by having a third rail with is comprised of a number of teeth, and a cog wheel that pulls the train up the hill, and prevents it from going too fast down the hill. While it is a pretty nifty invention, it also means that the train is also pretty slow.
Anyhow, the museum at the bottom has a number of things, including a book (written entirely in German) that shows instructions on how to use the earlier train, as well as a number of historical pictures. It appears that this train has been around since the turn of the 20th century, no doubt because back then tourists would come down here to visit the place, though I sort of wonder what for since the palace halfway up the hill wasn’t open to the tourists. Sure, there is a pretty cool view from the top, as well as a ruined fortress, but in the end there really isn’t all that much to see and do, unless of course a hike in the German woods is your sort of thing.
However, it is now to this fortress that we turn.
The Dragon’s Fort
There is a legend to this mountain, namely that in the caves deep beneath it there once lived a dragon who had an awful lot of treasure. In fact the treasure was known as the treasure of the Nibelung. However, the dragon met its fate when the hero Seigfried crept into its lair, killed it, and then bathed in its blood thus becoming immortal. He also took the treasure back home, which was so immense that it required thousands upon thousands of carts to take it back. However, to cut what is in fact an incredibly long story to that of a paragraph, Seigfreid was killed on a hunting expedition, namely because when he was bathing in the blood, unbenowest to him a leaf landed on his back and that part of him became vulnerable. A huge battle ensured in which Seigfried’s wife went to war against the murderers, and the treasure was also dumped into the Rhine where legend has it that it sits to this day (though I suspect that if it was there then no doubt with all of our modern technology, we would have found it). Today, the dragon’s lair is a reptile park (not surprisingly).
At the top of the mountain is a true medieval castle, or what remains of one. The castle, known as Burg Drachenfels, was built around the 10th century to provide defense to Cologne against attacks from the south (back in those days Germany basically didn’t exist, and the region was divided up into hundreds of principalities and some such), and remained as such until the 30 Years War when it was captured by the Swedes and then destroyed. After the war ended nobody bothered rebuilding the castle, and it has basically been a crumbling ruin ever since.
As a tourist attraction, you can actually thank Lord Byron for that, who traveled here and romaticised on the fact that this was where the dragon Fafnir lived, and was also one of the locations where not only the Nibelungenleid was set, but also a part of Richard Wagner’s ring cycle. This romantic aspect to the place brought lots and lots of tourists to the region, and still does. In fact it is also jokingly referred to as the ‘highest hill in Holland’, namely due to all the Dutch tourists that end up here. However, before I continue, I probably should reference a poem by Lord Byron on the mountain (and also reference the Wikipedia article where I got all of the above information).
The castled crag of Drachenfels
Frowns o’er the wide and winding Rhine.
Whose breast of waters broadly swells
Between the banks which bear the vine,
And hills all rich with blossomed trees,
And fields which promise corn and wine,
And scattered cities crowning these,
Whose far white walls along them shine,
Have strewed a scene, which I should see
With double joy wert thou with me!
The Dragon’s Palace
So, after spending some time admiring the views, and also crawling over the ruins of Burg Drachenfels (and having a drink at the cafe at the railhead, though there is a fancy restaurant there as well), we decided to head back down. However I felt like walking (much to my brother’s objection – well not really, but knowing my brother he would have preferred to catch the train), and I also wanted to get a video of the train coming up the hill (which I did). The other reason was because I quite enjoy a country stroll, especially out in the European Hinterlands, and a wander down the mountain was an opportunity to do so.
However, halfway down (or up, depending on how you view the world), is a palace – Schloss Drachenfels. This palace was build by a rather wealthy banker in the early 1880s, but he never got to use it. In part it looks like a much smaller version of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, and in part it seems as if the builder of this castle was basically trying to mimic what Ludwig was building elsewhere (I believe that they were actually built around the same time, though Neuschwanstein was actually started about a decade earlier). The thing was that the owner never got the opportunity to live in the house, and over the years it passed through various owners to finally become another museum.
Other than the size the other difference is that you are allowed to take photos inside (and there is a train that takes you up the mountain whereas at Neuschwanstein you either have to walk, or catch a horse and buggy). The other thing is that you can only go into Neuschwanstein as a part of a guided tour, where as here you can wander around as you will, though I should mention that parts of the palace are roped off and while you can go into the roped off areas, you can only do so if you happen to be a part of a guided tour. However, as I mentioned, that isn’t necessary and you can see a pretty good portion of the palace otherwise.
If you have ever wandered through a palace like this you will probably know what to expect – you will wander into a room and there will be a panel which tells you all about this room (and while they have panels here, they all happen to be in German). The thing is that while I could go through all the of the rooms giving you a detailed description of them, I won’t, namely because despite understanding German, my German isn’t as good so as to enable to me translate all of the boards. However, what I will do is share some photos that I have taken of some of the rooms.
One thing you will note is that they do set these places up to make them look as if they are being lived in, which I suspect is the purpose of these museums. The problem was that I don’t believe anybody actually lived in here (the original builder never did). The other things are the detailed murals that cover the walls, most notably one of the rooms called the Nibelungenleid room, which is covered in images from the Nibelungenleid. Another thing I noticed was that one of the rooms as a pool table, so no doubt they were playing snooker back in the late 19th century.
Oh, and as with all palaces there is also a garden, but the garden isn’t actually that large (though I do note that Neuschwanstein doesn’t happen to have a garden, but then again it is halfway up a mountain, and a pretty rugged one at that).
You can find some more photos of Konigswinter and Drachenfels on my Flickr account.