Schloss Drachenburg (“Dragon’s Castle”) is a private villa in palace style constructed in the late 19th century. It was completed in only two years (1882–84) on the Drachenfels hill in Königswinter, a German town on the Rhine near the city of Bonn. Baron Stephan von Sarter (1833–1902), a broker and banker, planned to live there, but never did.
Today the castle is in the possession of the State Foundation of North Rhine-Westphalia. It is served by an intermediate station on the Drachenfels Railway.
The construction of the railway lines in the middle of the 19th century made quicker and more comfortable travelling possible – on the Rhine too, and the middle class of Bonn and Cologne were happy to take advantage of this. Those especially well-to-do aspired towards representative buildings in the newly developed local recreational area. Just as did Baron Stephan von Sarter: he chose a spectacular location underneath Drachenfels Caste on the elevation with the same name near Königswinter for his palace, Drachenburg, constructed in 1882. This was among the most important settings for the Rhenish world of legends. Already in 1903, Sarter’s nephew opened the Palace to the public and offered visits for 0.50 Deutschmark. The Second World War led to severe destruction of the Palace. It was only a comprehensive restoration program that enabled the complex to shine in its old glory once again.
According to German folklore, Siegfried slayed a dragon just a little further up the mountain. But the story of this spectacular building, a jumble of architectural styles erected in less than three years in the late 19th century by a wealthy stockbroker, is strange enough to become legend in itself.
The state of North Rhine-Westphalia has just completed a €31.5 million ($44 million), 15-year restoration, part of a broad investment drive to attract visitors to the Rhine region, one of Europe’s most beautiful areas, by sprucing up its sights.
Over the years, eccentrics have used the building as a canvas for their grand visions. In 1910, one entrepreneur planned to convert it into a tourist resort complete with a landing area for Zeppelin airships and a concert hall to rival the Bayreuth Wagner opera festival.
In the 1970s, one owner used it for sumptuous parties during which he dressed in an admiral’s costume and treated guests to concerts he gave on a fake organ, with music played from a hidden tape recorder. He would impress tourists by filling the palace with historical artifacts of questionable authenticity, including a sculpture he claimed was by Michelangelo and a garish chair he said was the throne of French king Louis XIV.
Drachenburg stood empty during the 1960s and became so dilapidated that the regional government planned to tear it down. It was saved by fierce protests from local people and by the intervention of a textile merchant named Paul Spinat, who bought the Drachenburg in 1971 and decided to restore it.
Spinat, the son of a postman from the town of Bad Godesberg just across the river, opened the castle as a museum and venue for glittering pseudo-aristocratic balls. He made some questionable stylistic changes such as fitting the fake organ, adding plastic balustrades painted to look like marble and building a large swimming pool in front of the palace.
Today the castle is a popular tourist destination – around 50,000 visitors make their way up to the castle during Advent season.