Monday, June 18, 2012

Crazy King Ludwig and His Castles

When I went on my first trip to Europe with the IUP Chorale in 1998, we visited one of King Ludwig's castles, the Castle Linderhof.

Thanks, Wikipedia!
Linderhof had some crazy amenities, including the "Venus Grotto," which is a cave with a lake featuring scenes from Wagner's operas.  Apparently, Ludwig was a great "lover" of Wagner, if you catch my drift.

On our Germany trip, Kevin and I visited what is probably King Ludwig's most famous castle, Neuschwanstein.  You've seen it, even if you haven't heard of it.  Images of it proliferated those college poster sales, and it's the castle that Disney's Cinderella castle is based on.

The poster picture you've probably seen probably looked something like this:

You can buy this poster from
 Since we were going there in December, we had fantasies that the castle would look as beautiful and ethereal as it does in this photo, but, in reality, if there had been this much snow, we wouldn't have even gotten close to the castle.  And I don't think we could have seen it from this angle, regardless.

But more about the castle in a minute.
I was almost as excited about the train ride to the castle as I was about seeing the castle itself.  Maybe more.  When I student taught abroad in 2000, I took a weekend trip that included a train ride from Paris to Geneva, and taking the train through the mountains was one of the most spectacular and awing trips I've taken.  I remember weaving through the peaks in awe of their size, starkness and beauty.  It was like being in another world.  I was eager to share the experience with Kevin.  While the trip to Neuschwanstein (outside the small town of Fussen) didn't take us right through the mountains, we still had some impressive views.

While we waited for our tour time, we enjoyed the picturesque lake and charming village of Schwangau.   It turns out that King Ludwig enjoyed many summers here as a boy in the Castle Hohenschwangau, which is what inspired him to build his own fairy tale castle across the valley.  We would also tour Hohenschwangau.

The village of Schwangau.
Scenic lake.
As you can probably tell from the photos, Neuschwanstein is perched atop quite a hill.  When the weather is good, a complimentary tour bus takes you from the village up to the castle.  As you can probably not tell from our photos, the weather was apparently not good this day, as the buses weren't running, and we had to walk.  Actually, that's not quite true.  We could have taken a horse-drawn carriage, but for some reason my wonderful husband did not want to do that.  So, we hiked up the mountain.  

View of Neuschwanstein on the way up the mountain.

So, you can probably see from here that the castle did not look quite as we had expected - because it's covered in scaffolding.  Realistically, they probably do renovation and maintenance in the off-season, when we were there.  My conspiracy theory, however, is that the scaffolding is always there, so visitors are more likely to purchase those spectacular photographs that were taken when there was no scaffolding.  We'll have to visit in the summer sometime, and see.

Here's the view from the top of the hill, to the side of the castle:

I will say that the castle tours were exceptionally organized.  Everyone had a ticket with a tour time and tour group.  In the castle courtyard were turnstiles and LED signs that lit up with your tour number when it was time to go.  German efficiency! We took a few photos outside of the castle while we waited, but weren't permitted to take any inside. 

Ok, I guess we took this one before we were in the courtyard, huh?

Ok, I'm not super into castle tours and have a terrible memory for this type of thing, but what was most interesting to me was that the castle isn't completed; in fact,  quite far from it.  King Ludwig was found dead in a lake before the castle was finished, and construction stopped immediately.  Just weeks after his death, the castle was open to the public, presumably to help recoup the enormous tax-payer costs that had been put into the building.  I'm sure they've made it back by now.

Before our tour of Hohenschwangau, we hiked over to Marien Brucke, or Mary's Bridge, built by King Ludwig's father for his wife, Mary.  Isn't that nice?  Mary loved hiking through the woods surrounding Hohenschwangau, and you can see that some of the views were quite lovely.

Hohenschwangau on the way to Marien Brucke

The bridge itself terrified me.

Man, I hate those skinny, high bridges with wooden planks that you can see through.  Especially when I'm with a husband who thinks it's HILARIOUS to tease like he's going to push me off the side into the blue creek below.

The view of Neuschwanstein is beautiful from the bridge, though.  Although I guess Mary probably didn't see it - it was probably just scenic valley and mountain when she hiked those hills.  

Truthfully, I was pretty worn out from all the hills and steps by the time we got to Hohenschwangau.  

Closer picture of Hohenschwangau

Fortunately, the tour was short.  We decided to grab a bite before catching the shuttle bus to the train station, and ate at Allgäuer Stüberl.   I'm sure it was pretty touristy since it was right down the hill from the castles, but I had some tasty spaetzle and we enjoyed some Konig Ludwig beer.

I think we might just have one more post after this one!

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