We all know the story of Frankenstein or at least we think we do. The novel is argued to be the first true science fiction and has influenced our culture, literature, and film industry in more ways than one. Marry Shelly’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus was originally planned as a short story that eventually became a world classic. In this article, I’m going to share with you my experience on a trip to Frankenstein’s castle in Germany. If you are wondering what in the world is the connection between a German castle and an English author who wrote about Geneva, just keep on reading. It all intertwines at the end.
Mary Shelly was a young and curious girl, whose gene pool was better than good. Her father was Willian Godwin, a political philosopher and her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, the founder of feminism. The young girl who was around scientists, philosophers, and writers from a very early age. Her father was able to provide her with the finest home education, remarkable even for those years and a huge intellectual circle. When she was 18 years old, she and her soon to be husband Percy Shelly (who was one of the famous men of letters, wink, wink, to a certain tv show fandom) were spending time in Geneva with a couple of friends, one of which was the English poet Lord Byron. The group stumbled upon old German ghost stories that inspired them to make a little contest on who would write the most horrifying ghost story with a Gothic flavor. Being fascinated with Darwin’s experiments on voluntary motion and the existential question of life and death, Mary Shelly wrote a story, she claims was inspired by one of her nightmares. This is how the famous story of Frankenstein was born.
She waited two years to publish the story and she did that anonymously. However, in the second edition, she was credited as the author and the rumors about Frankenstein’s story began. A lot of writers and historians have argued whether or not curtain philosophers were the actual inspiration for the narrative. One little detail leads to the belief that Mary’s inspiration might have come from seeing the actual Frankenstein castle in Germany. Two years prior to her trip to Geneva, Mary Shelly visited Germany and took a boat trip down the Rhine River. She stopped in the town of Gernsheim, that just so happens to be 17 km away from Burg Frankenstein or the castle of the Frankenstein’s. It is even rumored that she visited the castle one night but left that fact out of her notes.
What is so interesting about this castle you ask? Nothing much, except the fact that two centuries before Mary’s little boat trip, this place was the home of John Conrad Dippel. He was a quiet man, born inside the castle, who lived isolated, spending his time studying science, theology, mysticism, and alchemy. Does this sound familiar?
Dippel actually made some big contributions to science when he discovered the dye Prussian Blue, which we still use. What would interest you, even more, is that he created an Animal Elixir – a cure for any disease and aging as well. The interesting part or should I say, the gruesome part – he used to boil animal remnants to make it.
As an alchemist, he was of course fascinated with the human soul and the means to make life last forever. He documented many animal experiments he performed trying to transfer the soul of the dead into the body of the living. He went as further as to claim that his potions can exorcise demons and that the human soul can be transferred from one body to another by simply using a hose, funnel and a little lubricant.
This is where the facts stop and the fiction takes the wheel. People believed that he switched the dead animals for human corpses. Of course, he was not the only scientist who chapped up bodies but apparently he used to exhume freshly berried ones out of the local graveyards because he believed the soul was still in there.
More rumors state that he attempted to make an elixir of life out of liquid human remains since he was so successful with the animal elixir. The most ghastly rumor is that he used to switch hearts and eyes of different human bodies in his attempt to transfer the soul.
Whether these stories bare some truth is hard to say. Could all of these rumors have been spread by jealous colleges or the local folks because he was an isolated stranger who lived in the castle up the hill? Did Mary Shelly hear some of these legends when she visited the area? Could it be that they stuck around her mind and eventually inspired her novel? We will never know.
The castle or what is left of it is a constant tourist attraction partly because of Mary Shelly’s story and partly because it offers a beautiful view at the end of the many hiking tracks that spread in the forest beneath the castle like a spider’s web.
The castle and the view were definitely inspiring so I made a little monster video you can see.
One thing I could say for sure is that this is the place to be on Halloween because the annual party Germans throw is definitely something to be seen.
Now for the most boring but very important part:
You can find the castle on Google’s Maps and the navigation is dead on. The road is up the hill and there a lot of U-turns so drive carefully and slowly. There are many parking spots so you can have your pick. There is a restaurant where you grab a beer and something to eat and though I didn’t visit it, it looked good. You don’t have to buy tickets but there is a castle-shaped box at the entry where you can drop a euro or two.
My new video Chasing Origin Stories is up and it is really worth it, so give it a look!