The Celtic Fort of Otzenhausen

A hilltop fortress in Germany has several different names, a mind-boggling number of stones… and has been around for almost 2,500 years.

Quite unintentionally, “The adventures of Daisy the bus” is beginning to follow a bit of a pattern. We go somewhere, stumble across something rather fascinating, wonder where all the other tourists are, and enthusiastically write about it. What we find is often rather large and almost always strangely beautiful.  Most surprising of all, our discovery can be right beside a major tourist attraction, yet blithely ignored by the visiting masses.

The Celtic Fort of Otzenhausen – in Saarland, south-west Germany – ticks all of these boxes and more. It is, quite simply, one of the largest remaining fortifications of the Celtic world. This mammoth historical site is signposted from a neighbouring motorway, is located only a few kilometres away from a huge  “CenterParcs” resort, has an epic north wall straight out of a real-life “Game of Thrones”…

… and, predictably, we were the only ones there.

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A (very) brief history

Historians believe that the Celtic Fort (often referred to as the “Hillfort of Otzenhausen“, the “Hunnenring” or the “Keltischer Ringwall“) was first built around 2,500 years ago. Over the next three to four hundred years, it was occupied and progressively expanded before being quite hastily abandoned. Occupying an 18.5 hectare site atop an imposing hill, its rapid demise and true purpose have never fully been discovered; perhaps it was a sacred seat of power, perhaps a town-like settlement (the most likely scenario), or perhaps merely a rather over-the-top lookout station.

Since then it has been used sporadically. The Romans built a small temple at the peak of the hill, but didn’t seem to fancy it as a settlement. Various tribes may later have sheltered here, as did the local population during the Thirty Years War, but for the most part of its long, long history, the Celtic Fort of Otzenhausen has stood empty. Alone on its heavily-forested mountain, it has slowly, quietly crumbled away from its past glories and countless untold tales.


Our visit

Visitors to the Celtic Fort are greeted with an optimistically large car park, hinting that this site has (or has expected) many more tourists during the peak season (we visited in February). I can’t help but wonder how many casual summer tourists never make it up to the hilltop fortress itself. It is, after all, a hilltop fortress, and a long(ish) and steep climb is required to get even to the gateway of the outer wall.

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Along the way we found an interesting diversion for the kids (themed, oddly, on the Romans, not the Celts). We thought this may be the start of a series of  hands-on kid-friendly exhibits, but never found anything else similar throughout our hike.

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Visitors taking a slightly longer but less steep route to the top are treated to a highly enjoyable series of (loosely) celtic-themed sculptures. This particularly striking one  – if you’ll excuse the pun – is called “Sword Slash”. I rather liked it, and many of the others too.

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We confess that our little ones didn’t make it to the top, but this was more to do with time pressure (we were due to meet some friends near Mannheim) rather than any particular difficulties caused by the terrain. However, Child #1 and I hiked purposefully upwards and were rewarded by a visit to the most spectacular remaining section of this ancient fortress: the north wall.

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Like a real-life Westeros, the site of the Celtic Fort profits from natural topographic protection on the south, east and west sides (in this case via steep slopes). The north side, however, backs onto a plateau and so was susceptible to attack from Wildlings, the Others and (admittedly more plausibly) Germanic tribes. The Celts’ Trumpian solution to this problem was to build this stupendously impressive wall.

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Photos do not do justice to this site. It may look like a big pile of stones, but don’t judge it too harshly: 2,100 years ago it was a much more structured affair, as illustrated wonderfully in several multilingual information boards and this painting found in a shelter in the inner keep.

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Remaining sections today easily top 10 metres high, but it would have risen to almost double that during its defensive heyday. All in all, around 2.5km of wall would have surrounded the fort, using 240,000 cubic metres of stones – that’s around 9,000 railway carriages of rock! Luckily for the wall builders, these stones were mostly the result of local glacial action and erosion over millions of years – they merely had to be “collected” from the surrounding environment, not quarried and transported to the site of the fortress. Still, that’s a LOT of collecting!

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The steps, by the way, are clearly not a celtic feature but they are surprisingly old, built to facilitate the visit of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1837. He visited the Celtic Fort after hearing the pleas of a local Count, who recognised the historical importance of the site and was becoming rather annoyed at local inhabitants using the stones as a handy source of building material. Due to this intervention, measures were put in place to prevent further destruction and thus preserve this historical site for future generations.

So… Count Villers von Burgesch – thank you for a fascinating and educational afternoon in the fresh air of Saarland!

