Saturday, March 13, 2010

In Search of Frankenstein

"It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open . . ."  'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley
Driving in the district of Kaiserlautern Rheinland-Palatinate region of western Germany, I happened upon the village of Frankenstein, population a little over 1000. Curious, I stopped to explore.....

The sun was setting as I entered the village. The streets were quiet and  the shutters drawn against the  pending cold evening air, or was it more than the cold that emptied the streets at such an early hour? Strangely, not a soul was to be seen....I was alone. Undeterred, I continued through the cobble streets drawn to the ruin of the famed Burg Frankenstein nestling on a hilltop overlooking the village. The castle dates back to 1100, with its origins as a monastery before becoming Castle Frankenstein in 1390. Suffering the struggles  to control the region , the castle was destroyed and rebuilt several times during endless strife between rival Lords, the Thirty Year Wars and the French Revolutionary Wars. A troubled and sordid history with the souls of many taken in its defense and destruction.

"I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to "the land of mist and snow..."  - 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley 
Climbing the narrow path, the first view of the  imposing red limestone Gothic ruin appears on the approach to the burgeoning village cemetery.  With the retreating sun, Castle Frankenstein clinging to a rock over-looking the small town with its infamous name, is indeed an ominous sight - not an evening to be out alone! Curiosity however urged me to forge onwards up the hill and after a trek of less than a mile through dense thicket and woodland, the burg appears dominating and impressive on the hilltop, luring its victims like a moth to a street lamp.

"Learn from me . . . how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow."  - 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley
The ghostly ruin of the anonymous five storey castle stood silhouetted against the light of the rising moon, watching, waiting, calling...!

"It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world."  'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

On reaching the ruin in the last slip of light as the moon shied behind threatening clouds, the imposing nature of the hill top fortress dominating a 190 degree view of the tiny village below, focuses the realization why the inhabitants retire early and pray for dawn's respite!

"I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep."   - 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

Of course what I just wrote, with the exception of the historical  bits, is artistic license and imagination. Frankenstein is in fact a uniquely interesting picturesque village, well kept by its proud community. Whether or not Mary Shelley's 1818 novel has any direct connection to this Rheinland-Pfalz village is unknown. Speculation has resulted in a search for a connection between the name and a real place. Mary and  her  future husband Percy Shelly did in fact  travel down the Rhine River in 1816 on their return back to England from Switzerland, and may have visited one of two Frankenstein's along the journey. The craggy nature of the Pfalz Castle Frankenstein ruins clinging to a rock over-looking Frankenstein, could indeed likely provide inspiration for a monsterly novel like Shelley's, as I hope my black and white post-processed images portray. The other Frankenstein Castle in Germany is a ruin at Darmstadt near Frankfurt. It's more accessible than its Rheinland-Pfalz namesake and has all the usual modern tourist trappings, including a vistors centre and restaurant.  The 13th century Darmstadt Castle Frankenstein was resurrected in the romantic age of the 1800’s as part of the era’s fascination with gothic and romantic literature and the publishing of Mary Shelley’s novel. Clearly Darmstadt was a step ahead  of the tourist wagon!
To put the record straight that the Rheinland-Pfalz Frankenstein is in fact a very nice place and the village and burg well worth a visit (even more so that there's no entrance charge to explore the castle and by nature of not being on the tourist trail , it's a quiet place much appreciated by hikers and nature lovers!), here's some more regularly processed travel shots to whet your appetite:
On the footpath from the village to the  castle there's an informative painted map provided by the community, showing a hiking route around the area. You can easily spend a good two to three hours exploring, particularly if you have a camera to slow you down! You can see more of my photos of Frankenstein, the Rheinland-Pfalz region and other parts of Germany by checking out my website here

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