Following in The Footsteps of The Swan King in Bavaria, Germany
Once anyone has seen a photograph of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, they all want to visit it! One of the most visited tourist destinations in Europe, instantly recognisable, dreamlike, perched up in the Bavarian Mountains near the Pollat Gorge, this fairy tale castle is found surrounded by truly beautiful scenery.
So many stories surround the castle as well, it was Walt Disney’s inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, when Hitler had his dream of creating his Fuhrermuseum in Austria, to be filled with the priceless works of art stolen throughout Europe by the Nazis, some of the pieces, along with catalogues of them, were stored at the castle. An allied unit known as the Monuments Men would go onto recover them…now a film directed by and starring George Clooney. The castle has also avoided destruction…twice…the Nazis planned to explode it following their surrender with all of the works of art inside. The castles own creator, King Ludwig ii also ordered the castle be destroyed following his death…luckily his orders were never carried out!
It was after reading a book by Chris Kuzneski, The Secret Crown, which really made us want to visit the castle even more. His description of the place, and of its builder, the Swan King (King Ludwig ii) and his other creations were stories my fiancée and I really enjoyed and got us making plans to visit almost straight away. We wanted to visit this amazing place but also wanted to find out more about it’s creator, the supposed “Mad King” Ludwig ii. It took us a while…but we got there in the end!
We decided that during this trip we were going to camp, this would keep the costs down, and also there was something so appealing about escaping the city and really enjoying being outdoors in this scenery, breathing in the crisp mountain air, really making the most of it. We packed our tent and sleeping bags, it was made easier by the fact that we were flying with Lufthansa with 23kg checked luggage included in the cost, flights we found through Opodo.
There was no problem having a tent in the luggage, the only problem we had was that when we got there I’d forgotten that I’d needed to pick up extra tent pegs! We managed though with the few we had, just enough to pin the ground sheet and fly sheet, mainly as luckily it didn’t get very windy!
We booked a pitch at Bannwaldsee Campsite which we were able to book online, you can even choose the location of the pitch within the site yourself. The campsite was great, more aimed at people with caravans and tourers than those looking to camp but still a really lovely site with a great restaurant and nice shop with a brilliant bakery. It was the location though which makes this campsite really brilliant, it is on the shores of the Bannwaldsee lake which makes it pretty picturesque…but…within a 5 minute drive we had really great views of Neuschanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau Castle, and the mountains beyond. This is where the photographs above were taken, check out my Instagram account for more, this place really is a photographers paradise! We had flown to Germany from Birmingham straight after I had finished a night shift, so the initial plan was that we would just chill out at the campsite once we had got there and relax…excitement and that sense of adventure got the better of us though “Shall we just go and see if we can get a view of the castle during sunset?” and the reply “Oh Yeah!” we were so happy that we had…this was one of those magical little unexpected moments travelling throws at you every now and again.
We visited three of the castles or palaces connected to King Ludwig ii, we started at Hohenschwangau Castle, the castle built by Ludwig’s father Maximillian and what was his family home when growing up. The Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle dreamt up by Ludwig not far away from Hohenschwangau, and then Linderhof Palace…a small palace where Ludwig began to spend more and more time as he became more reclusive and the only one of the three castles or palaces he built which he lived to see completely finished.
Kind Ludwig ii…The Swan King…The Builder!
Ludwig is such an interesting character, a king who kind of lived in a fantasy world, a king who went into great debt building these fairy tale castles and seems to me like he had a real idealistic view of the world. He was born in 1845 and became king of Bavaria in 1864 aged 18 with no experience of political life or of ruling. He himself said that it was too early for him to become king. In 1866 having formed an alliance with Austria, Bavaria lost a war against Prussia which forced Ludwig ii into an alliance with Prussia meaning he had no control over foreign policy or his army, he was dictated to by Prussia. I guess he kind of became a lame duck king…a king with no real power over his kingdom. He was a head of state with no real power to take action but he was obsessed with the idea of a holy kingdom, a kingdom where the king “ruled by the grace of god”. His reaction to all of this was to build…to build his own kingdom to live in and create the world in which he could be a real king.
He formed a strong connection with the composer Richard Wagner and saved him from bankruptcy funding his work, they spent a lot of time together. Ludwig decorated parts of Neuschwantein inspired by the operas of Wagner. Munich became the capital of music in Europe at this time thanks to Ludwig’s support.
Over time Ludwig became more and more of a recluse, he was awake during the night and slept during the day. He would request private performances of operas for him alone at the castle and spent more and more time away from Munich and in the mountains. I guess the government of Bavaria were not happy with this and Ludwig was failing to fulfil more and more of his duties, and his lifestyle was deemed as being incompatible with that of a head of state. In 1886 at Neuschwanstein government representatives entered the castle and a team lead by psychiatrist Bernard Von Gudden ruled him unfit to rule. A situation which was not accounted for in the Bavarian Constitution. This decision was based on Ludwig’s behaviour…spending so much money on these incredible buildings against the advice of all of his financial advisers, and behaviour such as insisting on eating outside in all weathers.
Ludwig was ordered to stay at Berg Palace declared mentally ill. Three days after he was removed from the throne he and Von Gudden…the psychiatrist who had given the judgement… were found dead on the shores of the lake in the palace grounds.
Recent investigations into the case have found that there was no basis to find Ludwig as being mentally ill. It is even thought now that Von Gudden didn’t even meet him during the period of his investigation and evidence supporting the king was ignored. When the bodies were found, Von Gudden showed signs of having been attacked and the death of Ludwig was put down to drowning, but no water was found in his lungs and he was believed to be a strong swimmer. It all points to a conspiracy to remove Ludwig from the throne and adds to the mystery of the Swan King.
Ludwig was a member of the Wittelsbach family who reigned in Bavaria from 1180-1918, the family even provided two Roman emperors! The current head of the family is Franz, Duke of Bavaria, another interesting character, born during the second world war the family were anti Nazi and were arrested after fleeing the country, he spent time in a concentration camp during this time. He is also thought by some to be the heir to the Stuart Kings of England, Ireland, Scotland and France!
So by Hohenschwangau Castle is a ticket office to buy tickets to visit both Hohenschangau Castle and Neauschwanstein Castle, you can also get tickets to the museum of the Bavarian Kings. You’re given timed entry slot, visits are in guided groups only, and you are given information on how long it takes to get round each castle and move on to the next, it is all run with that famed German efficiency! But it works, and because it is so well organised you can relax and take everything in. The guy serving me even took the opportunity to have some Germany v England…and Bayern Munich v Arsenal football banter with me…banter which was obviously much more enjoyable and much more funny for him!
The time slots worked better for us to visit Howhenschwangau Castle first, we climbed the shortish slope up to the castle and explored the gardens whilst we waited for our time slot to appear on the screen in the courtyard.
The sky was blue, the sun was beating down on the yellow coloured castle, it felt tropical! It felt like we had been transported out of Germany to Andalusia or somewhere! The colours of the plants in the gardens really gave me that feel as well. It doesn’t take long to explore the gardens around the castle but it was really nice.
On the walk up to the castle and as we wandered around the grounds I kept catching glimpses of Neuschwantein perched in the mountains on the other side of the mountains, I couldn’t help but think that this was kind of the warm up to the main event! But Hohenschwangau is definitely worth visiting. I think we had more of an insight into the life of Ludwig ii and his family here compared to Neuschwanstein, and although still very much a castle, kind of had a homely feel about it. Our guide here was really great and entertaining, he brought the history to life with stories and was able to answer the many questions put to him by the group.
One thing which is a little frustrating about visiting the castles, probably the only thing, is that you can’t take photographs whilst inside, apart from of the views out of the windows. This is happening more and more and attractions around the world with places copy writing images…they are pretty strict about it here as well…but surely allowing people to do this isn’t going to stop people from visiting and seeing the sights for themselves is it? Or stop them from buying souvenirs or mementos? Something I don’t quite understand.
Exploring the grounds there were so many quirky little things, fountains, archways, statues, something to always catch your eye. I was so glad we had a bit of time to spare before entering the castle to explore and let it sink in.
Hohenschwangau was built by Ludgwig’s father Maximillian, there are records of there being a castle at the site as far back as the 14th century but known as Schwanstein. It was actally sold by Maximillian’s grandfather in 1820 but bought back by Maximillian in 1832 after he fell in love with the beauty of the area. His father wanted him to live in the nearby castle in Fussen but he went against his fathers wishes and set up home here once his reconstruction work had been completed. It was the family’s official summer residence and Ludwig continued to enjoy his summers here after his fathers death. Having spent one summer day here…I can completely understand why!
There are over 90 wall paintings inside the castle showing scenes of the history of the Schwangau region and also the stories of German romance…Parzival and his son Lohengrin. Lohengrin was a knight of the holy grail and was pulled in a boat by swans to arrive and save a damsel who could never know his name…it is a version of a medieval story Knight of the Swan, or Swan Knight. These stories had a big influence on Ludwig growing up, he was surrounded by these scenes and the swan went onto become an important symbol for the family and he in turn was known as the Swan King. Wagner went onto compose his famous Lohengrin Opera based in the story which contains the bridal chorus…Here Comes The Bride! Wagner would call Ludwig Parzival after the character in these stories.
A visit here is a must when visiting Neuschwanstein, it gives you the backstory of the more famous castle and shows the the influences on Ludwig and really gives you more of an insight into his life, its as if you get to know him a little but whilst visiting here. There are some cool photographs of him and the family inside as well…love old photographs!
Marienbrucke (Queen Mary’s Bridge)
When you buy the tickets you are given a map and told how long the walk should take between the castles. You can pay for a horse and carriage ride from one castle to the other but the walk is really nice, a little steep, but nice through the trees. Once we had finished our tour of Hohenschwangau we made our way over to Neuschwanstein, we were a bit ahead of schedule so we had time to go and check out the view from Marienbrucke a bridge spanning the Pollat Gorge where you can get pretty much the best view of the castle. The first picture at the top of the post is taken from the bridge…the views are incredible!
Standing on the bridge can be a little unnerving as the floor which you walk on is made of wooden planks which flex as you and other people walk along, so as you are stood there taking in the views and people walk behind you, you feel the wood flex!! AND its a big drop!!! BUT…it is so worth doing, it gets a little crowded, but the views are spectacular. Look one way and you get the best view of one of the most beautiful, famous buildings in the world, look down the other ways and watch the mesmerising waterfall cascade into the gorge below…YOU HAVE TO DO THIS!
During the walk up to the castle you treated to views of it between the trees and the excitement really builds! People are stopping taking pictures, you get the feeling that everyone has been looking forward to this and just cant wait! Every year 1.4 million people visit the castle, at peak times during the summer months 6000 people a day are shown inside! It is worth trying to go off season for this reason and mid-week, or if you just cant get round it then maybe try pre-booking tickets or tours on a website like TripAdvisor.
When Ludwig ii came up with the idea of the castle he wrote to his close friend, the composer Richard Wagner “It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day (in 3 years); there will be several cosy, habitable guest rooms with a splendid view of the noble Säuling, the mountains of Tyrol and far across the plain; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. It will also remind you of “Tannhäuser” (Singers’ Hall with a view of the castle in the background), “Lohengrin'” (castle courtyard, open corridor, path to the chapel); this castle will be in every way more beautiful and habitable than Hohenschwangau further down, which is desecrated every year by the prose of my mother; they will take revenge, the desecrated gods, and come to live with Us on the lofty heights, breathing the air of heaven”
– taken from the official website www.neuschwanstein.de
Work began at the site in 1868, from the letter Ludwig only expected the building work to take 3 years, however, it proved to be more complicated due to the setting, and he never actually lived to see it finished, he only ever saw it as a building site. In fact some parts of the interior are still unfinished today.