Daisy the bus visited the Celtic Fort of Otzenhausen in February 2017 (and was the only vehicle in the car park)

(c) 2017 Jonathan Orr


Practical information for visiting the Celtic Fort of Otzenhausen

  • It’s just outside the town of Otzenhausen, roughly half-way between Trier and Kaiserslautern and well-signposted from the adjacent motorway (A62).
    • Ample parking onsite.
  • We were not asked for any admission fee. However, it would appear from the website that a small fee is requested during the summer season (April to October).
  • Prepare to hike. The distances may not seem far (a round circuit is 4.2km) but the terrain is steep and rocky: wear appropriate footwear.
    • Access with an all-terrain baby buggy may be (just about) possible if you choose a slightly longer hiking route.
  • The celtic sculptures line the main hiking routes up to the hillfort. There are apparently 18 sculptures in total, but we couldn’t find some (perhaps removed for the winter?). Highly recommended anyway.
  • We stayed at the nearby CenterParcs Bostalsee, but we personally do not recommend it. For a balanced review of the resort, read this post by our fellow Luxembourgish family travel bloggers Letz Fly Away.

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Author: daisythebus

Father-of-four based in Luxembourg. I write about "off the beaten track" travel adventures with my family. Expect to read about nature, outdoor activities, the arts, authenticity, and alternative ways of discovering the world around us.

35 thoughts on “The Celtic Fort of Otzenhausen”

  1. We love stumbling upon weird and wonderful places during our travels and also tend to end up in the lesser known but just as magnificent spots. This looks like it would be loads of fun for our two boys to explore!

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  2. I grew up in a Celtic nation (Wales), and I enjoy hearing about remaining features. I had no idea there was a fort this intact in Germany. Maybe part of its charm is its little-known nature? Whatever the case, thanks for sharing this secret place with #CulturedKids!

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  3. It does has a Game of Throne kind of vibe! And so fun to read you guys tumble upon these rare places very often. It was indeed a very educational read. #fearlessfamtrav

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  4. Gosh what an incredible place, such a shame that more people don’t visit it! Great for you to have it to yourselves though! We intend to travel around Europe for a year in a camper van in a few years’ time so we will definitely pay this place a visit. It will be an educational year for our children as well as doing plenty of travel so historical sites like this will be perfect. Thanks so much for letting us know about it! And thank you for linking up to #familytraveltips.
    Nat.x

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  5. What a hidden gem and perfect for those inquisitive and imaginative minds! I would love to visit here. Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips Pinned and flipped!

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  6. Fascinating place, and highly entertaining and informtive read, as usual 😉 The scale of this fort is unbelievable, how sad (in a way) that there are so few visitors there. As you know there are lots of Celtic forts and stone circles here in Ireland, but not sure any is as large as this one. Wow!
    #CountryKids

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    1. Oh, Ireland… I do love it so. Although Otzenhausen is impressively huge, it still doesn’t compare (imho) with the sheer beauty of the magnificent Grianan of Aileach in Donegal, not far from Derry / Londonderry. I really should go back there soon… Thanks for reading!!

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  7. This looks fab! Great pics. We were virtually the only visitors at a huge fortress reconstruction in Germany the year before last – it was near the edge of Germany, almost as far as the Polish border. Everywhere we went in Germany we marvelled at the lack of crowds at really amazing museums and attractions. We’re so used to the South coast/London crowds #countrykids

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    1. Yes, this is also something that I have noticed. Germany is a densely populated country too, but there seems to be a greater dispersion of tourists across the various regions and sites. Also the attractions in Germany are not as commercially developed as they are in the UK (this is a good thing), meaning that you are (much) more likely to have a great find all to yourself. Thanks for reading!!

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  8. What an awesome place to find by chance! I love sites that have such rich history. I’m sure in real life it must have been even more impressive than in the pictures. Great find! #FearlessFamTrav

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  9. We often hear of Romans building walls but rarely the Celts. My children are studying this at the moment they would have loved this day out. #CountryKids

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  10. What a great discovery and to find you have it all to yourself too despite a massive car park. Sounds like wandering a bit further than the average tourist really paid off. That stone heap looks like it was quite something in it’s day. A fascinating history and a handy set of steps created along the way to make the climb manageable today. I hope you keep up sharing your unusual family discoveries, they are great to read about.

    Thank you for sharing with me on #CountryKids

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    1. Thanks for the nice comment! The car park was a bit weird – it wasn’t exactly “massive” but was certainly built to accommodate 50, maybe even 100 cars (I didn’t count) which seemed a bit over-the-top on a grey weekend in February. Maybe it fulfils its potential on sunny summer bank holidays, I just don’t know… 😉

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    1. The wall is undoubtedly the highlight of the visit. The rest of the fort is also very interesting, but quite a bit of imagination is required to mentally reconstruct its past splendours. The wall, on the other hand, has the “wow” factor, even when collapsed. Thanks for reading!

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  11. You do have an impressive knack for finding places everyone else seems to miss – this looks astonishing and I’d never heard of it. In fact I never really associate the Celts with Germany. Love the Game of Thrones analogy too 🙂 #countrykids

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    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting – and yes, I know you from Instagram too. Love your photos and your #ExplorerKids community. These type of places are my absolute favourite finds and I hope to be able to share many more of them on #ExplorerKids over the coming years. Greetings from Luxembourg!

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