Drachenfels Castle – a German castle in the late 14th century or why real castles are the best inspiration
NOTE: Most pictures were deleted - I'll replace all of them soon!
The text at hand is a summary and a tour of the creation of Bug Drachenfels. This castle is only based upon real German castles, as castles in Central Europe are considerably different from English and French castles, although a certain French influence is clearly visible. Probably you have seen many of these pictures already. Still I do not only want to give evidence for certain decisions I made for building my castle the way it is but also to write a complete tour through this model.
Part I – the Beginnings and what castles were like in the past
When I was a child, my “first contacts” with castles were Burg Wildenburg (pictures below) and Schloss Crottorf near Friesenhagen. My father and older brother told me many things about knights and how castles were erected and my mother even told me that one of my ancestors lived at Schloss Crottorf a few hundred ears ago and that another ancestor of mine (Dorothea Becker) was accused of being a witch and she suffered torments for about two years at the castle of Bilstein before she was set free. Well, she was accused of poisoning the steward’s wife in 1575.
Moreover, we visited many castles along the Lahn, Rhine and Mosel. I read all the old legends about old Germanic heroes and I still do remember when I got my first castle set and my black falcon castle. I dearly loved them but then I realized that real castles and LEGO castles were somehow different. The walls had no windows and were much stronger. Most of the castles had a very strong tower, called Bergfried, and at least one bigger building (Palas), things which any LEGO castle lacked.
I soon found out that the LEGO designers were definitely not inspired by German castles, but I wanted to have my own. So, I started to reconstruct castles I had seen or visited. The result was actually never satisfying due to my shortage of grey bricks. Many years later, I think I was about 23, I rediscovered my brick collection and started to build a real castle with proper buildings and walls.
But that was not enough. I began to read books, scientific books, written by leading archaeologists and scientists. Additionally I visited castles systematically, took many photos and analysed them at home. With their help my castle grew larger and larger. Each castle I have visited until today has got its influence on my model to make it as realistic as possible.
Many things had to be considered. The right era (should it be romanesque or gothic?) building techniques in the past (was this type of timber frame already known in the 1350ies?), the protection of the gate (German castles of the 12th century did not have a portcullis or a drawbridge), should it be owned by many different families (a so called Ganerbenburg), by a single family or was it even a castle owned by the German king (Reichsburg). I decided to build a late romanesque castle, dating back to the years between 1180 – 1200. Unfortunately the accessories of the minifigs were not useable for the High-Middle-Ages. The nasal helmet was still used in that period, but the great helm was missing. The hounskull was late medieval, the quite fantasy like sallet was used past 1450 and the grilled helmet was a post medieval part of the armour.
So I decided to the years around 1350 to 1420, giving me the opportunity to use the houndskull and even the hennin for the females, although it was introduced in the 1420ies. Luckily two great helmets were offered my Little Armory (early type, plus the excellent sallet) and Brickforge, which clearly outclass the latest LEGO version.
During my studies I also found out to distinguish castles from structures which only pretends to be a castle. I am not talking about fantasy castles created in film-studios, like the Hornburg in Lord of the Rings for example. It looks nice and impressive but was silly designed. Sorry, but it is the truth. Throughout the centuries the faces of many existing castles had been changing very much. Some were turned into fortresses, while others turned into manor houses or became ruins. The numbers of truly medieval castles is limited, but many of them have, despite massive changes, kept the grace of former times. Others however had to make way for new buildings. 150 years ago castles were rediscovered as an element of a “glorious German past”. They were considered to be a symbol for “German glory”, neglecting the fact that Germany as a single country did not exist in medieval times. This idea was something which was invented by a pseudo heroic and romantic Zeitgeist. The castles Nieder- and Hohenschwangau were destroyed in order to erect Neuschwanstein. The castle of Stolzenfels near Koblenz lost nearly all of its medieval architecture due to the fancy pseudo medieval image of the Hohenzollern and their Prussic kings. There are so many castles which suffered the same fate and negatively influenced the current image of castles. The structures were clearly oversized and too fanciful. Secular medieval architecture was far more humble, yet very powerful and it simply had style. Something romanticised castles clearly lack in my opinion. The best source for authentic medieval architecture are ruins as they have not been negatively changed for centuries, except for their loss of substance.
