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  • Day10

    Neuschwanstein Castle

    September 13, 2019 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    We met up with our tour group at the main train station, a brief walk of about 5 minutes from our apartment. We set off about 9.45am on a coach for the 2 hour drive southwest of Munich into the heart of Bavaria, the land of the happy cows - reputedly the happiest in the world. The Bavarians celebrate their cows at a festival, which happens to be tomorrow. The villages have a parade with some of their cows, and the children make flower garlands for them. No doubt they also drink a lot of beer.

    We also learnt about the tradition and history behind the maypole. Each town has a maypole, and each year a new one is built and painted (white and blue). It also depicts pictures (the tradition began at a time when many people could not read) of all the services available in the town, e.g. butcher, blacksmith, tailor etc. The maypole is prepared in April from a newly cut down tree, and erected in the centre of town on 1 May to celebrate the end of winter and the approaching summer and harvests. There is also a rivalry between villages, where they try and steal each others maypoles, and so it is a carefully kept secret as to where the pole is hidden. If a pole of a rival village is stolen, then the village must provide food and drink to those that stole it, and those that stole it must return it and help the villagers erect it. These Bavarians are a crazy lot. In these villages all houses must be built in the same style, no exceptions.

    Neuschwanstein Castle is very close to the Austrian border, and situated in the lovely town of Hohenschwangau, perched high up on a crag surrounded by gorges. The castle looks quite magical, and it inspired Walt Disney when he designed both the castle in Snow White, as well as the logo for Disney. We were lucky to have a beautiful day - clear blue sky and sunshine, which really added to the castle’s charm. On arrival, we were split into groups, and we were lucky enough to be allocated unto Sarah’s group. We first went off to grab lunch, which we ate on the forefront of lake Alpsee. After lunch, we walked around the area a bit before heading up to the castle.

    Ludwig ll had spent much time in the area as a child and teenager, as his father had built a castle (Schloss Hohenschwangau) in the town as a summer home for the family). Ludwig and his younger brother Otto spent most summers in this area, and his mother loved tracking through the surrounding alps, not a common practice for a queen in the 1800,s.

    Ludwig II was known as the fairytale king, the Swan King and the mad king, but he was loved by his subjects. He ascended to the throne at the ripe old age of 18, after his father died of Cholera. Ludwig had not been close to his father, and so had no real idea of what it meant to be King. His idea of a King was based on how they had ruled in Medieval times, which did not work well in the 1860’s as he was a constitutional monarch who had to answer to the parliament, and did not have absolute power.

    Ludwig had several passions as a young man - music, painting, poetry, opera and architecture. He formed a close relationship with the German composer Richard Wagner, who was 30+ years older than Ludwig. His favourite opera was Lohengrin by Wagner. He saw it for the first time at the age of 15, and fell in love with the story of tragic love - Wagner’s operas appealed to the king’s fantasy-filled imagination.

    Wagner had a reputation as a political radical and philanderer who was constantly avoiding creditors. He and Ludwig became close, but Wagner’s perceived extravagant and scandalous behaviour in Munich was unsettling for the conservative government, and so he was forced to leave Germany. He settled in Switzerland and was supported by Ludwig from afar.

    Ludwig had homosexual tendencies but, as a devout Catholic, he denied his true feelings, although he did have a number of close friendships with men and he never married (he was engaged to his cousin Sophie but couldn’t go through with the marriage).

    Ludwig became a recluse, avoiding contact with people as much as possible. He was very sensitive and creative and really hated Munich, and so avoided going there at all costs.

    Ludwig built three fairytale castles and had plans for a further four. He had gone into debt personally to build these castles to the tune of 7 million dollars. In fact, he did not get the interior of Neuschwanstein completed - only 6 rooms are complete and we toured them today. They are over the top and ostentatious, and reflect Ludwig’s recession into a world of fantasy and isolation.

    Ludwig was declared mad by the parliament, placed under house arrest and was dead at 40. Mystery surrounds his death. He supposedly drowned in Lake Starnberg, along with the head psychologist who had been instrumental in declaring him mad without having ever examined him (it was all based on information provided by government officials). His death is still a mystery 150 years later. There are a multitude of theories about what happened, but most of them are just pure speculation.

    After touring the furnished rooms of the castle, we decided to walk up to Marienbrücke to get a different (most spectacular) view of the castle. After that, we decided on the recommendation of our guide Sarah to hike down through the Gorge to get back to the bus. This was fantastic, with great views of a waterfall and different aspects of the castle. This took us about 50 minutes, but was worth the effort.

    The other spectacular sight we witnessed today was people paragliding off the alpine mountain situated behind and way above the castle, the weather conditions were perfect.
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