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Crash Course in Prince-Bishops at the Neues Schloss Meersburg

Grimm’s Fairy tales and Disney princesses does nothing to explain Prince-Bishops, but when you visit the Neues Schloss in Meersburg Germany, you’ll sufficiently round out your education.

There are three things you need to know about the Prince-Bishop situation in Meersburg.

  1. Being a Prince-Bishop was not a hereditary role.
  2. Prince-Bishops are called such because first they were elected as a Bishop, but after becoming Bishop they may take on more princely, governing roles that were outside the Church.
  3. Having a dual-role as a Bishop does not cure the urge to impress.

Before building the Neues Schloss, Meersburg Castle, Germany’s Oldest Inhabited Castle, was the home of the Prince-Bishop. In the 17th century, the medieval-ness of Meersburg Castle was not suitable for the entertaining and governing role of the Prince-Bishop, or so according to Prince-Bishop Johann Franz Schenk von Stauffenberg. In 1710, construction officially began. The palace was tinkered with over many years, and ultimately became the residence in the 1860s.

The new castle sits prettily up on a terrace with sweeping views of Lake Constance. Today, the ground floor has a small shop and an inside/outside garden cafe. The shining star architectural feature of the palace is the Baroque staircase up to the large reception hall on the second floor. It’s white, open design filled with windows, larger than life statuary on the landings, and the trompe l'oeil fresco on the ceiling is what truly makes this palace feel like a palace. Balthasar Neumann designed the staircase. The illusionist frescoes were painted by Giuseppe Ignazio Appiani.

During a visit, you’ll discover the typical sequence of rooms for a Baroque court. Immediately off the landing of the staircase is the large festival hall, and a true centerpiece with it's dazzling chandelier, murals, mirrors, and view overlooking the lake. On either side are princely offices, and beyond that are living spaces. The apartments and offices are peeks into interior decorating tastes in the 1800s.

Surprisingly, the Prince-Bishops had time for accumulating a vast collection of fossils and shells, and even stranger they loved hunting. Seems oddly counterintuitive to being a Bishop, but you’ll see these hobbies and more throughout the palace. There's also a castle church within the palace that is not visible from the exterior facade. A stable was converted into a Rococo-style feast for the eyes.

The staircase ceiling fresco photo was taken by Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg/ Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg.

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Flowers and Whimsy at Mainau Island

An island of flowers? It's not the first image that pops into my mind when I think of Germany. As we were planning our family trip to Lake Constance and it's towns, the flower-filled island of Mainau popped up. I’m passionate about flowers, and deeply appreciate the labor that goes into making beautiful gardens. Seeing the recommendations that you can easily spend a half day, or full day there, I was really looking forward to exploring Mainau.

To kick off our flower adventure, we needed to cross Lake Constance. We rented a house for the week in Meersburg, and the fastest, cheapest way to get there was by ferry boat. And not just any ferry boat, a ferry boat that carries cars! It would be my first time on a car ferry. We were so lucky, as we pulled up to the ferry boat, we realized we would be the first in the line of cars. Our view from our car would be perfect! While we were waiting, a man walked up and down the cars selling newspapers. It boggled my mind that this was for many an every day commute! Lake Constance was foggy this early in the morning, and there was a nip of chill in the air. Torn between wanting to hear the water and the birds or staying warm inside the car, we compromised and rolled one window down. It made for better photos that way too.

After the ferry ride, it was just a short drive to the parking lot where we left all wheels behind. We paid our admission, and walked along a short path by the lake and spied the feathered residents enjoying breakfast. We saw several ducks and swans diving down and up again.

Birds resting on a foggy Lake Constance | Germany

Birds resting on a foggy Lake Constance | Germany

There are several circuits that you can take around the island and we chose to walk counterclockwise. Right away, we saw a group of duck sculptures built out of flowers, then an extravagant peacock built out of flowers! It was like being in Cypress Gardens again. There was once a fantastic botanical park in Winter Haven, Florida called Cypress Gardens, and they had numerous animal sculptures built entirely of flowers. My grandparents used to take my brother and I every time we came to visit. It's no longer open, and has been transformed into a Legoland Theme Park. It made my heart smile to know in Germany flower animal sculptures still exist.

