Sunday, October 30, 2011

0076: Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria - Germany

The most visited castle in Germany with 1.3 m visitors per year.
It's a gloomy, rainy day in Florida today... This kind of weather leads me to daydream the day away - and it is Sunday so that makes it ok... So, today I head into a fairy tale direction, and as with all fairy tales there is drama, sadness, a touch of madness and a ton of beauty. Although fairy tales allow us to define beauty through our own imagination, it is nice when these places actually exist. Such places that exceed our imagination and allow us to understand that beauty often comes from tough situations (read more about what was happening to Ludwig II before he started this castle, so sad...). But today's topic is the castle, this castle is one of the most beautiful castles I've ever seen (only in pictures but soon in real life). I've been to Germany once and I loved it. It's a country with such rich history and one that I would like to revisit - I'm moving this one to my 2-3 year target list!

The Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19-century Gothic revival palace near Fussen in the Alps in Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria (also known as the "Fairytale King", the "Swan King" and even the "Mad King") as a retreat and as a homage to Richard Wagner. (Wagner's characters inspired most of the rooms.) Neuschwanstein literally means "New Swan Castle" referencing the "Swan Knight" one of Wagner's characters. The castle was intended as a personal refuge for the reclusive king, but it was opened to the paying public immediately after his death in 1886. The palace has appeared in several movies and is said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney to create the Magic Kingdom. 

Photo: Wikipedia
The castle was built in a time when castles no longer had strategic or defensive purposes. While it looks like a medieval castle, it was equipped with the latest state of the art technology at that time (e.g. indoor plumbing and an air/heating system throughout the castle). Construction began in 1869, and was originally projected to take three years to complete. But Ludwig II wanted it to be perfect so it wasn't even finished by his death in 1886. 

I think it's sad that this enormous and beautiful place was built for one person, Ludwig II, a person that just wanted to be left alone. Contrary to popular belief, Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and extensive borrowing, not with Bavarian public funds. The designer was Christian Jank. He was not even an architect but a theatrical designer.

In 1883, Wagner died without ever setting foot inside the castle that had been built in his honor. A year later, Ludwig decided to move in but the King actually only stayed in the castle 11 nights. After Ludwig died, at age 41, construction continued for another eight years. When builders finally stopped, only a third of the rooms had been finished and decorated. 

So, was Ludwig mad? or was he genius? This story reminds me of an Oscar Wilde quote, "The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius." I'd like to think Ludwig was a genius with a broken heart - almost a tragedy instead of a fairy tale - he never got to live happily every after. So let's put a face to the man responsible for this beautiful place.... 
Ludwig II's coronation portrait, 1865
Photo: wikipedia
Ludwig II is sometimes also called "Mad King Ludwig", though the accuracy of that label has been disputed. Because Ludwig was deposed on grounds of mental illness without any medical examination and died a day later under mysterious circumstances, questions about the medical "diagnosis" remain controversial. One of his most quoted sayings was "I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others." His cousin Empress Elisabeth held that "The King was not mad; he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams. They might have treated him more gently, and thus perhaps spared him so terrible an end."

1 comment:

  1. you know with all the lights, it looks like the magic kingdom. I wonder if that is where Walt Disney got the idea from? Very cool. Well-researched, as usual;)