July 2019

On the other side of the river from the “Hostile Brothers” castles, Rheinfels Castle dates to 1245 and is the largest castle overlooking the Rhine. Historically, it covered five times its current area. Originally a residence, in 1479 the owner expanded it into a fortress and it withstood all efforts to conquer it until 1794 when the French revolutionary army blew it up. Thereafter, until 1834, the remaining stones were used to reconstruct a castle at Koblenz.

It has everything a medieval castle should have: a moat, courtyards, secret tunnels, and underground chambers. It’s spectacular even from the distance. Today, the moat is a path around the complex.

Next to the main building, there was a tower 177 feet tall, with a 34-foot diameter and walls 11 feet thick at the bottom. In the 14th century, a narrow round tower was added to the top, making it the highest butter-churn tower in Germany. (See May RPG Digest issue, Marksburg Castle.)

While much of the castle is a ruin, renovation through the years has made it a tourist attraction. Beginning in 1973, some of the outer buildings contain a luxury hotel, a “wellness” center, and a restaurant. There is also a museum within some of the better-preserved structures.

Renovations in 1997 restored the cellar to its original condition. It now serves as a meeting place for concerts, theater performances, and other shows. It has a diameter of 34 feet with walls 11 feet thick at the bottom.

The castle museum is in the former chapel, which is the only finished room of the original castle. The museum contains a model reconstruction of the castle before its destruction giving a sense of the size of the original castle. The medieval castle courtyard is beyond, and slightly uphill from, the castle museum building. This was the center of the medieval castle, which contained a bakery, pharmacy, garden, brewery, well, and livestock. These amenities would have allowed the castle to withstand an extended siege. In peacetime, 300-600 people lived in the castle complex. During a siege, that number could swell to 4,500. Remnants of the original 13th-century plaster, which was painted white, can still be found on some walls.

Since 1925, Rheinfels Castle is a property of the city of St. Goar (patron saint of sailors who died in the Rhine).

Next, we’ll visit the Cat and the Mouse.