GHOSTour 2015 Frankenstein Castle and Prague
Tour of Terror PRAGUE GHOST TOUR 2015
by By Jocelyn Miller & Charles Rosenay
Don't be ghouled into thinking this is just another trip to Prague, my fellow travelers of the dark. Think more of thick, deep, forests of a mystical European countryside in the middle ages. Think of stone castles chillingly set atop forested hills. Think of cold, unforgiving prisons, and instruments of torture in the bowels of those stone castles. Think of werewolves, witches, gypsies and superstitions that haunt the winding roads of a German/Czech countryside, and you will have a picture of this fabulous kaleidoscope of a haunted and mysterious journey into middle & eastern Europe. You are in for a treat, my friends of the dark night.
Begin your journey with a visit to a unique and expansive quaint cemetery in the heart of Frankfurt, where Mausoleums house the dead and welcome the living. Peruse the Gypsy Mausoleum which stands alone, ornate and individual, a jewel in the mass of the conventional. Notice the nuances of the endless headstones and statues along the maze of forested paths. Finish this peaceful- albeit, dread-filled- visit to this serene graveyard with a hypnotizing gaze down Crypt Hall, and its seemingly infinite view. Before leaving Frankfurt, see the city centre and pass over the Old Bridge where men were simply hanged for wrong doing, but women tied and placed together with a stray cat in a bag before being thrown over the bridge to drown. As if the drowning were not sufficient punishment, imagine the cat scratching away at both the bag and the helpless woman in an effort to escape its watery grave. But, alas, there was no escape for these unfortunate souls.
As you journey by coach through the picturesque countryside of Germany, you wait in anticipation for Frankenstein Castle, and gasp in awe as it comes into sight through the thick cover of forest; a rugged towering glimpse of a time gone by and a story that has survived the ages. Burg Frankenstein is a hilltop Castle in the Odenwalk overlooking the German city of Darmstadt. As you pass within its foreboding walls you are chilled and thrilled to the bone, for it does not disappoint! It is alleged that this Castle may have served as inspiration for Mary Shelley when she penned her 1818 Gothic novel "Frankenstein." And for very good reason. Imagine the 18th century resident, alchemist Konrad Dipple, who worked furiously in his laboratory in this very castle attempting in vain to create a formula that would prolong his life well into the 100's. Imagine the villagers whose suspicions painted the picture of a mad scientist, collecting body parts to create his magic potion. Explore every inch of the castle grounds, and depart knowing you have experienced Burg Frankenstein.
When you have recovered from this ominous stop along the way, continue on to Heidelberg by way of the vast German countryside. There, the visit to its magnificent castle is preceded by a unique climb up the funicular, a cross between a trolley, passenger escalator and theme park adventure ride. The majestic castle, ornate and magnificent, watches over the charming village below. It sits on a hillside overlooking the Neckar River in the valley below. The area holds Celtic ruins, Roman ruins and even the ruins of a theater built by the Nazis. Locals have reportedly heard voices that wail throughout the valley. Others have seen hooded apparitions walking between the castle and the sacred ruins. Could spirits from a by-gone era plague the castle all these centuries?
Away from the Castle and in the village and town centre of Heidelberg, don't be fooled by the bustle of shoppers, enticing bakery windows and sidewalk cafés. Here, too, existed a time of darkness and superstition, well-illustrated by a visit to the Witches Tower. The Hexenturm, is a tower which translates to "Witches Tower." Built in 1392, it was used as a prison for women and witches. Cringe as you view this ominous but amazingly well-preserved structure, for it was at this location that countless women were cruelly tortured and executed for nothing more than perhaps the possession of a medicinal herb mistaken for a witch's spell.
Your inn for the night is a place of comfort and rest, well-needed for the journey to Rottenburg. But it is not just a hotel, for in its past it served as a brewery in the heart of Heidelberg just minutes from the castle, the Witches Tower and every imaginable shop and restaurant.
