When I was a teenager, I lived in this small tourist town and worked at one of the souvenir stores there. It's nice to see that the local Neuschwanstein architecture is being recognized.
Neuschwanstein is on the list of the 20 building wonders of the world, and since 2007, people have voted for the world’s seven wonders, in fact, millions of people around the world voted. Neuschwanstein was not one of the seven. The seven wonders were: Chichén Itzá Temple in the Yucatan, the Christ statue outside Rio de Janeiro, the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, Machu Pichu in Peru. The Egyptians were of course also on the list, and they became quite angry that the Pyramids were not included in the fine company of the seven. Maybe next time?
One could wonder, what a wonder really is, if the pyramids are not wonders? Maybe we live in a wonderful world with such wonders sprinkled around us like pearls on a string. We know they’re there, but how much do we really know about these wonders and history behind them? Do we really appreciate them? Makes you wonder… In any case, the Neuschwanstein fairytale castle is a really photogenic building and, thus, is one of the world’s most photographed buildings.
The history of Neuschwanstein has it all. It is the story of the handsome young King Ludwig II, who didn’t know which leg to stand on, when he became king. A sad story about an unrequited love, loneliness, art, music, wealth and a coup with a macabre end. When Maximilian II died as King of Bavaria in 1864, his son ascended the throne, only 18 years old. Ludwig II would be an absolute monarch, with power and everything that goes with it. Bavaria at that time, was a constitutional monarchy, so the kid did not have the full power over the country. He was pretty angry because of that.
As a young ambitious king, it was not satisfactory just to be a figurehead king. He tried to change the laws so he could obtain the power he so wanted, but he failed. It was only in history books, that he was able to read about the absolute monarchs. One could try to buy a kingdom, he thought. Ludwig II set about trying to buy the island of Mallorca, but Spain wanted 50 million Reichsmark, to insert him as ruler of the island. Ludwig II did not have that much money, so the idea was promptly dropped.
In 1866, after the ‘Seven Weeks War’ between Prussia and Bavaria, Ludwig II was instated in the disappointing role of Vassal King, a figurehead under the iron chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Prussia. The young man was very weary of it all, and he fled into his own fantasy world, where only he ruled, supremely.
Ludwig II loved music, and especially works of composer Richard Wagner, (the temporal response to Rammstein), who was number one on the charts in southern Germany, with his romantic works which focused on German fairytales and legends. Ludwig II’s nanny at Hohenschwangau had introduced him to Richard Wagner’s musical universe, when he was only 13 years old, and it came to influence him for the rest of his life.
In 1860, Ludwig II saw Richard Wagner’s opera ‘Lohengrin’ live, and he was sold. In his childhood years in Hohenschwangau, he was surrounded by adventure in the form of romantic murals of German heroes and their deeds. He became so obsessed with the legendary figure Lohengrin, he began to compare himself with this romantic swan knight. He was such a hardcore fan of the composer Richard Wagner, he took the composer under his protective wings, which came to mean a leap ahead, for Richard Wagner’s life and career. Ludwig II was convinced that Richard Wagner was in touch with God, when he composed the music.
In 1864, just after Ludwig II became king, he sent a letter to his musical idol via his private secretary: “I have the honour of being King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s private secretary. The king has entrusted me, my dear master, to invite you to his palace, and ask that you must come without hesitation.”
Richard Wagner was reeling on his heels, and wrote back: “Beloved, most gracious liege! I’m sending you these tears of celestial motion to say that the miracle of poetry has finally come into my poor, loveless life as a divine truth.”
Richard Wagner went to the court in Munich, and met with Ludwig II for the first time. The 51-year-old composer was a close friend with the young king, through a short and stormy period, which had its hub in the summer castle Hohenschwangau. Richard Wagner composed, enjoyed life, and his new status in the castle. Ludwig II went to the bank and repaid Richard Wagner’s considerable debts, which made the composer uncannily creative and sharp. Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, was set up at Court Theatre in Munich on 10 June 1865, and was a resounding success.