Duck Flower Sculptures on Mainau Island, Germany

Peacock Flower Sculptures on Mainau Island, Germany

Then we discovered a miniature farm where a rabbit had chickens and roosters for roommates. The rabbit had an extra espresso carrot that morning and sprinted in between the roosters, startling them. It was comical to watch. There was a goat who said good morning, and we visited with a calm, orange tabby cat that was not phased by anything. With the morning sunshine starting to bust up the fog clouds, his orange fur was angelically lit.

Mainau Island Farm & Petting Zoo | Germany

The farm was beside an area with a charming wooden bear stuck in a tree log, and a moss-covered troll couple.

Wooden Bear Stuck in a Log Garden Statue | Mainau Island, Germany

'Together in the Garden' Planted Statue in Mainau Island, Germany

The path we were on wound up and down the shore of Lake Constance. I loved the Dahlia garden which were in season, and they had about 75 to 80 different varieties on display.

Posing by the stunning Dahlia Gardens in full bloom on Mainau Island, Germany

Further along, we saw the Italian cascading fountain, and the map of Lake Constance illustrated through flowers.

Italian Style Flower & Water Cascade | Mainau Island, Germany

Floral Map of Lake Constance

We took a break at a garden cafe where the tables had built-in flower planters. It was just what we needed, walking halfway around Mainau Island already.

Garden Cafe Where Tables Had Built-in Flower Planters | Mainau Island, Germany

On top of the hill, the 13th-century Baroque palace and church stands from the time the Teutonic Knights owned the island. Alongside the church is an Italian rose garden complete with statuary and fountains. Wherever we looked there were colorful blooms surrounded by lots of greenery.

13th-century Baroque palace and church | Italian rose garden | Mainau Island, Germany

We passed giant redwood trees on our way to the butterfly house. The butterfly house was overwhelmingly crowded, both with people and butterflies. A pond with a waterfall entertained a gang of turtles, gorgeous orchids hung from the ceiling, and butterflies were everywhere. Specific feeding trays put out for the butterflies was a sure-fire way to get a good photo. I made myself dizzying trying to photograph a few of them! There was always a fluttering of wings passing overhead.

Mainau Island Butterfly House

By the end of the day it felt like we had seen the entire Nature Encyclopedia. It was refreshing, and a wonderful experience not to be missed, if your ventures take you to Lake Constance.

Flowers of Mainau Island

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Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle

Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle: Meersburg Castle

It really had been a long day. We’d already visited two castles as a family of five, Sebastian, his parents, his sister, and I. It was my 31st birthday, and everyone’s energy level was starting to wane. Yet, with a third castle looming literally on the horizon, the sun setting on my day, I looked deep into Sebastian’s eyes, gauging if he was up to the challenge. His parents had had it, and his sister sensed better shopping opportunities outside of Germany’s reputed oldest castle. It would just be us two going for three castles. And it was just I, who would climb ...the tower!

First, let me say it was so very much worth it. Meersburg Castle was medieval fun, unusual, creepy in good ways, and an adventure! In this very real, Choose Your Own Adventure, I elected to do the additional tower tour on my own. Sebastian’s fear of heights beat him this round. We hurriedly went through the entryway looking for the meeting spot for the tower tour, afraid we’d miss it. It was the last one of the day. We waited in a white-arched room with Bambi’s friends all over the walls. Since it was late in the day, the tour group was small. I left Sebastian behind, to be reunited after the tower.

Antique Hunting trophies in Meersburg Castle

I had guessed it would be exactly a tower climb up and climb down, escorted. Nope! It was actually a very-involved 20-minute German-language tour, which kindly reminded me how bad my German is. None of my core vocabulary words were used in the making of this tour; apfelstrudel, bier, kaffee. I made use of my time by taking photos, and trying not to be a nuisance taking photos. After a full day as a family of five, suddenly being alone with a group of Germans I didn’t know was odd. However, I think there is something appropriately poetic about having a solo adventure on your birthday though.

