Frankenstein Castle (German: Burg Frankenstein) is a hilltop castle in the Odenwald overlooking the city of Darmstadt in Germany. It is alleged that this castle may have been an inspiration for Mary Shelley when she wrote her 1818 Gothic novel Frankenstein.
- 1 Location
- 2 Meaning of "Frankenstein"
- 3 History
- 4 Legends and Myths
- 5 Current use
- 6 Travel information
- 7 Notes and references
- 8 Literature
- 9 External links
Frankenstein Castle is located in southern Hesse (Germany) on the spurs of the Odenwald mountain range at an elevation of 370 meter (1,200 ft.) close to the southern outskirts of Darmstadt. It is one of many historic castles along the Hessian Bergstrasse, also famous for its vineyards and its mild climate.
Meaning of "Frankenstein"
Frankenstein is a German name consisting of two words: The Franks are a German tribe and "stein" is the German word for "stone". Accordingly the meaning of Frankenstein is "Stone of the Franks". The word "stein" is common in names of landscapes, places and castles in Germany. Consequently, the term "Frankenstein" is a rather ordinary name for a castle in this region.
Before 1250, Lord Conrad II Reiz of Breuberg built Frankenstein Castle and thereafter named himself von und zu Frankenstein. The first document proving the existence of the castle in 1252 bears his name. He was the founder of the free imperial Barony of Frankenstein, which was subject only to the jurisdiction of the emperor, with possessions in Nieder-Beerbach, Darmstadt, Ockstadt, Wetterau and Hesse. Additionally the Frankensteins held other possession and sovereignty rights as burgraves in Zwingenberg (Auerbach (Bensheim)), in Darmstadt, Groß-Gerau, Frankfurt am Main and Bensheim. The hill on which the castle stands was probably occupied by another castle from the 11th century, which fell into ruins after Frankenstein Castle was built a short distance away to the northwest. Claims of an even older predecessor upon the hill are widespread, but historically unlikely.
In 1363, the castle was split into two parts and owned by two different families of the lords and knights of Frankenstein. At the beginning of the 15th century, the castle was enlarged and modernized. The Frankenstein knights became independent of the counts of Katzenelnbogen again.
Being both strong opponents of the reformation and following territorial conflicts, connected disputes with the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt, as well as the adherence to the Roman Catholic faith and the associated "right of patronage", the family head Lord John I decided to sell the lordship to the Landgraves of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1662, after various lawsuits at the Imperial Chamber Court.
The castle was used as refuge and a hospital afterward, falling into ruins in the 18th century. The two towers that are so distinctive today are a historically inaccurate restoration carried out in the mid-19th century.
Legends and Myths
The Odenwald, the mountain range on which Frankenstein Castle is located, is a landscape with dark forests and narrow valleys shrouded in mystery and enshrined in legend. Many folktales and myths exist about Frankenstein Castle. None of them is proven scientifically, but all of them have been exerting influence on the culture and the traditions of the region.
Alchemist Dippel, Mary Shelley & the Monster
In 1673 Johann Conrad Dippel was born in the castle, where he was later engaged as a professional alchemist. It is alleged that Dippel influenced Mary Shelley's fantasy when she wrote her Frankenstein novel, though there is no mention of the castle in Shelley's journals from the time. However, it is known that in 1814, prior to writing the famous novel, Shelley took a journey on the river Rhine. She spent a few hours in the town of Gernsheim, which is located about ten miles away from the castle. Several nonfiction books on the life of Mary Shelley claim Dippel as a possible influence.
Dippel created an animal oil known as Dippel's Oil which was supposed to be the equivalent to the alchemists' dream of the "elixir of life." At one point, Dippel attempted to purchase Castle Frankenstein in exchange for his elixir formula, which he claimed he had recently discovered; the offer was turned down. There are also rumours that during his stay at Frankenstein Castle, Dippel practiced not only alchemy but also anatomy and may have performed experiments on dead bodies that he exhumed. There are rumours that he dug up bodies and performed medical experiments on them at the castle and that a local cleric would have warned his parish that Dippel had created a monster that was brought to life by a bolt of lightning. There are local people who still claim today that this actually happened and that this tale was related to Shelley’s stepmother by the Grimm brothers, the German fairy-tale writers. However, none of these claims have been proven to this date, and some local researchers doubt any connection between Mary Shelley and Frankenstein Castle.
Lord Georg and the Dragon
Frankenstein Castle is rich in legends. One of the most famous legends is about Lord Georg and a dragon, by August Nodnagel (1803-1853). It is said that long ago a dangerous dragon lived near the well at Frankenstein. The peasants of a neighbouring village (Nieder-Beerbach) went to Lord Georg of Frankenstein, a brave knight, and poured out their troubles and he promised to help. So he put on his armour and rode to the well where the dragon was taking a rest in the sun. Lord Georg got off his horse and attacked the enemy. The dragon fought for his life, puffed and spewed out fire and steam. Finally the knight was victorious. But as the beast struggled in agony, it coiled its tail with the poisonous spine around the knight’s leg and stung. Lord Georg reached his castle with great difficulty and died from his wound three days later. Nowadays you can still visit his tomb in the church of Nieder Beerbach, in the valley on the east side of the castle.
Fountain of youth
Hidden behind the herb garden of the castle, there is a fountain of youth. The word has it that in the first full-moon night after Walpurgis Night old women from the nearby villages had to undergo tests of courage. The one who succeeded became rejuvenated to the age she had been in the night of her wedding. It is not known if this tradition is still being practiced these days.
