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Visiting Burg Hohenzollern with kids

The gorgeous Burg Hohenzollern
A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.
A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.

The Hohenzollern family has a long and illustrious past in Prussia, so it might cause some confusion to find their ancestral seat down south in Baden-Württemberg. Prussia was one of their more famous holdings, but the family originated in Swabia (which is partially contained in the current state of Baden-Württemberg) near the site of this castle.

The current castle is the third to be built on the Berg Hohenzollern, and it’s more of a memorial to the might of the Hohenzollern family than a home or even a fortress. When it was built in the mid-19th century, there were upheavals all through Baden, Bavaria, and the Palatinate as the many smaller states made their shuddering way into Bismarck’s German Empire. Burg Hohenzollern version three came to be right in the middle of this, and I’m sure the giant idealized castle on a hill was a bit of a heavy-handed exercise in Making A Point.

They don’t get into it on the tour, however, probably because the castle is privately owned by the Hohenzollern family.

Burg Hohenzollern

Interestingly, neither of the previous versions of the castle were destroyed during the Thirty Years War, which ravaged so much of this end of Germany. The medieval castle built in the 11th century withstood a year of siege by the collected armies of the Swabian Free Imperial Cities, and a junior Hohenzollern brother, before it was completely destroyed in 1423. The second one was constructed about 100 years later, and it flipped around between the Habsburgs and the French before everyone seemed to lose interest in it, and it was abandoned from 1798 onwards. This is all detailed in a mural in one of the hallways inside the current castle.

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What to see and do

When you come to visit Burg Hohenzollern, you can see it from kilometres away, standing proud and exceptionally castle shaped on top of its little mountain. It does look like a very large child has dropped it from the sky.

You can approach the castle on foot from the parking lots, or by taking a minibus up for about 3 Euros. If you’re going as a family, definitely take the minibus as the walk up is an energetic hill climb, and there will be walking once you’re up there. You buy your tickets at the bottom, and they are checked as you enter the castle. You will want to arrange your places on an English-language tour when you check in at the top castle gate – it is the only way to see the interior rooms. This is a common feature of castles in the region, by the way. The tours are fairly quick, about 45 minutes or so, but buggies are not allowed inside. On the tour, the kids get to wear ‘royal robes’ which feature heavily in the family portraits on the walls, so my son was pretty chuffed about that. If you have a squirmy one under 5 years old, the tour may not be worth it. It’s worth noting you can’t take photos of any kind inside during the tour.

Burg Hohenzollern

There’s an outdoor cafe kiosk serving pommes frites, snacks, coffee, hot chocolate, ice cream, and that sort of thing in the courtyard. There are lots of tables, and it’s quite beautiful really, so if you need to kill time while someone else does the tour, it’s not much of a hardship. There’s a white tablecloth restaurant inside, but if you’re wrestling small people, this is probably not your deal either.

The winding walk up to the castle courtyard, and the exterior walks, are beautiful and afford pretty astounding views out over the countryside. The walls along the edge are not very high in places, however, and there are not the railings you may be used to, so it’s best to keep firm hold of little hands.

Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern
Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern

The best photo spot

The dramatic photos of the castle from a distance are taken from a specific view point about a half an hour drive away. This sounds like an extra thing that is too much of a pain with kids in tow, but to be honest, there’s a good 20-minute walk up a trail before you get there, and it was a really good break from all the driving in the car. The viewpoint itself is amazing, even if you don’t take many photos, but it is very unofficial, and it’s literally a rocky outcropping with a steep drop-off. There is no railing, and it’s a bit intense. If you have a under-five that likes to dash away from you, this is best viewed back from the edge with firm hand-holding. My active seven year old was fine, and there are a few benches. We were there firmly in the off-season, and it was FREEZING, and there were three guys having beers sitting on the rocks, two other photographers fussing over their shots, and us. I can imagine this spot gets very very busy in the summer. To get there, park in the lot next to the Zollenstieghof, and take the white gravel path that goes around the back of the hotel. I found this place thanks to Be My Travel Muse. I think it’s really worth finding this spot, the drive there is through several picturesque little German towns and the walk is lovely. The view is truly breathtaking, coming out of the trees and seeing this spread out before you.

