Neckarsteinach: Precious Stone of the Neckar!
Neckarsteinach is quite an impressive sight the first time you see it. Or rather, the first time you see "them": there are four old castles guarding this small city! All of them situated along the narrow ridge overlooking the river Neckar and the town itself.
Four old "Burgen" as they call them here (they are not quite big enough to be call "Schloss", meaning castle): the "Vorderburg" (foreburg), the "Mittelburg" (middle-burg), the "Hinterburg" (hindburg)and the "Burg Schadeck" (that's a difficult one: Schade means "just too bad" or "damage" or "it's a pity", but Schaden can mean "to be harmful to someone or something". And Schadeck might just be a family name that has lost is significance. Briefly, we are not sure of its meaning, but we do know that its nicknamed is "Schwalbennest", swallow's nest, because of its position high up in the hills).
The first one, the Hinterburg, was built a bit after 1100 AD, and was the residence of the Lord of Steinach. There are two rivers passing through Neckarsteinach: the Neckar, already mentioned, and the Steinach, which is much smaller. It is believed that its name (Steinach, stony) comes from the fact that fresh water pearls were found in the fresh water mussels of the river. Actually, there was a pearling industry in "Steinach" until the beginning of the last century. And the name of the town changed to Neckarsteinach when it was first recognized as a city in 1377.
So, it is quite natural that the Lords of the place would be called Lord Steinach.
This first "Burg" is in ruins but you can still see the four walls surrounding the "palace", the exterior wall, the middle wall, the interior wall and then the palace's wall. You can also climb some stairs in the remaining tour and have a fantastic view of the river and the village.
It is easy to understand why this Burg was built there: You could see your enemies from far away.
A bit after building this first castle (for want of a better name), a second one was built, the "Vorderburg", and then a third one the "Mittleburg".
All three were built in the 12th century by the same family: The Lords of Steinach!
These two castles, Mittelburg and Vorderburg, are still private and inhabited by the family von Something or another (sorry can't remember their names. But when you see a "von" in front of a name you know it's an old German family).
Each year there is a fall-feast or fair (Herbstmarkt) at one of these two castles and the "common-people" are invited to celebrate with the "Châtelains" (castle-owner). It is fascinating to think that there are still people living in these very old castles. But actually, the Mittelburg has been very well preserved and renovated, from what can be seen from the exterior at least (we can not go inside: it is private after all).
The last castle to be built in Neckarsteinach(around 1260) is Burg Schadeck (the swallow's nest). This one too is in ruins but the view from there is incredible; you don't even have to climb the winding-dangling-stairs leading to the recent tower (added in the 19th century) to see it. You can see the river but also the gentle fields and the small town across the river, i.e. Dilsberg.
When you know that these fields have been farmed at least since the Roman times, any slight depression seen in the ground, specially from such a high promontory, takes on a completely new meaning: these small valleys between rows of trees indicate where the farmers used to walk or where the water could be collected and rerouted to water each plant.
You can almost see the peasants of Neckarsteinach bending over their vines or their trees to collect the fruits. By February these fields are already a soft gentle green. It is really like a medieval "tableau" with the green fields in foreground and the forest with its castle in background. Only the poor feudal peasants are missing.
The village itself is remarkably well preserved; with many 13th to 15th century old half timber houses overlooking the two rivers.
There is also a nice little garden that might be of interest to those who know about the Nibelungenlieder (the songs about the Nibelungen). It seems that, following the local legends, it was one of the Lords of Steinach, Bligger II (old Germanic word meaning "Blitzspeer", lightning-javelin, that wrote these songs. He was also, surprise!, Bishop of Worms.
It is written in the Nibelungenliedern that the treasure of the Nibelungen (descendants of the dwarfs) was dumped in the Rhine close to Worms (pronounced Vorms, as the W is like a V in English).
This fact might also explain why the coat of arms of Bligger has a Lyre on it in front of Mountains. The town's own coat of arms has the Lyre but the mountains were removed when Steinach became Neckarsteinach.
Finally, if you go, you should stop by one of the Biergarten or Weinstuben overlooking the Neckar to drink a good Dunkelbier, eat a Apfelstrudel and roast in the sun (even in Winter!)!
This little city with its four castles is really worth the detour!
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