RHINELAND Burg Eltz is one of the few German castles that was never destroyed. On a tour with a guide, visitors encounter both impressive and unusual things. And one can’t help but feeling that the castle lives on. Tours are offered in English.
Burg Eltz always occupies one of the top positions in the rankings of the most beautiful castles and palaces in Germany. Although it lies in a quiet side valley of the Moselle, thousands of visitors find their way there every year. Many of them are not there for the first time, the special spirit of the castle attracts them again and again.
The image of a medieval castle is marked by drawbridges, firing slits, dark vaults, cold, drafty and uninviting rooms - the typical image that film and television like to convey. Anyone who knows Burg Eltz knows that things are a little different here: when you enter it, it almost seems as if the owners still lived within the old walls. And because the castle is still family-owned, it is as if Count Eltz himself opened the front door to his visitors.
Christopher Kaluza has already given many visitors an understanding of this feeling in his job as castle guide over the past five years. The 27-year-old studied in Mainz and Caen, now he lives in Weißenthurm on the Rhine about 40 kilometers away and enjoys going to work. What makes the castle so special and why a visit is worthwhile, he reveals on a cloudy Friday afternoon on a tour.
"The location alone is remarkable. That surprises people," says Christopher Kaluza - because Eltz Castle is situated in a narrow valley below, instead of enthroned high up on a mountain. Whoever sets off on foot from the car park - and most visitors do - from the direction of Wierschem enjoys the first spectacular view of the walls from the vantage point. There is hardly anyone who does not pull out the camera or mobile phone to capture this first impression.
And it is worth changing your view: narrow paths lead from the Moselle into the Elztal valley. If you approach the castle from this direction, it looks completely different. One sees it majestically towering up on its slate rock, is "mighty impressed" and is pleased about a great photo motif.
What makes Burg Eltz special apart from its location? For one, the fact that it still exists. It was built from the 12th to the 17th century - and never destroyed. While elsewhere in the region only ruins give a glimpse of the former splendor and fortification of castles and palaces, Burg Eltz was spared wars in the past centuries. Good connections and clever diplomacy have contributed to the fact that it is still owned by the Eltz family today. It is now in its 33rd generation.
Although the counts no longer live on their noble ancestral seat, they regularly visit the castle and take care of its affairs. It doesn't matter if it's about expensive conservation measures or little things. Guests are surprised that the rooms are always decorated with fresh bouquets of flowers - a wish of the family, which is very close to their hearts, to give the visitors a cosy impression. The spirit of the lords of the castle is to be felt. "It always seems to the people as if someone is just out the door. It makes the rooms much more pleasant," Kaluza describes the atmosphere when he enters a room with a group. "Other castles I know don't offer that," says the 27-year-old with a little pride in his voice.
The castle holds priceless art treasures - not only in the armory and treasure chamber. "It starts in the second room when people see the picture of Lucas Cranach the Elder," Kaluza explains. Many guests are surprised when they ask whether the "Madonna with Child and Grape" is really the original of the famous Renaissance artist, and are impressed that the castle guide can answer with a clear "yes".
Of course, one is not allowed to touch the old and partly fragile objects on the Eltz. But especially during the holiday season, the castle guides pay attention to the younger visitors. It is exciting for children to look for the animals on the tapestries - even if the iguana is difficult to recognize in contrast to the ostrich: it looks like a dragon.
Or the stools in the Elector's Room, which children - and sometimes adults as well - regard as piggy banks because of the carrying handles. There are many surprises and mysteries at Burg Eltz. And: One of the strengths of the castle guides is their ability to adapt individually to the groups of visitors and their interests. No tour is like any other.
Every colleague has his or her own favorite corner. Christopher Kaluza, for example, appreciates the chapel oriel in the Rübenacher Haus the most. The stained glass windows not only fascinate him, they also surprise people again and again. "They are from the 15th and 16th centuries. The guests often get big eyes - and you really hear one or the other 'wow'," says the 27-year-old.
Visitors from all over the world come to the Elztal every year to look at the hidden jewel and experience fascinating insights and views: Whether from Japan, Brazil or Egypt - the crowd at Burg Eltz is international. It also attracts prominent guests. The American presidential wives Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson and Rosalynn Carter as well as the German presidents Carl Carstens, Horst Köhler and Christian Wulff were guests of the Eltz family. And nobility obliges: The Swedish royal couple combined a holiday in Germany with a relaxing visit. King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia wanted to visit Burg Eltz because of its special flair. They were received by Karl Graf zu Eltz and Countess Sophie.
A dozen rooms can be visited - a foray through the centuries that lasts almost 40 minutes. And in the end you have learned a few new things. Knowledge that sticks. For example, that coffee came to Europe through the siege of Vienna by the Turks. The good thing about it is that guests of all ages are not beaten to death with dates, history is brought to life through stories - and the visit has a special flair: you are in a museum and visiting the Eltz family at the same time.
The castle is open until 3 November daily from 9:30 to 5:30 pm (start of the last guided tour). A visit to the interior of Eltz Castle is only possible with a guided tour. These start about every 10 to 15 minutes. Guided tours are also offered in English. The entrance fee is ten euros for adults and 6.50 euros for children, students and the disabled. Families can purchase a family ticket for 28 euros. Included is a visit to the treasury with more than 500 exhibits. There is further information in the Internet under www.burg-eltz.de. Contact: Counts Eltz'sche Kastellanei, castle Eltz 1, 56294 Wierschem, 0 26 72/95 05 00, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Orig. text: Daniel Rühle; Translation: ck)