The highest lookout of Germany's Oldest Castle, Meersburg Castle

We finally started climbing some stairs. A good sign, on a Tower Tour! We ultimately ended up in an attic! I was expecting an open, stone platform with the stepped gable wall surrounding us, but instead we were in a wholly wooden attic which creaked and croaked every time we moved from one window to the next, and there were four windows. The stalwart tour guide continued on talking, but everyone’s attention was torn away by the stunning views of Lake Constance and the lower city streets below. Another window overlooked vineyards, and then even still a third window spied the pink ‘Neues Schloss’ around the corner. I tried to take a few selfies, but they either captured me with a blown-out white background, or a beautiful lake scene with a black silhouette. I was too shy to ask in my broken German for someone to take my photo. I concentrated instead on taking a deep breath and living in my own moment in my own little world in this tower.

After the tour I looked through empty medieval-appearing rooms for Sebastian, finding him exactly where I left him at the beginning.

You’re allowed to navigate the castle unescorted, and its labyrinth of rooms. The castle is so much bigger than it first appeared. There were various dioramas and figurines set up in many of the rooms, a medieval kitchen, dungeon, knights hall, and more. It's easy to get lost in the rooms.

Knight's Hall in Meersburg Castle, Germany

Throne in Meersburg Castle, Germany

When we discovered Annette von Drost-Hülshoff’s rooms, I was curious who she was. Her poetry hasn’t been widely distributed in English, although I’m told she’s part of German curriculums. Although she lived in the time of Goethe, her work doesn’t fit into the same style of Goethe’s, or anyone else for that matter. One interesting tidbit I read was that she and her sister actually contributed folk tales to the very famous folktale collectors, the Brothers Grimm. She lived and worked at Meersburg Castle for eight years, visiting her sister and her sister's husband who owned the castle at that time. In cross-checking for this post, I found a scholar who has translated many of her works and contextualized them with her biography for English readers. The scholar's name is Marion Tymms, and she has two books out, the first is Gods Sorely Tested Child: The spiritual life of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff with a translation of Das Geistliche Jahr (affiliate link).

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's Work Rooms and Bedroom in Meersburg Castle, Germany

The Castle has a garden that you cross to get through more exhibits. The museum made use of some of the outer buildings to recreate more dioramas of medieval life.

Germany's Oldest Inhabited Castle: Meersburg Castle Gardens

And be sure to check out the gift shop, if nothing else to see these impressive medieval helmets! I find the goose one the most intimidating! For information on visiting the castle, check out the tourism site of the city of Meersburg am Bodensee. Its a privately-owned, and inhabited castle, and the official castle website is unfortunately German only. You can find it here.

Strange Medieval Helmets in Meersburg Castle, Germany

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Burg Hohenzollern, Inside and Out

We spent the night as close to the castle as we could without being Prussian royalty. Specifically, a charming family-owned hotel, Hotel Brielhof where our little balcony looked out at the Hohenzollern up on the hill. When morning came, the castle was still hiding under a cover of fog.

We drove up steep Mount Zoller with the car as far as we could go. The rest of the way we took a tiny shuttle bus as far as it could go on the one-way road without a shoulder to pull off on. A glance out of the window made my heart race, surely a bellowing breeze could tip the bus over the edge. After, we still had a winding incline approach to walk, but it was within the castle gateway.We spent the night as close to the castle as we could without being Prussian royalty. Specifically, a charming family-owned hotel, Hotel Brielhof where our little balcony looked out at the Hohenzollern up on the hill.

It was truly worth it to be early, as the only other people around were employees. I could stop and take pictures as much as I wanted and not disturb anyone. I teased Sebastian that he had rented the whole castle for my birthday. We went in and got our tickets (first tour of the day) and visited the gift shop already to purchase the accompanying booklet of the castle tour in English that the website recommended when no English tours are available (weekdays).

Eagle Gateway, Equestrian Portrait of Prince-Elector Frederick I of Brandenburg | Castle Approach, designed by Colonel Moritz of Prittwitz and Gaffron

The booklet was only 4 Euros, nicely designed, historical photos and recent color photography throughout... it’s a nice souvenir. Photography is not allowed, so if you want to show family and friends at home what you saw, this booklet is the way to go. However, I realized during the tour that 75% of the English booklet was displayed on gigantic graphics throughout the tour, so it wasn’t as necessary to enjoy the tour as I thought. But since I had the booklet, I could stand wherever I wanted, and not worry about reading the signs. In the end, a nice souvenir for 4 Euros.