Rottenburg is a most beautiful, historic walled city. Every view of the cobbled streets and charming architecture brings to light the reason for its very popularity, but there is more to this city than charm and beauty. Housed in Rottenburg is one of the most gruesome torture museums on the world, disguised as a 'Criminal' Museum. Also, within this preserved walled city, not unlike Sighi?oara in Transylvania where Vlad the Impaler was born, you will discover that when night falls, the seemingly enchanted village filled with Christmas other old-time shoppes becomes an enclosed fortress. It is at night that you meet the executioner. He greets you well by lantern light and is pleased to have the company, for the executioner is a lonely man, spurned by the city in which he keeps order. Through alleyways and darkened streets he leads your group of nervous travelers. His voice carries into the night the trials of his occupation for which he is doomed from birth. In the same chilling voice he details the gruesome talents performed on the unfortunates who are also doomed not to life, but to death by his trained and waiting hands. By now, you understand the "rotten" in the town's name. But fear not, for you are a simple visitor to the dark side of Rottenburg and your pleasant lodging awaits with its beautiful restaurant and comfortable rooms.
The darkness and evil raises its ugly head at the next stop, infamous Nuremburg, where Hitler's Nazi party grounds still stand in mute horror. Albert Speers' chilling architecture, cold and grey, greets the visitor at the site of the 'Museum of Documentation.' Inside the museum a tragic chapter in history unfolds, telling of one man's inconceivable ability to overpower a nation into performing demonic deeds. A walk around the placid lake of this massive compound sits a mighty structure where once Adolf Hitler stood overlooking his army as they marched in perfect unison past his viewing stand and down the parade route, a testament to his power over mankind. Stand in Hitler's footsteps- if you dare- but leave behind the spirit of a madman. This may be the truest horror on a Tour of Terror. Away from the Nazi Party Grounds, stumble inside the Nuremburg Town Hall, where you descend below to the underground dungeons.
Bid farewell to Germany and Bavaria and travel by coach to Katlovy, in southwest Bohemia in the Czech Republic. It's a splendid and picturesque ride through a wondrous countryside, both charming and dark in history. A visit to the catacombs beneath the Jesuit Church of Virgin Mary's Immaculate Conception in the village square will surprise the visitor with its display of mummified corpses of past centuries. Jesuit monks in their moments of death remain in the flesh, leathery and darkened with time, and preserved naturally through a complex system of air ducts. Even if you were well aware that your journey would include Frankenstein Castle, graveyards, dungeons, torture museums and a Witches Tower, experiencing face-to-face a catacomb filled with mummified Jesuit monks is a surprise treat for any horror aficionado.
The tall 'Black Tower' in the Klatovy town square stands as a testament to the constant fear of the enemy and the need for twenty-four hour surveillance in the by-gone days of medieval times.
A short ride away is Svihov Castle, a water castle boasting superlative examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, and maintaining its original appearance of the 16th Century. Nearby is Zvihov Castle, said to be inhabited by its very own devilish imp. The Castle's early 1st-2nd century tower has stones of which unusual symbols were carved. Visitors have seen apparitions, experienced problems with cameras and video devices, and noticed animals behaving in an unusual manner. Legend has it that anyone daring to sleep in the tower will die before a year has passed. But you, dark traveler, will sleep soundly and rest well at the charming Hotel Ennuis, a few steps from the town square. Before retiring, enjoy a glass of ale and a sumptuous and very reasonably-priced dinner of local cuisine in their charming restaurant.
What journey is complete without a visit to the gates of hell!? Houska Castle sits atop a densely forested hilltop in the Czech countryside. In times of yore a deep hole in the ground was thought by local peasants to be the hole from which the devil thrived in a fiery hell. To protect the faithful, a castle was built around the hole in the 13th century, thus protecting the locals from possession and gruesome death by the evil one.
Half-animal/half-man creatures have reportedly crawled out of the black hell-hole, and dark winged creatures flew in its vicinity. Legend has it that when construction began in the castle, all the area inmates that were sentenced to death were offered a pardon if they consented to be lowered by rope into the hole to report on what evils lurked in the dark pit. As old folk-lore tells, the first man lowered screamed horrifically after only a few moments, and when pulled to the surface, returned a different man, his face wrinkled and his hair white with fear.
Houska castle was built with no fortifications, no water, no kitchen, near no trade routes, and with no occupants at its time of completion. The castle was not built as a residence or as a protective sanctuary, but was instead built because the hole was thought to indeed be a gateway to hell. Thus, by constructing the Gothic building, the demons were trapped in the lower level, entombed by its thick-set walls.
