Altena Castle – The First Hostel Inside Medieval Stronghold (History & Travel Tips)

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Altena Castle is one of the loveliest peak-side strongholds in Germany, situated in North Rhine-Westphalia, over the beautiful city of Altena. Located on the Klusenberg slope, the castle lies in close proximity to Märkischer Kreis. The castle was constructed by the siblings Adolf and Eberhard von Berg around 1108, it has become one of the city’s most prized historic sites. Here’s everything you need to know about Altena Castle:

The Altena Castle Museums and the German Wire Museum routinely host extraordinary displays which are both outstanding and fascinating.

A gorgeous night view of Altena Castle and the town below
A gorgeous night view of Altena Castle and the town below.

Altena Castle is one of the loveliest peak-side strongholds in Germany, situated in North Rhine-Westphalia, over the beautiful city of Altena. Located on the Klusenberg slope, the castle lies in close proximity to Märkischer Kreis. The castle was constructed by the siblings Adolf and Eberhard von Berg around 1108, it has become one of the city’s most prized historic sites. Here’s everything you need to know about Altena Castle:

Frequently Asked Questions

FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS

Early History

Origins and subsequent turnover (1108-1198)

The lovely mountainside castle of Altena was established by Adolf and Everhard von Berg; their descendants were known as the Counts of Altena for the area around their main residence. Around 1198, a collateral line of the family joined the lands of the Counts of Berg-Altena and the Counts of the Marks.

The crest of Altena town & castle--drawn from the patron saint, Catherine of Alexandria, and the coat of arms of the Counts of Mark.
The crest of Altena town & castle–drawn from the patron saint, Catherine of Alexandria, and the coat of arms of the Counts of Mark.

From then on, it was used as a castle of the Nobles of Mark and their family in the 12th century in order to provide security for the iron exchange, although their primary residence was Mark Castle. Altena  started being used as the home for the area bailiff (officially known as the Amtmann) from 1392 onwards.

Reconstruction and Prussian Take Over

In 1455, the castle burnt to the ground and was reconstructed. It was the home of von Drosten at the time, unfortunately, the new construction was poor and incomplete.

The stone masonry and architecture of the Altena castle.
The stone masonry and architecture of the Altena castle.

After that, it fell into the hands of Brandenburg in 1609. From that point on, it was viewed as the hereditary seat of the maternal line of the Prussian family. They used it as a garrison and then sold it to the town so that the residents could use it to construct workhouses.

The inside of Altena Castle Museum where you can see a crucifix, books and statutes.
The inside of Altena Castle Museum. Anirban Chakraborty, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dilapidation and Failed Revamps

During 1766-1811 the Altena castle housed a criminal court and a jail. After that, an alms-house and an assisted living residence were set up there, which stayed in use until 1840.

Burg Altena’s current form in all its glory surrounded by green trees.
Burg Altena’s current form in all its glory. Burg Altena – Altena aan de Lenne – Noordrijn-Westfalen flickr photo by Frans Berkelaar shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

During this time, the castle had deteriorated significantly and it was decided in 1834 that it needed to be rebuilt. However, due to the lack of funds, reconstruction couldn’t take place. In 1856, Altena Castle housed a hospital that was built by the Johanniter Order. It was closed down in 1906.

The inside view of one of the museum in Altena Museum with red walls and paintings.
The inside view of one of the museum in Altena Museum. Anirban Chakraborty, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Current Times

Return To the Current Altena Castle

In 1909, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the state of Mark’s accession to Brandenburg-Prussia, preparations for Altena castle’s renovation were initiated. Except for the outer wall and the gatehouse of the castle, this was finished in 1914. A disputable discussion about the methods and techniques of rebuilding came to the surface, with the predilection for archaic designs over the medieval and modern buildings and style being criticized. It all finally came to an end in 1918.

The interior of the Altena Castle museum in front view with red wall and paintings.
The interior of the Altena Castle museum. Altena, Burg Altena, Ritterstube im neuen Palas flickr photo by Polybert49 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

In the freshly redesigned castle, Richard Schirrmann, a professor by profession, founded the world’s first youth hostel. In 1919, just following World War I, where Schirrmann battled in the Vosges front, he formed the Youth Hosteling Association, thinking that bringing youngsters together would reduce the likelihood of another deadly battle. The first rooms are a historical centre today. The youth hostel, which was established in 1934, is still in operation in the lower castle courtyard.

