Hohnstein Castle is located on a hard sandstone slab, 140 metres above the Polenz valley and is the major landmark of the small town. It was probably built around 1200 or earlier as a Bohemian border fortress for the Margravate of Meißen to defend it against Saxony. In 1353 the castle went into the possession of the Bohemian nobleman, Hynek Berka z Dubé, whose coat of arms with crossed oak branches decorates the entranceway to the second courtyard. In 1443 the Berkas of Dubá lost the estate through exchanges and purchase, only mentioned for the first time under their name, to the Electorate of Saxony under Frederick the Humble, although it remained a Bohemian fief until 1806. The Wettins used it as a base for hunting and for salmon spearing (Lachsstechen).
In the succeeding centuries the castle acted alternately as a seat of administration (electoral Amt), a court and a prison. The original wooden structures were gradually replaced during the 17th and 18th centuries by the present stone buildings and even successfully withstood a Swedish siege in 1639.
After the dissolution of the Amt in 1861 the castle served as a men's correctional institute (Männerkorrektionsanstalt) and from 1919 as a juvenile prison.
In 1925 the mighty castle became a youth hostel. In the years 1933/34 a concentration camp was established here for so-called protective custody prisoners (Schutzhäftlinge), in practice 5,600 political prisoners. During World War II a prisoner of war camp was housed in the castle and, after the war it was a refuge for displaced persons. From 1949 it was extended to become the largest youth hostel in the GDR. In 1953 the National Science Museum for Geology, Botany, Zoology and Ecology of the countryside was established here. In 1997 the castle was turned into a Friends of Nature house and youth guest house, to which the museum belongs today.References:
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.