Stuart Forster heads to Kaltenberg Castle in Bavaria, Germany, and outlines reasons to visit the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier, one of the world’s biggest medieval-style festivals.
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The name of the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier translates into English as the Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament. Its highlights include jousting and demonstrations of martial skills as part of a spectacular show. Jesters and musicians perform too and there’s a medieval style village to view.
Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament
Some of the world’s top stunt riders participate in Kaltenberg’s tournament show. The spectacle takes place in a purpose built 9,000-seat arena with an all-weather surface. A further 4,000 spectators can view the show from standing areas.
The Kaltenberg Ritterturnier was the brainchild of Prince Luitpold of Bavaria in 1979. A member of the Wittelsbach family that ruled Bavaria from late in the 12th century until 1918, the prince lives at Kaltenberg Castle.
The castle was first mentioned in documents dating from 1292. Yet there’s no clear evidence whether tournaments were held in the castle grounds until nearly 700 years later.
Origins of Kaltenberg Ritterturnier
Prince Luitpold invited British reenactors over to Germany to put on the inaugural show. The initial Kaltenberg Ritterturnier was the first medieval-style tournament held on German soil in the modern era.
“It was quite a rustic party but we got them over. I think there was 25 of them, eight on horses. We didn’t really know what would happen, we just put them on a field and went to the press and said we had a tournament,” recalled Prince Luitpold of the origins of the Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament.
“The result was that we had something like 6,000 people coming on the second day. We were not geared up for that! The food ran out, we did not have enough toilets, nobody was there to check the tickets on the way in or out. It was disastrous but fun!” said the prince with self-deprecating humour.
Kaltenberg Castle’s medieval tournament
Huge changes have been made to the Kaltenberg Tournament since it was first held. The well-managed event’s appeal extends to families looking for a day out, adults seeking an alternative night out and people interested in history.
Attendance is significantly larger than in the first year but there’s no longer risk of food supplies running short. Stalls serve snacks inspired by delicacies eaten during the Middle Ages and beer flows in ample supply.
Kaltenberg Castle is the headquarters of the König Ludwig International brewery. Barrels of König Ludwig Dunkel, an acclaimed dark beer, don’t have far to travel to reach stalls on the castle grounds.
The production standards of the tournament show are high. It features pyrotechnics that would not look out of place in an action movie.
“Today people are used to seeing Hollywood films. What we do is like a Hollywood film live, at the same quality,” commented Prince Luitpold.
“This means if you do a jousting tournament and somebody gets knocked off the horse, this must be at full speed…this has to be hardcore live stuntman work, otherwise people get bored,” said the tournament’s founder.
There are historical precedents for the tricks and spectacular riding performed during the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier.
“Funnily enough, even back in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, they already had stunts,” said Prince Luitpold, who is keen for the tournament to capture the spirit of the events held centuries ago.
The tournament does not aim to recreate life in a specific year. That might prove unduly restrictive. Hundreds of participants wear costumes based on clothing worn during the Middle Ages.
Bavaria’s Wittelsbach heritage
Prince Luitpold is the great-grandson of King Ludwig III, the last of Bavaria’s kings. His family, the Wittelsbachs, have long played an important role in Bavarian history.
The craftspeople who sell wares within Kaltenberg’s medieval village are capable of creating their products by hand. They employ artisanal techniques similar to those used in bygone times, when the Wittelsbachs ruled over Bavaria.
It’s possible to see the likes of a blacksmith working at a forge and beating metal upon an anvil. That helps inform youngsters about the effort and skills that went into producing metal items in the past.
Jesters and the Gauklernacht
Musicians and jesters provide entertainment during the Kaltenberg Knight’s Tournament.
Since 2004 a Gauklernacht or ‘Jester’s Night’ has featured during the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier. It’s the only evening without a tournament show. Acrobats, conjurers, musicians and jesters are the focus of visitors’ attention on the five stages of the medieval village. Story tellers feature too.
All of the tournament’s participants participate in a parade before the show in the arena.
Things to do at the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier
1. View medieval-style jousting
Attend a tournament show to see lances shattering as skilled stunt riders demonstrate jousting.
2. Meander through a medieval-style village
Kaltenberg’s medieval-style village features approximately 150 stalls. Wander between them to observe craftspeople demonstrating their skills.
Pause to buy a souvenir if you see something that you like.
3. Listen to medieval music
Tap your feet to rocking, medieval-style music performed on the five stages of the Kaltenberg’s medieval village.
4. Watch the procession
View musicians, jesters and other folk in costume in the colourful procession that snakes through the tournament grounds.
5. Drink a locally brewed beer
Kaltenberg Castle is the headquarters of the König Ludwig Brewery and beer is brewed onsite. You can order one from the stalls on the tournament grounds.
6. Be entertained by jesters
Jesters provide entertainment. Look out for jugglers, acrobats and people walking on stilts in the village, during the procession and in the arena.
7. Watch a remarkable live show
The multifaceted live show features elements of legend and live action.
It really is spectacular.
Map of Kaltenberg Castle
The map below shows the location of Kaltenberg Castle:
Zoom into the map to seen more details. Zoom out to view the castle’s location in Bavaria.
Travel to Kaltenberg
Kaltenberg Castle is approximately 56 kilometres (35 miles) from central Munich. The drive typically takes a little under an hour. It involved driving west along the A96, then heading north at Windach.
Munich’s suburban railway system, the S-Bahn, runs to Geltendorf, four kilometres (2.5 miles) southeast of Kaltenberg Castle. The westerly terminus of the system’s S-4 line is a five minute taxi ride from Kaltenberg Castle.
Trains also run between Munich and Geltendorf.
Kaltenberg Ritterturnier parking
Around 4,500 parking places are available for cars near Kaltenberg Castle during the tournament. Parking spots are signposted and charges apply.
Parking for camper vans is also available.
Hotels in Bavaria
Search for hotels in Bavaria on Booking.com:
Books about Bavaria and medieval tournaments
Planning a trip to Bavaria or interested in medieval tournaments? You may find the following books worth buying:
The Medieval Tournament as Spectacle: Tourneys, Jousts and Pas d`Armes, 1100-1600 by Alan V. Murray and Karen Watts is available both as a hardback book:
See the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier website for further details about the tournament and to order tickets. The 2022 edition is taking place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 15 and 31 July.
Stuart Forster is an award-winning freelance travel writer who speaks fluent German. His work has been published in National Geographic Traveller, The Independent and Discover Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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