However, to build a realistic castle, one has to accept a few things which may spoil the images some people have concerning castles.
1. Only a minority of castles were built for war and total control only. These were erected by the crusaders, the Teutonic Order in Eastern Europe and Edward I of England for example. Their castles were huge and could be defended by well over 2000 men-at-arms. The inhabitants suppressed the native people before ruling over them. They were truly strongholds.
2. Most castles were not build for warfare only. They were put up to control a region, an important road, a ford, a city or whatever. Usually they were inhabited by a handful of men lead by a ministerialis or a free noble family. They were not manned by many knights and they were not massive fortresses. Most of them were built by families which were rather poor.
3. Most castles were simple in design. A wooden tower that was it. Richer families were able to erect larger castles but many were not huge in size as well. Only very rich and powerful families were wealthy enough to construct massive castles. An example clarifies what I mean.
Linn Castle near Krefeld is a very good example for an ordinary castle of a noble family. It was built in the late 12th century as a Motte-and-bailey. In the centre of an artificial hill was a tower surrounded by palisades. After Otto von Linn returned from the third crusade around 1190, he upgraded the fortifications. He replaced the palisades with a wall and six round towers. It took him several years to complete his work and it is believed that his son Gerhard von Linn finished his father's work. Gerard made the walls higher (by 2 metres) and after his death the castle fell back to the Archbishop of Cologne, who was one of the most powerful men of the Holy Roman Empire. A tall tower, a so called “Bergfried”, which was quite prominent with German castles, a “Palas” the main building and a stronger gate were added.
In the 14th century the castle was handed to Heinrich von Struenkede, who robbed and sacked merchants due to his shortage of money. The towns of Cologne, Aachen, the dukes of Geldern, Kleve. Juelich, Brabant and Luxembourg and some others wanted to send about 300 soldiers and a few knights to siege the town and castle of Linn. It is known that they were equipped with three siege-towers. The castle itself however was only defended by not more than two dozens of men-at-arms! Struenkede gave up before the troops reached Linn and he had to withdraw, as nobody supported him.
Although the number of defenders was small, he would have been able to hold the castle for a while, yet knowing that he had no chance as there was not hope for help and the supplies inside the castle would not last forever. So, giving up the castlewas a wise decision and honourable for both parties. By the way during the next two centuries the amount of defenders never exceeded 16 people during wartimes. In 1359 only 10 men-at-arms were stationed at Linn castle.
Here is another example. The Archbishop of Trier “Balduin von Luxemburg” successfully enlarged the territory of the state of Trier in the middle of the 14th century. A very famous example is the siege of Eltz Castle in the 1330ies. Balduin tried to attack the castle and was defeated. He then built a small castle at a distance of 200 metres on top of Eltz castle (called Trutzeltz, the ruins can still be seen) and he bombarded the castle with the first canons and a trebuchet. All the passages and roads to the castle were blocked as well. The siege lasted 2 to 4 years and Balduin was successful in the end. He took the castle not by forced but by a contract as the defenders were starving in the end. The castle was then enfeoffed back to the family of Eltz (they still own it for 800 years now).
As you can see castles were not massive fortresses and why should they? They were usually not built in enemy territory! Of course castles had a military value and they were able to withstand a siege for some time, even years, but “war” was not their main purpose.
Castles had more functions. Firstly, all castles were a symbol of the owner’s power and this was usually expressed by the “Bergfried” and the Palas (modern term of the main building). The nobility set themselves apart from the common men and other noblemen of course. Secondly, it combined the function of a town-hall and a police-station. The surrounding area was ruled by the nobleman, who lived in the castle who also had the judicial responsibilities in his hands.