Hall of Ancestors
The first room we went into was a foyer that had the entire family tree, crests included, and sorted by color. Very organized! It was so impressive, and really brilliant planning to have this as your first impression. After standing agog at the long, family lineage, the next room is the Count’s Hall.
Before entering the Counts’ Hall with it's original floors, we had to put on these gigantic house slippers over our shoes. Don’t worry, one size WILL fit all, and everyone proceeded to do a Michael Jackson-style-moonwalk-shuffle for the rest of the tour. Rather than cover up the floors with protective, contemporary rugs that weren’t consistent with history, they’d rather us wear slippers. It's a great idea, and cute to see.

Ramp, interior courtyard of Burg Hohenzollern

Counts’ Hall
We went through a really long hall, with two rows of towering marble columns leading your eye up to vaulted ceilings. Windows on one side overlooking the valley below, the opposite side views the castle’s courtyard. The hall feels more like a ballroom, and is the largest room in the castle.

Iron Gate and Gate Tower | Burg Hohenzollern

Library & Margrave
The next room was a library with oak cabinets below eight beautiful murals that took over the whole wall, painted by Wilhelm Peters. The murals illustrated scenes and legends from the history of the castle, being built, destroyed, and built again, and again. Third time’s the charm.
Beyond the library, the next room we saw felt more like a study or office, a lived-in one with family portraits on a table, that looked out a cozy bay of windows.

Burg Hohenzollern's Gate Tower

King’s Bed Chamber
I was surprised at how modest the King’s Bed Chamber was, but we were reminded that the castle as it is now was reconstructed more as a memorial to the family seat than as a real home for the court. The only time the room was ever lived in was for a few months during World War II, when the Crown Prince William returned before moving to Hechingen.

Christ's Chapel | Burg Hohenzollern

Queen’s Room
After exploring 2-3 art gallery rooms on our own, the tour group met up again in the Queen’s Room, where we saw beautiful portraits of Prussian Queens, including Queen Louise by Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Our guide pointed out that the wallpaper design was hand-stenciled, and included A’s for Empress Augusta alongside the Prussian eagle.

We went through one more hall, where we gave back our borrowed house slippers. We walked down a few stone steps outside, and I noted we had followed a U-shape through the castle, and had come opposite of where we had begun. But the tour was not over yet.

Inner courtyard of Burg Hohenzollern

Bay Window Facade and Wooden Door Burg Hohenzollern

Treasure Chamber
Next, we went down a short flight of stairs into where the old Castle Kitchen used to be, which strangely, now holds all the treasures and artwork. I was delighted to finally see both Queen Louise’s dress, a button-up riding coat, as well as surprisingly a lock of Louise’s hair. It was a mousey-brown color. Of note were fancy snuff boxes, even including a life-saving one that stopped a bullet. The one and only time snuff was life-saving! There’s also a crown. Ha! Saved that for last, but it wasn’t as exciting in my mind. Tip! You have to be quick in this last part! I thought we would be able to leisurely look and admire everything, but not so! The tour guide has another tour to lead and she’ll need you out, so pick your items to admire wisely.

Burg Hohenzollern Wooden Door Leading to the Ticket Office and Gift Shop

The tour guide pointed us in the direction of a bit exploring we could do on our own. We went down into a casement, which felt like a cellar, almost catacomb where you could see where the White Lady might have snuck in, and saw some of the more medieval cannon charge and those sorts of things.Tip! there’s a way out of the casement that takes you out of the castle’s courtyard into a terrace with a nice view.

Jost Nicholas, the builder of the second reconstruction of Burg Hohenzollern

*Here are some photos from Burg Hohenzollern's website, to give you an idea of the tour. Photography is not allowed inside the castle.*

Photos from Inside Burg Hohenzollern | Copyright © 2010 Burg Hohenzollern

Only the Beginning
On my birthday, this was the first of three castles I saw in one day. After seeing Burg Hohenzollern, we drove further south to stay near Lake Constance, the Bodensee region. What were the other two castles? You'll have to wait until next month! It was a great birthday! Until then...

Fox Hole Bastion, Where The Casements Lead to..Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern Beer Garden Overlooking Gate Tower

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler