Landstuhl's Nanstein Castle is worth a visit, even for the most jaded sightseers
Maybe I’m a little jaded, but like many others who have moved around a lot, I have a tendency to ignore all but the biggest tourist attractions in my backyard, wherever that backyard may be. I usually want to see the big stuff — like the the Pyramids at Giza.
But what do you do if you live in the German Ozarks and not Cairo? What if you have only a few hours to kill between an ethics presentation and a SHARP briefing? The answer is simple ... go to the ruins of Nanstein Castle in Landstuhl.
Despite its small size, Nanstein Castle has almost all the things the 9-year-old still secretly living inside you is looking for in a castle, excluding Princess Buttercup, a fire-breathing dragon and a moat. Ramparts? Check. Battlements? Check. Watchtowers? Check. Castle keep? Check. Dungeon? Check. Crawling all over the castle grounds is great fun, and in a brief trip there you can really get an idea of the conditions in which soldiers in the Middle Ages lived and fought.
Nanstein has a long and storied history with the strategic overlook having been used as a military site possibly as far back as 1162. For hundreds of years, the castle changed hands until in 1482, ownership passed to the aristocratic von Sickingen family.
Franz von Sickingen, a medieval warlord — a cross between a mercenary and a knight — occupied the castle in 1518. Von Sickingen is a seminal figure in German medieval history and his influence was felt across Europe. He commanded a large army and would readily enter the fray between warring groups in the region and farther afield if he saw an opportunity for profit.
He immediately began improving the castle. He shored up the walls and ramparts and built two massive turrets from which cannons could be fired. In the summer of 1522 when the improvements were complete, Von Sickingen became infuriated by the rise of German city-states and the introduction of laws that weakened feudalism. He decided to do what any self-respecting warlord would do — kidnap an archbishop for ransom money.
Known as the Knight’s Revolt, Von Sickingen attacked Trier, but he horribly misjudged both the tactical and political situations and the siege failed.
In late April 1523, Von Sickingen found himself at Nanstein hemmed in by the armies of competing knights, at the business end of several siege cannons. It took just a few hours for the guns to pound the head bastion into oblivion. Von Sickingen surrendered and on May 7, 1523, died from wounds received in the barrage.
Scattered throughout the castle site to this day among demolished walls are stone cannon balls, much like the ones used to batter Von Sickingen into submission.
Nanstein, in addition to having ruins, has several biking and hiking trails. They come together at the site and wind for miles through the surrounding forest. It’s an easy rally point for adventures in the woods.
If, after hiking through the woods and exploring the intricacies of medieval military architecture leaves you hungry, then Nanstein has a small, cozy restaurant known as the Burgschaenke that serves homestyle German food at reasonable prices. Most items average 8 euros ($9.13), and the most expensive dish is 19.50 euros. Make sure to get a seat next to the fireplace.
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LOCATION: Address: Burg Nanstein Kaiser Strasse 49, 66849 Landstuhl, Germany
TIMES: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, January-March. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, April-September. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, October-November. Closed on Monday except for public holidays. Closed for the month of December.
COSTS: 4 euros ($4.56) with discounts for students and seniors.
FOOD: Burgschaenke, a cozy restaurant in Nanstein, serves homestyle German food at reasonable prices. Most items average 8 euros ($9.13); the most expensive dish is 19.50 euros.