After the main purposes of a castle was stripped down to its core, let's take a more detailed look at the architecture. Although German castles show a great variety, many share some basic features which are typical for a midsize or large castle. These features are “Bergfried”, “Palas”, gate and wall. In the following I will present these elements in greater detail by using the elements of Burg Drachenfels.
Part II - A tour through Burg Drachenfels
Firstly, let us take a look at the rock. I am not a so called purist and I don’t want to be one. The rock was made out of paper maché, because using BURPs and standard bricks would have been like pouring money down the drain. Moreover, it looks far more realistic.
Let us start our journey at the “Vorburg”, I have not found an appropriate English term, but I am sure there is one. This area was quite common for many castles, still there were plenty which did not even have one. The “Vorburg” served as some kind of first defence, a place for subordinate buildings or even as a farm. In fact many castles had one or more farms in the vicinity. These were called “Sg. Meierhof, Pl. Meierhoefe”.
You enter Burg Drachenfels through a gothic gate, dating back to the late 13th century. I cut off a one stud from each semi-arch to create a perfect gothic arch. Generally it is a plain wall with two arrow–slits (Schiessscharte). and a protecting square tower to your right. Above you is a so called “Wehrerker”, the French call it “Bretèche”. Some sort of machicolations that allowed you to throw stones at the enemy.
I have covered it with hoardings, a common structure of medieval castles. You enter the hoardings through the back of the wall. The tower is protecting the gate through two arrow-loops. One of them is pointing downwards, so an archer can provide cross-fire directly down to the gate. This special arrow-slit is called “Senkscharte” in German.
The gate itself only consists of two door leaves. They could be locked by a strong wooden beam, which was fixed just behind the leaves when the gate was closed. To achieve this something like an indentation was carved into the one side, while the indentationon the other side had a carved like form. The picture shows this solution which can be found at one of Burg Muenzenberg's gates.
I have adopted that way of closing the gate. Another possibility was to put the entire beam into the wall via a deep and long conduit in the wall and to pull it out to close the gate.
The rear of the gate is dominated by a wooden gangway, making the tower and the hoardings accessible. This gangway is also leading to the arrow-slits and the first floor of the half-timbered guard house.
From the guard house one can enter the curtain wall. This wall encloses the whole “Vorburg”. The wall itself is rather thin (2 studs), but it is strengthened by several arches. this feature was common for town walls, but there are also some castles which shared the same design. A good example is the Hardtburg in the Eifel. The wall itself is only 0.6 – 1 metre in diameter.
The first three arches contain arrow-loops. Their construction and purpose is somehow tricky. They were probably invented in France during the late 12th century. From there they spread over the whole of Europe, reaching German territory in the first quarter of the 13th century. The early examples were up to 2 metres tall and the slit itself was only a few centimetres wide. Moreover, the loops are sloped so that the archer or crossbowman standing in a niche could see the whole area before him, while he was hardly seen, thus giving these devices has a triangular shape.
Throughout the centuries the arrow-loop was dramatically reduced in size.
However, there are many castles which have got non functional arrow-loops. This might have had psychological reasons, maybe it was the inability of the architect or they were just windows. Burg Linn near Krefeld for example has got quite a lot arrow-slits. Not all of them are working, as they span the entire two metres through the wall, aiming and shooting is not possible.
At the end of the 14th century the form of the loop-holes was changed due to the invention of fire-arms. Scientists have found out that the architects experimented with different shapes. They created simple windows, T-like shapes (optimised for the crossbow), slits with a little triangle and finally the keyhole-loop of many different kinds in the 1450ies.
O.K. let us turn back to the castle. Before we reach the next building, let us turn our attention to the cistern. Cisterns collected water from the roofs and the grounds.
