Monday, August 4, 2008

Day 6--Neuschwanstein Castle and King Ludwig II

I actually just returned from my trip to Europe no more than an hour ago. I'm working on doing my laundry and going through my stuff. Sadly, I seemed to have misplaced a poster of the Hohenzolleren kings of Prussia and emperors of Germany as well as my nice expensive watch! Anyhoo, here is one last entry which I did acutally do while I was over in Germany, but just never had the chance to put up here. Enjoy. More to follow including pictures, when I get all of those sorted out.

Day 6--Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria; King Ludwig II

We headed down to Bavaria a little late than we wanted to. We also had some difficulties navigating. We decided on a more scenic route as opposed to going up to Ulm and taking the Autobahn down to Fuessen where Neuschwanstein castle is. This is the very castle which Disney copied for Disney World which I’m sure is in some violation of copyright. We didn’t anticipate a number of detours (umleitung) for this scenic route so we ended up going west and u-turning back east and then caught the Autobahn. It added another hour to what should have been a two hour trip. We got to Fuessen near 12:00. We let my dad off so he could find where we needed to find tickets and we parked (which was very difficult). Spaces were very narrow and it took a good five minutes to help my sister get into this very narrow space between two cars that were crammed into their spaces like sardines. After that, we crammed some sandwiches down since there would be no point in getting food there as it would be very expensive. We finally found dad who was at the hotel where you bought tickets to go into the castle. You could see the castle and it looks splendid from where we are, perfectly situated in the Alps. I’m sure the splendour only increases with the autumn months. We found dad and he told us that the first available tours to go into Neuschwanstein was at 4:05. I was disappointed by this and thought that had we left earlier and gone the route I suggested that this could have been avoided.

But, in retrospect, I’m more than happy that such was the outcome. My sister and I went to the Mariensbrueche which is a bridge which overlooks a river with waterfalls that run by the south valley of the castle. It was about a fifteen minute walk but we stopped so much along the way to get pictures from different angles of the castle and look at the Alpensee, the lake which is to the west. You could also see Hohenschwangau, which is another residence of King Ludwig II, though built by his father Maximilian II and was his residence as a child. It’s not quite as splendid as Neuschwanstein but from the top overlooking the countryside, it’s indeed a great sight.
We got to the bridge and assumed that was all the further we could go. We were wrong. There was a trail that allowed you, if you were brave enough (some of it was pretty treacherous), to go up a hill to give you an even greater and more splendid view of Neuschwanstein and the surrounding areas of Fuessen. Stephanie and I must have climbed up nearly ½ a mile, but it was worth it. Stephanie did great considering that she was going uphill on the rocks in sandals. However, that doesn’t even begin to compare with this one woman who was wearing such a short dress and red stiletto heels that must have given her an extra lift of 6" off the ground (she wasn’t on the trail, but on the bridge and it was a windy day and a steep trail). Going on these broken trails gives you a great opportunity to also visit with people. We met a person who was from Arizona and another who said his mother was from Kansas City, Kansas and his dad from Kansas City, Missouri. Small world!

We got in our pictures (a lot of them) and then headed over to the castle to go on our 4:05 tour. I entered the courtyard and got my first glimpse of the wonders of Neuschwanstein. Despite its wonders, it was never completed. If you go to the terrace overlooking the courtyard you can see, marked in the stone, the places where Ludwig II wanted to build a medieval-style donjon or keep, but was never started. As soon as I took a picture, my camera died on me (and I don’t have a digital camera by the way; I’m old fashioned and I think my camera takes better pictures than any digital can, besides where is the art in that?). My batteries had died and fortunately, the snack place down the road had two CR2 batteries for sale though it did cost me €18. That’s nearly $30. I could have gotten them both in the states for $10! I guess there is profit to be had! OK, problem solved with the camera.