Where to eat: Ochsen

While driving home, we decided to find somewhere other than a fast food place, and a rapid translation of German Yelp netted us this local gem in Balingen. Ochsen is a very local place. Like ten tables, and at least three of them seem to know each other in that neighbours running into each other at the grocery store kind of way. The single waiter was very friendly, and we had a selection of Swabian dishes that were wonderful. Pork and beef in paprika sauce, käsespätzle (noodles with cheese sauce), and excellent pommes frites. There’s a small kids menu too. You’re going to need your Google Translate ready to go if you can’t read German – there are no English menus and we had all our conversations with the waiter in (simple) German. It’s also cash only, but there’s a ATM just up the road. Walk off your meal in the beautiful village of Balingen, with half-timbered houses all over the place. This is not on any tourist trail, so enjoy this little corner of the proper Swabian countryside.

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Day out in Ulm

Day out in Ulm

I spotted photos of the library at the Wiblingen Monastery on Pinterest, often included in Libraries to See Before You Die lists. When I looked it up on a map, it was only a two-hour drive away, so we checked the off-season schedule and drove over at the weekend.


IMG_5518 IMG_5560The Wiblingen Monastery was founded in 1093, and was the home of Benedictine monks from the Black Forest and surrounding area. In 1714, they undertook a massive renovation, which is where we get all the spectacular and over the top Baroque details. The library itself was incredible. Unheated, in the winter it is a bit freezing. While we were there, a couple was having photos done and the woman in the strapless dress must have been losing feeling in her arms. There is a museum in the Abbey as well, with audio guides in English. There are plenty of beautiful illustrated maps of the area, huge wax seals, and other ephemera. We found this fascinating, but we also live nearby, so it may not be as exciting if you’re visiting from afar – though if you’re in Ulm, it’s well worth a visit. If you’re visiting in the off-season, check their site to see what’s open and when.

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The Ulm Minster is impressive, to say the least. A classic extended building project, the foundation stone for the church was laid in 1377, but the final building wasn’t finished until 1890. As with many building projects in southern Germany, the Thirty Years War derailed everything. Incredibly, the Minster was not damaged in WWII, though most of the medieval town was destroyed.

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A totally unplanned stop on our day trip was the Museum dur Brotkultur, which translates literally to the Museum of Bread. This sounds hilarious initially, but the role of bread through history is quite central. There are three floors of bread-related history displays, and they provide English-language audio guides as well as a children’s audio guide, which was a big hit. It’s a short walk from the Ulm Minster, and I really recommend it.

Unfortunately it was freezing out, and we didn’t get a chance to find anywhere to eat in town, so I have no suggestions on restaurants I’m afraid! There are the usual little backerei around where you can get soft brezel and sandwiches of course.

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The Black Forest Open Air Museum

The Black Forest Open Air Museum

The Black Forest Open Air Museum or Schwarzenwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof (sometimes pops up as the Vogtsbauernhof Museum) is well worth a visit. Deep in the Black Forest, it’s one of the rare museums we’ve been back to four or five times now, and enjoyed every visit. We regularly take visitors, and it never fails to impress. If you’d like a taste of the history of the region, this is the place. Family visitors and adults-only groups will both enjoy this extensive and well-presented open-air museum.

The dining room of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum
The dining room of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum

What you will see at the Black Forest Open Air Museum

The museum itself is a collection of farmhouses ranging from 16th to the 18th centuries. There was one house originally on the site, and the others were painstakingly dissembled and moved to preserve the way of life for future generations. Each house focuses on different aspects of farm life, or a different generation. The largest (pictured above and below) is such a trip through time – even the kitchen still smells like smoke. The audio guides explain what each room was used for, and it’s been so well set up with period furniture and textiles, that it’s impossible not to feel like you’ve stepped out of time when you duck your head through the door. Fascinatingly, you get a glimpse into how life in these farmhouses changed over time too. The one pictured above was originally home to one large family, but as times moved on, they took in others as boarders, and had to share their dining room amongst three or four different families. Each one of them had a corner to sit in. One of the little elements I loved was how families would hang their washing to dry under the eaves upstairs, but out on the balcony – it’s out of the rain but still has the benefit of not taking up space outside. My own balcony in our turn-of-the-century house has hooks to hang a washing line for the very same reason.

