There be dun­geons

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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

Pic­ture: Ley But­ter­worth

Sto­ry­book set­ting: Ro­man­tic Eltz Cas­tle is perched on a rocky crag near Koblenz

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