Frankenstein Castle in Germany & Its Influence on Mary Shelley

Instructor: Elisa Goldman

Elisa has taught K-6 grades and has two master's degree in Instructional Technology and Education.

One particular German castle has inspired legends of supernatural horrors since the 17th century. It may have even influenced Mary Shelley to write the classic Frankenstein.

Not Exactly a Fairy Tale

There are some castles that everyone's probably heard of -- Cinderella's castle, Castle Dracula, and Hearst Castle, to name a few. But did you know there's also a real-life Frankenstein Castle? One that might have influenced gothic writer Mary Shelley? The story of Shelley and Frankenstein Castle really begins more than 150 years before the author even put pen to paper. It all started with an alchemist named Johann Conrad Dippel and his magical elixir. But first, let's get a little backstory.

Castle Frankenstein History

The Frankenstein Castle is located near the city of Darmstadt, Germany. The original fortress was constructed in the 10th century after a knight named Arbogast von Frankenstein won the land in an arms game. The current castle was constructed beginning in the 13th century with additions in the next two hundred years.

Members of the von Frankenstein family occupied the castle until the late 1600s, when it was sold and turned into a prison and a hospital. It was then a forgotten ruin with a few walls, an intact though damaged tower, and a small chapel.

Ruins of the Frankenstein Castle

Elixir of Life

The Mary Shelley connection to Frankenstein Castle (or burg Frankenstein) comes from stories about an alchemist named Johann Dippel, who was born in Frankenstein Castle in 1673 and later worked there. Dippel conducted experiments on corpses that he stole from a nearby graveyard. Historians believe that Mary Shelley heard tales about Dippel and used them as inspiration for her novel, Frankenstein.

Dippel formulated a substance known as Dippel's Oil, which was supposed to be equivalent to the 'elixir of life.' The oil was made from animals. With it, you wouldn't even have to have a Sorcerer's Stone in order to live forever. (Maybe you should keep this information away from Voldemort!)

Dippel tried to purchase Castle Frankenstein in exchange for his oil formula, which he claimed to have discovered. The offer was turned down. In popular lore, it is said that during his stay at Frankenstein Castle, Dippel also practiced with anatomy. There are rumors that he dug up bodies and performed medical experiments on them at the castle. After witnessing this, a local cleric may have warned his parishioners that Dippel had created a monster that was brought to life by a bolt of lightning.

Mary Shelly & Frankenstein's Castle

Castle Frankenstein was 'resurrected' in the romantic age of the 19th century as a part of the era's fascination with gothic and romantic literature. The inspiration for Shelley's work has been the subject of speculation ever since it was published. Connections of the name of the novel with an actual castle have never proven. There is no mention of the castle in Shelley's journals from the time. However, it is known that in 1814, prior to writing the famous novel, Shelley took a journey on the river Rhine. She spent a few hours in the town of Gernsheim, which is located about ten miles away from the castle.

Frankenstein Comic
Frankenstein Comic

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