Neuschwanstien & Herrenchiemsee
In a modest palace just outside the medieval city of Fussen in southern Bavaria, a young prince named Ludwig grew up listening to tales of chivalric virtue and the heroism of his ancestors. Young Ludwig determined that when he grew up he would be the epitome of chivalry and valour; a noble philosopher king in the classic mould. But it was not to be. For a start, Ludwig had been born about five hundred years too late. In 1865 the days of chivalric kings and emperors was long gone. For a start, the new king of Bavaria had to answer to a parliament. Also, the Kingdom of Bavaria, so long one of the most important and wealthy German kingdoms, had recently been absorbed into the German Reich and Ludwig was subordinate to the Hohenzollern Emperor Wilhelm II.
For Ludwig, sensitive, artistic and gay, the limitations reality placed upon him were unbearable. In other circumstances he would have made his name in the theatre or in the arts, but that was not possible for him. Bavaria, however, was rich and he had a substantial fortune at his disposal so he determined to build for himself a series of palaces that would allow him to live out the fantasies of his childhood.
Fussen is on the border of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It is a beautiful country of deep forests, wide lakes and breathtaking mountains and is very popular with holiday makers today, not all of them drawn by Ludwig’s fantasy castle at Neuschwanstien. Back in Salzburg we decided to make an unplanned detour into Switzerland as we both love the country. But Neuschwanstien was so close to Salzburg it seemed crazy not to pop in on the way. It was a pleasant drive over the low Alps into Germany and we were travelling ahead of schedule. As always happens on these occasions, we decided to make an unplanned stop at Chiemsee. Chiemsee is a large lake and on one of the islands, Ludwig built one of his most audacious palaces, the Herrenchiemsee Konigschloss, or Kings Palace in the Lake. Herrenchiemsee, which was modelled on Louis XIV’ Versailles Palace in Paris, tells you a lot about Ludwig’s personality. The building copies almost every detail of the Versailles Palace, right down to copies of the paintings. The decoration inside makes extravagant an understatement. Ludwig spent millions of marks on it but only visited it once, for ten days, and spent most of his time there sleeping. He didn't like to be seen by the staff and his dinner table - small and set only for one - is set on an elevator so it can be set in the kitchen below and then hoisted up into the dining room above. It's an ingenious and extravant way of avoiding human contact. Only about twelve central audience rooms and the walls of one of the wings were finished when he died. The uncompleted wing was later torn down leaving only the central section standing.
The detour to Chiemsee meant we didn’t get into Fussen until late in the afternoon. We struggled to find accommodation and had to settle for a shared dorm at a youth hostel well out of town. Shared accommodation is never the most comfortable, but the experience was made all the worse as there was a tour bus of middle aged Polish women at the hostel who screamed and laughed and fought and shouted and cackled and otherwise behaved pretty F-ing inconsiderately until well after 1am. Very late that evening there was a thunderstorm so loud and so close that it blew all the fuses in the place (but it still didn‘t shut up the bloody Polish women!!).
Next day we bolted early from the hostel to Castle Neuschwanstien. Neuschwanstien is instantly recognisable the world over. It was the model for the Disneyland castle, and why shouldn’t it be? Both castles are inherently fake. Ludwig engaged one of his favourite theatre set designers to build Neuschwanstien and inside you can see why. It is really just an elaborate theatre set for Ludwig’s play acting. Of course, it was built at astronomical expense and only ten rooms were complete when construction stopped. In 1880 the Bavarian government, now extremely alarmed at the spiralling costs of Ludwig’s build program (he started construction of four palaces and never finishing a single one of them) that they called in the creditors. Ludwig was deposed and replaced by his younger brother. The next day his body was found, along with that of his physician, washed up in a lake. The cause of death was never released. Personally, I suspect he killed himself as the only thing more useless and pitiful than a constitutional monarch is a deposed constitutional monarch. His legacy - the extravagant fantasy palaces he built for himself - were taken over by the state and soon opened for tourism as a means of recouping their costs and they’ve become one of Germany’s biggest tourist draw cards. As for the palaces themselves, they reveal Ludwig as something of a tragic and faintly ridiculous person. Herrenchiemsee is by far the more interesting inside, although not as spectacular as Neuschwanstien. Neuschwanstien is better from a distance. Inside it just looks tacky and tragic.
The castles can only be visited on a guided tour and you cannot take photos inside. It’s important to visit early. We arrived quite early - for us - about 9.30am and there was already a long queue at the ticket office. The earliest tour we could get was 11.25am. A half hour walk from Neuschwanstien is the palace of Hohenschwanstien, where Ludwig grew up. We chose not to do both the palaces as the dual tour takes over two hours. By the time we finished up around 1pm the village was cram packed with hordes of tourists who stumbled about on the roads , blocking the traffic. Although a tourist myself, I must admit that if tourists were a species they would quickly become extinct due to their innate and often self destructive stupidity. It is NEVER a good idea to stand in front of a bus in order to take a photo. Waiting times for tours was now over four hours.