Schloss-o-rama: Medieval Castles in Saxony, Germany

by Chris on November 3, 2010

A day visiting best medieval castles in Saxony, Germany, including the well-preserved Burg Kriebstein, the gloomy Schloss Rochlitz, and Schloss Colditz, a former Nazi prison for Allied officers.

Burg Kriebstein, medieval castle, Saxony, Germany

The German state of Saxony, tucked away in the southeast near the Czech border, may not have the country’s most famous castles (that honor probably belongs to Bavaria’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, the inspiration for Walt Disney’s faux castles).

Burg Kriebstein, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

But the seat of various powerful kingdoms, electorates and duchies has left the region with more than its share of preserved medieval castles. You’ll find about 140 historical schlosses (castles), palaces, manor houses, and churches along Saxony’s various rivers (the state’s tourism board has helpfully put together a Schlosserland Saxony website for interested visitors). On my recent SATW trip to Saxony, we spent a day exploring three castles: Burg Kriebstein, Schloss Rochlitz and Schloss Colditz.

Burg Kriebstein, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

Burg Kriebstein, an heirloom of Saxon nobility that dates back to 1384, is considered the area’s best preserved castles.

guide at Burg Kriebstein, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

Our historically garbed guide told us cheekily that nothing of any import ever took place at Burg Kriebstein. That’s to the castle’s benefit; unlike other historic buildings that were ransacked over the centuries, Burg Kriebstein stayed out of the line of fire, thus leading to its intact appearance today.

Burg Kriebstin, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

Burg Kriebstein does have one legend of note. As the story goes, after one successful takeover of the castle, the victorious prince told the lady of the property that she could leave freely and take with her anything that she could carry. The faithful women abandoned her jewelry and possessions, picking up her husband instead. Moved by her loyalty, the prince spared both of their lives.

frescoes, Burg Kriebstein, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

The castle carries an artistic secret in a basement chapel: elaborate frescoes that have suffered little damage over the centuries.

Schloss Rochlitz, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

While Burg Kriebstein’s history lies on the charming site, that of Schloss Rochlitz, along the Mulde River, is considerably darker.

Schloss Kriebstein, medieval castle, Saxony, Germany

First mentioned in documents dating back to 995, Rochlitz served as the residence of Saxon royalty eight times over the years.

That proud history is evident in the castle’s display of princely Saxon costumes. The procession in the exhibit mimics that portrayed in the Furstenzug, a famous wall hanging of 35 Wettin Princes in Dresden made of Meissen ceremic tiles. Every August, the castle has a “living princes” festival where costumed re-enactors act out the parade on real horses.

rat skeletons, Schloss Rochlitz, Saxony, Germany

Royalty aside, the castle was more recently used as a prison, a Third Reich stronghold and, under the East German government, even a kindergarten (can you imagine sending your kid to a school with a dungeon?). Particularly when, as this exhibit in the museum proves, there were plenty of rats around. These are mummified.

solitary confinement, Schloss Rochlitz, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

If you tour the museum, you can visit the castle’s torture chamber, with iron bars and racks still on the wall. Far more sinister is what the castle’s dark hole. a chamber where prisoners were placed without access to natural light of any kind. They received food and water from a rope that was dropped down to the stone floor below.

view from Schloss Rochlitz, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

From Rochlitz’s towers, you do get a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside.

Schloss Colditz, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

But our final castle, Colditz Castle, took the concept of prison to a whole modern level. A one-time residence for the Electors of Saxony, Colditz served as a home for the indigent, a mental institution and starting in 1933, as a Nazi political prison for  communists, Jews, homosexuals and other “undesirables.”

World War II prisoners at Schloss Colditz, medieval castles, Saxony, Germany

As World War II wore on, Colditz morphed into a holding area for Allied prisoners-of-war, renamed Oflag IV-C. Many of the captured soldiers sent to Colditz had escaped from other prisons or were considered particularly dangerous; most were officers in the Allied forces. Relatives of prominent Allied VIPs, such as Winston Churchill’s nephew, were also held here. As such, the prisoners were often awarded special luxuries and rations, and allowed to put on shows and play sports in the courtyard.

escape tunnel, Colditz castle, Saxony, Germany

Despite its rep as a high-security prison, inmates at Colditz enjoyed a healthy record of escape attempts (which the castle now documents in a museum). Clever prisoners built tunnels (which you can see today), duplicated keys, copied maps and forged papers. They even listened to the BBC in a secret radio room and received escape equipment from the British War Office. Perhaps the most fanciful scheme never came to pass, however: While the prisoners built a glider in a remote corner of the palace, the war ended before they were able to use it.

Artifacts from World War II POWs, Schloss Colditz, Saxony, Germany

After the war, several Colditz prisoners wrote books about their experiences. The most famous ones - The Colditz Story and The Latter Days at Colditz – both written by successful escapee Capt. Patrick Reid, were made into a BBC TV series starring Robert Wagner.

Colditz Castle, Saxony, Germany

Today, you can stay overnight at Colditz Castle in youth hostel accommodations.

town outside Schloss Colditz, Saxony, Germany

A day of historic building hopping can lead to castle fatigue. Of the three Saxon castles we visited, I liked Colditz the most, simply because its World War II history seemed more relevant to todays’ world. Still, it’s not like you see castles every day in the States, so it’s best to get your fill of them when you can.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Wells November 3, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Know what you mean by castle fatigue. After 4 days of seeing museum along the Rhine, I had museum fatigue although I loved almost every one of them.

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Chris November 3, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Isn’t it funny how quickly something exotic turns into a chore? We felt that way with the temples in Siem Reap as well. They are all so amazing and gorgeous, but after you see about five, your brain stops processing them. Variety is clearly the spice of life!

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Tami November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Very Interesting. I just returned from Germany late September! I visited Bavaria and Mechlenburg. Thanks for the review of the castles. I hope to return someday soon!

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