In 1866, Ludwig II had a date of the serious kind. He met his future fiancée, Countess Sophie of Austria. Sophie was a music-happy girl, and they both loved Wagner’s music, but it was also the only thing they had in common. Sophie was his cousin, and sister of his good friend, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Ludwig II cancelled his engagement to Sophie shortly before the two should be welded together. Love just wasn’t there.
Ludwig II was a pretty mysterious fellow, and the women flocked around him. It’s good to be king. Ludwig II had many female acquaintances, but no one grasped his deep interest, and, as years went by, gossip and intrigue as to his sexual orientation abounded. It was not appropriate back then. Shut in, he slept all day and was only awake at night. Love was just something that existed in the music.
Although Ludwig was no good as king by day, he could be, by night. He planned his own private kingdom, which would consist of castles all over Bavaria. Like so many other kings through the ages, he was also an entrepreneur. But he also had an incredibly romantic imagination, which brought him over the edge of the ordinary human mind. Only a year after he became king, he wrote to Richard Wagner: “I plan to rebuild the old castle ruins in the same style as the old German knight’s castles. I look forward to living there someday. There will be many rooms and the views are wonderful over Tyrol. The location is one of the loveliest, holiest and most difficult to find. Thus, a worthy temple for my divine friend, who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world.
His friend Richard Wagner liked young women, and he had chosen a mate after writing ‘Tristan and Isolde’. During the same period, where Ludwig II muddled up his own engagement, the composer had seduced his conductor’s wife. Although the conductor, Hans von Bülow, was a significant piece of Richard Wagner’s life, and a good supporter, Wagner was cold as a stone, he wanted his wife. Cosima, as the young woman was named, was at Wagner’s side until his death, and bore him a daughter Isolde, so it may well have been true love.
Cosima was 24 years younger than Richard Wagner, and so again, the gossip went around, and many believed it was a proper scandal. Wagner fell into disfavour among persons at court, they feared that he would bring ideas into the mind of the young king, which he previously had done. Ludwig II was forced to send Richard Wagner away from court. Ludwig II was so depressed, and was on the verge of collapse. He thought of abdicating, so that he could follow his friend in exile. He found it hard to live a life without Richard Wagner and his music, at his side. Wagner managed to talk some sense into the young king, who in turn had Wagner installed in Villa Triebschen, on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Now, Wagner could be really creative, and the young king went ahead with plans for the construction, which would celebrate the composer, and would later become his destiny.
In 1868, Wagner’s opera “Die Meistersinger of Nuremberg”, premiered in Munich, and same year Cosima divorced from Hans von Bülow. In 1870, Wagner and Cosima married. Ludwig II, who was only 23 years old during those events, now began to live out his fantasies and began to build castles. Drawings and sketches where created for the new palace, and they were not accepted until all details were in order. All modern building techniques should be used, and no expense would be spared. Neuschwanstein would be a direct homage to Richard Wagner. A great operatic backdrop.
The decor inside, consists of murals with scenes from Richard Wagner’s operas. ‘Parsifal’, ‘Lohengrin’ and ‘Tristan and Isolde’. The old castle ruin, which was just opposite to Hohenschwangau, was the centrepiece of his imaginary royal kingdom. Richard Wagner was to be the musical bridge between God, king and the common people.
In 1869, the construction of Neuschwanstein started, and it would only be completed seventeen years later. When you are in close contact with the castle, one can hardly understand that it was possible to bring so much beauty into one building. Artists and architects must have stepped on each other’s toes in the creative process. In the seventeen years it took to build the castle, there was plenty of turmoil in Europe, while the Swan Knight King reigned quietly, without love, in his own fantasy realm.
He built for dear life, and spent more money than he had. He sat for days on end, and followed the construction by telescope. It was not just the new palace that had his interest, the king also built elsewhere in Bavaria. Richard Wagner tried to get Ludwig to take a little more interest in his country than just music, art and buildings. He failed, but Richard Wagner loved his young king: “This wonderful, unique, young man is deeply connected to me through the mystery and magic.”
