Sooneck Castle was first mentioned around 1271. Like neighbouring Burg Reichenstein (Rhein), the castle was managed by the lords of Hohenfels as bailiffs for Kornelimünster Abbey near Aachen. What is certain is that the castle was besieged in 1282 by King Rudolph I. His troops overran and destroyed the castle and the king imposed a ban on rebuilding it, which he explicitly restated in 1290. When the castle was rebuilt it was given to an Austrian family who were fervent supporters of the Habsburgs, the Reitenaours, to stop Swiss expansion. The wars with the Swiss claimed many Reitenours: George, Robert and most famously, Nicholas, who died in the battle of Sempach. In April 1346 Archbishop Henry III of Mainz gave Sooneck Castle in fief to John, Knight Marshall of Waldeck, who subsequently had a new castle built on the site. After his death it passed jointly to four of his heirs and the castle thus became a multi-family property, or Ganerbenburg.
The branches of the family jointly residing in the castle were not on good terms and quarreled over inheritances. Several times, peace had to be legally imposed. When the line of Waldeck died out in 1553 with the death of Philipp Melchior, the Breidbach zu Bürresheim family, previously co-tenants, became sole tenants of Sooneck Castle. When that family became extinct, the castle began to fall into disrepair.
In the course of the War of the Palatine Succession, Sooneck - like all the castles on the left bank of the Rhine - was destroyed in 1689 by troops of King Louis XIV of France. In 1774, the Archdiocese of Mainz leased the ruins to four residents of Trechtingshausen who planted vineyards. The site later came into the possession of the village of Niederheimbach.
In 1834, the then crown prince of Prussia, Frederick William IV, and his brothers Princes William, Charles, and Albert bought the completely derelict castle and, between 1834 and 1861, had it rebuilt as a hunting lodge. In the rebuilding, which was designed by the military architect Carl Schnitzler, the historical structures were largely retained with the addition of buildings in romantic style. The Prussian royal crest over the north gate of the castle dates to this period. Disagreements within the royal family and the effects of the revolutions in Germany in 1848 prevented the castle from ever being used as a hunting lodge.
After World War I aristocratic properties were nationalized and Sooneck Castle became a possession of the state. After World War II it passed to the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and in 1948 to the State Ministry of Castles (today Generaldirektion Kukturelles Erbe Rheinland-Pfalz Direktion Burgen, Schlösser, Altertümer Rheinland-Pfalz). It can be visited on organized tours.
The residential areas of the castle are furnished predominantly with items in the neo-gothic and Biedermeier styles. The interiors are enriched by paintings owned by the Hohenzollern family and, since 1991, the Köth-Wanscheid family foundation, and drawings and sketches by Johann-Caspar Schneider among others.
Since 2002, Sooneck Castle has been part of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.