Kastelburg - Waldkirch

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Kastelburg sits in the Black Forest north east of Freiburg, on the slopes above Waldkirch and the river Elz. It is reached from Waldkirch train station by a short forest walk that is guarded by prominent figures from its history. Built sometime after 1254 to defend the town, control trade through the valley, and generally act as the focal point of the territory of the small Schwarzenberger dynasty, the castle was destroyed nearly 400 years later during the Thirty Years War

Waldkirch and the River Elz valleyBy 1293 the Lords of Schwarzenberg had become vassals of the Austrian Hapsburgs, the most powerful dynasty in the Holy Roman Empire, and in 1324 Walter von Schwarzenberg was required to mortgage the castle to the Hapsburgs in order to secure his release from captivity.The Schwarzenbergers never recovered from this decline in their fortunes, and in 1354 ownership of Kastelburg passed to the Hapsburgs and it was mortgaged as a feudal property to the Malterers, a family of wealthy knights from the nearby city of Freiburg. Martin Malterer took up residence and turned it into a strongpoint against Freiburg, overturning a 1343 treaty of alliance with the city. In 1377 Martin entered into the service of Duke Leopold III of Austria, and by 1379 he was the governor of Alsace and Breisgau, enjoying high degrees of autonomy from his Hapsburg overlords.

Kastelburg TowerThe castle passed back to the direct control of the Hapsburgs on the death of Martin Malterer, and with him the Malterer male line of succession, at the Battle of Sempach in 1386. For nearly 40 years the castle was granted to the Counts of Sulz (from Sulz am Neckar) who defended Hapsburg interests against the Margraves* of Baden even after James (Jakob) I of Baden took Waldkirch in 1426. By 1434, however, troops from the nearby stronghold of Hochberg (the second largest castle in Baden, which had come into the possession of James' father Bernard I of Baden in 1415) had taken Kastelburg from the Sulzer family, although it remained a Hapsburg property.

The fallen walls of Kastelburg

In 1443 the castle was occupied by one Ludwig von Blumeneck as collateral for debts owed to him by the Austrian owners. The historical record, so far as Alamanicus can find, has little else to say about von Blumeneck. That's the thing about disrespecting one of the most powerful dynasties of all time - you get 'disappeared'. By 1461 Kastelburg was once again occupied by the Margrave of Baden, this time Charles (Karl) I, son of James, and his wife Catherine, sister of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, and they remained there until 1468.

By the early 16th century the Margraves of Baden had been replaced as the Kastelburg feudal lords by the Lords of Staufen (the first of whom was Berthold von Staufen, who was married to Martin Malterer's daughter Gisela, thus bringing the Malterer connection full circle). During this time the castle was damaged by a fire and poorly maintained, and the management of the property generally was left to overseers. The castle was briefly occupied by Waldkirch farmers in 1525, and on the death in 1556 of Anton von Staufen (for whom Dr. Johann Georg Faust, subject of Goethe's famous novel, worked as Alchemist), the Hapsburg owners cheated the von Staufens out of their mortgage on the basis of maintenance costs expended since 1500. The castle was then used as an occasional court, prison, and barracks.

Kastelburg entranceIn 1632, during the Thirty Years War, troops belonging to the Margrave of Baden took Kastelburg but failed in their attempts to take Waldkirch. Two years later the Holy Roman Empire took Kastelburg back after a 3-day siege and, demonstrating that you cross the Hapsburgs at your great peril, promptly beheaded the Margrave commander for desertion. However, in the face of advancing Swedish troops the position proved untenable. The Imperial troops withdrew and, to prevent its use by the enemy, reduced Kastelburg to the ruin that we see today.

The forested path to Kastelburg under guard by figures from its historyUntil 1837 the forest was allowed to reclaim the castle, but since then the site has gradually been cleared of vegetation and debris, and a new staircase installed in the tower. In 1970 the site was purchased by the town of Waldkirch. The castle is reached by a c.20 minute walk from the train station in Waldkirch, and the way is guarded by 8 wooden carvings of knights who feature in the history of Kastelburg. The tower is open from Easter to late November, Sadly Alamanicus didn't know this, and had to content himself during his visit in March with rattling the locked doors forlornly and wondering, in vain as it turned out, if any Swedes would be coming by any time soon to force them.


St. Margarets Church in WaldkirchThe Elztal Museum in Waldkirch, in the Kirchplatz opposite St. Margarets church, has a model of Kastelburg as it was before it was destroyed. The museum is primarily the home of an impressive collection of mechanical organs for which Waldkirch is famous, and a visit is thoroughly recommended (although the option to hear one of the old organs in action should be taken warily and at some distance by those with sensitive (or indeed normal) hearing).

*The title 'Margrave' is equivalent to the English 'March Lord', a semi-autonomous noble who acted as a military governor of a border province within a kingdom or realm. In later years, as the need for such military precautions subsided, the title became more honourary, and was ranked between a Graf (Count) and Herzog (Duke).


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Alamanicus is wandering his old Alemanni haunts, revisiting the places where once he used to drink, carouse, and beat up the odd Roman legionnaire or two. Things have moved on since his day, and the old Alemanni country now lies across south west Germany, French Alsace, and northern Switzerland. Cut through by the mighty Rhine, it is an area of great beauty, and a lot has happened there since Alamanicus last walked this land.


  • Guest
    Miss Caféine Friday, 13 July 2012

    This is great!

    You're like a living history book!

  • alamanicus
    alamanicus Friday, 13 July 2012

    RE:This is great!

    Hey Thanks! Hoping to persuade Mrs Alamanicus to schedule a trip soon to Hochburg, just north of Freiburg near Emmendingen, which I learned about whilst researching this article - a very impressive pile of rubble it looks.

    But next up, back to Alsace for either the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg or the Five Chateaux of Husseren (or more accurately for our recent visit, the Four Chateaux and a building site).

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