|The Runneburg Castle and the Runneburgverein|
The Landgravine of Thuringia, Jutta, half-sister to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, had the Runneburg built in 1168. It was often besieged but never conquered. With an area of 1.5 hectares, it is the biggest of the landgraves' castles in the present-day state of Thuringia.
The Runneburgverein (Runneburg Association) was established in November of 1990. About thirty people who wanted to preserve and restore the rundown castle formed this non-profit organization in Weißensee near Sömmerda and north of Erfurt. As one of the strongest fortifications of the Thuringian landgraves during the Middle Ages, it had turned into a "sleeping beauty castle" by the end of the 16th century. Used as a school until 1978, no one had expected the architectural wealth hidden within the castle walls.
Today the Runneburg is considered a cultural monument of national significance ("…a castle of European significance…," as Professor Dr. Meckseper said), not only because of its connection with historical events of importance for the Holy Roman Empire, like the sieges of 1204 and 1212, but particularly because of its high-quality Romanesque architecture, as only a few castles in Germany can offer such architectural wealth at their original location. Unfortunately, decay and time have no regard for the castle's impressive past. In particular, parts of the tower and the great hall of the castle are threatening to collapse.
Sixteen years after the founding of this non-profit organization, almost 500 volunteers contribute considerably to let the public know about the castle. This is important, because it is one of the goals of the Runneburgverein for the next few years to help increase the number of tourists visiting the castle. Furthermore, there is the important task of attending to the local history in conjunction with the castle, the city below, and the surrounding areas. This contributes to the organization's goal to help citizens identify with and show interest in their local history. A stimulating as well as friendly atmosphere within the organization is of course part of it.
Looking back, we can see that some of the goals that were set in the beginning have already been reached. The Runneburgverein has an established presence at the Runneburg and also manages the extensive library of material on castle and local history as well as the historic archive with approximately 250 records, 300 documents, and five books about the city of Weißensee.
The members of the organization have met numerous times in the last few years for clean-up of the castle grounds in order to host exhibits and cultural events. Because of these tireless efforts, the renovated basement of the castle was opened up, after having been closed off for fifteen years, on Easter of 1993 to host an especially arranged and appealing exhibit. After the complete renovation of another vault of the basement, the treasury was opened to the public in the summer of 1993. Since then, the findings from the excavations at the Runneburg can be exhibited on location. An alarm system and air conditioner was installed to preserve these treasures.
The highlight of all the work put in by the organization was a week-long festival held at the Runneburg in the summer of 1993 to celebrate the castle's 825-year anniversary. This week of celebration was concluded with a medieval fair attended 12,000 visitors. This festival made the Runneburg known beyond this region. Since this festival brought a lot of visitors to the castle, it became a tradition and it is now being held every July. In the meantime, the exhibitions have been opened to the public on a daily basis. Lectures and events for travel groups or school classes are also being offered. No luxuriously decorated and equipped rooms can be expected by the visitor. It is still to early in the process of bringing the castle back to life. Nevertheless, the visitor can be impressed by the glory of Romanesque architecture and the great historical importance of the castle in the Middle Ages, and can experience restoration and structural redevelopment in the making and is not left to walk where millions of tourists have walked before.
In early 1993, the Runneburg was leased to the Runneburgverein by the city of Weißensee. And since December 1996, the Runneburg is part of the Thüringer Schlösser und Gärten Rudolstadt foundation. With the help of this foundation, the Runneburgverein can continue its work of preserving the castle. In 1997 the Runneburgverein established the Runneburg Betriebsgesellschaft Weißensee Ltd. to help run the castle. As of now, the Runneburgverein and the foundation together are looking into how the castle can best be utilized culturally. There are many ideas on how to bring cultural highlights to the underdeveloped rural area of Sömmerda. There are thoughts of developing the Runneburg into a setting for medieval life. For this idea, concerts with medieval music, lectures and the yearly castle festival can serve. An exhibition about the medieval Runneburg, the castle's history, its architecture, and its connection to the state's history could serve such an idea well, too.
Besides all that, the castle is also a regular meeting place for the numerous members of the Runneburgverein. Those who wish to contribute and participate in the many responsibilities of this non-profit organization may do so:
Volunteers as well as donations and sponsors are always welcome. The Runneburg cannot be maintained with good ideas and idealism alone. Please help us to get the word out to others who might be interested in the castle's Romanesque architecture and the medieval way of life. Our donation account is:
Bank Routing # 82051000
Account # 140041737
We will of course send you a receipt for your donation.
The Catapult or The Diabolical Tool
When Emperor Otto IV came to Thuringia in 1212 to besiege Weißensee, he had a unidentified catapult, called a trebuchet, with him. This catapult, just like the torsional catapult, was one of the most effective weapons during the Middle Ages.
The emperor probably got acquainted with the catapult in Italy. The trebuchet threw enormous rocks at the castle walls. For that reason, a chronicler named it "The Diabolic Tool." In addition to skeletons, nails from shields, dice made from animal bones, and more, four such rocks, approximately 100 kg in weight, were excavated from the walls of the tower, which is located on "The Morning Side". For the Runneburgverein ,that was enough reason to build such a catapult.
The trebuchet was invented by the Chinese in 800 AD. By the end of the 12th century, these catapults were quite common in Italy.
Our trebuchet was constructed according to a model that was fashioned from medieval drawings on the scale of 1 to 10. It has the same technical standards as a trebuchet from the years 1400 to 1420, which is considered high-tech for the Middle Ages.
Our catapult threw its first rock on June 1, 1997, successfully. A 50-kg ball flew an accurate distance of 300 meters. The safety-tested catapult could throw up to 90 kg over a distance of 500 to 600 meters. Demonstrations are put on throughout the year, such as on Pentecost and other occasions. If you are interested, you could also make "The Diabolical Tool" part of your company retreat or family reunion. Please let us know!
Feasts at the Castle
The restaurant "Landgrafen Schenke" opened its doors in 1996. Its rooms were renovated and are located in the original gate building. Here, the visitor can enjoy historical and Thuringian meals and beverages. The great variety of meats and sausages, all from this region, are a great example of high-quality products from the state of Thuringia. Especially popular are our traditional medieval meals, which are sumptuous yet rustic. With authentic music, food, beer, and wine, as well as other authentic entertainment, the guest is brought back to the Middle Ages.
Up to 300 people can be seated on a meadow near the catapult. The wine cellars offer another 80 seats. The restaurant Landgrafen Schenke offers seats for about 50 guests. More and more company retreats are being held at the castle. The companies and their guests are greeted by our minstrel and with a cup of mead. The minstrel entertains with fun and music for the duration of the retreat. Guided tours are available at any time. A demonstration of the catapult can be arranged, as well as activities for children. A playground for public use can also be found on the castle perimeters. For further inquiries, please contact Mr. Thomas Stolle.