There be dungeons
Revellers who took leave of their fellow dinner guests to visit the garderobe (medieval toilet) would find to their dismay that it locked from the outside. This was not to keep them from rejoining the party, but as a precaution against invaders who had been known to scale the walls and enter through the toilet, which hangs precariously over empty space.
There’s a collection of armour dating from 600BC to 1500, but the highlight for our four-year-old is undoubtedly the dungeon’’, which is in fact the former stables. It houses numerous instruments of torture, including a rack, a shame mask to punish gossipmongers and another mask with a heavy ball attached that forced the wearer to crawl face-down in the mud.
On that uplifting note we leave Marksburg and set off up the road towards Koblenz, where the River Lahn converges with the Rhine. On a hill overlooking the confluence is Lahneck Castle, which was built for the archbishop of Mainz in the 13th century.
After the scale of Marksburg we find Lahneck refreshingly accessible and we’re fortunate to be treated to a fascinating private tour by a charming guide, Frau Ahlbach. We make our way through rooms furnished in a mix of styles and enter the chapel, where Frau Ahlbach hands our boy an ancient key and asks him to open a real treasure chest.
The first story she tells about the castle dates to 1312, when the remaining 12 Knights Templar, under papal orders to disband, supposedly sought refuge here and perished after a heroic last-ditch stand. Badly damaged in 1633, during the Thirty Years War, the castle fell into ruin but more than a century later it became famous as a symbol of a new romantic spirit sweeping Europe. In 1774, a young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was sailing down the Lahn, looked up at the ruins of Lahneck Castle, and was inspired to pen the words: High on the ancient tower stands the noble spirit of the hero, And bids the passing ship God speed’’. The poem, Geistesgruss (Ghostly Greeting), is said to have sparked the literary movement known as Rhine romanticism.
But the story that makes the biggest impression on our wide-eyed toddler is the tragic tale of Idilia Dubb, a 17-year-old Scottish lass. In 1851 she was on holiday with her family in nearby Lahnstein when the castle was still in ruins and surrounded by a deep moat. One summer day she set off with sketchbook in hand to draw the landscape but failed to return. Police searches failed to find her and the broken family eventually abandoned hope and returned home to Edinburgh.
By 1862 the castle had passed into private hands and restoration work had begun on Goethe’s famous
ancient tower’’. There the workmen made the gruesome discovery of Idilia’s skeleton, along with pages from her sketchbook recording her final days. She had apparently climbed the rotted wooden stairs into the tower keep only to see them collapse behind her, and her frantic screams and signals for help were mistaken by passing boatmen as friendly waves from a maiden in a tower . . . all part of the romance of the river. www.germany-tourism.de www.burg-eltz.de www.marksburg.de www.loreley-info.com
Storybook setting: Romantic Eltz Castle is perched on a rocky crag near Koblenz