Sunday, February 11, 2018

Germany's Fairy Tale Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle, taken from the Marienbr├╝cke
            I have been loath to write about this particular castle, but I think the time has come. There are an estimated 20,000 castles and castle ruins within Germany – and so many interesting ones that people outside of Germany don’t know about. But, I would be remiss in having a blog about German castles if I don’t mention the most iconic castle in Germany, Neuschwanstein.
            Neuschwanstein was the dream castle built by the Bavarian king, Ludwig II. Ludwig was born in August 1845 in Munich to King Maximilian II of Bavaria. Maximilian had acquired the castle Hohenschwangau in the Bavarian Alps near Fussen. This site was the seat of the legendary Swan Knights from the middle ages. He rebuilt Hohenschwangau castle in 1832 in Gothic style, and had scenes of the famous legends and stories of the middle ages painted in murals throughout the castle. Ludwig grew up in the family castle at Hohenschwangau, and dreamed of the glory of the middle ages that surrounded him.
            In 1861, Ludwig saw his first Richard Wagner opera in Munich, Lohengrin, which recounted one of the many stories of the Swan Knights. He became enamored with Wagner’s music and operas.
Neuschwanstein Castle
Upon the death of King Maximilian in 1864, Ludwig II became King of Bavaria at the age of 18. Although he was well-educated and well-read, he was not well-versed in the intricacies of politics. A mere two years later, he was subjugated to the Prussian Empire and was no longer a sovereign ruler. He became a constitutional monarch, answerable to two houses of parliament in Bavaria. He withdrew from court, and many believe he began living in his own little world. In 1864, the same year he became King of Bavaria, he also became a patron of Richard Wagner.
On the 22nd of January, 1867, Ludwig was engaged to marry his cousin, Princess Sophie Charlotte of Bavaria. Unfortunately, he was really in love with her sister, Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sissy). The marriage coach was built and commemorative medals were minted. However, Ludwig dissolved his engagement on the 10th of October of the same year. From that point forward, he never again thought of marriage.
Neuschwanstein Castle
Ludwig visited Wartburg castle in Thuringia in 1867, and Wartburg became the inspiration for Neuschwanstein (translated as “New Swan Stone”). He built Neuschwanstein near his childhood home at Hohenschwangau in the place of two Swan Knight castle ruins – Vorschwangau and Hinterschwangau. Neuschwanstein was built in neo-Romanesque style, harkening back to a medieval castle style. Construction began in 1869, but the castle was never completed. He envisioned that Neuschwanstein would be the new center for the Order of the Swan Knights (according to some legends, the keepers of the Holy Grail), and he envisioned himself to be the Grand Master. The pictures and art in his castle were inspired by the medieval legends in Wagner’s operas. Richard Wagner died in Venice in 1886, never having seen Neuschwanstein. Ludwig moved into the incomplete Neuschwanstein the same year and holed himself up there. He lived there a total of 172 days.
            Ludwig was seen as eccentric in his day, and was renowned for his eccentricities much like Michael Jackson is today. He was an insomniac, and spent his nights wandering the castle, while sleeping his days away. He loved solitude, dreaming, art and history.  He had his castle outfitted with the latest inventions of the industrial revolution, such as electricity. Although heavily in debt, he continued to build his castle. Many felt he was using too much of Bavaria’s money on what they considered to be his folly.
View of Hohenschwangau, taken from Neuschwanstein
            While he was holed up in Neuschwanstein, scheming Bavarian ministers succeeded in taking over his power. They arrested him at Neuschwanstein for lunacy and put him in the Berg castle on the bank of Lake Sternberg. On the very next day after his arrest, on 13 June 1886, the King’s body was found in the lake. The body of the King’s doctor, Dr von Gudden (who had declared him insane and unfit to rule the day previous, without any examination) was found nearby. The King was an excellent swimmer, and his body was found in a very shallow part of the lake. Many conspiracy theories surround this incident. The official verdict was that the King killed Dr von Gudden and then committed suicide.
Before the construction of Disneyland, Walt Disney and his wife Lillian took a European tour. A Disneyland representative confirms that the time he spent at Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Neuschwanstein features prominently in the 1968 movie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring Dick van Dyke and the 2014 movie, Monument’s Men, by George Clooney, among many others.

Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle