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Staufer Castle of Falcons and Knights on the Neckar

Castle Guttenberg Tower and Falcon RootsA number of castles in central Germany are referred to as Staufer castles. The Staufen or Hoehenstaufen dynasty of German kings consolidated fiefdoms reaching all the way from the Rhine into Northern Italy in what was called the Holy Roman Empire by the most famous second of the line, Frederick Barbarossa. The core of the Staufen emperors' domains were the regions of northern Bavaria, modern Baden-Wuerttemberg and the Rhine Palatine. Many of their castles were built in a typical German form called "Schildmauerburg" consisting of a singular high-walled parapet with living quarters built around an inner courtyard, often protected by a moat or draw. Castle Guttenberg over- looking the Neckar River valley is one of the best examples surviving of the era, having been continuously occupied for 600 years. The Neckar River, once flowing wild through the mountain valleys from Heidelberg to Heilbronn has long been tamed by a series of control channels so that it flows smooth and lazy for freight barges and smaller tour ferries which now travel through the Neckartal.

Stauffer Castle Guttenberg photoPerched on a wooded slope above the Neckar with a clear view of the valley below the Castle Guttenberg stands watch with its distinctive walls of pale yellow over the north approach to the city of Bad Wimphen where the imperial palace of the Staufen once stood (see Bad Wimpfen). The castle of Burg Guttenberg was first constructed as a defensive fortress by the Staufer kings. After the end of the dynasty, the castle was bought by Hans Von Gemmingen known as Hans “The Rich”, who apparently had enough coin in his pocket to pick up a few pieces of choice real estate from the empire as it broke again into smaller fiefdoms. The Castle of Guttenberg has been lived in continuously by the von Gemmingen family ever since and has avoided the destruction decay of the other castle of the von Gemmingen family, Burg Hornberg (see Castle Hotel and Restaurant Burg Hornberg).

Guttenberg stone falcon bird show photoThe Castle Guttenberg is one of the most popular destinations in the Neckar Valley (Neckartal) for families and medieval enthusiasts, especially for its falcon shows and “Knights Faires” of medieval performances. As you cross the stone bridge replacing the former drawbridge over the dry moat to the castle gate, a stone eagle perches on watch as you pass the aviaries of the German Raptor Research Center (Greifenwarte) where you can tour the cages of breeding birds of prey or watch demonstrations of the power and beauty of falcons, eagles and even the much maligned vulture presented against a beautiful backdrop of the Neckar and Mühlbach valleys.

Raptor Center Vultures  Avian Bird Show Castle Guttenberg photoInside the castle walls the Burg Guttenberg maintains a museum of family and historic artifacts. The exhibit of "Living in a Knight's Castle" takes visitors on a trip from the middle ages to the 19th century with examples of knights in armor, religious reformers, warlords and hunters who influenced the times. A tour of the old castle’s kitchen, torture chamber and the old defensive tower is offered, quite often given by the current Baroness von Gemmingen, who will proudly show the family’s legacy. The castle is open from April to October, but tours can be privately arranged at other times. On weekends the Knights Faires allow visitors to experience life in medieval times.

Hotel Inn Zum Alten Marstall photoUnlike the other von Gemmingen castle across the river, there is no accommodation within the castle itself but a small hotel in the village of Neckarmülbach at the foot of the hill below the castle, offers a stay in a refurbished historic building. The inn Zum Alten Marstall seems a popular stop for cyclists along the Neckar castle road route (see German Castle Road) or families looking for a more medieval fun experience. There are private rooms and what is known in Germany as a middle ages "Hay Hotel" (Heuherberge). In olden days, wandering travelers would "hit the hay" laying down for a night on a pile of straw. Now, spots are provided for a sleeping bag. Breakfast is included.

Castle Guttenberg is sometimes listed as being in Heidelberg but is actually about an hour away in Hassmersheim-Neckarmuhlbach. There is a landing on the Neckar and the nearest train station is at Gundelsheim. By car Castle Gutenberg can be reached along the 37/27 following the Neckar River from Heidelberg or off the A6 autobahn, 30 minutes from Heilbronn. © Bargain Travel Europe

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