While we were waiting I did some reading on this place and the ruler who had it built. King Ludwig II is probably best described as "the man who wouldn’t be king." Ascending to the throne at age 18, with little experience in government or even basic socialization skills, Ludwig had spent his childhood in near isolation except for his servants in the area around Hohenschwangau. He loved wandering this area and even remarked that the natural beauty of the area easily surpassed the many works of art he decorated Neuschwanstein with. He was also a dreamer and was very much enamoured with a romantic past. He wanted to build a medieval castle on the Schwanstein, where two previous castles had existed but were destroyed and left dilapidated. His father, Maximilian II, first had plans to rebuild on this area but never started. It’s interesting to consider what Ludwig means by medieval. Though there are definitely medieval features in the castle, particularly a lot of neo-Romanesque, most of it is very post-classical, post-medieval and post-Renaissance. It’s an amalgam of numerous, and often conflicting, styles but a symmetry is achieved with all of the contradiction.
Ludwig was in love with all of the legends of both Germany and those of the Greeks and the Romans. This particular castle was inspired by his love for the music of Richard Wagner. Wagner’s operas primarily deal with Germanic medieval legends such as the Ring Cycle (based off of the Nibelungunlied), Lohengrin, Parsifal, The Flying Dutchman, Rienzi, etc. His castle is adorned with frescoes of scenes from these operas and frequently arranged for concerts and operas to be performed here with Wagner conducting them himself. Wagner did accept the invitation, but that inspired a lot of vituperation from the aristocracy and clergy who regarded Wagner and his music as that of the Teufel (Devil)! It was even rumoured that Wagner and Ludwig II were involved in a homosexual relationship, but that has never been conclusively proven.

What is known is that Ludwig II was a loner. I suppose that is why I can empathize with him. He was engaged to marry his first cousin, the Princess Sophie of Austria (her sister, the Empress Elisabeth, was actually the closest thing Ludwig had to a confidante or friend), but a few months later and without explanation, he terminated the marriage though the marriage cart had been built and the honorary medallions had already been minted for distribution. From that point on, Ludwig would confine himself to a schedule that would minimize public appearances and he would work into the early hours of the morning and not wake up until about 1:00 pm.
His palace then seems to reflect much of what he considers the ideal existence, one that he could never have. It is easy to dismiss him as crazy. In fact, to remove him from power, four psychiatrists of the day diagnosed him as mentally ill without so much as examining him! Although it seemed he did not want to be king or have anything to do with government, when the Bavarian Parliament ordered his removal from Neuschwanstein, which was still under construction though he was living there, he pressed for everyone to recognize his rights as king. Nonetheless he was arrested later and several days later he and his primary psychiatrist, Dr. Gudden, were found dead, having drowned in the Chimessing Lake outside of Munich. No one knows the exact circumstances of his death, whether it was suicide or a murder-suicide or what. Nevertheless, King Ludwig II will probably always be remembered as a crazy person. Only in this world where the dreamer and misfits are so alone, can they also be deemed as "crazy." (Un)fortunately, he is in good company.

The castle is quite impressive. The first main room we visited was his throne room which actually resembles more of the interior of a Byzantine Church. Behind the throne is an icon of Christ surrounded by Seraphim, his mother and John the Baptist. This symbolizes that while on earth, Ludwig II has his power derived from Christ himself. Below this icon are 6 kings and emperors from various European nationalities who were made saints. The ground is a mosaic depicting all the animals that live in the Schwanstein area. It is made up of over 200,000 square blocks (2 cm x 2 cm). There are additional icons of St. George and the columns are of blue Slovakian marble. Truly an impressive sight to behold.

We also saw his bedroom and his dining area. Everything in these rooms is made to reflect the royal splendour and also to show his love for the ancient German legends which were made popular to him by the music of Richard Wagner, who never visited the castle. I especially liked the music room which was particularly designed so that the operas of Wagner could be performed. The tapestries and backdrops all have scenes from various Wagner operas. It is clear from the main tapestry that King Ludwig II particularly preferred "Parsifal", Wagner’s last and greatest opera, centered around Parsifal or Perceval, in the English tradition, who finds the Holy Grail and helps to heal the Fisher King. The acoustics are magnificent, almost perfect. The great thing is that concerts are still performed in that room to this very day. I’m definitely going to have find out when those are and plan a trip around it. Finding anyone to perform Wagner in the USA is nothing short of impossible. The Europeans, for all their faults, still have a decent appreciation for what constitutes good music.

The place is nothing short of miraculous and is a testimony to one crazy person’s vision. It is overkill, definitely, in some areas and no one would be wrong to say that a man who had an annual income of 5.5 million marks every year spent way too extravagantly. When he died, he owed more than 20 million marks in debt! Maybe that’s why he refused to give up his throne (he didn’t want to be put in prison by his creditors!). If you ever go, tours are available in both German and English and there are any number of written guides to help you navigate.
Tomorrow’s update, if I ever get to it, will be of Hohenzollern castle in the Schwaebischen Alb.

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