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Thursday, 05 May 2011 21:34

Landau: A Tale of Two Castles

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Landau might seem like a quiet country town but the Palatinate region has been fought over for centuries, and its story moves from royalty to revolutions. The histories of many countries converge right here. Nowhere is this eclectic heritage more apparent than at Trifels castle, where a monument marking the capture of an English king sits against a backdrop of Nazi stonework.

In 1192 the English king, Richard the Lionheart, was captured on his way back from the third crusade by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. It was here in Trifels that he was handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, and imprisoned, to be held for ransom. It was also where the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire were kept for nearly a century.

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Photo: Markus Petz
Memorial to the capture of Richard the Lionheart.

Trifels was last rebuilt in the 1930s; its role in humiliating an English king and in housing the regalia of powerful German emperors made it a perfect fit for Nazi ideals. Instead of restoring the castle to its original form however, they followed the model of the Italian castles of the Staufer family, who had ruled in central Europe for centuries. It was said that whoever owned Trifels owned the Palatinate, and the castle's history is one of constant power struggles between vying rulers. But on the other side of Landau, high up on Mount Schlossberg, sits a castle that witnessed a very different kind of struggle. 

In 1832, the ruins of Hambach Castle were the setting of a landmark demonstration that saw tens of thousands of people, from all walks of life, protesting against the repressive Bavarian administration. Local people, including citizens of Landau, were joined by French and Polish supporters to demand civil rights and national unity. It was the first time that a republican movement had made any impression in Germany, and the first time that the German tricolour was flown.

Ever since, Hambach Castle has been described as the "cradle of German democracy". But as one of our tour guides pointed out, these two castles aren't just important for Germany; they are hugely significant milestones in European history.

Last modified on Sunday, 08 May 2011 07:35
Lauren Davis

Lauren Davis, 23, studied English at Oxford and has written for free speech organisation Index on Censorship. Now a trainee reporter with the Press Association in Newcastle, she will be looking at stories affecting freedom of expression and freedom of thought across Europe.

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