A Tale of Two Castles

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Hiking in Germany

Two Castles with a Medieval Tale to Tell

Wolfstein, the starting point or final stop of the Pfälzer Höhenweg hiking trail in the northern Palatinate, is a handsome small town with quite a few period buildings …..

"timber-framed old building in Wolfstein in the Palatinate"

… but most of the visitor’s interest will inevitably focus on its two castles nearby, called Alt-Wolfstein and Neu-Wolfstein. Alt-Wolfstein is a ruin, …

"ruins of Alt-Wolfstein on of the two castles in the Palatinate in Germany"

… built probably in the 12th century and destroyed in 1504. Throughout its relatively brief history, Alt-Wolfstein was apparently more the subject of legal wrangling than of the sort of knightly combat we more readily associate with the Middle Ages.

"Alt-Wolfstein one of the two castles and its ruins in the Palatinate Germany"

A Tale of Two Castles

It’s an unbelievably complicated story, a kind of medieval Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. If you can read German, you can try to penetrate it HERE. But the way I understand it, there was eventually not a single aristocratic family in the entire region that did not have some sort of title on the castle: from bishops, dukes and barons, down to the families of the local gentry.

It reached the point where they decided to settle the conflict by handing out shares in the castle, “Alt-Wolfstein Inc.”, but before this arrangement was really given a chance to prove that it could work, the castle was destroyed in an equally bitter and impenetrable, but altogether larger and more violent conflict (the Landshut War of Succession – don’t even ask) and never rebuilt. Maybe because everybody was just glad to get rid of it – or perhaps because the various owners could not agree who was to foot the bill for the repairs.

Having visited Alt-Wolfstein as part of the Höhenweg trail, we somehow expected to find that Neu-Wolfstein would be a castle in a more modern sense of the word, a “palace castle” like Versailles, perhaps with a living Duke or some such thrown in. But it is also a ruin, only a hundred years or so younger than its older cousin.

"Neu-Wolfstein one of two castles with its ruins in the Palatinate Germany"

Peaceful prosperity, it appears, was never on the cards for either building, and Neu-Wolfstein got it even harder in the teeth than its predecessor: the castle was razed to the ground and reconstructed three times, most recently in 1792 when it served for a time as a military hospital for the troops of the French Revolution, before it was gradually abandoned to decay. Today, it does nothing more than provide a romantic backdrop to the Wolfstein townscape.

"Alt-Wolfstein and Neu-Wolfstein two castles whose ruins can be seen from the Hoehenweg hiking trail in the Palatinate"

The two castles are connected by a footpath which is roughly half a mile long, and both feature in the Wolfstein stage (circular hike) of the Pfälzer Höhenweg trail. You can, however, reach either castle conveniently from the town, too: either independently or on one of the Culinary Events occasionally hosted by the Landgasthof Hotel Königsberg where they take their guests on a nightly excursion to Alt- and Neu-Wolfstein, providing food and drink on the historic ramparts.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

If you want to get to know the Rhineland-Palatinate better, you can LIKE Romantic Germany on Facebook or visit their website Hiking in Romantic Germany


19 comments to A Tale of Two Castles

  • Ken, now we are equally saddened that we didn’t get to see that little canal. Thanks for taking the time.

  • Got to say, I agree about the quality of this hike, but I’m saddened that you didn’t get a good photo of the small little canal where it goes through town and has the footbridges where you can look upstream/downstream between the medieval walled buildings. Beautiful place! As always, thanks for such high-quality posts!

  • Glad to have helped you in showing your kids a memorable place in your childhood, Diane. Hope they can go visit there and enjoy it as much as you did. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Diane Sharp

    Thank you for sharing your pictures of Wolfstein and the history behind the town. I lived in Wolfstein for 6 months when I was 11 years old and have been to both castles. I have very fond memories of the village and some day hope to go back and visit with my children. I don’t have pictures of my own of the castles, so I showed my kids your pictures.

  • Pretty fascinating history. It’s still full of character — it must have been a sight when it was built.

  • I love that first photo especially. And yes I think it would be great fun to join the culinary excursion between castles.
    What tragedy when such fighting occurs – and you’d think we would have learned as a human race by now.

  • Yes, castles, whether in ruins or still standing as museums, restaurants or cafes, are always attractions. And I can assure you, Mary, all the more so along a hiking trail.

  • I love that house on the first picture! What an interesting story and it was too bad in the way it was destroyed. I love castles and even in ruins, this adds a level of appeal to them.

  • The surroundings of this town are beautiful! The story about the two castles add more charm to an already charming village.

  • I love castles! Too bad they don’t have any in KL.. sigh sigh sigh!!

  • Lovely photos and sounds like a nice hike. Thanks for the history lesson as well :)

  • Time to schedule a visit to this part of Germany, Cathy.

  • Interesting to hear about those castles in Wales. Something to see. Thanks for the tip, Sophie.

  • I like the Hansl und Gretl house. Alt- and Neu-Wolfstein remind me a bit of Tretower Court & Castle in Wales – two distinct sites but next to each other, representing two different eras, styles, moods… I suppose very different from these two castles. But still I was reminded…

  • Yes, that does sound like fun — sign me up! Interesting tales about these two castles. I’d also like to see some of the period buildings in town.

  • Lilla

    I really like the contrast of the Neu-Wolfstein and Alt-Wolfstein, there is a remarkable difference between the two ages, the one is introverted with fat walls and small windows, the other one is extroverted with huge openings and bright colours. Wonderful shots!

  • Beautiful photos – felt like I was walking through the area with you.

  • Jeremy Branham

    Too bad these castles have more a tragic history and weren’t better maintained. Germany is full of old castles that are nothing more than ruins so these are better off than many others.

  • Great tour and beautiful pictures….love the view looking down on the town…

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