King Ludwig’s famous Neuschwanstein castle may be Germany’s biggest tourist spectacle, but his intentions didn’t start out that way. They were born out of a combination of drama, imagination, and, according to the court officials that eventually committed him, a touch of madness. It’s safe to speculate that this madness was caused by the struggle between his sexuality and piousness, as well as major “daddy issues”. Prussia’s takeover of Bavaria in 1866 didn’t help either. All three of these concerns, as well as his love for theater, are evident throughout the unfinished castle he left behind when he died in 1886.
Ludwig grew up with a first-born son, joining his younger brother Otto for intense schooling and exercise. He escaped into his own wild imagination when he could. Practically forced into an engagement he later broke and struggling to please his father may have been a touch too much for his mind. When Ludwig’s father, King Maximillian II, died in 1864, Ludwig seized his opportunity to not only be a better ruler than his father had been, but also to build a bigger, better castle than his father did. He’d already scoped out the perfect place for a fairy tale castle: up the steep cliffs of the Alpines high above his childhood home Hohenschwangau Castle. He called this monstrous place “New Hohenschwangau” from the onset of design, literally displaying his desire to out-do his Father’s legacy.
Such an impressive castle would need inspiration, which now-King Ludwig had garnered from the earliest works of composer Wagner. Ludwig invited Wagner to Munich in 1864 and for many years after, funded the creation and presentation of countless plays and concerts. He also paid off his muse’s debts. Neuschwanstein became a kind of shrine to his favorite composer, depicting his works inside and out.
Vorder-hohenschwangau and Hinter-Hohenschwangau were two older, smaller castles were laid flat to start the foundation for Neuschwanstein (translated “New Swan Stone”, which is a play on Ludwig’s Father’s castle’s name “High Swan Region”.) Ludwig hired a scene painter Christian Jank to create the Romanesque design of the castle, further proving that performing arts guided his every decision in relation to his fairy tale castle. The plans included over 200 rooms and modern conveniences. The access roads to the site were completed June 1869, and first cornerstone was placed September 1869. At this point, Ludwig withdrew from his people and stayed in a bedroom at his father’s castle down the valley, using a telescope to keep eyes on his blooming home.
The difficult locale and complex design made the construction timeline extend from about 3 years to about 14. The bower and square tower were the first to be started, as well as the citadel. By 1873, only the gateway building and most of the exterior walls had been erected, and Ludwig finally stayed into his rooms in the gateway building. Sources can’t agree on a specific number, but its clear that King Ludwig slept less than 20 nights total in his fairy tale castle, and only visited it for 178 days. Within them, he oversaw and enjoyed the 14 lavish rooms that managed to be completed.
The Singer’s Hall is the entire fourth floor of the castle, a theater of sorts complete with a backdrop and benches along walls for spectators. Wagner’s Life of Parzifal decorates the walls, a legendary figure Ludwig II identified himself. Parzival became the Grail King through his chaste and piousness. It was never used in Ludwig’s time, but today small productions are sometimes done there.
The throne room doesn’t actually contain a throne, just a eerily empty dais. A grand chandelier overshadows various mosaics depicting biblical stories. Ludwig’s diaries help us understand that he used such visuals to remind himself what type of King he longed to be despite his illicit homosexual tendencies.
Ludwig’s bedroom was an intricate labor for over 14 carpenters, who spent four-and-a-half years carving the intricacy you see below. The passion-filled scenes of Wagner’s play based on Gottfried von Strasbourg’s poem “Tristan & Isolde” fill its walls and ceiling.
The Grotto is the whimsical remake of the venus cave from Tannhauser. The faux cave is a passageway from one room to another, complete with man-made stalagmites, colored lighting, and a waterfall. Its fantastical feel is reminiscent of Disney’s theme parks before their time.
A beautiful inner-garden was walled within a courtyard, an untamed outdoor space that Ludwig hoped to spend much of his future time in the warmer seasons.
The study is a simple yet richly painted room, depicting some of the picturesque scenes from Wagner’s plays on the wall, offered a desk and chair for the King to sit at. Sadly, he never used it.
The elegant design of the kitchen hints at its then-modern technology. In addition to the servant bell system that was installed, all of Neuschwanstein’s facilities had hot and cold running water, flushing toilets on each floor, a forced air heating system, and telephone lines.
An intimate oratory was finished while Neuschwanstein’s owner still lived. The alter and kneeling post offer a comfortable place to say solemn prayers. It’s simple beauty can’t be ignored.
The sitting room is elegantly furnished in blue, gold, and of course, Wagner’s creations.
The meticulously detailed tower boasts the absolute best views from Nueschwanstein Castle. Within it’s limestone walls is a ceiling painted like the night sky, conjuring a fantasy version of a wizard’s studying tower.
It’s easy to see the pull Ludwig felt as he watched his vision come to life even with foreign banks practically knocking down his door for payment. He must have been livid when he was forced into a madhouse in 1886. Within days, he and the doctor who’d helped get him institutionalized were found drowned in a pond they’d gone walking by. No one knows for sure exactly what happened. I’ll let you create your own version of the story.
A few months later on August 1st, Ludwig’s family opened the castle to the public. Over 50 million visitors have came to tour its wonder and learn even more details then I could put in one blog post. If you are considering a trip, be sure to plan your trip far in advance, and consider the warmer seasons since its high elevation brings mountains of snow in winter. July and August tend to be the busiest, with 6000+ visitors a day. Driving and parking in the area is difficult, but if you stay in Munich you can ride a train to Fussen below the castle and a bus up to the castle for your tour.
Have you been to Nueschwanstein Castle or heard the exaggerated tales or stories surrounding one of Germany’s favorite Kings? Please share anything about them in the comments below!