CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER LIDOWSKI
It isn’t uncommon to be driving down the autobahn and hear someone in the car say, “Hey, there’s a castle.” Everyone turns to catch a glimpse of the structure before you zoom past it. However, it isn’t often that you stumble upon an underground castle. That is just what my family did one Saturday afternoon while visiting Saarbrücken.
Saarbrücken, capital of the Saarland, was first documented in 999 AD as Castellum Sarabruca, which roughly translates as the castle on the rock over the Saar River. The original Saarbrücken Castle was destroyed long ago, and a 17th century Renaissance one was built in its place. Now, only the stone cellars remain. In the 18th century, a Baroque palace was erected on the same site. That structure was eventually rebuilt in the late 1980s with a steel and glass focal point and is used as an administrative and cultural center for the town. Today, visitors see the renovated Baroque palace when they climb the stone steps that once led to the original Castellum Sarabruca.
If you look carefully at the stone wall that holds up the staircase and forms the outer wall of the castle, a face will jump out at you. It is a representation of the “miserly baker” of nearby St. Johann. He reportedly took advantage of villagers during times of famine. Once the margravine (the nobleman’s wife) discovered his crimes, she sent him to the stocks, where he died a few days later, and erected the face to serve as a sewage gargoyle and warning to others who might meet a similar fate. Finding the face will let you know that you are on the right path and should keep climbing the stairs up to the palace courtyard. After some exploring, you will eventually discover an annex attached to a corner of the building that connects to the Saarland Regional History Museum (Historisches Museum Saar). The museum is your gateway to the underground castle.
Once you enter the museum, you journey down a winding staircase and feel the temperature drop as you enter stone-walled chambers. A brochure printed in English provided after purchasing your ticket (ticket information can be found at the castle museum website) explains each room’s original purpose.
You can explore a shooting chamber equipped with replicas of period-appropriate weaponry and imagine firing at invaders attempting to navigate the moat, which was formed when stones were cut out of the land to build the castle’s walls.
One area includes a stone cutting display that illustrates how simple cranes and claws were used to move the stones as the castle’s walls were constructed. The tour continues through the dungeon and past a tunnel that leads to the old Saarbrücken well. There are marked points throughout the castle cellars where one can press a button to hear detailed information, but the recordings are in German. Luckily, the brochure provided at the front desk includes all the descriptions in English. You can conclude a visit to the Saarland Regional History Museum by browsing the upstairs galleries that house exhibitions about the region dating from the Franco-German War of 1870/71 to the end of the 20th century.
Emerging from the underground cellars, you walk back into the twenty-first century and leave all traces of the original Saarbrücken Castle behind. Now, in addition to spotting castles as you drive by, you know about the secret castle cellars that many visitors overlook. For information about planning a trip to Saarbrücken, you may visit the Saarbrücken informational website. You can also find the Saarbrücken App in the iTunes Store. The free app provides information about museums, walking tours, points of interests, and much more.
Tips For Your Trip:
Historisches Museum Saar
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 1000-1800
Sunday and holidays: 1200-1800
Last entrance 30 minutes before closing time.
For permanent exhibit:
Preschoolers and younger: Free
There are different prices for seeing any special exhibits or combination tickets for those who want to see both the permanent and special exhibits.