Castle Rheineck is situated on a hill close to a stream called Vinxtbach, which separated regions during Roman times. Artefacts dating back to that time suggest that there was a Roman fort on the hill a long time, before the medieval castle was build in the 12th century. It is unclear if it was erected by Siegfried I or Otto of Salm, who married Siegfried’s widow Gertrud after his death and founded the line of Rheineck. However, after much strive and bloodshed between local rivals, particularly the Lords of Castle Treis, both Siegfried and Otto had died by 1150 and Gertrud, the widow of both men, left the castle for good. Shortly after, Castle Rheineck was destroyed by Archbishop Alberto, thus finishing the feud.
In 1151, the Archbishop of Cologne and Chancellor Rainald of Dassel was given substantial holdings in the area by emperor Friedrich I. Barbarossa, whom he had supported in Italy. Rainald saw this as an opportunity to impede the advances of Konrad of Hohenstaufen and ordered the hill to be occupied by a military force and the castle rebuild. Most likely, this swift action avoided civil war between the emperor and his half brother Konrad. Being able to mobilise 125.000 armed men, Rainald’s general and successor Philipp I. Of Heinsberg was able to stop Konrad’s advance. The two armies faced each other for 12 days just south of Rheineck, but did not engage until Konrad left the field. Three weeks after the battle that was never fought, Friedrich I. Barbarossa bestowed rich gifts on Rainald, including holdings in Italy, several villas and castles and the supposed remnants of the Three Wise Men, which had been held in Milan until Barbarossa’s victory.
Over the next few hundred years, a series of knights held the castle, including one of its most famous owners, Heinrich II. who, together with his wife Berta, donated extensively to local cloisters. There is a famous legend about Heinrich II., who is called Dieter in this story, meeting Berta at Castle Arenfels and falling in love, before leaving her to fight in the crusades (click here for the full story).
In 1539 the last lord of Rheineck died without a son and the Archbishop of Cologne Salentin of Isenburg confiscated the castle. However, the Lords of Warsberg pursued a legal claim to the holdings, as they had married into the Rheineck line and in 1567 were given the deeds to the stronghold. This was part of a greater scheme of the Lords of Warbeck to increase their wealth and Castle Rheineck was sold in 1654 to Rudolf of Sinzendorf. The Lords of Sinzendorf, an old Austrian noble house, thus gained influence in the region and stayed in possession of Rheineck until the 19th century, when France took the western Rhine. France auctioned off the castle in 1805, however, after years of warfare and destruction it was little more than a ruin and Johann Adam Schurp, who bought it from the French, only managed to maintain a flat in the old gatehouse.
Schurp’s family sold the castle in 1832 and the new owners attempted to restore it. However, the foundations were so badly damaged that most of them had to be moved and a new caste in the romanic style was erected by 1836. The central tower, some the battlements and the foundations of the chapel are still remnants of the medieval fortress though. After World War 2, the castle became a popular tourist attraction with a gondola and restaurant. Today, Castle Rheineck is in private ownership and, unfortunately, cannot be visited.