When I was a child, I always drew my castles the same way. A medium large building with a turret on each side, completely surrounded by water. I wasn’t drawing Neuschwannstein or Burg Eltz… I was drawing the Wasserschlösser or Water Castles I remembered seeing in the Münsterland. You see, whenever we visited my Oma and Opa, we would always visit their Castle… Schloss Buldern. My Opa was a caretaker at this castle after the War, and the family lived on the grounds. But Schlosse in Westphalia aren’t rare….these Schlosse or Burge (Castles) were everywhere! Most towns have one (some had two!)
How did this corner of North Rhine Westphalia end up with so many Water Castles? And why aren’t they more famous?
Long story short… the Münsterland was ruled by Prince-Bishops. Under them were Lords and Knights who defended the land, and collected the taxes… these Castles belonged to those guys. (If you are wildly curious about the Prince-Bishop ruling system, and it is fascinating, check out The Shortest History of Germany)
Oddly, until about 60 or 70 years ago, the hundreds of castles in this corner of Germany were virtually forgotten by the outside world. They weren’t on the “must see” lists of the wealthy tourists who visited Germany… and the locals didn’t really consider them more than part of the landscape. Most of the Water Castles were still occupied by the owners. And life just went on as it had for hundreds of years.
Hotel Wasserschloss Gartrop
What are the Münsterland Water Castles?
The Wasserschlösser are quite simply, Castles surrounded by water, like a moat. Westphalia is flat.. very flat… think Netherlands flat (the border to the Netherlands is only about 40 miles away, and on a clear day, you can practically see it). When it was time to build castles, they couldn’t exactly scout out the nearest hill (and building a hill is horribly impractical), so they used one thing that the Münsterland has an abundance of… WATER. Early knights and barons adjusted existing streams and rivers, cut new waterways, and rerouted water so that it protected the plot of land that held their Schloss.
The first of these castles was built 1000 years ago! Over time, different styles of architecture evolved, and now you have Wasserschlösser that look as fabulous as Schloss Nordkirchen, which was based on Versailles, to the more Medieval looking Burg Vischering, which looks like knights on shining armor might charge out of it at any moment.
In more recent years, it has become more popular to visit the castles…. but don’t expect to be allowed into all of them! My favorite Schloss Buldern is now an International Boarding School, others are still private homes, and even though the gardens of Schloss Nordkirchen are open, the building is only open on few days a week for tours. There are Wasserschlösser that operate as Bed and Breakfasts, and most allow you to at least visit the grounds.
These Water Castles may not be the stuff of Disney movies… but to me they are absolutely stunning! And the lack of crowds makes them feel much more intimate, and you imagine you could go back in time, and live there yourself.
See what I mean….
Schloss Buldern is found just outside the town of Buldern, down a beautiful wooded road. My mom used to sneak us in the back way (past the no trespassing signs) to see where Dad’s family lived. We heard about ice skating on the frozen moat, and about collecting worms for Konrad Lorenz (the famous Behaviorist lived there at the time with his geese). Today the Schloss is an International Boarding School. I wish it had been one when I was young, I could have totally lived out my Hanni and Nanni fantasies!
One of my FAVORITE castles to visit, Burg Vischering, is just down the road a bit from Schloss Buldern in the town of Lüdinghausen. The strong fortress-like castle is not very big… but it’s tremendously fun to visit. You can climb around on the ramparts and pretend to hold off invaders! Last time we visited there was an interactive exhibit about knights, so the kids got to put on chain mail and pretend to ride horses (they were made from wood). Be sure to look for the carp in the moat, they are HUGE! (I was honestly worried one of my littles would fall in and be eaten!).
Imagine the Palace of Versailles surrounded by water in North Rhine Westphalia, and you have Schloss Nordkirchen. It’s just AMAZING. Most days you can visit the grounds, and see the statues and well manicured gardens (and the petting zoo), and according to the website, there are days and times you can go inside and have a look around. In the summer there are open air concerts, fireworks and special water illumination shows. Honestly, if you can only visit one castle in NRW, don’t miss Schloss Nordkirchen.
Schloss Westerwinkel has TWO moats! For extra security? Probably. All I know is that it is a beautiful castle, that was built a bit far away from most settlements. And it was the first Schloss many invaders hit on their way to Münster. According to the website, the castle museum is open on Saturday, but the grounds “invite you to take a walk” anytime. Although many people feel that the newly added golf course spoils the English Garden.
Schloss Darfeld in Rosendahl is absolutely STUNNING… but the closest you can get to it is a view across the moat from the road. This baroque masterpiece, built on TWO islands, is still a private home. Privacy on the grounds is also requested. Occasionally the church is open to services… these are published in the local paper. Still… isn’t it lovely to look at?
If you are looking for a castle where you can have a meal over the moat, spend the night, or even get married, then head west to Schloss Anholt in Isselburg. They have it all… several restaurants, a coffee service, a golf course and a draw bridge over the moat. This could be the Castle adventure your comfort loving soul has been searching for. Take a look at the website (it’s in English) and plan your next holiday—>Schloss Anholt Information
Another stunning Water Castle with Hotel and Restaurant is Schloss Raesfeld in Raesfeld. This Castle that looks like it fell our of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale dates back to the 12th Century. After WW2, it was restored by the Chamber of Handicrafts in North Rhine Westphalia, and today it is the center of cultural events. You can spend the night in the castle, enjoy a delicious meal… or visit the Tiergarten… one of the few Zoos remaining from the Renaissance period. Bonus, since 2007, they’ve hosted weddings!
So… Did I get you excited to see these beautiful Castles up close??
Road of 100 Castles
The BEST way to see the Water Castles… and get a bit of exercise… take a bike tour. The Münsterland is FLAT, and covered in Bike Lanes. It’s no wonder there are 2 bikes per person in the area! The official Road of 100 Castles is a well marked route that stretches 960 Kilometers… but don’t panic! The route is also broken into 4 shorter routes (around 200 Kilometers each). Or you can just make a day of it.
Information about the Road of 100 Castles
This website breaks down the North, South, East and West routes of the Route… and includes maps, GPS coordinates, sights, and even helps with booking accommodations. The site is in German, but you can run it through a translator.
Click HERE–> 100 Schlösser Route
Or Get a Map of the Route and GO EXPLORE!