Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Mad King Ludwig and His Engchanted Castle

Once upon a time there was a young king of Bavaria named Ludwig II.  King Ludwig II assumed the throne at the early age of 18 following his father’s untimely death.  His handsome, youthful appearance made him quite popular right off the bat.  But, Ludwig II was not very interested in ruling the Kingdom of Bavaria.  Following in his father’s footsteps, he maintained the same state policies and kept his father’s ministers, but King Ludwig II was an introvert, preferring to keep to himself to pursue what he was really interested in – art, music and building fairytale like castles.  He was creative and eccentric, and for some, these were not great traits for a king to have. 

What his creativity and passion for the arts and architecture gave us is the charming fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein sitting on the edge of the German Alps on a seemingly impossible to reach perch. 

The steep road you walk for 30 or so minutes to reach the Castle twists and turns through a thick green forest with nary a view of the enchanted castle you know awaits at the top.   

But as you reach the first restaurant and tourist shop which are full of Bavarian charm in their own right, you know you are nearing the end of your climb and looking up, high above your head amidst the peaks of green, you spy a turret and your heart starts beating a little faster.  

You are close.  As you continue the last short stretch of the journey and round the last bend in the road, there it is before you – the Sleeping Beauty castle.   

Looking around before even entering the castle, it's mind boggling that such a beautiful structure could be constructed up here.  Sheer drop-offs surround you.  You can hear the rush of water far below, but can't see the raging river down in the deep gorge to the side of the castle. 

But you can catch a glimpse of the waterfall tucked in the valley behind the castle, one you wouldn't even know was there until you arrived in this magnificent setting.   Neuschwanstein Castle seems to sit perfectly nestled on a narrow, rugged perch high above the beautiful rolling hills of Bavaria.  Once you are there, it's not hard to see why a reclusive king would choose such a site to build a castle as his retreat.  

The interior of the castle is best viewed via a tour where the tour guide will fill you in on the eccentric King as she or he takes you through one lavish room after another where you aren’t allowed to take photos.  It's interesting, and odd, that the reclusive King Ludwig who wasn't really that interested in ruling a kingdom built an incredibly ornate Throne Hall that is as stunning as some of the best cathedrals we've seen in Europe, and maybe the most magnificent room in the castle, in my opinion anyway, the Hall of the Singers - a gorgeously decorated and painted room that looks like part theater and part ball room.  It would seem that whomever built these rooms loved to entertain, loved to hold lavish celebrations, and maybe loved to show off his power and wealth.  But that just wasn't King Ludwig II.  These incredible rooms were simply built because of his love of the arts and architecture.  

We may have snuck one photo, in the kitchen…..

because my goodness, the stove was as long as my car and is just amazing.  And it looks virtually unused, just like everything in this castle.  This place is very different from other castles we’ve visited.  It’s very young compared to the others that are usually a few hundred years older, and instead of feeling cold and drafty from the worn stone walls that typically surround you in a castle, Neuschwanstein Castle is beautifully furnished and decorated, it even feels warm, and it feels very unused, which it is. King Ludwig II you see only spent 11 nights in this unbelievable castle.  While he lived a life of seclusion that allowed him to pursue his eccentric and creative ways while avoiding his governing responsibilities as much as he could, Ludwig racked up huge personal debt paying for this stunning castle and other projects he pursued.   While he was very popular with the people of Bavaria, his debts and the fact that he wasn’t very interested in his kingly duties did not sit well with his very own government ministers.  Seeking a reason to depose him, they conspired to have him declared insane.  And they succeeded.  

On the 12 of June, 1886, Ludwig II was arrested at his master piece, Neuschwanstein Castle, by his own ministers.  It's believed they conspired to have him declared insane and incapable of ruling by four psychiatrists who, except for one, Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, had never even met or examined the King.  And Dr. Gudden had only met him once, twelve years early. 

King Ludwig II was taken to Berg Castle near Munich.  The very next day, the now deposed King Ludwig II went for a walk with Dr. Gudden who was with him at Berg Castle.  They set out on foot to walk along the shores of a lake that was on the property around 6:30 that evening, but they never returned.  A few hours later, both of their bodies were found in the water on the edge of the lake.  The King’s death was ruled a suicide, although there was no water found in his lungs during the autopsy, so how exactly did he kill himself?  And the Doctor’s death is suspected to be by strangulation.  But many even today don’t believe this version of events that the then government put forth.  Instead, many suspect that this King who was so popular with the people was actually murdered by his enemies while attempting to escape.  The King’s personal fisherman left notes that were found after his death saying he had been there on the lake that night with a small boat.  He was to pick the King up and row him out to the middle of the lake where sympathizers were waiting to help him escape.  But as the fisherman claims, the King was shot in the back as he tried to climb into the boat. 

Is this story true?  Mostly likely, we will never know, but it is a bit suspicious that following the King’s death, this fisherman and his family went on to live a rather easy life for those times that seemed to be a bit above their means.

Little did King Ludwig II know that his own personal life story would play out more like a tragic folk tale than a happily ever after fairytale.  Although he wasn’t the prince that would save the beautiful maiden from the evil queen, he did give the world a magnificent dreamlike castle.  

And after our visit, we sat in a green field on the edge of the Alps below this enchanting castle eating our lunch while reflecting on this man who will forever be known as Mad King Ludwig.   

After hearing his story, it just didn’t seem fair.  That is one picnic we will not soon forget.  

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