The name “Frankenstein” is best known as the creator of the monster who haunts the pages of Mary Shelley’s novel and the screen of many horror movies since. Shelley and her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, accompanied by their friend Lord Byron, visited castles in Germany in the early 1800s. It is thought that she visited Frankenstein Castle, near Damstedt Germany (not far from Frankfurt), and gained inspiration for her haunting tale from local folklore.
Frankenstein Castle is a ruined German castle, once the home of the barons von Frankenstein. The first recorded mention of a Castle Frankenstein dates to 948. Completed in the 13th century and greatly expanded in the 15th and 16th centuries, this German castle was once a large fortress used by the barons to control the surrounding area. The barons sold Frankenstein Castle in the 1600s, but it continued to be used as a residence until the early 18th century.
Today, Frankenstein Castle is one of the most famous castles in Germany. This is largely thanks to its most famous resident, the eccentric Joseph Konrad Dippel. Dippel styled himself “von Frankenstein,” although he appears to have been unrelated to the original owners of Castle Frankenstein. Dippel was a well-regarded alchemist; he created the color Prussian Blue in his laboratory. Dippel was also rumored to be mystic and accused of stealing body parts from local cemeteries to further his study of natural philosophy. Some legends imply that he tried to revive the body parts in a search for the secrets to eternal life.
Mary Shelley is likely to have heard the myths of the famous resident of this German castle and used the alchemist of Castle Frankenstein as the inspiration for her acclaimed novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, written when she was just 19 years old. In it, Doctor Victor Frankenstein uses electricity to bring to life a creature formed from the body parts of executed criminals. Frankenstein shuns his hideous creation, who ends up killing the doctor’s friends and wife. Many films have been made based (usually quite loosely) on this story.
Frankenstein Castle celebrates its connection to the famous tale with an annual Halloween festival, including a professional monster show. Like many castles in Germany, Frankenstein Castle is now in ruins, with only two towers, a chapel, and some walls remaining. Nevertheless, the German castle provides good views of the surrounding Hessian countryside and is well worth a visit as part of a German family vacation.