The hole was thought to have no depth, but its true depth will never be known as it was, at one time, filled to a reasonable depth and can now be visited only by a frightening climb down ancient and slippery steps to the new bottom of the pit.
The pit is dark as pitch. If you see the devil there, please leave him behind! It should also be noted that years later, the Nazis used Houska Castle for occult practices and morbid experiments.
If the 'gates of hell' and the leathery mummies of Katlovy did not chill you, then stand and shudder at the morbid décor of the Sedlec Ossuary, a small Roman Catholic chapel in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic. You would think this to be a normal old medieval church in a normal small town. But no, this is the 'Church of Bones'! As many as 40,000 human bones decorate the chapel, some once belonging to the aristocracy of central Europe. Your eyes will automatically focus on the very large and artistically-created chandelier of bones and skulls which hangs in horrid splendor from the chapel ceiling, and perhaps you will wonder if said aristocracy would willingly display their bones so dramatically next to a peasant? Ah but friends, the answer to this puzzle we cannot know, for the bones of this amazing 'bone church' can no longer talk and had no input in the matter.
All roads do not lead to Rome, my friends, as our very interesting kaleidoscope journey ends in the jaw-dropping city of Prague, well known for its ornate and decorative Medieval, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, as well as centuries of history as a central trading city. As all the other stops along the way, this beautiful city has its secrets, for well beneath the famous Astronomical Clock atop the city hall building in the main square, lies the dungeon. As in all dungeons, its depressing atmosphere holds within its bowels untold tales of torture, cruelty, and executions for crimes as meaningless today as an unacceptable religious belief of the time.
A Ghost & Legends walking tour of Prague is the highlight of the evening, with tales that will stay with listeners long after the words dissipate. The walking tour host, a transplanted New Jersey native named Sam, takes you through Prague's Old Town, its Jewish Ghetto, its history, and its ghost stories.
The next morning you will stand aghast at the majesty of Prague Castle. Worth a full day of exploration, you move on to soak in the rest of the glorious city. You discover the secret of The Golem, browse the marionette museum/gift shop, buy souvenirs at the Absinthe Store (perhaps even sampling the Absinthe-flavored ice cream) and walk the dazzling and dizzying streets of Prague.
You conclude your memorable day tour at what is said to be the oldest building in Prague. Housed in this building is an Alchemy Museum, a literal Gothic Magician's paradise. Perhaps the darkest side of the Czech capitol's past is brought to light in evocative displays at The Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague, which looks at some of the famous dabblers in the dark arts that have called the city home.
Consisting of two levels of displays and tableaus, the exhibits trace the wizardry and alchemists in the city. The main floor- well below the streets and deep in the underground- has displays and replica artifacts of the trade alongside such fantastical scenes as a failed magician being stolen up into the ceiling by the Devil while cackling sorcerers huddle around the glowing runes beneath. The second floor, which claims to be the actual tower where real esoteric experiments took place, is decked out like an alchemists lab, all aged scrolls and stacked grimoires, complete with a half-completed homunculus, the ultimate alchemical achievement.
What theme tour would be complete without a farewell party? What party would be complete without masks, make-up, and costumes? The masquerade gala invades Prague's medieval-themed restaurant, where dinner is served along with belly-dancers, fire-eaters, sword jugglers and scantily dressed wenches and warlocks. You look around at the motif and performers, and realize that they are but a background to a group of travelers who have become closer than friends; they are a family. And that family is eating, drinking, laughing and loving the evening, despite the fact that it is their last night together on what was certainly one of the greatest travel experiences ever.
Ah the suffering that has been inflicted throughout the centuries in all the fascinating stops along the way of this amazing journey! What beholds the eye as a storybook village or city, holds in truth the brutal steps that brought it to life as we see it today. Perhaps in the comfort of your homes you will remember the cries of the poor souls whose fates were destined for the hands of the executioner. Or perhaps you will dream of stone castle walls, the devil's pit, the torture chambers and the morose stories heard as your coach ambled along the country roads. Perhaps you will shudder at the memory of skulls and bones that hung from the ceiling of a chapel, or the leathery skin of an ancient monk mummy. Perhaps you will waken in a sweat with these memories, and then sigh a sigh of relief that you live in this time. Be glad, my friends of darkness. Be glad you have experienced this fabulous adventure with Tours of Terror!
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