The title of this travelogue could rightly be called "Castle Hohenzollern and Hechingen". It would indeed be a fair statement to say that the Castle is far and away the dominant feature, lording high over the small Swabian town of Hechingen like it were a feudal castle far distant from its subjects. Heidelberg Castle may be better known, but as the first photograph shows, the Hohenzollern perhaps gives the greatest first impression of any castle in Germany. It has that perfect old-fashioned fairy tale look, especially with the tall towers, that draws tourists like mad even though it is one of the most difficult castles to reach.
Despite its medieval appearance, the Hohenzollern is actually very new. In the 19th century, the Prussians claimed an old castle ruin from which only the original chapel was intact and erected this structure on top of it. It would be a symbol of the new rulers of southwest Germany, and the figures of many a Prussian king or noble surround the castle's base.
The first photograph was taken from the main access road running from Hechingen to the castle. The road went to about two-thirds up the hill before I reached the parking lot. Shuttle buses ran regularly to the front gate (I climbed on foot, and I will tell you it is a hell of a climb. However, from the front gate, you still have some climbing to do -- the entrance roadway corkscrews up about twenty yards prior to reach the upper courtyard. The upper courtyard was an observation deck that wrapped all the way around the castle. The Prussian figurines were against the castle walls, while other figurines, such as the guard shown in the second photograph, were set on stair railings.
The views of the Schwäbisch Alb (Swabian Alps) from there were fantastic. The second photograph shows just a glimpse of it -- lust forests, green farmland, and a few tiny villages.
Tours of the palace interior are guided only, and unfortunately they were only in German. Even still, it is a tour worth taking, especially for the incredibly detailed and intricate first room. On its walls were the family trees of the Hohenzollern family and various branches of Prussian royalty. Incredibly done. What was also interesting was learned about the role that the Castle played after World War II as the seat of the royalty and the site of several important early meetings among leaders from the West German occupying powers.
I returned to Hechingen afterwards to explore, and found the downtown very nice, though it has clearly modernized. The fourth photograph shows perhaps the oldest view in town, the town hall with the Swabian-style half-timbered shops on its left and facing the main market square. The photo is deceiving, but the town hall is sitting at the edge of a cliff (the sharp descent of the shops is a clue). Fully beneath the town hall is the Unterer Turm (Lower Tower), a 16th century city gate tower that has been renovated with modern art inside.
Other key features of the downtown included two palaces, the Altes (old) Schloss and the Neues (new) Schloss, that face each on the Schlossplatz to the left of the fourth photo. I found it odd that the "new" palace was built in the 15th century, while the "old" one was 17th century, but what the hey. Outside town there is a third palace, or manor, the Villa Eugenia that claims to have been the former home of the famous composer Franz Liszt. There were also two prominent churches, the Stiftskirche on the market square with its brilliant white interior and the smaller St. Johannes-Kirche about two blocks away with its green, black, and gold tiled roof. At the smaller scale is the tiny Ruhe-Christi-Kapelle, a one-man chapel on a street corner built by one of Hechingen's mayors in the 18th century.
The Schwäbisch Alb and the Castle Hohenzollern are must-sees for venturers to rural southwest Germany. It's a bit more secluded than the Black Forest region, but easy to get to from Stuttgart. Hechingen's cafés and restaurants seemed plenty nice enough, and the layout of the downtown interesting enough for a visit after the Castle -- especially to avoid the high prices of the food and drink on the castle grounds.
Trip taken 19 July 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin