Greetings from Neuschwanstein!

20 Sep

The Bavarian Alps and the Neuschwanstein Castle…

Looks like a scene straight out of a fairy tale, right?  Well, that’s because it is!  We spent our Sunday exploring the Bavarian Alps (about 3 hours from Stuttgart, in the southernmost region of Germany- pretty much touching the Austrian border) and it’s ‘main attraction,’ the Neuschwanstein Castle, Walt Disney’s inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty (and other princess stories!) castle.

Schloss Neuschwanstein, built in the late 1800s, is a Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by the reclusive King Ludwig II as his personal refuge, but construction took much longer than expected and the King died (under mysterious circumstances) less than two years after moving in. Just six weeks after his death, it was opened to the paying public to help offset the heavy construction debts. Today, more than 60 million people have visited, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer!

Ludwig actually grew up in the nearby castle (and by ‘nearby,’ I mean within sight of his new home), Schloss Hohenschwangau, where his mother also lived until her death (after Ludwig’s).  His late father, King Maximilian, had built the Neo-Gothic castle at the turn of the century, after stumbling on the ‘beautiful sight’ while out for a walk.

Hohenschwangau Castle…View from the valley. Directly behind me (and up!) is the Neuschwanstein Castle 🙂 )

In the valley between the two castles is the small village of Hohenschwangau that has quaint hotels, restaurants and shops.  It’s also where you can catch a horse-drawn carriage up to the castle 🙂

The 20 minute ride up the mountain is worth it just for the scenery alone.  Bundled up in our coats and blankets (the high got to near 50F that day, but in the shade and with the wind, let’s just say it was chilly!), the carriage winded its way through the forest, passing waterfalls and ruins along the way…

John said this reminded him of Tennessee…

And…not like Tennessee 🙂

Hang gliding over Forggensee Lake in the distance…Note: This is where King Ludwig ‘drowned.’

(Almost) Made it to the castle!

Ludwig was born in 1845 to very cold, distant and (at times), brutal parents. He and his brother, Otto, were strictly brought up with an emphasis on duty. Ludwig enjoyed dressing up, play acting, and creating make believe scenarios. He also loved money, his possessions and all the benefits that came with being wealthy. This was not to change- his vivid imagination, his tendency to isolate himself, and his pronounced sense of sovereignty were already evident long before Ludwig acceded to the throne at the age of 18 without any experience of life or politics, but adored by women.

King Ludwig II

Ludwig II was possessed by the idea of a holy kingdom by the Grace of God. In reality he was a constitutional monarch, a head of state with rights and duties and little freedom of action. For this reason he built a fantasy world around him in which, far removed from reality, he could feel he was a real king. From 1875 on he lived at night and slept during the day. His fantasy world was further maintained by “private performances” in the Hoftheater: operas and plays performed for the king alone.

The “ideal monarchical poetic solitude” which the king chose for himself was not compatible with his duties as a head of state, causing upset among his ‘cabinet members.’ The biggest issue? All of his projects (he built huge elaborate refuges all over the region!) cost way more than any king of the time could afford. From 1885, foreign banks threatened to seize his property to help cover the debts. The king’s refusal to react rationally led the government to declare him insane and depose him in 1886. The very next day, he died in mysterious circumstances, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.

The whole thing is kind of sad, don’t you think?  Ludwig sounds almost like the Michael Jackson of his time…

Entering the castle…

The inner courtyard…Interestingly, the castle was constructed of brick, then covered in limestone and marble…

The Throne Room ceiling with ‘Byzantine Crown’ chandelier..
Mosaic floor…200 million (yep, you read that correctly!) individual, hand-laid tiles…depicting the plants and animals of the Earth…
This made me sad…The head of the Throne Room (depicting Christ as the King of Kings), but missing the throne. Ludwig died the week before it was to be installed, so they threw it away 😦

King Ludwig’s Bedroom…Can you see the AWESOME carved wood above the bed??

I wouldn’t mind waking up to this every morning!
The Grotto…Between the Living Room and the Study King Ludwig II had an artificial stalactite cavern built. I want one!

View from the other side of the castle…Marienbruecke (Mary’s Bridge)…

What better place to leave the castle than through the (uber-modern for 19th century) kitchen! It’s actually the whole ground floor…

Our ride back down the mountain was just as gorgeous as the ride up, only a little bit nippier since the sun had started to set…Luckily, we munched on giant warm pretzels to help 🙂

Heading back down the mountain…

No horse-drawn carriage would be complete with a self-portrait 🙂

So what did you think of Mad King Ludwig’s Fairytale Castle?!  Pretty fabulous, right?  It was definitely a great day trip for us- afterall, we’ve waited weeks to go just waiting on a sunny forecast!  (You can see how it wouldn’t have been near as beautiful shrouded in clouds and rain!)  I will say this, though.  Yes, the castle was impressive, but we were most enthralled with the surrounding area- the rolling green hills, the jagged rocky cliffs, the timbered houses and grazing livestock…As a whole, it’s just BREATHTAKING.  The castle, we found most spectacular from afar…as a majestic backdrop to everything else.  Not that it wasn’t pretty up close, but it just didn’t have the same allure that many of the other castles we’ve visited have had. We think it could because Neuschwanstein is fairly ‘young,’ considering that we’ve been touring ones built more than 1000 years prior!  We’re used to seeing ‘ruins’ and the effects of time…Neuschwanstein is nearly perfect- pristine and crisp, if that makes sense.  John had a neat thought on our way home, too…The castle was built just 14 years before our house (in Summerville!)!  Yeah, wrap your brain around that one!


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