In the 18th century a gold rush caused some tumoil on and around Frankenstein castle. It is believed that a legend and visions of fortunetellers caused local residents to believe that a treasure was hidden on the castle. In 1763 chaotic scenes took place which even an intervention of a priest from the neighbouring village Nieder-Beerbach could not stop.
Ghost Hunters Investigation
Frankenstein Castle gained international attention when the SyFy TV-Show Ghost Hunters International made a whole episode about the castle in 2008 (Episode 107) and testified it would have "significant paranormal activity". At the castle, the investigators meet with a Frankenstein expert who guided Robb Demarest, Andy Andrews, Brian Harnois and their colleague through the castle and discussed its various legends and paranormal sightings. After discussing their personal experiences, the team used audio and video devices for their investigation. Sounds from the chapel and the entrance tower sounded like words and a ultrasonic recorder picked up signals in the chapel. A recorded sound was identified as a phrase in Old German that means "Arbo is here" which was interpreted as "Arbo" probably meaning "Arbogast", the name of a knight of the castle, announcing his presence and claim over the land. A second sound bite was interpreted as meaning "come here". The team left Frankenstein Castle convinced that there is some sort of paranormal activity going on.
Mysterious phenomena at the castle
In a remote part of the forest behind Frankenstein Castle on 417 meter high Mount Ilbes compasses do not work properly due to magnetic stone formations of natural origin. Local nature enthusiasts and witchcraft practitioners are said to perform rituals at these magnetic places on special occasions like Walpurgis Night or summer solstice. The magnetic stones can be visited by everyone, but it is advisable not to disturb ongoing ritual activities at any means. Legend has it that Mount Ilbes is the second most important meeting place for witches in Germany after Mount Brocken in the Harz.
Regional tales and mysteries
Close to Frankenstein Castle, a large Felsenmeer ("ocean of rocks") near the village of Lautertal is assumed to be a major scene of the Nibelungenlied (Nibelung). Allegedly, the dragon slayer Siegfried, on a hunting trip leading him from the Burgundian city of Worms into the Odenwald, was murdered by Hagen of Tronje at the Felsenmeer's "Siegfriedsquelle" (Siegfried's wellspring). In some stories the region is connected to the apparition of legendary creatures, like knight George fighting against a man-eating lindworm near Frankenstein Castle, or creatures of nature with magic potency (e.g. a water spirit that changed into a fox near Niedernhausen). There is some evidence that even the name of the entire region is a hint to a mystical background by Odenwald meaning "Odins Wald", which translates into "The Woods of Odin".
Frankenstein Castle as a tourist attraction
Despite being a well-known tourist destination, Frankenstein castle has never been developed into a commercial tourist attraction on a large scale. Local people use the mountain chain on which Frankenstein Castle is located for sport activities like hiking and mountain biking. Normally the castle is open to the public until late at night, on-site parking is possible right at the castle and a restaurant serves food and refreshments. Admission and parking are free except during special occasions like the Halloween festival, when there is a charge for admission. However, there are no further tourist facilities on the site.
Halloween on Frankenstein Castle
In 1978, American airmen from the 435th Transportation Squadron stationed at Rhine-Main Air Base started an annual Halloween festival at the castle, which became one of the biggest Halloween festivals in Europe. In 1977, the 440th Signal Battalion organized a 13 km running competition routed along steep forest trails from Cambrai-Fritsch Army Housing Site in Darmstadt to the castle. The Frankenstein Castle Run was held until 2008 when all American forces left Darmstadt. The city of Darmstadt organized a final race in October 2008.
A restaurant with a sun terrace, located right below the castle towers, offers regular service as well as special events (e.g. Horror Dinner Nights).
The castle is easily accessible via Autobahn A5, exit "Darmstadt-Eberstadt". The site is 35km (20mi) from Frankfurt International Airport. The public transport system of Darmstadt serves tram stop "Frankenstein" (located at the foot of the mountain range) with tram lines 6, 7 and 8.
Notes and references
- The History of the County of Katzenelnbogen and the First Riesling of the World
- Hobbler, Dorthy and Thomas. The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein. Back Bay Books; August 20, 2007
- Garrett, Martin. Mary Shelley. Oxford University Press, 2002
- Seymour, Miranda. Mary Shelley. Atlanta, GA: Grove Press, 2002. pg 110-111
- Gothic Immortals: The Fiction of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross by Marie Roberts contains a translation of a letter Dippel wrote in which he requested to be the lord of Castle Frankenstein in exchange for the Elixir of Life.
- Stars and Stripes Website - Frankenstein Castle: A frightfully nice place for Halloween celebration  Retrieved 21 April 2014
- Frankenstein - the monster's home? A sceptical analysis.
- Frankenstein on GG-Online  Retrieved 19 April 2014
- Heinrich Eduard Scriba: „Geschichte der ehemaligen Burg und Herrschaft Frankenstein und ihrer Herrn“ (German), 1853
- SyFy - Ghost Hunters International Website  Retrieved 19 April 2014
- GG-Online: Burg Frankenstein  Retrieved 20 April 2014
- echo-online.de - "Vom Stall zum Standesamt" (Article in German)  Retrieved 20 April 2014
- Art. "Frankenstein", in: Hessen, hg. v. Georg W. Sante, Stuttgart 1960 (= Handbuch der historischen Stätten Deutschlands, 4. Bd.), p. 117
- Nieder-Beerbach, in: Georg Dehio, Handbuch der Deutschen Kunstdenkmäler: Hessen, bearb. v. Magnus Backes, 1966, p. 622
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