At the moment nobody can say where Germany’s oldest castle lies. Nor can anyone say where the highest is, or indeed how many castles Germany has. But the German Castle Club (DBV) is about to put an end to the confusion. It has started to build up a record of every single castle in the country – both those standing and those that once stood – and is gradually uploading the information into a public database called EBIDAT.
“All the castles in Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and the Saarland are already completely recorded,” says Reinhard Friedrich, who is leading the research project. “We're almost finished in Lower Saxony, too.”
Those hoping for a swift answer to the question of just how many castles Germany has will have to wait though. The high costs of financing the project combined with a skeleton staff mean that it will probably take another ten years before all the castles in Germany have been counted.
“In Hesse we only have six counties left to cover. We are also planning to visit Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia,” Friedrich says. But he makes clear that the work is not inexpensive. “Between €2,000 and €5,000 is enough for each district.”
Control of castles is a state affair in Germany and each of the 16 federal states keeps its own digital statistics.
Friedrich admits that several lists of German castles have already been published on the internet. But he cautions that, while they are often produced with a lot of passion, these lists often lack a scientific methodology.
Jens Friedhoff, a historian working on the project, explains the work that is going into the EBIDAT database.
“We check the technical literature on the castles. We also want to have a consistency in how we record them.” He then lists location, age, type, function, history of ownership, building material, and ground plan as just some of the details being recorded by experts in the team.
Experts currently believe that there are around 25,000 castles in the country. But Friedrich says there could be even more.
Not all of the castles are still standing, though. Numerous castles on the database have long since disappeared with only literature and sources proving that they once stood. One example, according to Friedrich, is Worringen Castle near Cologne, which was destroyed during a battle in 1288. These days even its exact location is no longer known.
The DBV team estimate that 20 percent of the castles in Germany still have a roof on them, while 40 percent have survived as ruins. The remaining 40 percent have only been preserved as foundations – or have completely disappeared.
“Upkeep was often too expensive. Many castles were abandoned or auctioned off for demolition,” says Friedhoff.