Ludwig II was so much a fan of Richard Wagner, that he became addicted to the composer’s works. During the construction of Neuschwanstein, he became quite strange, and locked himself in his mother’s castle Hohenschwangau, with binoculars as the only window to the outside world. Ludwig II now assumed a really bad lifestyle, and as years went by, he fell more and more into disrepair. Teeth falling out, he got out of shape and became irritable, and slept all day. Sometimes he’d leave the palace at night to go for a ride in the dark, with all his other dark sides. In the years during construction of the dream palace, he banned visitors from come to Hohenschwangau, defending the construction of his dream castle. In 1883, Richard Wagner died without having seen the gigantic manifestation of his works. It was a real loss for Ludwig II.
In 1886, the dream castle was nearly completed, and Ludwig II moved into apartments in the new palace. He could now live in the palace, his imagination had fostered. But Ludwig’s days were literally numbered; he would only have 172 days in the castle. He was loved by the people and hated by the rulers. He now had some massive problems, with bad credit, and a debt of around 20 million Reichsmark. There was no chance that Bavaria could ever repay this debt, but Ludwig II didn’t care.
On June 10th of the same year, the castle invaded by a group of men forcing their way through the castle gates. They dragged Ludwig away, and he was deposed as king the same day, by both his own family, and the government. The official reason given to the people, was that he suffered from galloping insanity. He had spent too much money on his construction work across Bavaria, to complete his fantasy kingdom. The Swan Knight King was taken to Munich.
On June 12, the King was out taking a walk with his private physician, but the two never returned from that trip. Their bodies were found in the Starnberger See, and there were no witnesses to this drama. The official explanation was that Ludwig II had beaten his doctor to death, and then had killed himself, because he had lost his royal title. But how could this mad romantic soul who loved music, art and beauty, beat another man to death? How insane was Ludwig II anyway? One thing is for sure. He was a great financial burden for Bavaria, and this was probably why he was killed.
The last second before the swan knight king slipped into death, he may have heard Wagner’s music in his mind’s ear, and thought of a letter he sent the composer after a concert in Bayreuth: “Oh, now I recognize again the beautiful world that I’ve been away from, the sky opened up again for me, the angels rays of colour, spring reaches into my soul with thousands of sweet sounds. The true artist of God’s grace that has brought the sacred fire from heaven to earth to clean, to sanctify, to salvation. The God-Man cannot get lost and cannot fail “.
When you exit the castles and continue your trip, you can sit and think in the saddle of this mysterious tale. About all the architecture and furniture loaded into Neuschwanstein. About life at Hohenschwangau, and the wealth the king and his family surrounded themselves with. About the mad king, his debauchery and decadence. About how his food was raised up through the floors of Hohenschwangau, because he did not like servants, and how his lovers walked through the castle in secret passages. About how his servants stood on top of his bedroom, and shone lights into the room through coloured glass. About the room where Richard Wagner was asleep drunk, while he was wondering how he could seduce some young girls, not to forget the natural environment and location of the palaces, which were literally royal houses, fit for kings.
Ludwig II, in his brief and mysterious life, through the composer Richard Wagner’s music, his own wild imagination, and on the brink of romantic insanity, left us a marvel of a castle at the bottom of the A7 motorway. A romantic monument, perhaps to remind us that love and romance can be found in the real world. Perhaps the message from Ludwig II to the future of humanity is: “Find love while you live, and don’t end up like I did”?
OByrne, Dave. 2011. "Bavaria Germany: Neuschwanstein Among 20 Building Wonders of the World". We Blog the World. Posted: December 9, 2011. Available online: http://www.weblogtheworld.com/countries/europe-countries/germany/city-munich/bavaria-germany-neuschwanstein-among-20-building-wonders-of-the-world/?utm_campaign=twitter&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitter