In the southern part of Germany, in an area called Bavaria, stand the castles of King Ludwig II. They called him mad. Not angry mad, crazy mad. They claimed he was insane because he spent so much money building these magnificent fairy tale castles. I guess I’m mad too, because I get it. They are a dream come true for this princess wannabe, and I think he was brilliant.
Ludwig’s parents, Maximillian and Marie, were hardly attentive. Ludwig and his brother grew up relatively isolated, with only their imaginations for companions (there were exceptions– a couple of cousins for example–but you get the point). But what an isolation! What imaginations! They roamed the grounds of medieval castles like Hohenschwangau and played pretends from the operas of Wagner and other Germanic romantic legends. Remember that the Germans are the source of many of our most popular fairy tales, all enhanced by magnificent landscapes and magical beings.
This is the landscape they played in:
When Ludwig came to the throne at the tender age of 18, he was thrust into a real world of intrigue and politics that bore no resemblance to the lore he had come to love. Keep in mind that mythology exists to preserve the morals and principles of the culture that creates them. Ludwig had come to believe in honor and courage and true love and sacrifice for the greater good. What does it say about his society (and ours) that he was considered “mad” for believing in such things? He had the means to create refuges where he could slip away from the devastating truths of reality and live surrounded by the characters that embodied everything he believed in. Who wouldn’t if they could?
To really enjoy the beauty of his creations, I invite you to step out of your well-grounded sensibilities into a world that celebrates everything wonderful and beautiful and heroic about humanity. (Keep in mind that no photography is allowed inside, so the exteriors are pictures we took, and the interiors are online versions of what we saw.)
First stop Linderhof, his hunting “lodge.” This is not my cousin’s hunting house in Milledgeville.
Small and intimate by Ludwig’s standards, they say he spent the most time here. Inspired by Versailles and Louis IVX (14th– the Sun King), the grounds are absolutely stunning. You’ve got to love a man who wanted everything he made to be as beautiful as possible.
He also made a grotto–a grotto? How cool is that!–where he could sit in a swan boat and listen to Wagner.
I’ll bypass details of the inside except to say that everything is covered in gold. ‘Nuff said.
Let’s move on to Neuschwanstein, home base for all princesses everywhere. He wanted a fairy tale, and a fairy tale is what he made.
First of all, it is massive. since we couldn’t get an aerial view, here’s one from the internet:
Inside the walls are covered–and I do mean COVERED– with paintings of the stories and characters he loved.
Every single room is like this. Ok, so he broke the bank putting it all together. I for one am glad he did. I was so happy to be there; I only wish I could have lingered apart from the tour and really taken in all of the paintings and carvings and chandeliers and furnishings. No expense was spared, no corner overlooked. Very, very cool.
A word of tribute to the creator of such opulence. Because he was spending so much money, and because he didn’t really like to be around people, and because politics was truly frustrating for him so he’d rather be in his castles, the powers that be decided he needed to go. He was declared insane and deposed to be replaced by his truly insane brother and an uncle who ruled as regent. Three days later–count them 1-2-3 days–he was found floating face down in a lake near the castle of his imprisonment. An excellent swimmer who drowned 3 days after he was removed from the throne? Perhaps he wasn’t truly insane? Perhaps the real people–the ones whom he put to work with his buildings and on whom he bestowed frequent gifts–loved him and would rise to have him restored as ruler? Perhaps the politicians had to stop that from happening at all costs?
Ludwig was the Walt Disney of his day, so much so that Disney modeled his castles on Neuschwanstein. He believed in love and beauty and honor. He wanted the world to be a place where heroes slayed dragons and monsters, and kings were wise and beneficent, and women were a source of love and inspiration. I get it. I get it all.