Following in the footsteps of the Swan King

Ludwig II was a monarch who ruled Bavaria from 1856 to 1868. He died at the age of 40, but left us with many of the sites we visited in the last few days.

Ludwig II became king at the age of 18 after his father (Ludwig I) died of a brief illness. Ludwig wasn’t suited for kingship, however, as he was a lonely recluse who was more interested in creative works than actually governing.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

As king, he turned his attention to building castles that paid homage to people he admired. We went to see Neuschwanstein Castle, which was Ludwig’s tribute to Richard Wagner. The inside is decorated with scenes from many of Wagner’s operas including Tannhäuser, Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin, Parsifal, and Die Meistersinger.

You would recognize the castle as the place where Sleeping Beauty dozed off, as Disney used Neuschwanstein for its model. I never got the iconic photo of the castle, as the footbridge where you get your best shot was under renovation and closed. But here’s what it looks like from the front.

The only picture I took of Herrenchiemsee before they told us to put our cameras away

The only picture I took of Herrenchiemsee before they told us to put our cameras away

Herrenchiemsee was another of Ludwig II’s construction projects that is situated on an island in the middle of Chiemsee Lake. He admired Louis XIV of France, so he built the castle to be the exact replica of Versailles in Paris.

In March we were disappointed to learn that Versailles was closed for the winter season, so we were amused to walk through Ludwig II’s bigger and better version. Even the paintings are replicas, and the Hall of Mirrors is larger than the one in Versailles.

Our last outing in Bavaria (not counting the Hofbrauhaus, which I’ll tell you about later) was to Herzogstand. We hiked up the mountain and had a gorgeous view of the Bavarian Alps and Lake Walchsee far below. Ludwig II built a lodge at the top, so we were again following in the tracks of the beautiful things he created.

Sadly, the king’s desire to build fancy castles and stay away from political matters became his downfall. His advisors were increasingly concerned that the king was spending his family fortune and wanting to borrow even more money from monarchies across Europe.

Hiking up Herzogstand

Hiking up Herzogstand

To deal with the rogue king, they designed a plan to have him declared insane and removed from the throne. Testimony from servants and others was used to indicate unstable tendencies, which ended in the legal means to dethrone the king.

Ludwig II died before the actual event occurred. No one knows if he committed suicide or was murdered, but both he and his doctor were found drowned in a nearby lake. He never fully enjoyed his castles as they were unfinished before his death.

Ironically the castles are a major source of tourist income today for the Bavarian state government.

The castles are works of art and should be seen, but be aware that you can’t take pictures inside. This seems to be a pattern for Austria and Germany, and I’m hoping it ends there!

Also, Neuschwanstein is incredibly busy, even mid-week on a drizzly day. I would advise buying  tickets online in advance, so you don’t wait 30 minutes in line to buy tickets and 2 1/2 hours for your tour to start.

Expect a factory like tour – they leave every five minutes with about 50 people in each group…  Ludwig II would be proud of how much money he is raking in for Bavarians!

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