On a high hill flanked by the Tegeler Mountain in the Bavarian Alps sits Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig’s “Fairy Tale Castle”.
King Ludwig didn’t look far to build his fantasy castle. Hohenschwangau Castle, where Ludwig was raised, lies just across the valley on a lower hill.
You must park in the valley and either take a bus or horse-drawn coach or walk up a fine mountain road 30-40 minutes to reach Neuschwanstein.
Because of Covid, tours that normally take 60 people every 5 minutes through the castle, now are limited to a maximum of 10, and get booked up weeks in advance. When we realized our vaccination status would finally allow us to use the flight tickets to Germany that had been put on hold since March 2020, we decided a Southern Germany tour would be included in our itinerary. And Neuschwanstein was first on our list of attractions. We made sure we got our tickets for the castle tour before we scheduled any other leg of the trip.
We brought these court jestery masks especially for Neuschwanstein. However in Germany more medically stringent FFP2 masks are required for all public transportation and museums etc., so we wore our “fun” masks only for the selfie you see here.
A lot of people call this the Disneyland castle, which is understandable since Walt Disney was inspired by Neuschwanstein when Cinderella’s Castle was designed for the theme park. Neuschwanstein was built in the 1860s through the 1880s, 70 years before Disneyland.
The castle is also often likened to a movie set, also understandable since Hollywood production designers of the golden age clearly took inspiration from it.
But another reason that the castle looks less like a “real” castle and more like a fantasy is because that is what it is. King Ludwig wanted to build the perfect medieval castle, but it is not a castle based on historical fact but one based on 19th century romantic notions of the medieval period, one fed far more by myth and Wagner’s operas than medieval reality.
So it may be a fitting irony that King Ludwig obliterated the remains of an actual medieval castle that stood on this hill so that he could build Neuschwanstein.
Neuschwanstein was never completed. King Ludwig was declared insane and deposed – and then died in a mysterious drowning incident along with his doctor/jailer – before he could finish it.
I don’t think King Ludwig was mad. He was an unworldly narcissist with unreasonable, grandiose architectural visions that were bankrupting the Bavarian treasury. Having the king declared mad – by a panel of doctors who never even met with Ludwig – was obviously a desperately corrupt measure by the politicians of the time, in cahoots with Ludwig’s uncle who would become regent, to stave off financial ruin for Bavaria. Neuschwanstein was at least the third massive and massively expensive building project King Ludwig was creating for himself. He imagined himself being another Louis XIV – but his Versailles was not even designed to impress or subdue the kingdom’s nobility but built to be the perfect environment for his own solitary sensibilities. After decades of extravagant self-indulgent building, Bavaria could or would not pay for his extravagances anymore.
And so they got rid of him.
We have been looking at pictures taken from outside the castle, walking around much of its western and southern sides.
Now our designated tour time was approaching.
First we were allowed into the inner courtyard.
Then we were taken in for our tour. There were just 6 of us for this English language tour. It was like having a private tour. Taking photographs was not allowed, which may have been a blessing, because I would have wanted to take a thousand, there was so much to see.
I bought a book of Ludwig’s castles, and will share just a few excerpts from it here to give you an idea of Ludwig’s taste in home decor.
There is far more to see inside, like a room shaped like an actual grotto, and many references to Wagner’s operas. Lohengrin especially figures prominently, naturally, with its prominent inclusion of a swan, which is the symbol of the Bavarian royal family (Both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein have “swan” in their names).
Below, the view of the valley from the main balcony of Neuschwanstein. That’s the Alpsee to the left and Hohenschwangau to the right.
Behind Hohenschwangau to the right is the Schwansee (So many swan references!). We took a swim in the Schwansee later that day and it’s a brilliantly refreshing dip that offers lovely views of both castles.
The Marienbrücke – Marienbridge – unfortunately closed for renovations at this time.
Later the same day we toured Hohenschwangau, reclaimed from what had been a derelict castle by King Ludwig’s father Maximilian II, and royal residence during Ludwig’s childhood and adolescence.
It’s a pretty grand palace in its own right, but clearly Ludwig had far grander ideas, when you look not only at what he had built in Neuschwanstein but also Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee.
Ed and I got to Linderhof. I’ll post pictures from there another time.
Photography again wasn’t permitted indoors. Let’s just say what was more than good enough for the King and Queen, Ludwig’s parents, and their household, would be put to shame hundredfold by what Ludwig would have in mind for himself as soon as he inherited the thrown when only 18 years old.
A short walk from Hohenschwangau lies what’s left (not much) of the ruins of the original medieval castle Hohenschwangau zum Frauenstein, which inspired Ludwig’s father Maximillian to resurrect the new Hohenschwangau nearby.
It’s also the spot for a lovely view of both castles.