There is nothing quite like a Greifvogel (raptor) in flight over the mountains, a dark silhouette smoothly gliding through the cloudless blue sky. Made instantaneously recognizable by both its size and its pattern of movements.
Imagine this: You ready your camera, waiting for the perfect shot. Shielding your eyes from the midafternoon sun, you lose sight of it, but only for a moment. You’ve located it again, you can just make it out against the green mountain backdrop. Effortlessly, it changes its path, heading back the way it came, circling overhead, searching for something. You line up the perfect shot as the bird approaches, holding your arms steady as it glides ever closer. Then just as you feel the shutter begin to click, enormous wings knock the camera from your hand. Too late to duck, the bird grazes your head as you drop your camera to the ground. The bird ignores both you and your camera as it makes for the trainer perched on the ledge above your head.
This is what I imagine was going through the head of the man sitting just a few feet away from me at the at Falkenhof Schloss Rosenburg raptor show, as a low flying eagle knocked his camera to the ground.
Schloss Rosenburg is located above the town of Riedenburg, a 45 minute drive from Regensburg. The Falkenhof is merely one of several attractions in the lovely little town along the banks of the Altmühl River. Others include a sommerrodelbahn (which is basically a toboggan run without the snow), a crystal museum, several hiking paths, camping sites and mini golf, just to name a few.
On this particular outing, our trip was limited to the Falkenhof. We arrived at parking lot, a short hike from the castle, with plenty of time to spare before the show. A short walk through the woods later, we emerged from the shadows into the glaring sun of the castle courtyard. Several days of rain had left us wondering what that brilliant orb in the sky was. We paid our entrance fee (7 Euro for adults, 4 Euro for children) and set off to visit the birds.
The Falkenhof is home to several breeds of eagles, vultures, hawks, falcons, and owls. All of the information and the entire show was in German, so I wasn’t able to understand everything. It’s difficult to translate effectively while you are trying to keep your eyes on giant swooping birds, especially after what happened to the gentleman sitting near us. That didn’t make the show any less enjoyable, although it did leave me wondering about the birds and the mission of the show. According to the website (also in German), all of the birds are bred in captivity, many at the Falkenhof. They also work in cooperation with Ludwig-Maximillian Universität München, allowing students to gain valuable experience working with the birds.
After visiting the birds, we walked through the castle, which was undergoing some sort of exterior renovations. At the time of our visit, the onsite restaurant, the Burgkeller, was completely closed off. Although if you are hungry, there is a small snack stand located just outside the castle entrance. There isn’t much to the interior of the castle. Only a few rooms are open to the public, most of which hold taxidermies ranging in size from the smallest of house mice to a giant brown bear. We meandered past dioramas of nesting eagles, raptors caught mid-hunt, and a small forest glen. We observed the stark difference in egg size and marveled at the bird skeletons and a small butterfly collection. It took less than 45 minutes to peruse, it would have taken longer if I had stopped to translate all of the information around the displays.
The main attraction though, was the bird show. We found a spot on the rough rock wall where we could enjoy the warm afternoon sun, and waited for the show to begin. First up were the owls, then the smallest birds of prey, so swift it was nearly impossible to follow them with your eyes, let alone capture them on film. Next came the Eagles. Unlike many bird shows, the birds didn’t make just one flight over the crowd. Here, the trainers moved in circles around the grounds, releasing and re-releasing the birds into the air. This made for some very personal interactions, which were at times alarmingly close. The last birds to fly above were the vultures. They seemed reluctant to heft their own body weight into the air, and as they lazily swooped just above our heads, their giant wings unfolded, spectators scrambled to either side. Visitors seemed particularly intent on avoiding another incident.
I thought the show ended with the vultures, but then they brought some of the smaller birds back out, and it wasn’t long before raptors, large and small filled the sky. Everywhere you looked there was another bird. If one held your gaze too long, you risked being flown over by another, quite possibly larger bird. Spectators ducked left and right in a dance directed by the birds above us.
The show lasted about an hour, I was enjoying the show so much that I completely lost track of time. The kids had a great time too. Once the show started, they were having fun trying to catch the birds on camera, and ducking as birds flew above them. If you visit, and I recommend it, choose your seats carefully, you never know how low those big birds are going to come swooping overhead. And bring a cushion to sit on, those rocks were not comfortable.
Falkenhof Schloss Rosenburg is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 – 5, with shows at 11 and 3.