Through pipes and small canals the water was entering this well like structure. In fact many castles did not have a well at all. There are two different kinds of cisterns. A more simple type which just collected the water and a more sophisticated version which filtered the dirt, as the water ran through different layers of sand and gravel.
Passing the cistern, one enters a half timbered building – the Tithe Barn – “Zehntscheune” in German. It got its name because the farmers had to give a tenth (German Zehnt) of their produce to the landlord. It also contains quarters for the inhabitants and a kitchen on the first floor. From the roof a beam with a winch stretches out, to lift goods from the farmers or furniture to the next level. The staircases of castles were usually very narrow, not allowing furniture or other bulky things to be carried somewhere.
I’m planning to change the second floor by replacing the black timber with brown bricks and the roof will be black in the future. Moreover, the wall facing the vicinity will be restructured as well. I am thinking of small gothic windows and a working toilet/garderobe.
After one has left this building, you can see the stables straight ahead. Honestly speaking I am not fond of this design any more. I will reduce the stables in size, maybe a thatched roof and new, sleeker timber frame. I don’t know, yet. However, I will add a stony gothic building with nice gothic windows – a so called “Burgmannenhaus”. “Burgmannen” were members of the lesser nobility, which were responsible for protecting the castle and other services.
Before you enter the main castle itself, one should pay attention to the blacksmith. Actually a blacksmith was not typical for a medieval castle. I have visited castles with and without a forge. This one has got one.
Hauptburg - The main castle.
The main castle is the most important structure and it is divided into two parts. The center dates back to the years between 1190 and 1215, while the wall around it dates back to the years around 1350 - 1390.
After one has crossed the moat by using a wooden bridge – in case of an attack it can easily be destroyed - one enters the second gate. The arch is framed is framed by a niche.
This niche is very important as it stores the drawbridge when it is lifted up. This feature iwas used by all gates which carried a drawbridge. The crenellation (German “Zinnen”) are carried by a round-arched frieze (Rundbogenfries). These are not machicolations, they are just an ornament. The crenellation carry two arrow-slits. By the way, crenellation have to be constructed wisely! They cover the whole body! Usually they are about 2 metres tall, this is always easy for me to measure, as I am just over two metres tall. As an example I have added one picture from Salzburg castle.
The gate is incorporated by the outer ward, which is framed by three octagonal towers with arrow-loops. I always wanted to have round towers, but satisfying round towers of that size are impossible to design.
Luckily there are examples with octagonal towers like Burg Nideggen for example. One of the towers contains a T-shaped crossbow-loop. Actually this is historically incorrect, as they were introduced in the 1430ies, but –I wanted to construct one.
The two walls of the outer ward facing the “Vorburg” have got arrow-loops and so called “Schiessfenster”, windows which can be used to fire guns. In fact I have added an example of a lager gun and a soldier holding a handgun inspired by the Tannenberger Buechse from 1399.
The crest of the walls have to be replaced by grey bricks in the future. In reality these walls were mainly built in the 15th century, to keep gunfire away from the castles. However, there are some earlier examples. The Nuernburg’s outer ward is dating back to the middle of the 14th century.
Now let us enter the “oldest part” of Burg Drachenfels. Before passing a small Romanesque gate you can see the main tower to your right (“Bergfried”) and a keep like Tower to your left (“Wohnturm”). Both differ in size an function. Let us start with the “Bergfried”, THE symbol of power.
They were massive. Usually they were 25 metres tall (a perfect lookout-tower), 9m x 9m wide and the walls were 2-4 m thick. All of them were entered through a door about 8 metres above ground level. You never ever entered these towers from the ground-level! Scientist have widely discussed the reason for this and they have not found a reasonable answer. Some say it was just common or fancy, while others say it was the last retreat. The last image however, seems to be rather obsolete as it would not have made sense in case the castle was taken and help was not on its way.
