Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle – Orschwiller, France - Atlas Obscura

Orschwiller, France

Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle

The castle was reconstructed to fit Kaiser Wilhelm II's romanticized vision of the Middle Ages. 

Historians don’t really know when the first pieces of this castle were built, though there is mention of a castle atop this particular rock in an 1147 document. The fortress became one of the most important defensive fortifications in the Alsace region, falling into the hands of everyone from Hohenzollern kings to bandits to the powerful Thierstein family. It was finally destroyed in 1633 by Swedish forces during the Thirty Years War.

After sitting in ruins for more than two centuries, the castle acquired a new, powerful owner. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, the modern region of Alsace-Moselle became part of Germany. At the time, it was trendy to offer old castles to heads of states, so in 1899 the fortress was offered to the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, because of its affiliation with the Hohenzollern family (his house).

Wilhelm II wanted to renovate the castle and rebuilt it with a romanticized medieval aesthetic, trusting architect Bodo Ebhardt to lead the project and bring the building back to its former glory. Because Ebhardt didn’t have the ruined building’s original blueprint, he had to imagine how it would’ve looked. His reconstruction is an idealized, nostalgic vision of a medieval castle—just what the Kaiser wanted. Wilhelm II visited the site to check in on the construction progress and ensure his plans to bring his idyllic conception of the past into the present were coming to life.

The restoration did more than add an old-timey look to the place. Wilhelm II had Ebhardt place an emphasis on the Hohenzollern family to legitimize his house and strengthen the bond between his regime and the region, which was a recent addition to the German Empire.

But in 1919, just 11 years after the Kaiser inaugurated the castle, it became part of France once again, as stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles.

Know Before You Go

Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle is located near the village of Orschwiller. It's open every day of the year except January 1, May 1, and December 25. Opening hours vary depending on the season.

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