The outside of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open Air Museum. Note the beehives on the ledge!
The outside of the oldest farmhouse at the Black Forest Open Air Museum. Note the beehives on the ledge!

It’s a brilliant place to bring small children as kids can run around and touch most things. There are horses and chickens to look at, and an open-air bakery was operating the day we were there, turning out flammkuchen and loaves of bread. Every day there’s someone demonstrating elements of traditional farm life. Every day there are a couple people demonstrating local crafts – we had the good fortune to see a woman hand-weaving amazing ribbons (pictured below, and the fruits of her labour below that). Check the website for details on what’s on the day of your visit.

There’s a whole woodworking workshop full to the rafters with beautiful wooden toys to buy for ridiculously reasonable prices (this is a common theme in Germany). You can watch craftspeople making the toys right there behind the counter as well.

More gorgeous farmhouses in the museum area.
More gorgeous farmhouses in the museum area.

Lots of places for children

Upstairs from the woodworking shop is an incredible play area built to resemble an attic full of discarded furniture, old toys, and other detritus from earlier centuries – though you need to access it from outside. There are paths through the piled bits, just the right size for smaller people, and the dim lighting makes it the perfect amount of exciting but not too scary. There is a little puppet stage to play with, and lots of secrets spots to discover. Additionally there is another more open play area within one of the farthest houses, with a beautiful space designed to look like the forest. On top of all that, there is an extensive outdoor play area with wooden structures, play houses, a water feature, and a natural rock slide. This is all right next to the outdoor cafe that serves schnitzel, french fries, wurst, beer, wine and ice cream, with plenty of picnic tables with easy sightlines to the playground.

Woman weaving very detailed ribbons.
Woman weaving very detailed ribbons.
Incredibly detailed ribbons, woven by local craftspeople.
Incredibly detailed ribbons, woven by local craftspeople.

Even if you’re not with kids

The museum is fascinating if you’re not traveling family style too. The audio guide is very detailed, with options to learn more at many spots, so you can take in the whole place or dive deep into a few of the houses at your own speed. There are at least two houses I haven’t even managed to explore yet, despite four visits under our belt. There’s a lovely sit-down restaurant serving more complete meals, as well as the traditional and regional Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest Cake. In fact, on display is one of the first known printed recipes for this regional specialty. The terrace is beautiful in the summer, with views over the rolling greens hills, forests, and picturesque farm houses, with horses wandering in front. If you’re lucky, you will spot some museum staff members in the traditional local costume, which includes the cherry-inspired headgear (pictured below). Unmarried women wore red pom-poms on their hats, and married women had black ones.

<em>Museum staff in the traditional clothes of the Black Forest. </em>
Museum staff in the traditional clothes of the Black Forest.
Another shot of the gorgeous old farmhouse, with a buggy parked outside.
Another shot of the gorgeous old farmhouse, with a buggy parked outside.

Getting to the Black Forest Open Air Museum, opening hours, and ticket prices

It’s worth noting the museum is only open from March to November, except a short period in December for their Christmas market. Do check their site for the exact dates each year. They are open from 9am-7pm, with a last entry at 5pm.

Ticket prices

Adults 10€

Children 6-17 years old 5.50€ (children under 5 are free)

Family prices vary on how many children you have but for two parents and one child 23€

For two parents and two children 28€

For two parents and three children or more 32€

Getting to the museum

By car, you want to put in 77793 Gutach, and make sure you use the post code, because there is another Gutach, and it isn’t particularly close by!

By train, there is a regional branch line station directly outside the museum. Search for ‘Gutach Freilichtmuseum’, and there is a train that stops there every hour while the museum is open. You can get a reduction of 1€ each on your museum entrance tickets by showing your train ticket too, including Baden-Württemberg day tickets. From Stuttgart, it’s about two and a half hours by train. From Frankfurt, about two hours. It’s a beautiful journey, however!




Schwarzenwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof

77793 Gutach (Schwarzwaldbahn) , 0 78 31-93560

www.vogtsbauernhof.de

 

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