Nevertheless, the Bergfried stands for sheer power of the owner and was visible from a great distance. The position of many main towers is striking. Very often an edge was facing the most endangered side of the castle, protect everything that was behind it.
This had got two reasons. The energy of a projectile shot from a trebuchet or catapult was largely absorbed and the protected space behind the tower was increased. The most frequent forms were square, pentagon like or round towers. Some castles in South-West Germany had a shielding wall (Schildmauer) instead. Basically it was a stretched version of the Bergfried with massive walls. Good examples are Amlishagen, Ehrenfels and Berneck.
The Bergfried of Drachenfels is a typical example. The entrance is several metres above ground-level and can be entered via a balcony leading to the bordering walls.
It has got a tiny window, which provides lights for the guards and the top is enclosed by hoardings. On top is a roof of course. Hordings were also very common.
If you see square hole near the top of a wall or a tower, you can be certain that hoardings were once present. In the near future I am planning to rebuilt the “Bergfried” with an interior and embossed stones – German “Buckelquader” - on the outside
The “Wohnturm” – around 1270 - is a keep like building, although it differs greatly from the English keep and the French donjon. This type of tower was the ancestors of the Bergfried and the Palas, as it combines elements of living and defense. Both were split up in Central Europe in the 12th century creating the “Bergfried” for defense and the “Palas” for living. Nevertheless this type of tower was always very prominent.
The tower’s entrance is located a few metres above the ground as well and a wooden staircase leads to the entrance.
The tower has got three floors. Originally I had planned to build four, but the vault of the chapel was to high, so I had to change my plan. Through the walls staircases are leading to the other levels. The first floor is used for storing food, wine and whatsoever.
Through a wooden “trapdoor” near the chapel things can be roped down. On the same floor is also an arrow-slit.
The chapel is a gothic chapel with a gothic vault based on four columns standing in the corners. The vault is dominated by the shields of the golden castle area. In the centre stands a baptismal font and the altar is marked by triptych in front of the gothic window. This window was inspired windows I saw at Muenzenberg and Salzburg castle recently.
The second floor is the quarter of a nobleman. It contains a bed, a tiled stove (which was far more effective than a fireplace) a few chests (there were no wardrobes or cupboards in medieval times, everything was stored in chests) a shelf and a toilet. From here you could reach the top of the tower, based on a round-arched frieze. Again there is a gothic biforium.
The Palas (great hall) and Kemenate (bower) – 1190 - 1215
These two words are usually misused. Many scholars thought that every castle had a great hall and that the bower was only reserved for the women. Both is totally wrong.
The great hall was not a common feature for a castle. Actually only the bigger ones had one! Usually smaller castles had a residential house with one bigger room, that’s it. The term itself derived from the word “Palatium” meaning the great hall of a palace.
The German kings built several palaces (Pfalzen) throughout the country as they travelled from one to another due to the fact that Germany did not have a capital.
Still, the term “Palas” is now used for the main building(s) of a castle.
If you stand outside the Palas of Burg Drachenfels, the Romanesque bifora windows with a skylight each are dominating the scenery. They were designed after the windows of the Ulrichsburg (today France, but it is a German castle).
These types of windows were very common among 12th and early 13th century castles. They were a symbol for wealth and power. Noblemen spent great efforts to get beautiful windows. I have added some examples from Muenzeneberg and Salzburg/Saale, to show what I mean. Some of the windows on the opposite side are also bifora windows but they are simpler. The roof is carried by a round-arched frieze.
Below the bifora windows is a small arcaded passageway, covering an aisle which leads to the staircase to the great hall. You enter the “Palas” through a stony stairway. The floor is tiled, like the floors of the Wohnturm and Kemenate. To your left an aisle leads to the great hall itself, while a door leads to a room straight ahead. After entering this room, a door to your left leads to a sleeping room and another door to some kind of living room with a tiled stove. Tiled stoves were very popular among the inhabitants of Central Europe as they were far more effective than fireplaces.
