Witches, Monsters and Dragons, All at Frankenstein Castle
Castles are often associated with the supernatural and gruesome events and none more so than one of the most famous castles in all of Germany, Frankenstein Castle. This ruined fortress is synonymous with the story of Frankenstein and his monster. Today, the castle and its surroundings are a major tourist attraction.
The History of Frankenstein Castle - Black Magic and Myth
The name Frankenstein means ‘Stone of the Franks’ in German. The Franks were a Germanic tribe and were one of the clans who caused the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Frankenstein Castle is situated in an area that is the source of many legends, possibly because the woods were used as a shrine to the Teutonic sky god Wotan (Odin).
The castle was built on a strategic hilltop in the 13 th century by a lord who styled himself Von Frankenstein. Little is known of its early history, but it seems that the Frankenstein Castle was gradually expanded down the Middle Ages. During the 14 th century, the fortress was divided into two, and two branches of the Frankenstein family lived in the castle.
Johann Konrad Dippel (1673 – 1734), who was born in the castle, became notorious as a freethinker and a practitioner of the occult. He is alleged to have engaged in alchemy and experiments on human cadavers which was illegal and condemned by the Christian churches at the time.
Alchemy still life (Alexey Kuznetsov / Adobe Stock)
Although often disputed, some believe that Dippel was a model for Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein as she had visited the ruined fortress before writing her masterpiece that subsequently inspired many horror movies.
The castle was abandoned in the 17 th century and was later used for many years as a hospital. During the 18 th century, the castle was the site of a gold rush as local fortune tellers intimated that there was gold to be found near the castle. None was ever found.
Frankenstein Castle was partially rebuilt in the 19 th century as a result of its associations with the classic horror story. The castle has since been a major tourist attraction and is often visited by ghost hunters, so naturally it is very popular during Halloween.
The Legends of Frankenstein Castle
The vicinity around the castle has long been associated with many legends and tales. It was once believed that witches would congregate in the area on Walpurgis Night, which is still celebrated every year on 30th April. Locals believed that witches gathered near the castle for centuries.
Walpurgis night, burning of the witches (ACOBA / Adobe Stock)
According to legend, the lord of the castle slayed a dragon near the castle and another claims that there is a fountain of youth located at the ruined fortress. In some versions this spring has magical properties because of a witch’s spell.
Frankenstein Castle, a Gothic Ruin
The partly ruined castle is situated on a hill that overlooks the historic city of Darmstadt, West Germany, and is surrounded by forests and woodland. Although most of the castle is in ruins, some medieval structures are still standing, including much of the original gatehouse. Fine examples of Medieval Romanesque windows and tracery on the walls still stand but the ruins are blocked off for health and safety reasons.
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Frankenstein Castle door (Kim Warden / Adobe Stock)
The most complete parts of the castle are the two towers, built in the neo-Gothic style and dating from the 19 th century. Sections of the original ramparts are still intact, and they offer a spectacular view of the region. The herb garden situated at the back of the old castle is purported to contain the fountain of youth. The nearby chapel and graveyard, which has many historic headstones, can be visited.
Visiting Frankenstein Castle, Germany
The site is not far from Frankfurt and public transport to Darmstadt is available. The best way to reach the castle is by car as the hill on which it is situated is steep. A fee is charged to enter the site and walk the grounds where there is a fine restaurant with excellent views. There are several attractions at the site relating to the Frankenstein legend and other tales from the past.
Top image: Aerial view of Frankenstein Castle in southern Hesse, Germany Source: Iurii / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
Aguirre, M. (2013). Gothic fiction and folk-narrative structure: The case of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Gothic Studies, 15(2), 1-18
Available at: https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs/10.7227/GS.15.2.1
Carr, K. (2013). Saints and Sinners: Johann Konrad Dippel. The Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 95(1), 21-22
Shea, T. M. (2017). Was Dr Frankenstein Real? Enslow Publishing, LLC
Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=hAFfDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA4&dq=castle+frankenstein++darmstadt+&ots=P1SE0VKxjB&sig=xszGo8vFYAEUbqY83vNeI4S4Z4g&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=castle%20frankenstein%20%20darmstadt&f=false