The Old Trolley Train “Drachenfelsbahn” is the oldest operated Rack or Cog Railway* in Germany. It is operated by Bergbahnen im Siebengebirge AG. The meter-gauge railway is connected with the old town of Königswinter in the Rhine Valley and the Siebengebirge, a nature preserve since 1883. It ends just below the Drachenfels summit.
For 16 years, the NRW Foundation, in collaboration with the city of Königswinter and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has completely restored this castle. The last scaffolding was dismantled in the summer of 2010, and the magnificent building has been shining in old splendor ever since.
The Siebengebirge nature park is one of the oldest nature reserves in Germany. In the middle of this idyll, Stephan Sarter had a dream home built in an opulent Wilhelminian style. Thanks to a new construction at the time, the work for the magnificent building was completed after only three years (1882-1884).
In the spring of 1995, the first construction work for the comprehensive restoration of the Drachenburg Castle began. In order to remove the traces left behind by WWII, many hours and 31.5 million Euros in funds were necessary.
Outside and inside, the castle is characterized by earlier style epochs that have been updated in a contemporary way. Stucco ceilings in the Renaissance style were combined with baroque furniture in the bedroom and a Gothic mesh vault with a baroque balustrade in the music hall.
The previous owner, Stephan Sarter (1833–1902) had the monetary means. The son of a Bonn innkeeper became wealthy as a stockbroker on the Paris stock exchange, particularly with the financing of the Suez Canal and being a consultant to the Rothschilds.
As so many of the Gilded of the time, he wanted to show his wealth. He bought a title of nobility and commissioned the dream castle as Baron Stephan Sarter.
The delicate Venus terrace in front of the south facade and the extensive park seem to be part of an elegant palace complex, whereas the view from the North with the mighty tower is reminiscent of the fortitude of a castle. With its mix of styles, Drachenburg Castle is a prime example of the construction of historicism.
A luxury that was worthy of kings and emperors and provided for a corresponding guest list: Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa from Great Britain and Ireland spent the night in the sovereign honorary apartment. Likewise, the Crown Prince of Greece along with his wife and Princess Charlotte zu Schaumburg-Lippe. From the reception room to the guest rooms, the lord of the castle had not saved on the furnishings and equipment.
Nature provided the most beautiful accessory: the unique view of the Rhine Valley. Sarter himself was never able to enjoy this splendor: he never lived in Drachenburg Castle.
If you take the train all the way up to the summit, you have this view from the Drachenfels Ruin
After Sarter’s death in 1902, Drachenburg Castle became a kind of luxury hotel. The bachelor had left no will or heir. So his nephew, a lawyer, bought the property and designed it as a “Summer retreat” for wealthy travelers. On the park site, he had log houses built to accommodate guests, and adapted the interior of the castle to that usage.
In later years the castle housed a Catholic boarding school, a convalescent home for women, and a school for the National Socialists and a training center for railway workers.
During the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period, the building was badly damaged and subsequently fell into disrepair. The demolition permit was granted when in 1971. A private citizen Paul Spinat, a lover of representative home decor, bought the castle and saved it.
Drachenburg Castle and its parks have been listed under Monument protection since 1986. Thanks to the extensive renovation work of the North Rhine-Westphalia Foundation, in close cooperation with the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the city of Königswinter, nothing of the major damage can be seen today. The Venus terrace and the 36-meter-high north tower with its all-round view can now be admired as well as the Nibelungen room, Library or Hunting room.
In spring 2010 the work on the main castle was finally completed. The rooms are now furnished with historical furniture, which were reproduces to the original appearance. They are almost authentically and gives the visitor an insight into the Wilhelminian style of living in the late 19th century.
After the imposing Art Gallery was completed in 2004, the careful restoration of the interior began in the main building. The ceiling, including the staircase, was reconstructed, as was the elevator and viewing platform.
Below the staircase at the Drachenburg Castle starts the Audio tour in different languages
The new tour leads visitors to an exhibition on the first level of the castle, where they can get an idea of the extremely eventful history of the castle and its eleven owners. The exhibition also addresses the 16-year construction and renovation phase. Even during the restoration phase, the castle’s premises were kept open as much as possible for visitors to give them an insight into the long-term but also exciting work for the preservation of this unique monument.
The only thing that has not changed over the years is the way up: Schloss Drachenburg can be reached either via the historic cog railway, on foot or on the back of a donkey.
Entrance Parking to Drachenburg and Drachenfels castle: Winzerstraße 1, 53639 Königswinter next to the Drachenfelsbahn entrance. Daily Parking for 4 Euro
*A rack railway (also rack-and-pinion railway, cog railway, or cogwheel railway) has a tooth central rail between the bearing rails that engages with a cogwheel under the locomotive or train providing traction for ascending very steep slopes.
There are two places to sit down and eat. On the lower side was a Biergarten where I had a Zwiebelkuchen or Onion Tart and glass of new Wine. Taking the train further up the summit is an outdoor and indoor Restaurant. There we had the beautiful view to the Rhine valley