Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Castles of the Taunus - Part 2



As we look down a steep picturesque street of Cronberg into the chesnut glen below, the distance is closed by the hill on which Falkenstein stands. The easiest way of coming to it from Cronberg is to take the elevated roadway from the north-west side of the town. The rock itself is difficult of access from all sides but the west. On its top—1470 feet above the sea-level—is a square tower in ruins, with a small round tower above, with remains of walls below, including the top of the rock. The highest top was swarming with winged ants when I ascended it in 1852. With this exception, it was a silent place, with little sign of any kind of life. The castle has long been in ruins, for, except as a robber’s nest, it must have possessed few advantages; and it is doubted whether there ever was a well of water on the rock, though there was on the hill below. Falkenstein was first called Nüring, or “the New Ring,” either because this castle was built on the site of an older one, or as being new in comparison with the triple circles on the Altkönig. The first possessors were a branch of the Salic Conradin family, which became extinct in the male line about the close of the twelfth century.

It passed into many hands. About 1330 it was called Falkenstein, or New Falkenstein, in consequence of its passing into the possession of the Boland family, who had another castle of the name close to the Donnersberg.

In 1420, one Bertram of Vilbel, formerly captain of the town of Frankfurt, is traditionally said to have lived there, probably in the capacity of warden. This Bertram, notorious as a robber, attacked on the highway, and carried off to Falkenstein, one Conrad Schwartz, a merchant of Augsburg, travelling to Frankfurt, where he kept him with a view to extorting a ransom. A few days afterwards he was paid, not as he wished, but in his own coin, for the mercenaries of Frankfurt took him prisoner with two of his men-at-arms. They obliged him to write a letter to Else his wife, the daughter of Diemar of Reiffenberg, ordering her to release Schwartz. As soon as he had done this, the Frankfurters cut off his head before the Bockenheim gate, and hung up his two men-at-arms. The misdeeds of the successive possessors of this castle in carrying off travellers and cattle, especially as against the free town of Frankfurt, are recorded in history. It finally passed from the Cronberg family to the house of Nassau, and it appears to have been destroyed as a fortress about the middle of the seventeenth century.

The arms of the joint proprietors of Falkenstein in the middle of the fifteenth century were St. George and the Dragon. These heraldic bearings are certainly of a very ancient date, and may possibly, and even probably, have had their origin in the legend of Siegfried.

Falkenstein is not without its own share of romantic tales. A knight of Sayn, as the story goes, once loved a young lady of the Falkenstein family. The father would not consent to the match excepting on the condition that the knight should make by the next day a convenient road to the castle, which was only to be approached by a stiff climb before. While the hopeless lover was wandering about at twilight, a mountain spirit appeared to him, and offered to make the road in question on condition that he would put a stop to certain mining operations in a country which was inhabited by the Gnomes. The knight consented: and the next night there was a vast bustle on the hill, and noise, without visible workmen, of hammers, chisels, and pickaxes. In the morning the knight, riding up the newly-formed road to the castle, demanded his bride of the astonished father.

A still older legend ascribed the so-called Senfelsweg, which leads up the hollow-way on the west side of the Altkönig, to the mountain-spirits, who made it to free an imprisoned damsel from the castle of the old king who lived on the top of the mountain called after him. Stories, as we all know, never lose by telling; and this legend may have been transferred to Falkenstein with the natural embellishments.

