This morning we got up bright and early as we had to get to Munich by 0900hrs. We had arranged for a tour of possibly Germany’s most famous landmark: Neuschwanstein Castle. Neuschwanstein, although it looks medieval, was actually built in the mid 1800s by ‘mad’ King Ludwig II (although he probably wasn’t mad…more on that later). Because it is such an icon it attracts an enormous amount of visitors and can only allow a certain amount of people in per day, and had read that you can book a tour with a ‘jump the queue’ ticket so you are guaranteed to get in. In Vancouver we booked a tour with Viator and were ready to see this structure at the station at 0900hrs.
Our tour group was about 20 of us – an Australian family, several Americans from North Carolina and Arizona, a Malaysian and a Chinese couple, us being the lone Canadians. We were met by our tour guide, an effervescent Spaniard named Carlota dressed in a tyrollean hat and lederhosen. Carlota counted us all to make sure we were all present and accounted for and shepherded us onto the train for our 2 hour train ride towards the border town of Fussen. While on the train Carlota told us the story of Ludwig II and his dysfunctional family of absentee father Maximillian I and schizophrenic brother Otto. Ludwig II’s family were not ‘actual’ royalty, his grandfather Ludwig I having been pronounced King of Bavaria by Napoleon. Ludwig II first heard an opera by Richard Wagner at around the age of ten and soon became enamoured with Wagner and German mythology. Ludwig II and Wagner became pen pals and fast friends, a friendship lasting a good amount of time (until Wagner stole a prominent politician’s wife and then things got awkward).
Anyhow, the countryside went from relatively flat to the rolling green hills and craggy peaks of the pre-Alps. Beautiful houses with geranium-lined balconies became the norm with clean little towns and ambling brooks dotting the land. We all hopped off the train at Fussen and boarded a bus into the city of Schwangau where we disembarked amidst a sea of trinket shops and bratwurst stands. We also caught our first glance of the castle:
We were given a chance to have some lunch while Carlota checked the bus queue to see if we could all make it on the bus up to the castle. We sat and watched the other tour groups while thoroughly enjoying a bratwurst on a bun and currywurst. When time was up, we all wandered towards another bus stop so the bus could take us up the mountain, rather than taking the 40 minute walk up.
The bus dropped us off right by the Mariensbrucke – a rickety bridge overstuffed with tourists that offers the best view of the castle. Unfortunately, you have to keep your elbows out and be a little rude to get a good spot for photos. Getting off the bridge was also a bit of a battle.
We left the bridge en masse and hiked further up the side of the mountain to a lookout, offering beautiful views of the Alpsee and Ludwig’s childhood castle, Hohenschwangau.
We hiked up more and finally approached the castle proper. There was no photography allowed on the inside of the castle, which was unfortunately as it really was magnificent. As previously mentioned Ludwig II was a huge fan of Wagner operas and German mythology so each room had a different theme from Wagner’s operas, such as Tannhauser, Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde. Ludwig also loved swans, and one of his salons is adorned with over 100 swan depictions – in the woodwork, wallpaper, flooring.
Ludwig wasn’t crazy about the political side of being king, which he became at the age of 18. He was more interested in technology, arts and culture. He was obsessed with the idea of flight and of innovation, as well as design, having a hand in and inspecting almost every aspect of his castle and having insurance for every labourer working on the building. His castle took 20 years to build and is not actually finished – there was to be another tower built. Sadly he only lived in it for 2 weeks as politicians and other nobles thought that he was a liability and wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible, so he was arrested in his chapel and declared insane. Once declared insane he could no longer rule and moved to another family residence where he soon died at age 41 under very mysterious circumstances – Ludwig and his psychiatrist went for a walk around the lake sans bodyguards and were later both found dead in two feet of water, no water in their lungs.
The 35 minute long tour ended and our tour group was given about 1 1/2 hours to make it back down to the bus stop. We decided the most romantic way was by horse-drawn carriage.
Once back at the bottom of the mountain we had a sit and Argie pulled out some chocolate, so we once again people watched and waited for the bus and then the train. The train ride was actually a bit of a highlight as the countryside is so rich and beautiful.
We finally returned to Augsburg around 2000hrs. The whole day had been rather exhausting – essentially 11 hours for a 35 minute tour. The castle was definitely a sight to see and I’m glad I went, but it leaves me with the same feelings I had for the Eiffel Tower – glad I visited and went inside, but I shan’t be going back.