The first part of the building to be completed was the gatehouse, which was under renovation at the time of our visit, Ludwig did move in there once complete so he was able to keep an eye on the progress of the building of his castle. As we got closer to the castle it began to set in what a task this must have been to build, the technology at the time required to design and build something like this, on this rocky outcrop, its pretty amazing. Looking up at it you also get a feel of the size of the place as it towers into the sky above.
We walked round into the courtyard and waited for our group number to appear on the screen so we could be shown inside. It was then that I understood why they say that Ludwig was creating a fantasy world for himself. Pictures inspired by the operas of Wagner, poetic scenes from the middle ages, a theatre for performances just for him. I guess he wanted all o his favourite things, and people, there with him, so he did not have to leave this perfect world of his.
The views from the balcony out over Hohenschwangau Castle and back towards the Pollat Gorge to Mariensbrucke are breathtaking, definitely worth waiting a biding your time for a chance to get out onto the narrow ledge to take in. Once we had finished our tour inside we had a bit of a better look around the castle courtyard, it really has to be seen to be believed.
Neuschwanstein Castle had been everything I had hoped and so much more. With the added bonus of visiting Hohenschwangau where it felt as if you got to know Ludwig ii a little better, this was an awesome day. After heading back down we stopped off at the Schlossbiergarten for a beer and some of the delicious weisswurst (white sausage) refuelling before our next stop!
Both castles are open 9:00-6:00 April to October and 10:00-4:00 the rest of the year.
The ticket for both castles costs 25 euros. You can reserve tickets on the official ticket office website here.
To walk around the landscaped gardens and see the views of the palace and of the surrounding area is worth the trip here alone, beautiful! We got here quite late in the day and managed to get a ticket for the last entry into the palace. It was pretty much deserted. With that you really got the sense how if someone wanted to hideaway from the real world, you could do it here! Tucked away in a valley surrounded by mountains, it seemed so quiet, it was really still while we were there, serene, I’m sure if I had of shouted I’d of heard my voice echo back to me as clear as anything.
Ludwig had got to know the area whilst going on hunting trips with his father. There was originally a foresters hut built in front of the current location of the palace, Ludwig inherited this from his father and over time redeveloped it and then in 1874 the whole building was taken down and rebuilt at it’s current location. This was the only one of Ludwig’s palaces or castles which he lived to see completed.
King Louis XIV was a bit of a hero to Ludwig and he took inspiration from him and his Palace of Versailles when designing this small U-shaped palace. He even included his own much much smaller version of the hall of mirrors! The interior is really fancy filled with ornamental gifts he received over time.
Inside the grounds hidden away behind a false rock door is Ludwig’s own Venus Grotto, a man made underground lake based again on one of Richard Wagner’s operas, Tannhauser. Ludwig had his very own gold coloured swan boat which he enjoyed being rowed around on, which apparently is still there…this is the setting for the finale in Chris Kuzneski’s book the Secret Crown…that book which had kind of triggered this whole trip…so I was pretty disappointed that the grotto was under renovation and wasn’t open to the public at the time of our visit…another reason to head back one day!
Entry to the Palace and park grounds costs just 8.50 euros and the palace is open 9:00-6:00 April to October. Under 18’s are free!
The Mad King?
I’m not sure if The Swan King was mad…he was definitely eccentric…but life would be pretty boring if everyone was without there own little eccentricities. One thing is for sure though, his imagination was limitless, and he had the ability to put these thoughts into work and left his mark on the world with some incredible creations visited by millions and millions of people still, I wonder what he would make of that?
Thanks as always for reading, hope you’ve enjoyed!