The town of Königstein is between 1100 and 1200 feet above the sea-level. It is now becoming fashionable by means of a cold-water establishment, assisted by a very refreshing air. The castle rises above it on a knoll of its own. On all sides but the north the heart of the castle was defended by a complication of winding walls, casemates, and bastions. On the north it is only separated from the perpendicular precipice by a ditch. In the middle of the square court under the keep there was a fountain, which derived its water by pipes from the hill of Falkenstein. The fortress was sufficiently spacious to admit of a variety of extensive buildings, amongst which were both a Catholic and Protestant church. The view from the top is charming, but less extensive than that from Falkenstein. In all probability a Roman castle stood on the site in ancient times. The present name is derived from the Frankish kings who were the founders of the mediæval castle. Yet some disallow this, and connect it with Cuno, the name of some of its ancient possessors. The fact that its water came from Falkenstein, as well as ancient records, show that the two castles were for some time in the same hands. As the result of a feud, Königstein was stormed in 1374 by the Knights of Reiffenberg, a castle on the other side of the Taunus. One Philip of Falkenstein was then its possessor. “He was called the Dummy (der Stumme) of Falkenstein, not that he was dumb in words, but in deeds.” Attempting to escape, he fell from the wall—from his horse, according to another account,—was taken with four of his children, and brought to Reiffenberg, where he died a few days afterwards from the injuries then received. Ten thousand florins were paid after his death for the ransom of his family and castle. By a strange turn of fortune the last possessor of Reiffenberg—the Canon Philip Ludwig—ended his life a close prisoner in Königstein, 1686. Königstein was taken by the Hessians from the French, in 1688, during the war with Louis XIV., and again occupied, in the Austrian Succession-war in 1745, by the French under the Maréchal de Maillebois. It became again famous in the Wars of the Revolution. On the 28th October, 1792, it surrendered to Custine, the site of whose entrenchments is still to be seen on a hill between Cronberg and Homburg; and after this was invested by the Prussians under Von Pfau, who had occupied Frankfurt. After enduring a bombardment and blockade of four months, under the command of Captain Meunier, who had but four hundred men and thirteen guns, the garrison were obliged to capitulate on the 7th of March, 1793. The artillery of the besiegers, chiefly placed on the height of Falkenstein, had done the town more damage than the castle. After this, Mainz being recovered by the Germans, the Jacobin sympathisers of that town were placed in durance at Königstein. The French came again in 1796, when the Austrian garrison of six hundred men, under the Major von Wangard, was obliged to surrender to Marceau. But, as the Austrians were then pressing the French, who had advanced as far as Amberg, back on the Rhine, the destruction of the castle was resolved on before its evacuation by the garrison. With the intention of blowing up the whole upper rock, barrels of powder were placed in the cisterns, and covered with stones. The mine exploded before it was ready with prodigious noise and killing nine-and-twenty men, but with only partial damage to the castle. However the work of destruction was furthered in 1819 by a stroke of lightning, which shattered the roof of the tower, and placed the castle much in the condition in which it is now to be seen. It is never likely to be used again as a fortress in these days of long-range artillery, commanded as it is on every side by hills. After all its vicissitudes of fortune and changes of masters, Königstein is one of the grandest ruins in Germany, especially when viewed from the south-east, dark against the sunset.

From Königstein, as we look westward, we see a kind of gap in the hills, and a tower rising in the gap at the distance of some five English miles. The tower belongs to the castle of Eppstein. The way thither—at least one way—passes through the village of Schneidhain. This termination to names of places, “hain,” is common enough in Germany. It is supposed to denote the site of some ancient religious establishment. But “hain” means “grove,” and the connection is not very evident between a grove and an establishment of monks or nuns. Perhaps “hain” implied the sacred grove of the heathen Germans, on whose site Christianity planted a chapel with ministers to serve it, as if to do battle with the ancient god, who had become a demon, on his own ground. Lower down in the valley of Münster, or rather on a hill to the right of it, as we ascend, we find a quaint village climbing up a steep, with a church at the top called Alten Hain, and on a hill more to the east Neuen Hain. These names may possibly denote three removals of a religious house belonging to Münster in the valley below; Schneidhain being the oldest of all, and implying the grove given up to wood-cutting, as having been abandoned. A way through a wood leads to the village of Fischbach, and then the road winds through a pretty defile round the hill of Staufen, about 1500 feet high, and commanding a fine view, to the village of Eppstein. Near the brook we find an inn, the Oelmühle, or “Oil-mill,” much visited in summer. Additional attraction is given to it by the erection of posts, bars, and gibbets for gymnastic exercises, which has lately become a national mania. There is every convenience, as usual, for taking refreshment in the garden. The Garten-wirthschaft is one of the pleasantest institutions of Germany. In the summer it is only necessary to go into the house to sleep. All the meals may be taken out of doors. A question may be raised, whether it would not be possible, in spite of our much-abused climate, which cannot differ so very widely from that in the same latitudes on the Continent—at least, at a reasonable distance from the Gulf-stream—to do the same in England. There is one time at which the dew falls heavily in Germany—just after sunset; but the trees form an umbrella, and after that the nights are mild. At Eppstein there are trout to be had fresh from the brook, and a host of domestic animals as company—dogs, ducks, turkeys, and a peahen. The dogs consume the bones, the ducks, turkeys, and peahen pick up the crumbs, and so there is no waste. In fact, after a party has left a table, it is at once invaded by all the poultry, who are most effectual gleaners. But the gnats, which come from the marshy grounds about the brook, are a little troublesome. To avoid them, it may be as well to mount that hill on the other side of the brook, and enjoy the view of the three castles of Eppstein, Königstein, and Falkenstein, one behind the other, and the highest tops of the Taunus to the left. This view is unique in the Taunus; but on this subject we shall have more to say in a future number.