Ringberg castle is located in the southern part of Germany, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, some 70km southeast of Munich - or between one and two hours from there by car. The castle lies near the otherwise quiet town of Rottach-Egern on a plateau overlooking lake Tergernsee, and it is also near Wildbad Kreuth1. The landscape of the region is dominated by the lake and the mountains surrounding it. The steep bits halfway up the mountains are covered with a dense pine forest and the plains are predominantly used as grassland for cattle. Farmhouses and chapels are neatly encrusted in the valleys and the villages surround the lake. In this region, time seems to have stopped at the end of the 18th Century. With some justification, the whole region could be summed up by the word 'picturesque'.
Ringberg Castle is a young castle (for a comparison see also Some Great Castles in Germany); its construction began in 1914 by order of Duke Luitpold in Bavaria2. It is, in this sense and in spite of its young age, a genuine castle - perhaps the last one built by German aristocracy. The design of the castle and of its interior were conceived by Friedrich Attenhuber, who was a controversial, talented expressionist painter and designer, and who had a close and turbulent friendship with Duke Luitpold.
The construction of the Ringberg Castle main buildings was mostly finished in the late 1920s. The interior décor of the main building's ground and first floor was completed in the 1930s. Although all vital parts of the main building (ie, the kitchen, office, rooms, toilet, heating system, etc) were functioning, the duke never spent a night in the castle. The second floor of the main building and the interior of the other buildings of the site (the gate-tower, a chapel and other small guest-houses) remained unfinished until the 1980s.
By 1967 the Duke was broke - partly due the construction of Ringberg Castle, but mainly due to the Duke's lifestyle. In a deal with the Bavarian authorities for a more benevolent taxation of his estate, he had arranged that after his death the unfinished castle should go to the Max Planck Society, the renowned German scientific organisation3. The Duke died childless in 1973, aged 83.
The Max Planck Society was initially sceptical about the inheritance, and it was not clear that the unfinished castle could be of any practical use to them. Also, the costs to finish the castle and to perform the necessary modernisation (in order to adapt the castle to the society's needs) seemed to be too high for the society. However, in the end the society managed to raise funds: The remaining estate of Luitpold, which the society also inherited, was sold for a small fortune to the state of Bavaria. From this money, and from Munich-based insurance companies' donations, a fund was created to finish and to maintain Ringberg Castle. The castle was completely finished in 1983.
The facility was designed to be used by the Max Planck Society as a convention centre, with accommodation for 50 or so guests. Within a few years the castle proved to be the ideal place to lock up scientists for week-long workshops and conferences, ranging from nano-science to neurology. The castle is - at the date of writing - booked ahead for more than two years.
Ringberg castle was the brainchild of two persons: Duke Luitpold and Friedrich Attenhuber. Duke Luitpold had the money and many loose concepts, whereas Friedrich Attenhuber, an all-round artist and designer, and a close friend of the duke, could use his artistic expertise to make Luitpold's ideas concrete. Attenhuber designed the castle and everything in and around it - the entire furniture, door-handles, tapestry, water-taps, statues, gardens - you name it. Most of the designs date from the period between the two world wars, and represent a balanced blend between German art-nouveau and romanticism.
In the later 1930s and the war years the friendship between Attenhuber and the duke became increasingly difficult as the duke's strong fondness of Attenhuber ended up in manic possessiveness4. Attenhuber was - on purpose - kept financially dependent on the duke and so it became impossible for him to leave Ringberg. This situation is reflected in Attenhuber's art and designs, which became increasingly sinister. Portraits of the duke were made in the Nazi-sanctioned 'blut und boden' (blood and earth) style5 - as a direct affront against the duke, who did not like the Nazis and was a 'persona non grata' during the Nazi regime. Attenhuber succumbed to this hopeless situation and ended up committing suicide in December 1947 (he jumped from one of the castle's towers).
Some parallels between the biographies of Duke Luitpold and 'fairy-tale' King Ludwig II of Bavaria - who was something like his grand-uncle - are worth noting. Both could be described as weird and were obsessed with fine arts (Ludwig/Wagner, Luitpold/Attenhuber), had a pronounced feminine side, and a leaning towards spending obscene amounts of money erecting castles (Ludwig/Neuschwanstein, Luitpold/Ringberg).
During a convention or a workshop the guests are accommodated in almost obscenely comfortable rooms. There are 35 rooms in total (27 single rooms, seven double/triple rooms and one apartment in the gate-tower) but three of these rooms deserve special mention: The 'gelbes Zimmer' (yellow room, ground floor), the 'Herzogzimmer' (duke's room, first floor) and 'Bauernzimmer' (peasant's room, first floor), which were finished in the 1920s and are also of historic interest. They're considerably bigger than the remaining rooms and the interior is really pompous and comparable to the presidential suite of a five-star hotel.
The guests have free access to all areas excluding other people's rooms (obviously) and the kitchen (even more obviously), such as the library in the second floor, just to the right of the elevator, (mainly books on art and metal alloys), the cellar (no food there), the seminar rooms (one has a TV - no cable), the music room, the rooftop of the tower. None of the cupboards and drawers in these places are locked - most of them are empty, however, or contain conventional utensils, such as paper-clips, pens and transparency foils.
Since one of the main aims of the conventions held there is to keep the participants together, all the meals are served there. The kitchen is very good, but has two major shortcomings: They serve delicious, but way too small portions, and they seem to get overtaxed when it comes to ordering vegetarian dishes. For example, a vegetarian soup or a salad might easily contain fried bacon strips, and is served along with the words (and a heavy German accent): 'This is vegetarian soup, you can this eat!'
The place also offers some recreational possibilities, for the time after the talks and/or poster presentations. Excellent wine and beer is available and it can be consumed in one of the many historic rooms of the ground floor, such as the Hexenzimmer (witch's room) and the duke's office (which also harbours a radio, wireless LAN gear, computers and a huge chessboard). The music room, conceived as a medieval amphitheatre, harbours a grand piano and a classical guitar. Both instruments are carefully maintained by the personnel - that is, the guitar's strings are new and the piano is in tune. The ping-pong room is in the main tower at the highest floor. Plenty of balls are available, but only a few racquets are in good condition. The rooftop of the tower (which itself is some 25m high) is accessible from the ping-pong room. The trapdoor to the roof opens difficultly at first and is commonly thought to be locked, but it isn't. The swimming pool only works in the summer.
The region around Ringberg castle offers many hiking trails that lead around the lake Tegernsee, through the valley to Wildbad Kreuth and up the Wallberg (1723m). Skiing and sleighing is an option in the winter.
For pics and more details consult also the Ringberg Castle Homepage.