The great hall was, if present, the pride of the nobleman. Large windows, a huge and representative fireplace and mural paintings show his family’s wealth. The mural paintings were taken from the Codex Manesse (early 14th century).
Now we see the back of the windows. I have added stony benches inside the bay windows. Light was sparse at that time and huge windows provided more light for doing all sort of things.
The windows can be closed by wooden shutters. In medieval times some windows were so huge that they could not be closed. Scientist believe that the rooms behind these windows were used only during summer times. Next to the windows is the fireplace, another important symbol for wealth and power. The bigger it was in the past the more powerful the nobleman was. A coffered ceiling covers the room, vaults were not that common for Romanesque and early gothic halls.
From the great hall you can enter the bower. But before you enter this room, one should pay attention to the toilet. It does not really differ from the ones we have seen before, except for the wooden pipe. This was a safety precaution. Once a French knight was shot in his ass during a siege from below and he died shortly thereafter.
Returning to the bower, a small staircase leads downwards to a tiled stove which provides heat and a small chapel is covering the religious needs of the noble inhabitants. In many castles this room was the only one which was heatable, making the winter an even more unpleasant season. Below the bower is a kitchen.
After you have left the bower and the great hall, there is one building left; the wall with hoardings. A ladder leads inside the wall (I may change this in the near future) and you can enter the hoardings of the castle. This wooden structure was very effective when it came to defending a wall. They allowed a horizontal and downward attack against the enemy. Unfortunately for the defenders, they were less effective against fire and catapults. The hoardings rest on horizontal beams stretching out from the walls. After every 4th stud I have added a small hole, so that defenders may throw stones at the attackers.
I hope you have enjoyed the little tour through my castle. Yet there are some things to be done. For instance a well, the interior of the “Bergfried” and the kitchen.
A final words on colours of castles. Not all castles were grey. The term “grey wall syndrome” is quite prominent. Personally I don’t like this phrase, as it does not make sense. Often massive walls were purposely built to show how strong a castle was or at least they should pretend that. Recently I visited Muenzenbeg castle, which is considered to be among one of the most sophisticated castles in Germany. As I stood at the western Bergfried and looked towards the “Falkensteiner Palas” I saw only grey walls and it was impressive.
However, the term also contains a grain of truth. Not all castles were grey. If the castle was stone-coloured, it had a so called “Rasa-Pietra” rendering. That means that the space between the stones was smoothened by filling the masonry seam with mortar. Many castles however were rendered with white or yellow limestone. So my next castle won’t be grey at all.
Wow. I didn't know what to expect from the main pic. This is perhaps the best castle on MOC pages! I would suggest changing the main pic to attract more visitors. I've passed this page many times, but this is my first time clicking on the link. Well done!
Oh my lord, this is truly a fantastic build! The detail and level of attention on all of this is just stunning, some of my favorite parts being the arrow slits, towers, and walls. I'll tell you honestly, some of the pictures of your Lego castle could not be differentiated from the stone ones by me, so well done, and truly keep bricking!
Very nice, I can't see all of the pictures though, but that's because of my bad internet connection I think, anyway, those arrow loops are nicely done and on the first picture (not main) it actually looks so real, I mean non-lego, great job !
Quoting Joseph Paetz
Sweet castle. The arrow slits are awsome. I also liked how you used a more realistic ground material than a baseplate. What did you use for the ground and where can you get it?
Thanks, to make a rock like that is very easy and extremely cheap, it's just paper-maché. You just need plenty of newspapers and shred the paper with a shredder. Put it in a bucket, pour some water over it (not too much) and then add some wallpaper paste. Mix all "ingredients" with your hands and that's it.
I used several chipboards and connected the different levels with a mixture of cloth and gauze. You can also use close meshed chicken wire. Put the paper-maché on the gauze, let it dry for 1-2 weeks, paint it and then add artificial grass or whatever you like. That's it.