As a great big history and culture lover, visiting local castles is a must for me, in any destination, but particularly when in Europe. The entire continent boasts amazing castles of all ages. I have not visited a lot of castles, but I have been blessed to visit several, of greatly varied styles and characters. Knowing this, my German hosts planned an entire day for exploring Wasser Schlosses, or “water castles,” in Germany’s Nordrhein-Westfalen state. We visited four different sites that day, and although I try not to pick favorites, Burg Vischering, or Vischering Castle, was definitely my favorite.
The incomparable Vischering Castle, or Burg Vischering, is one of the most stunning and unique castles in Germany, and perhaps all of Europe.
My host called our day, the day of Wasser Schlosses, because each structure we visited was surrounded by a moat. This term is slightly misleading though, because although they were all surrounded by moats, they were not actually all castles.
The term Schloss is often given as a word for castle, or palace, when learning the German language, and the word Burg is given for mountain. However, when in Germany, it is far more likely that a local will call every castle a Burg.
So what is the difference? It is more or less the same difference between a castle and a palace in English.
A castle was built as a defensive fortress, to keep those inside safe, and to keep those outside out. A castle demonstrated strength. A palace, was built as a showplace, to provide comfort and luxury for those inside, and to inspire envy and admiration from those outside. A palace demonstrated wealth.
Castles were often built in high locations, and named for the noble family who built them. Burg Hollenzollern, which we featured in a recent gallery, is a good example of this.
For a little information about that, see Hohenzollern Castle, Burg Hohenzollern.
I don’t know the full history of how the language evolved, but originally, that would have meant Hollenzollern’s Mountain. Over time, Burg became a term indicating any castle, even though there was not always high ground to build on.
Flat lands were far more difficult to defend, so the use of moats began. Without the protection automatically afforded by the high ground, the difficulties of launching an attack from below, and the clear line of site it provided from above, defense was a bigger challenge on flat land.
A moat, typically with a defensive wall built around it, was an alternative means to protect from intruders. The moat might have been filled with objects, weapons, or projectiles, to make an attempted crossing a life threatening endeavor.
Today, we look at moated castles as a thing of beauty.
The play of the sun and the breeze upon the water creates a dazzling and intriguing reflective presence, which enlivens the entire atmosphere. It also provides a habitat to different water foul and small animals, while buffering out much of the static noise from outside. It resonates with a feeling of serenity and safety. The very term water castle, or Wasser Schloss, has a evocative nature, bringing up romantic images.
Funny enough, Vischering Castle only exists because of a feud between Bischop Gerhard von der Mark and the Von Ludinghausen family. Feuds between families and clans are not uncommon throughout history, but what may be unusual is a feud that leads to castles that will stand for millenia.
Built in 1271, Vischering Castle quickly approaches it’s 750th anniversary, and with a huge structural repair project going on, it should stand for another 250 years.
Once completed, Vischering Castle became the seat of the Droste zu Vischering Family. The Droste was a title of nobility who served the Bishop of Munster, which was passed on through heredity.
Although outsiders do not commonly think of Germany as a very religious country, that is far from the truth. During the Holy Roman Empire, the time after Rome itself had fallen, but the Church still ruled much of Europe, the lands that now comprise Germany frequently held the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor.
For a little more information about that, see our article A Trip to Kaiserpfalz Ruins.
The founding of the Protestant Reformation also began in Germany, with the writings of Martin Luther. Throughout Germany, the church has a very large presence, in some areas with a greater Catholic leaning, and in others with a greater Protestant leaning.
However, at the time Castle Vischering was built, the Catholic Church reigned supreme, and Munster was a powerful center for the Church. The Bishop of Munster had Burg Vischering built, and his Droste (administrative servants) would live there for centuries.
The castle was built and engineered for defense.
It had a defensive courtyard, and a moat supplied by the River Stever, and a drawbridge. The outer defensive courtyard holds business and farm building necessary for the operation of the castle, strategic gateways, shooting ranges, and is surrounded by a lower defensive wall.
The Castle itself is three stories, built in a horseshoe shape, so it is round in appearance from most angles. The outer walls are composed of very thick sandstone.
With it’s unique structure and defenses, the castle withstood all attacks for 250 years.
Then in 1521, the main building was heavily damaged by fire. It was rebuilt, in a more Renaissance style. The original foundations were used, and it is clearly visible where newer brickwork was laid on top of the remaining original stones.
The gable was added at that time, and windows, making the castle more suitable for comfortable living, and a little less defensive in appearance. During the 1500 and 1600s, it was a hub of activity.
Much of Germany was leveled by bombing during WWII. In many cities, the altstadt, or old city, was rebuilt in replication of the original architecture, to maintain the historic and cultural feeling of the community. That is not the case at Vischering Castle though. It somehow escaped significant damage.
The foundation is the same as laid in 1271, and the castle itself has remained almost unchanged for nearly 500 years.
As I mentioned earlier, and extensive renovation project is underway at this time. This plan is expected to take 5 years, as there is much to accomplish. In the pictures, water damage caused by the moat to the sandstone foundation is clearly visible.
During this time, it is not possible to visit or tour the inside of the castle. It is expected that the castle will reopen in time for it’s 750th anniversary, in 2021.
I was truly disappointed. If there was one castle I wanted to experience from the inside, it was Vischering Castle. But, I was also deeply satisfied by knowing that the community cared enough to take on such an endeavor, and that the funding was available.
Visiting the grounds was still an experience worth having. Just the approach to the castle grounds and drawbridge is interesting and aesthetic. In fact, I could have hung out on the drawbridge for a long time, just watching people, and their reactions to the castle.
After crossing the bridge, we bought some bread at the castle bakery, and explored the grounds, walking the entire circumference using the land between the moats, and the defensive bridges. We stopped to feed the ducks, and read the informational signs which share more in depth history about the castle, in German, along the way.
The grounds can be visited from 10:00 to 1:00 and 1:30 to 5:30 in spring and summer, and closes an hour early in winter. Entrance is 1 Euro for children 7-18, and 2.50 Euros for adults. This price includes entrance into a museum in the outer buildings with a display on Knighthood geared especially for children.
The Vischering grounds are closed on Mondays, as are all German museums and historic buildings.
Vischering Castle is a stunning example of a defensive moated castle. Any visitor to Munsterland, or Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany, should make a point to visit and see this one of a kind castle. Even with the inner structure currently closed, exploring the grounds is truly a pleasure, and an experience to remember. Personally, I plan to visit again in a few years, after the castle itself reopens, and see this amazing place from the inside.
Either way, it was already the highlight of the “Day of Wasser Schlosses.”
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Be sure to check out our full Vischering Castle Gallery, to see a far more extensive set of photos! Burg Vischering Gallery
If you would like to learn more about Vischering Castle, see their website, here: http://www.burg-vischering.de/