Schloss Bürresheim, © Fotostudio Mooi

The witches’ tower of Bürresheim

In the Middle Ages Bürresheim Palace originally was a castle and at the same time residence of the knights. Yet the designation “palace” is indeed more suitable, as the magnificent interior fittings of this Rhenish residential castle make the visitor dream of past times and Cinderella. Until today the Palace, not least because of this, has been used as a setting: For the fairytale film Rumpelstiltskin of the ARD, for example, Bürresheim Palace served as the film set. Even in the Hollywood blockbuster “Indiana Jones and the last Crusade” with Harrison Ford, the attentive viewer can identify the fictive Brunwald Palace as Bürresheim Palace in a short flash.

Not quite as idyllic as in the fairytale are the occurrences in the legend “the witches’ tower of Bürresheim”. As generally known, fairytales have their dark sides too.

Bürresheim Palace in the Nette Valley near Mayen was inhabited by Diether von Breitbach with his spouse and his daughter Irmgard. He was a violent, irascible man, who together with his accomplices Wolf von Virneburg, Friedrich von Olbrück and Tasso von Nürburg often committed joint robberies. Nobody was safe from them and the spoil was always divided on his castle in the Nette Valley. His wife and his daughter, however, were good-natured and gentle women and suffered from his iniquities.

While they were hunting the Virneburger revealed to the Breitbacher that he would like to see his daughter Irmgard as the spouse of his son. Diether was surprised and said that Irmgard already gave her wedding vow to Georg von Kempenich. Then, however, he changed his opinion:

“Because you are my best friend, I will make sure that my daughter marries your son.”

Back on his castle Diether immediately went to his wife’s bower, where he also found his daughter. He told them about the agreement he made with his friend. Agnes, his spouse, got scared and could not find words. Irmgard, however, resisted her father’s decision. Her disobedience made him furious. Full of anger he pushed his sword into the wooden flooring and left the chamber cursing and scolding. Already the next morning two servants accompanied by the castellan appeared to bring Irmgard, on order of the lord of the castle, to a remote tower. Reluctantly and loudly wailing the daughter said goodbye to her mother and followed the castellan, who with his own life assumed responsibility for the security and physical integrity of the girl, into a remote, inhospitable tower chamber. She terribly suffered from the separation of her mother and of Georg von Kempenich, who very often came to the castle when the lord of the castle went for hunting, in order to comfort and encourage the two women when the unfair lord of the castle was absent. Now there was no way for the knight from Kempenich to see his chosen one and Irmgard soon accepted her fate.

One evening when she looked out from her tower window onto the dark Eifel woods and thought of the knight from Kempenich a stone was thrown through the open window with a written note and fell on the floor. The knight of Kempenich had thrown it. In the letter he announced that he would throw a strong rope through the window, which she should fixedly tighten somewhere in the room so that he could climb up to her. Irmgard was delighted, but also afraid that Georg could be seen or fall down, when he got exhausted at climbing the high wall. Therefore she prayed to God that his brave plan would succeed.

The next evening she again stood by the tower window. Suddenly she heard some noises coming from the bushes below and a rope flew through the open window into her room. She picked it up and fastened one end at the heavy oak table, the other end she threw out of the window. Soon Georg got into the chamber and asked her, to escape with him to his castle. Irmgard, however, feared the rage of her father and preferred to stay in jail, hoping that he would change his mind one day. Georg accepted his bride’s wish and promised to come back to see her as often as possible. Then he took the rope and swung himself down into the depth. Irmgard then pulled up the rope and hid it under her bed so that the servant, who brought her food every day, would not find it.

Diether again and again had his daughter asked, whether she would finally be willing to marry the Virneburger. Irmgard, however, remained steadfast and let him know that she would never marry him. When one night a rich foray was celebrated at Bürresheim Castle, they started talking about the damsel. Laughing out loud, the old man from Virneburg asked, whether the maiden had still not changed her mind. Diether did not like to join in the conversation and distracted his friend’s attention by eagerly raising the glass to him.
Meanwhile the knight from Kempenich took the opportunity and climbed up the tower to see Irmgard. Today he felt particularly safe, as the drinking mates down in the hall were occupied with themselves and their wine. The couple did not suspect that somebody sneaked up the spiral stairway and eavesdropped on them. In a hurry he reported to the lord of the castle what he had just heard. Diether got outraged, called his castellan, had his breast plate fastened and with the sword in his hand he rushed up the stairs to Irmgard.

Too late the couple heard his steps. Without a weapon for his protection Georg von Kempenich stood before the violent-tempered Diether von Breitbach who threateningly approached his daughter. Georg positioned himself in front of her to protect her. One single thrust struck the defenceless man down so that he bled to death at his beloved bride’s feet. The murderer, however, went back to his drinking mates and after the others had gone, Diether von Breitbach kept on drinking alone, in order to forget his deed and drown his sorrows in drinking.

When the Kempenich folks got to know what had happened on Bürresheim Castle, they swore bloody revenge and together with the residents from Eltz they went to Bürresheim one stormy night, overcame the walls, penetrated into the castle and put the men-at-arms into chains.

When the lord of the castle woke up and looked out of the window, he escaped into the tower. The conquerors closely followed behind him. When he realized this, he threw himself into the depth.

At Irmgard’s request the pursuers spared the castle from destruction. Soon after Irmgard withdrew from the world and joined a monastery.

The lord of the castle, Diether von Breitbach, however, could not find peace. Around midnight he still wanders around the castle keep and his loud weeping can be widely heard. That is why the Tower of Bürresheim is today still called “witches’ tower” (according to HP Pracht)

Source: Alois Mayer,“Ritter, Burgen, Gold’ne Schätze: Burgensagen aus der Eifel“. Edition Eyfalia, p. 208-210

Further information on Bürresheim Castle is found here.

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