King of the Castles: the fantasy builder
In my languages’ classroom at school in England, the teacher had put up a
tourist poster of an amazing fantasy castle which I later found out was
called ‘Neuschwanstein’. As an adult I was able to visit this enchanting
19th century dream palace of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one of many built by
this mysterious and castle-obsessed monarch.
Ludwig II was brought up in
Hohenschwangau Castle, a mock-castle built by his father, King Maximilian
II. When Ludwig was only 18 his father died suddenly and Ludwig had to
ascend the throne unprepared. Already interested in German mythology and
obsessed by the opera of Wagner, one of the new king’s first actions was to
summon the composer to his court. Their music festivals and concerts seemed
to inspire the king to lose himself in a fantasy world in which he dressed
as characters from opera and designed Disney-esque castles that would serve
as sets for Wagner’s performances.
King Ludwig began
Neuschwanstein (meaning ‘the new swan on the rock’) in 1868. It was to be a
Romanesque fairy tale fortress with wondrous towers, not far from
Hohenschwangau. Perched on a rock, the castle would be seen against the sky.
Its walls were to be decorated with scenes from the legends behind Wagner’s
operas. Ludwig first occupied it in 1884, but the castle remained incomplete
at his death in 1886, and parts were never finished.
Entrance tickets for
Neuschwanstein (open daily except Christmas and New Year) must be bought at
the ticket office in Hohenschwangau village below the castle, where you also
park before walking up the path to the entrance. The apartments can only be
visited on a guided tour lasting 30 minutes. There are reduced ticket prices
if you want to see Ludwig’s childhood home of Hohenschwangau as well.
For a rural retreat, in 1886
King Ludwig built the ten-roomed private palace of Linderhof (open daily) in
the Graswang Valley near Ettal. Here, he commissioned gardens around a large
pool with a 25 metre high fountain in the romantic style. There are terraces
and cascades, with a music pavilion at the top, and a grotto. Further from
the palace a landscaped park leads to open meadows with views of the
mountains. (The park is closed from October to March.)
Versailles was the inspiration
for Herrenchiemsee, which in contrast to Linderhof is big, magnificent and
unfinished. It was begun in 1878 on an island in the Chiemsee, the largest
lake in Bavaria. The huge state rooms and the impressive State Staircase,
along with the Great Hall of Mirrors, are highlights of a guided tour
lasting 30-45 minutes. Allow time too for the Ludwig II Museum and the
gardens and park. From April to October you can ride in a carriage from the
boat pier to the palace, or if you are more energetic you can walk the 7 km
trail round the island.
The ‘Konigsschlösser’ combined
ticket allows you to visit Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee once
in a six month period for 24 euros.
Today tourists visiting King
Ludwig’s castles bring a huge amount of money to Bavaria – an irony when you
consider that his building obsession seems to have bankrupted the king and
caused him to be deposed. Where outsiders were once barred by the reclusive
monarch, 50 million people are estimated to have visited since his death!