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Published: April 15th 2019
Poor king Ludwig II of Bavaria (1864 -1886). From an early age his identity appears to revolve around three characteristics; a vivid imagination; a tendency to isolate and a pronounced sense of sovereignty. All three characteristics were given reign as it were by his ambitious building schemes. It resulted in producing an icon of a fashion known as castle romanticism. In the nineteenth century a number of castles were constructed or reconstructed to make them more picturesque.
Although he probably would have been liked to be remembered for channelling the Wagnerian spirit, there is more of the provincial Brothers Grimm about his world. Some slight suburban aspect evident in his commissions, not in like the bus driver that painted a facsimile of the Sisteen chapel on his lounge ceiling. All credit to him, however as he created some architectural gems before he was allegedly bumped off in 1886 by his long suffering subjects and came to a watery end. The bankrupt monarch left one of the most fantastic and fantastical pieces of castle building in Europe.
It’s a testament to its enduring wonder that it can still amaze on the most unprepossessing of days. We headed out of Munich
by train on a grey, wet and chilly morning. The streams and rivers were swollen and fast flowing with the snow melt.
After decamping from the short bus ride at Hohenschwangau and buying tickets. There is a longish hike up the sloping road we reached a view point to the building. The blunt end of the castle is currently shrouded with scaffolding putting the block on any photo opportunity on the exterior of the castle. The oft reproduced outer form of the castle is only really half the story however. It is the interior of this building which was the surprise draw.
This would-be absolute monarch had a obsessive and fetishitic attachment to the Middle Ages. The buildings he built were often smaller than he would have liked. He was a king constrained by circumstances. Far from being the absolute monarch he so worshipped, after an unsuccessful skirmish with neighbouring militaristic and expansionist Prussia, Bavaria was reduced to a state of vassalage. His splendid isolation was always compromised of the everyday demands of a constitutional monarch. Money for his building schemes mired his personal and family fortunes in debt.
The quality of the workmanship dispels any notion that the interior would be nothing more than a glorified film set. It is so unsurprising that a monarch so inappropriate for his age, produced something so ill designed for his times. How to Get There
Regional trains link Munich Hbf
with Füssen every hour throughout the day, journey time 2 hours 2 minutes. You can check train times and fares at www.bahn.de
. No reservation is necessary or possible, trains cannot 'sell out', just turn up, buy a ticket and hop on the next train. It's that simple.
The cheapest option is to buy a Regio-ticket Allgau-Schwaben ticket (€23) or a Bayern Ticket
(€25 for the first passenger + €7 for each additional passenger) which both give a day's unlimited travel on regional trains (after 09:00 on weekdays, any time at weekends) so will cover a one-way or same-day round trip. The regular fare is around €27 each way, only pay this if you need to leave before 09:00 on a weekday.
Although you can buy on the day at the station, buying online beforehand at saves time and the system automatically shows the Regio-Ticket Allgau-Schwaben or Bayern Ticket
for journeys where these are cheaper than the regular fare. Take bus 73 or 78 from Füssen to Hohenschwangau.
The red buses leave about twice an hour from directly alongside Füssen station. The journey time is about 8 minutes, fare just a few euros, pay the driver when you board. For information on these buses see www.rvo-bus.de
Hohenschwangau is the tourist village which has the castle ticket office, restaurants and shops - buy your ticket here, or pre-book a ticket with a specific visiting time at www.ticket-center-hohenschwangau.de
at least 2 days in advance. In the off-season when we visited it was just a ten minute wait for a ticket, I would recommend booking in advance during busier times of the year.
It's a 40 minute uphill walk with a bit of a gradient, 20 minute horse-drawn carriage or 10 minute shuttle bus ride up to the castle. The carriages looked rather miserable on our visit and the tramp up hill was welcome after more than a couple of hours on public transport. The Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle is open every day of the year except 1 January & 24, 25, 31 December, check opening times & admission fees at www.neuschwanstein.de.
At you specific visiting time you will enter and will be given an audio guide (or take a guided tour in either German or English). The audio groups are then led through the various rooms of the castle and instructed to press a button and listen to the audio description. The tour goes through the castle at a bit of a canter; lasting only around 30 minutes.
Firstly you are led through the frescoed lower hall, then onto the stunningly impressive throne hall. This room is a real mash-up of mock-medieval and byzantine styles. The throne hall clearly illustrates Ludwig's interpretation of kingship: he saw himself not just as a king by God's grace, but also as a mediator between God and the whole world. This idea is also expressed in the cupola, which is decorated with stars, and the floor mosaic beneath it, which shows the earth with its plants and animals.
Beneath the cupola are representatives of pre-Christian kingdoms. The pictures in the apse area show Christ, the Twelve Apostles and six holy kings, while the deeds of the kings and other saints are illustrated on the walls. The Throne Hall was not intended for state occasions. It is an expression of Ludwig's expectations of kingship. Then it is on to the king’s apartments and the dining room with its highly elaborate textiles; all red silks, gold “scrambled egg” braid embroidery and further gold trimmings.
Next is the King’s bedroom. Unlikely to have very much action in his lifetime; the state bed in the neo-gothic style and the seat coverings are in blue silk, with embroidered and appliquéd lions, swans, crowns, lilies and the Bavarian coat of arms. The leitmotif is the doomed lovers Tristan and Isold, an odd choice for the King given a past high profile broken engagement with Duchess Sophie Charlotte in Bavaria
. The oratory adjacent to the bedroom is also in the neo-gothic style. The murals, glass windows and the middle picture on the altar feature Louis IX of France, the patron saint of the king. Next door is the dressing room, this is decorated in the style of a garden hall with an illusionistic ceiling painting of a garden bower with a trellis of vines open to the sky.
In the salon, one of Ludwig’s leitmotifs; the swan gets completely out of control. There is a veritable bevy, bank or herd of swans depending on your choice of collective noun. King Ludwig’s heraldic animal is embroided everywhere and a huge majolica swan sits on a table in the middle of the room. This L-shaped salon has an alcove furnished with chairs and separated from the rest of the room by columns. The large oak cupboard is modelled on an item of furniture from the Wartburg and is decorated with scenes from medieval poems. The murals in this room show scenes from the Lohengrin saga,
with Ludwig II identifying with the Grail Knight theme.
Naturally, every good Bavarian castle needs an in-house grotto and this one is no exception. The set-designer August Dirigl created the artificial dripstone cave, which originally had coloured lighting and a waterfall. It was based on the idea of the Hörselberg in the Tannhäuser saga. A glass door, fairly unheard of at the time of construction, opens by sliding down into the "rock" leads from the Grotto to the Conservatory. Through the large glass panes there is an uninterrupted view of the Alpine foothills. It is then on at break neck tour speed through a small study, its anteroom and up the stairs to the Upper Hall. The murals illustrate the Gudrun saga
from the Old Norse Edda, the continuation of the Sigurd saga
Unfortunately, the large Singers Hall was swathed in scaffolding and awnings on our tour as it was under extensive renovation. It occupies the whole of the fourth floor in the eastern section of the Palace and is a combination of two historical rooms in the Wartburg – the Festival Hall and the Singers' Hall. The Singers' Hall in the Wartburg was allegedly the location of the famous Singers' Contest which is also featured in Richard Wagner's opera "Tannhäuser".It is then back down several flights of stairs towards the end of the tour via the high tech (in the 1870s at least) kitchen.
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