When I was preparing to visit Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Bavaria, I found in one of the travel blogs an impression about the former as a monument to solitude. I thought, “What a nice title for a future blog post.” It is commonly known that a proper title is already half the battle. So, I only had to go to Bavaria, take some pictures of the castle, and develop this idea.
However, when I parked at parking lot number two in the village of Schwangau at the foot of the rock on which Neuschwanstein stands and left the car, I immediately realized that my own impression of the most beautiful castle in the world would be completely different.
Neuschwanstein Castle or Schloß Neuschwanstein truly stands upon a cliff among the other rocks, completely unapproachable and covered with an amazing forest. The castle is so unreal that looks like an alien construction located among the set decorations prepared for the filming of an advertising clip for Gösser beer.
Sure enough, this castle was not intended to provide protection against enemies. Its walls, gates, passages, and windows are quite incapable of withstanding a long siege or an attack. When you enter the gates, you understand that mounted knights would have no place to maneuver here, and protectors of the castle could not shoot at the attackers, throw down stones, or pour boiling tar on them.
For any enemy, it would be enough to place the artillery battery at the neighboring higher rock on the way to the Marienbrücke bridge, where now the specific platform with a beautiful view of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles is located, and bomb out the castle in a matter of hours.
Then why did the young Bavarian king, Ludwig II, who unexpectedly obtained the control over the whole kingdom as an adolescent of 19 years, build the castle in this very place on bare rock? To answer this question you’d better visit Hohenschwangau Castle, located nearby, on the swan lake Alpsee, which later was visited by the great Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. People say it was here that he started to create his ballet “Swan Lake.”
In this place, the symbol of a swan is present everywhere. This is the heraldic bird of the ancient house of the Schwangau counts. Maximilian II of Bavaria considered himself the inheritor of this clan. Ludwig and his brother grew up and shaped their lives here.
Hohenschwangau Castle is very comfortable and apparently designed for a calm family life rather than pompous receptions; however, every single wall in the rooms (yes, these are the rooms, not the halls) is decorated with very realistic battle scenes—blood, mutilated corpses, horses, people…
Apparently, the prince was supposed to become a harsh warrior, a fearless defender, a real king, but it turned out differently. Even one glance at his portrait is enough to understand that he would be no Richard the Lionheart.
Ludwig was keen on books, poetry, and music, and as a result contemporaries called him the Fairytale King. All his battles took place only on the opera scene and probably in his imagination. Later on, during the only war—when Bavaria with the German Confederation and Austria went to war against Prussia—Ludwig handed the military portfolio to his ministers and went out to Switzerland to visit Richard Wagner.
Thus, the poor boy was taken out of his romantic world and enthroned to rule the whole kingdom. I don’t think he liked it; however, this circumstance had some advantages: power and money, and Ludwig did not hesitate to use them. He began to turn his fairytale world into reality.
During his walks through the forest, the boy often admired the Bavarian landscape from Marienbrücke, the bridge over the 80-meter gorge with a waterfall at the bottom. Long ago, two medieval castles stood on the neighboring rocks, but only ruins were left in Ludwig’s time. The new Bavarian king decided to build a castle unequaled anywhere in the world at this very place—AND HE DID IT.
But was it a monument to his solitude? Then why there is a huge church, almost a cathedral, in the castle? Why are the women’s halls so big that they would be able to accommodate a whole harem and not one? What about the singing hall? And the kitchen? At the end of the excursion, you will see it and understand that, sure enough, this kitchen is not for the lone eater! Already on the way to the castle, you realize how big it is. A huge toy!
Ludwig II constructed Neuschwanstein as a perfect set decoration for the opera, and not only for operas by his favorite, Wagner, but for all the operas of the world. Though he copied Louis IV’s Versailles when fashioning the Herrenchiemsee, he gave free rein to his imagination for the design and construction of Neuschwanstein. Notice the eclecticism of the interior design: West, East, Asia… You can even see the palm and the Solomon Star here.
I doubt that the king would create such a majestic and at the same time fairytale castle with only the goal of walking alone through its beautiful halls. I would say Ludwig was building something greater. He was building a decoration for his long, happy, fairytale life among the people sharing his love of myths and legends, noble knights and fair ladies—for everything that was almost completely lost by modern society.
But he did not finish.
At first, the Bavarians announced he was mad:
– The first paragraph of the “medical” conclusion stated that Ludwig II built too many “nobody needs” castles having spent an enormous amount of money from the State treasury.
– The second: he disregarded matters of state.
– The third: he was suspected of homosexuality.
Well, could any of you consider a man with such symptoms a madman? One doctor with four students could! Even without examination of the “patient.”
Then, the Bavarians killed their king, just as the French killed their king 200 years earlier, and the Russians did the same 30 years after that!
Sure, Ludwig II almost bankrupted his kingdom with all his castles and palaces; however, nowadays, 100 years later, Bavaria (the richest state of Germany) is known in the world for three main things–beer, BMW, and the fairytale castle Neuschwanstein which was reproduced hundreds of times in the initial frame cartoons of Walt Disney–the great American fairytale creator.