Bavarian Castles (to die for)

It is believed by many Germans that the deposition and mysterious death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria was primarily caused by his commissioning and attempted construction of the fantastic Neuschwanstein Castle. Yes, as magnificently beautiful as this castle next to the Alpsee is, this Region is home to a dark history of conspiracy, alleged insanity, and perhaps even murder.

Appointed to the throne as an 18-year old and having full-control over royal Bavarian revenues surely worked detrimental wonders to Ludwig’s ego. While France, under the control of Napoleon, was readily militating and seeking westward expansion, Ludwig largely ignored such threats and state-affairs in pursuit of accomplishing a variety of extravagant artistic and architectural projects. Accompanied by a host of summer homes and luxurious palaces, Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle stands out as one of the most impressive architectural feats in not only Germany, but entire world. Resting up on-top of a mountain, this fairytale-esque castle exhausted a huge chunk of Bavaria’s royal funds and labor pool. Defying all attempts by his Ministers to restrain him, Ludwig continued to borrow extensively, until he was declared “insane” and taken into custody by a government commission at the castle. The next day, Ludwig left for a walk around the castle grounds with his doctor and appointed care-giver, Dr. Bernhard von Grudden. The two of them were never seen alive again.

Ludwig’s death was officially ruled a suicide by drowning, but the official autopsy report indicated that no water was found in his lungs. While I would love to dive into the conspiracy theories surrounding Ludwig’s death, that is not my intention of this post. If you’re interested in such topics, I highly recommend reading up on it (or visiting the castle yourself to find out)!

You can find both Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle two hours by train or driving just outside of Munich. In the small Bavarian town of Füssen, you can catch a bus to the sea-side town of Schwangau, the “town of Swans,” where both these castles are situated. The two castles, sitting on separate sides of the Alpsee, makes for an extremely fun day-trip with astonishing views and fun trails to hike. Both castles are accessible by hiking trails, but you’re going to have to pay for a tour to actually get inside these behemoths (you can buy tickets once you get to Schwangau).

I recommend going to Hohenschwangau Schloss first because Neuschwanstein Castle is a bit of a hike from the town center. The Hohenschwangau Castle was originally constructed by Crown Prince Maximillian of Bavaria in 1836 and is home to a remarkable collection of fresco paintings. This castle was not only King Ludwig II’s home as a child, but also served as his summer home an observation point for the construction of his new Neuschwanstein Castle. Hohenschwangau has beautiful gardens, courtyards, and fountains and the entirety of the castle will be shown to you during to tour. Leaving Hohenschwangau, make sure to hike back into town along the Alpsee. This “sea,” or rather glorified lake (in American standards) is still pretty remarkable. Most Bavarian knights-tales and folklore originated in this area; this view of the sea, Alps Mountains, and giant swans swimming in the water serves as a pretty good introduction to Bavarian culture.

There is a shuttle line that drives from town up to Neuschwanstein castle, but it is only around a 30-minute hike if you are feeling adventurous. Along the hike, there are two remarkable vantage points to viewing the castle in its entirety – the base of the castle and a bridge behind the castle that spans over a waterfall and between two mountain peaks. I recommend visiting both before heading in!

Walking through the Gatehouse of the castle is truly a breathtaking experience. You might recognize the castle from its exterior – its been in several movies and was the Inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle – but the interior of the castle is even more spectacular. Neuschwanstein Castle consists of several individual structures which were erected over a length of 150 metres on the top of a cliff ridge. The elongate building is furnished with numerous towers, ornamental turrets, gables, balconies, pinnacles and sculptures. Inside, each room is more luxurious than the next. Your tour should take you through all of King Ludwig II’s private quarters, hidden doorways, grotto, and personal choir room. I urge you to spend as much time as possible up on this mountain!

After the tour, head back into town and order yourself a Groß (large) König Ludwig’s Dunkel Bier. After all that hiking, there’s really nothing more satisfying than a Bavarian beer – rain or shine.

I am finally getting Wifi in my apartment on Monday, so expect to see my posts get flooded with a ton of pictures. Hopefully you are reading this with the pictures already included. With Internet on the way, expect to see post much more frequently.

– W