Drachenfels Castle is located about seven kilometres north of the Franco-German border on the eponymous 150-metre-long bunter sandstone rocks which are on a ridge at an elevation of 368 metres above sea level.
The name of the castle could have come from the dragon carved in the sandstone wall of the old great hall of the castle. However, because it has not been dated, it is also possible that the dragon was inscribed on the wall because of the castle's name.
The origins of the castle are largely unclear. Archaeological finds here can be dated to the mid-13th century, but the castle was already in existence in the early 12th century. In 1209 the brothers Conrad and William of Drachenfels were first mentioned in the records. Historian, Johann Lehmann (1797–1876), named a Burkhard of Drachenfels between 1219 and 1221 who was in service for the House of Hohenstaufen, but he gave no references. Other documents confirm that, in 1288, a dispute was settled between the cousins Rudolph and Anselm of Drachenfels on the one hand and the Bishop of Worms on the other. The oldest surviving seal of these two cousins depicts a dragon in a pointed shield. From the early 14th century the seal contained a deer's skull or a wild goose. The first lesser nobleman who it is known with any certainty had a connexion with this castle in the Wasgau is Walter of Drachenfels in 1245.
In 1314 the lords of Drachenfels were promised compensation payments for a campaign by the city of Strasbourg against Berwartstein Castle, during which the nearby castle at Drachenfels was also besieged and damages. In 1335 there was a conflict with Strasbourg in which the lords of Drachensfels were accused of being robber barons. At this time Drachenfels was besieged and partially destroyed, forcing its lords to gradually sell off parts of the castle from 1344. As a result, Drachenfels became a jointly-owned castle or Ganerbenburg, whereby several families or individuals divided the estate between themselves.
In 1510 the rebellious imperial knight, Francis of Sickingen, also bought a share in the castle. On 10 May 1523, after his defeat by the allied armies of three imperial princes, the castle was finally destroyed., although the Burgvogt, who occupied it with just eight servants, had surrendered without a fight owing to the odds that he was faced with. The victors refused to allow the castle to be rebuilt.
What was left of the castle after it had been slighted was used as a quarry. In 1778, a descendent of its owners, Freiherr Franz Christoph Eckbrecht von Dürkheim, built a manor house in the village of Busenberg with the stones from Drachenfels, which is known today as the Schlösschen. The church in Busenberg was also built from stones from the ruined castle.
The moderate remains of the castle in the eastern part of the site are dominated by the so-called Backenzahn, the castle rock in the east. On the rock only a few original wall courses have survived. All the same, a climb up the steps partially carved into the rock conveys an idea of the strength of the fortification. On the plateau of the former bergfried are the remains of a cistern. In the rooms hewn out of the rock, putlock holes and other manmade marks chiselled into the sandstone indicated that it was once entirely covered by timber framed or stone buildings.
Considerably more has survived of the lower ward and gate system. In 1903, the gate tower was enhanced by two round-arched portals.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.