Atop a formidable hill surrounded by Germany’s Black Forest rests the high-walled fortress of Hohenzollern castle. It towers regally over the town of Bisingen on a mountain of its own name, “Burg Hohenzollern,” and is bound by the Rhine Valley to the west and the south.
The castle is the ancestral seat of the former royal German dynasty known as the House of Hohenzollern, and today it is owned by Prussian Prince George Frederick, the current head of the Prussian branch of the Hohenzollern family. When visiting, the royal family flag flies high on Hohenzollern tower.
The beautiful, neo-gothic castle made of golden-hued bricks sees hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. It contains a sizeable art collection, a treasure trove of jeweled items, and an open-air cinema. In addition, it even has its own brewery, and a custom brew named Pruessens.
But despite its magnificent features and medieval history, Hohenzollern palace has not been formally lived in for centuries.
Hohenzollern Castle is the third of three hilltop palaces that were built on the Hohenzollern mountainside, all named for the royal German family Hohenzollern.
The mountain on which this regal palace resides is known in German as "Burg Hohenzollern," or Hohenzollern mountain.
History's first mention of the castle here occurs in the early 11th century, and it was considered "the most fortified house in all of Germany." But then, the palace was completely destroyed in 1423.
Construction on a second castle began in 1454. However, in 1634, this castle fell under Austrian control for the next hundred years. After this, it was occupied by French soldiers and then returned to Austrian control after the War of the Austrian Succession.
By this time, it was rarely occupied, and the formidable palace started to fall to ruins after the last Austrian owner left it in 1798.
Then, Hohenzollern scion Crown-Prince Frederick William IV of Prussia built the castle that currently stands on Hohenzollern Burg. He traveled through southern Germany to explore his family's roots in 1819; climbing to the top of Mount Hohenzollern to claim his ancestral home.
Ever the romantic, he entered the castle's ruins and watched the sunset from one of the castle bastions. He realized he needed to restore Hohenzollern Castle to its former glory.
He hired architect Friedrich August Stüler, who designed the castle in the ornate style of English Gothic Revival and it was completed in 1867. Oddly enough, however, no king has ever lived in this current incarnation.
The current owner, George Frederick, is the great-great-grandson and historic heir of Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia who, as the eldest grandchild of Queen Victoria, renounced the throne and went into exile at the end of World War I in 1918.
To this day, no one occupies the palace year-round, and other than tourists, few know what its gilded halls hold.
Tourists are largely prohibited from taking photos of the castle's interior, and we must rely more on written descriptions and released videos to see the grandeur inside instead.
The castle, though unoccupied, is nonetheless outwardly fortified with battlements and towers, boasts 140 rooms, gilded coffered ceilings, and marble columns inside.
Portraits of Prussian royals adorn the walls. An external stairway leads to the Ancestry Hall, which holds the royal family tree and crests in a color-coded and organized fashion.
Next comes the Count's Hall, which features rib vaulting, pointed-arch windows, and original wood flooring. Tourists must put special slippers on their feet when they enter here in order to protect it.
There are two chapels with breathtaking stained glass windows and a library decorated with murals of the Hohenzollern family history.
The queen's bed-chamber is one of the most beautiful rooms in the palace with its gilded ceilings. The king's bed-chamber, however, is somewhat modest. It was reconstructed more as a memorial than an actual sleeping chamber.