Some part of the Altena Castle Museum displaying a miniature of the castle.
Some part of the Altena Castle Museum. Anirban Chakraborty, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Altena Castle is a twofold landmark to Schirrmann’s vision – initially by consolidating a World Youth Hostel Museum in its premises and second by still providing cheap lodging in a historic castle for youth. 

The museum itself provides a worthy place to visit by featuring displays of the Youth Hostel Movement. It also caters to the history of its surroundings with educative displays of the geographical conditions, industrial innovations, and the archives of the region.

Altena Castle during sunset in colorful exterior lighting.
Altena Castle in colorful exterior lighting. GlanzLicht auf Burg Altena – Altena castle in colorful colors flickr photo by Wolle vom Kamp shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

Interesting Altena Castle Facts

  • The Altena Castle Adventure Lift is a major tourist attraction, connecting Altena town with the castle. It travels along 90 to 80 metres (98.5 to 87 yards) high, while the patrons are accompanied by compelling stories, legendary characters, some great effects, and the astonishing seven gates.
  • Altena Castle achieved worldwide recognition for being the site of the first lasting youth lodging globally.
  • The exhibition hall of the County of Mark, the most seasoned territorial history assortment in Westphalia, portrays the grasping story of the Mark region of the Sauerland, emphasising the Middle and Early Modern Ages.
  • The Altena Castle Museums and the German Wire Museum routinely host extraordinary displays which are both outstanding and fascinating.

Visiting Altena Castle – Tips and Tricks

Altena is a beautiful town to visit, and its castle is no less stunning. Looking over the River Lenne, it certainly provides some beautiful views. If you are planning to visit this castle, then here are some useful tips for you.

Altena Castle's closer view at night.
Altena Castle’s closer view at night. Burg Altena (Westf.) – Altena Castle flickr photo by Frank Goseberg shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

How to get to Altena Castle?

You can reach Altena town by train from Berlin, which takes approximately 4 hours and 33 minutes, and costs €85- €126 ($100-$150 USD). Another option that you have is to travel via bus. Although it costs less than the train, it’s a very long journey of 8 hours from Berlin to Altena at €25- €34 ($30-$40 USD). 

From the bus or train station, you can walk to Altena castle in approximately 11 minutes.  

You can also travel via car to the castle in 4 hours 45 minutes; the fuel cost would be approximately €57- €83 ($69-$99 USD). 

Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips

Altena Castle is closed on 24, 25 and 31 December along with 1st January and on Mondays. It is open Tuesday till Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, whereas its opening timings on Saturday, Sunday and Public holidays are 11:00 am-6:00 am. 

You can take a tour around the castle without a guided tour, but it is best to go for the guided option to have a proper overview of the castle. Here’s all the information you need about the guides:

Pocket-book guides

Pocket-book guides cost €3 ($4 USD) and are available at the admission office and in the museum shop. They are accessible in eight different dialects, including German, Dutch, English, French, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.

Individual tours

Individual tours of the exhibition are accessible with the help of the Multimedia Guide, which is offered in German, English, and Dutch.  The gadgets may be rented for € 2.50 ($3 USD) at the ticket office.

Burg Altena’s current form in all its glory.
Burg Altena’s current form in all its glory. Burg Altena – Altena aan de Lenne – Noordrijn-Westfalen flickr photo by Frans Berkelaar shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Adventure Lift

For adventure lift the ticket price for adults is €5 ($6 USD). For families (maximum 2 adults with 2 minors), the ticket price is €12 ($14 USD). Students and children from 4-17 years have a discount on the ticket’s price i.e. €4 ($5 USD). You can also opt for the Group option which has max 15 people and the ticket price for Adults and Reduced (i.e. Students and children 4-17 years) is €4 ($5 USD) and €3 ($4 USD) respectively. 

Combined Tickets: 

It is wise to take the combined ticket for the adventure elevator and museum: For adults it costs €9 ($11 USD), for families €20 ($24 USD) and for children and students €5 ($6 USD). Combined tickets can also be availed by the groups, the prices for adults and reduced is €7 ($8 USD) and €4 ($5 USD) respectively 

You can get free entry on Good Friday, International Museum Day, Day of the Open Monument, 2nd Christmas day. 

How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?

It takes at least 1 hour and 30 minutes to take a complete tour around the castle.

Some words of advice and tips: 

  • You should book your tickets at least 14 days before your visit. 
  • Try to wear comfortable attire, as you will be spending a lot of time in the castle.
  • You are not allowed to take pictures with the flash, so do pay attention to your cameras.

Quick Video Tour of The Main Altena Castle Areas

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