When Gunter Wielage, a computer software developer, got married, he held his wedding in a castle. This is not surprising, as Wielage loves castles. His website www.burgen-und-schloesser.net lists over 4,000 castles and manors, many of which he has personally visited and photographed.
But Wielage is not alone. About half of all brides who come through Agentur Traumhochzeit (www.agentur-traumhochzeit.de), a wedding planning agency in North Rhine-Westphalia, want to hold their wedding in a castle, estimates the agency's Daniela Jost. “It's the classic, romantic wedding,” said Jost.
Nobody knows exactly how many castles and manor houses there are in Germany, but estimates put the number at 30,000. Weilage, who said he has one of the most comprehensive lists around, loves the hunt involved in tracking down castles. (The website www.schencksreisefuehrer.de, which lists castles that offer wedding services).
Still, German castles offer plenty of uncharted territory for adventurous location-seekers. Even the most lovely castles and manors, says Weilage, are often not listed on maps, and their existence is sometimes unknown even to residents of nearby towns. On his website, brides-to-be can look up potential locations, find contact information and check whether or not the castle that catches their fancy offers wedding rentals.
For example, you can't have a wedding in the most classic of all fairytale castles, Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. But you can get married in the shadow of the Wartburg, where Martin Luther took refuge and translated the New Testament into German after his excommunication from the Catholic Church.
The Wartburg Hotel, built in 1904 and located next to the castle, offers rooms, catering, and even a registrar's office, so the official marriage can also take place there. Classically-minded couples can even use a horse and carriage to get from the bottom of the mountain to the top, except for the last stretch, where they have to switch to a car.
Of course, budget can be a limiting factor, said Agentur Traumhochzeit's Jost. “You should reckon with at least €100 a head, for a castle wedding,” she said. “Sometimes castle rental costs more, on top of that.” Those charges can range from €1,000 to €3,000.
Agentur Traumhochzeit has over 1,000 locations brides can consider, among them plenty of castles. Some of these are publicly owned, either museums or run by foundations, while others are privately-run restaurants or hotels. Less often, said Jost, they are owned by individuals who rent them out for the night.
Where would Jost's dream castle wedding take place? The wedding planner had a ready answer: Engers Neuwied, on the Rhine. “The castle has a spectacular ambiance,” she said. “It looks right out over the river. If the weather is good, you can hold the ceremony in the castle gardens – and if you want to have a garden wedding, there's nothing better than a castle garden – then later move inside, to the ballroom.”
“When you've always dreamt of a fairytale wedding, the castle wedding is what you think of,” agreed Petra Schmatz of the magazine Hochzeitsplaner. “It's a dream for lots of brides.” Schmatz says brides (or grooms, for that matter) can also check out potential locations on their site, at www.braut.de, where most of the castles listed are some variation on the castle hotel.
If you do go with a castle wedding, Schmatz advises sticking with a traditional theme for decorations – if you want a slick, modern wedding, she would suggest skipping the castle. “For couples with really traditional taste, for a castle wedding, you can arrive in a carriage, and two white horses,” she said. “Or a vintage car.”
For American writer Brittani Sonnenburg, it isn't so much the idea of a Cinderella story that drew her and her fiancée, to look into holding their upcoming nuptials in a castle near Berlin, where they live. Rather, it's the sense of history that appealed to them.
“We want something beautiful, but we both have an allergic reaction to the Disneyland fairytale castle,” she said. “For us, it was more that we wanted this important ritual to take place somewhere where you feel that there have been things going on for a long time. For us, there's something really resonant about that.”