Castles are charming (we have a few here in Romania too), and one of the most enchanting is possibly Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, a.k.a The Disney Castle, or the “Mad King” Ludwig II castle. I’ve never been there, but it’s on my list of places to see. As you can see in the image above, the landscape is magnificient, and there’s also a smaller castle nestled in that mountain valley, namely Hohenschwangau.
Now, if you’re wondering about these names, Neuschwanstein Castle means New Swan Stone Castle (Neu + Schwan + Stein), and Hohenschwangau comes from the name (Upper Schwangau) of a former village there, now a municipality. The Hohenschwangau Castle is where King Ludwig II spent part of his childhood. The new castle he then built was formerly known as Neue Burg Hohenschwangau (New Upper Schwangau Castle). It was only after his death that it became Neuschwanstein—following a reference to Wagner’s opera “The Swan Knight.”
King Ludwig II moved into the castle in 1884, fifteen years after construction began, and never got to see the building complex as it stands today, as he died in 1886 and the building was finalized only in 1892. There are great views of it from Marienbrücke (Marie’s Bridge), a steel bridge stretching over a waterfall, which the king built to replace a wooden one in 1866, so as to offer great views of the palace. The bridge is named after the king’s mother.
The castle was meant to have 200 rooms but ended up with just fourteen, which can all be visited. The king, who was quite fond of acting in plays, was a big fan, friend, and benefactor of Wagner’s, and much of the scenes decorating Neuschwanstein come from this composer’s operas and the medieval legends they were based on. There is also an outlandish “Throne Hall,” looking as if it were part of a Byzantine church. There are gilt walls, a gilt cupola, and even floor mosaics. Everywhere you look there’s Christian iconography—religious decoration which captures some of the eccentricities of this king who created such a room for his throne (incidentally, he never had a throne here). Also, it’s important to note that while he created this grand palace fit for a powerful king, albeit of a smaller land, Ludwig II ruled fully for only two years, between 1868 and 1870. In 1870 he signed the Kaiserbrief (Imperial Letter), relinquishing important rights, such as his military powers and those pertaining to foreign policy, to the future Kaiser (Emperor) Wilhelm I, the first ruler (in 1871) of a unified Germany. (I hope I got this history bit right. It’s not my forte, although I did study some of these things at one point.)
Unlike other 19th-century castles, this creation of Ludwig’s was technologically advanced, with running cold and hot water, telephones, and an elevator, among other things. Unfortunately the limestone used in construction doesn’t take well to the weather in the region, and so the walls need to be constantly renovated. The foundations also need to be checked and reinforced, or else the whole complex risks sliding off the cliffsides.
On a visit to Bavaria with his wife, Walt Disney fell in love with the castle and, as we all now know, used it as inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. A version of Neuschwanstein is also featured on the Disney logo.
It’s no surprise Walt Disney, ever the dreamer, appreciated this castle and its surroundings. I don’t know how his visit was before construction at Disneyland began in 1954, but nowadays there are horse-drawn carriages to take you up the mountain to the both castles from Hohenschwangau, which completes the picturesque image of this tourist destination in quite a nice way. Also, there are refreshments for your convenience as you climb the hills. Oh, to go there! About six thousands people visit the castles in the summer, to a total of 1.4 million in a year, which makes Schloss (Castle) Neuschwanstein possibly the best known tourist attraction in Germany, and one of the most beloved ones in the world.
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To a happier, healthier life,