The Frankenstein Castle, near Darmstadt in Germany, looms over the surrounding countryside since many centuries. The area was colonized by the Franks in the 6th century, and some of them were called Frankenstein (the stone of the Franks). The castle was built in the 13th century, and during the Middle Ages saw many Frankenstein knights enlist, one of whom went to fight against Vlad the Impaler, commonly known as Dracula.
Throughout the history of the Castle, his strangest resident was probably Johann Konrad Dippel, a writer, preacher, theologian, mad scientist who was born there in 1673.
Konrad was the son of a Lutheran pastor who lived in the Castle of Frankenstein, the kind of son who worries the parent: restless, inquisitive, protester. He studied theology and voted for pietism, a current that wanted to reform the Lutheran faith in a more secular sense. In 1702 he was forbidden to publish theological works, later helped set up a laboratory in Berlin for making gold and, at one point, he ended up in prison on a Danish island for seven years due to political activities.
He traveled a lot and graduated in medicine, probably because he was fascinated by alchemy, a sort of combination of medieval superstition and modern chemistry. The bitter conflicts he had with the Lutheran church, but also with other pietists, led him to retire to the Frankenstein Castle, where he threw himself headlong into the search for the philosopher’s stone, to transform lead into gold, and the Elixir of life, that would make people live up to 135 years. Instead, he invented Dippel Oil, obtained from the distillation of animal bones, hairs and blood, always of animal origin (hopefully). Despite being dark, dense, bad and nauseating, it was produced until the middle of the 19th century.
Also the color that is still today called Blue of Prussia was invented by Dippel, then adopted by the Prussian army for its uniforms. Dippel, however, probably also devoted himself to much more disturbing research. One of his fellow theologians said: “He tried evil things”.
It seems that the scientist stole the corpses from the cemeteries, and made studies to try to steal the secrets of life. It also seems that he was trying to re-animate the bodies with potions and spells, and that he wanted to create the Elixir of life by distilling parts of the human body.
It is certainly true that Dippel dissected the animals to look for a potion that could exorcise the devil. His research made the rumor spread that he had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. For his part, Dippel never denied these rumors, probably to increase the sales of his oil.
Many are convinced that Dippel’s life and actions were among the inspirations of Mary Shelley (who almost certainly visited the German castle and its surroundings), for the creation of her Frankenstein, in addition to the well-known Italian scientist Giovanni Aldini. Although there is nothing to support this hypothesis, many aspects of Dippel’s life can find an echo in the Gothic novel par excellence.
Even the scientist’s death is covered with legendary stories: in 1734 Dippel lived in the castle of Wittgenstein, near Berleburg, where he went on with his experiments. It seems that he had a stroke and died there, although his friends claimed he was poisoned. By his own hand or that of another, it is unclear. Perhaps after swallowing the Blue of Prussia, to experience if he had any beneficial properties.
His body had become all blue!
The Castle Frankenstein is now in ruins, with only two towers, a restaurant and a chapel. However, the connection to Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” keeps it a popular destination, especially for Halloween. There is also a popular annual party, that was started by American soldiers stationed near the castle in World War II. Until it was deactivated in 2008, the US Army’s 233rd Base Support Battalion in Darmstadt conducted an annual Frankenstein Castle run which finished at the tower.