Cornelia Hecher doesn’t believe in ghosts.
Not really, that is.
It’s a mind-set that helps her sleep at night, a belief that enables her to walk the grounds of her centuries-old home on a moonless night without her heart racing.
For nearly 30 years, Hecher, 50, has lived with her family at Burg Rheinstein, a striking hilltop castle built about A.D. 900 on a rock above the Rhine River in the Lorelei Valley in Germany. With the passing last spring of her father-in-law, the former opera singer Hermann Hecher, she and her husband, Markus, are the castle’s primary caretakers. They open the castle to the public 10 months of the year.
I first visited Burg Rheinstein a year ago in October as part of a trip to the Rhine with RTT Travel at Ramstein Air Base. Visitors take a self-guided tour through various rooms, presented to look how the castle appeared during the time of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig, who bought the castle in 1823. A fan of the Middle Ages, Friedrich added many medieval features to the castle, such as a drawbridge and drop gate. The prince is buried in the castle crypt, along with two of his family members.
What made the visit most memorable was a moment standing in the castle tower’s creaky spiral stairwell with my daughter, then 6. We heard what sounded like a woman singing, a high-pitched, faint, pleasant voice. It could have been someone on the tour, but we were the only ones in the stairwell and we didn’t hear it again. As we were leaving, one of the Hechers — I think it was Cornelia Hecher — mentioned something about ghosts in the castle.
My daughter and I immediately thought of the singing.
I tell this to Hecher now, a year later, on a recent visit to the castle.
“We always make jokes about ghosts,” she laughs.
If people ask, she said, “we like to say we live in harmony with the ghosts of the castle.” If something in the castle turns up missing, “we say ‘this was our ghost.’ ”
But kidding aside, she likes to believe there are no ghosts “because I live here in the castle and I can’t be afraid of ghosts.”
Most times, she and her husband can find a logical explanation for strange happenings. The occasional shaking of pictures on the wall might be frightful to some, but a level head would figure out that the phenomenon is most likely due to a ship passing on the Rhine below, its vibrations going into the castle’s rock, then into the walls, she said.
She can’t say for sure why a few years ago, around midnight, one of the motion-detecting lights in the castle tower kept going on and off. Two cats, Riesling and Pinot, added to the family last summer, solved a recent mice problem.
Perhaps it was a mouse.
The hair-raising feeling she had that somebody was behind her during her first years at the castle as a young newlywed have long since gone away. Perhaps it was her imagination.
But to this day, there is one experience she can’t explain.
It was late in the night, the year 1985 or 1986. Earlier in the evening, a catered party was held in the knights hall, the castle’s largest and most impressive room; its period pieces include a Renaissance-style fireplace with a relief carving depicting a battle from the Trojan War and medieval-era stained glass of a Crucifixion scene.
The Hechers were visiting with the catering staff in the kitchen directly under the knights hall, drinking a glass of wine and talking about the evening’s events. Suddenly, “everyone stopped speaking because we hear as if somebody is going with strong feet walking across the knights hall,” she said.
The guests had all gone home.
Perhaps it was a ghost.
“This is the only time I believe in ghosts,” Hecher said, “because it was 100 percent, there was somebody … but there was nobody.”
To see the castle — and maybe a ghost — visit before it closes for the winter in late December. Night tours led by Markus Hecher are also available, and guests may spend the night in a tower room or a holiday apartment in the servant’s quarters.
On the QT
Burg Rheinstein is north of Kaiserslautern, Germany, in Trechtingshausen, about 50 miles, or a little less than an hour’s drive. Take A63 toward Frankfurt a.M./Mainz. Take exit 8-Kreuz Alzey to merge onto A61 toward Koln/Koblenz. Take exit 49-Bingen-Mitte toward B9/St. Goar/Rhein. Merge onto B50. Keep left at the fork and merge onto B9. The castle will be on the left. By GPS: 55413 Trechtingshausen or Burg Rheinstein.
The castle is open daily 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.(last entry at 5:30 p.m.), March 15-Oct. 31. It is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (last entry at 4:30 p.m.) in early March, November and December. It will be closed from Dec. 20-Feb. 29.
Entrance fees are 4.30 euros for adults and 3 euros for children 5-13. (Note: Fees are likely to rise next year.) Group rates are available. Free parking is available at the bottom of the castle.
Wine, coffee and other drinks, as well as cake and light fare are available in the castle cafe. The cafe is closed Monday and Tuesday.
Special night tours are available. The two-hour tours cost 12 euros per person. During the tour, every room in the castle is open, and the castle is lit by candlelight. Two rooms for overnight guests are also available. Find information on the castle (in German) on the Web at burg-rheinstein.de, call 06721/6348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.