Castles and Fairytales of Niederheimbach
It’s not often that we make it out to the Rhein area because it can be a bit of a drive from the Eifel. However, we decided to drive to Niederheimbach to see Burg Sooneck and the Märchenhain because I’d read a lot about both of them and just had to see it all in person.
Let me tell you – I was not disappointed.
Burg Sooneck (pronounced zoe-neck) dates back to the late 1200s. It sits on top of a hill, just above the village of Niederheimbach, overlooking the Rhein River.
Once you get to the top of the drive, there is a parking lot with a great view of the river.
And from there, it’s just a short walk to the castle.
You have to go through the cash register area before you get to the courtyard. I believe you can tour the caslte grounds for free (although, I’m not 100% sure), or you can pay 5€ for a guided tour. I will say that the tour is quite short and only offered in German with an English handout, so you could just enjoy the castle gardens. They are definitely worth visiting in their own right, but there are some highlights to the tour that I’ll get into in a minute.
There are pathways and stairwells all over the courtyard that are so fun to explore! Some of the stairwells were so narrow and curvy – and the views from the tops of the walls were absolutely gorgeous. Although we were there on a Sunday afternoon, there were only four or five other people walking around, and about 10 minutes after we got there, we had the whole place to ourselves.
I have to say that this castle has a real magic about it. I’ve been to several castles, but never did I experience one that felt so surreal.
On the edge of the grounds – which are immaculately maintained, by the way – is a small restaurant. You can sit outside on the terrace, but, if you do, just remember that it’s self serve. So, no one will come to your table to take your order. You’ll have to go inside, order, and carry it out to the table yourself.
The Castle Tour
Like I said, it’s only offered in German with an English handout and only covers a handful of rooms. But, there are some really interesting artifacts inside, with equally interesting stories.
For example, in one room, our guide showed us what looked like a really ornate typewriter cover. It was actually used for writing letters while riding in a coach, and he opened it to reveal a small fold-out writing surface, feather pens, ink wells, and a hidden cubby for extra paper. He also explained how they used a small capsule of sand as an “eraser.”
In another room, he pointed out the very large, very ornate chandelier, and told us how it was lowered to light the 50-odd candles. As the room was used for entertaining, once the candles burned down, everyone went to bed. But, when entertaining those guests who weren’t particularly liked, they would cut the candles in half from the bottom so that they burned out quicker. Those sneaky royals!
In a small bedroom, he showed us what looked like a daybed, and explained that the women who slept there, slept sitting up. He said there was a fear in those days that when someone slept lying down that their tongue would fall into their throats, killing them. There was also a fear that a mythical monkey would sit on their chests and suffocate them.
The castle, which was destroyed twice, was rebuilt in the 1800s. The majority of its history is tied to the Kings of Prussia. In one room is a huge painting of Frederick William III. It’s a sight to see for it’s beauty and detail, but also because of its rather “futuristic” illusion. Although we’re used to seeing it now in photographs, his eyes and shoes follow the viewer around the room. That was quite an artistic feat in the 19th century.
Our tourguide told us lots of stories about the various kings and their father/son relationships. Some funny, some quite sad. William III’s friend – possibly his gay lover – was executed in front of him by his William’s own father. Two kings prior to William III, Frederick the Great, loved his dogs so much that he wanted to be buried with them after he died. And several more stories about the connections between Burg Sooneck and Koblenz.
Make sure, though, that you’re at the meeting place for the tour at least 5 minutes early. Our tour was supposed to include the two of us plus a family of four. Our tour guide started at 4:57 instead of 5:00. The family was still sitting down at the restaurant, and as a result, he didn’t let them join our tour after they caught up with us. He told them to just use the English handout and walk through alone. So, be early
History of the Märchenhain (Fairytale Grove)
A very little known fact these days is that the village of Niederheimbach was once the home of a fairytale-themed amusment park. It was a childhood dream of a man named Ernst Heilmann and officially opened in 1931. It included a playground (which later became a dance floor), a restaurant, scenes from fairytales (including those from the Brothers Grimm), and open-air plays.
The park became quite famous and had 500,000 visitors at its peak, including several famous actors. It was even used in the film Einmal am Rhein (Once Upon the Rhine).
Unfortunately, through a series of events, the park was ultimately abandoned and fell into disrepair after the death of Mr. Heilmann in the late ’60s. It was sold in the early 1980s, but the new owners weren’t interested in restoring it. Ultimately, the village residents decided to salvage and restore some of the figures as a tribute to their history. They placed many of them along a grassy path, where they are still maintained today.
Getting to the Märchenhain
The path is called “Kuhweg.” It’s not on most maps, so we used this map from the village’s website. You’ll see the path in boxes D16 and D17. There is a small parking lot there if you travel by car. When you start walking, look for this public square next to the parking lots on Heimbachtal Straße.
I took this picture facing the street, so the path is actually just behind me. You’ll see a blue sign. Just follow it. You’ll start walking up a hill that weaves between houses. Keep an eye out for figures in private gardens.
Take a left when you see Snow White.
And then hang a right when you see Puss in Boots.
You’ll pass this next little guy in a private garden.
And then you’ll come to a bridge. The Princess and the Frog will be the first figures you see. This is Kuhweg, and all the magic is just beyond it.
The Kuhweg takes you along the backside of another castle, but this one is not open to the public because the family still lives in it.
At the top of the hill, you’ll see a kindergarten. That is the final stop where you’ll find the last figure.
On your way back to the open square, make sure you don’t pass Hansel and Gretel. We almost did. They are on the road directly in front of that square.
Overall, it’s just a really beautiful area with a lovely fairytale feeling all around! The village itself was quiet and sleepy. The main street along the Rhein was terribly congested, but once you got off of it, there were virtually no crowds or tourists.
Have you been to Burg Sooneck or the Märchenhain? Tell me about your trip in the comments below!