It was a cold Saturday morning in Munich, Germany. I had just spent the last 3 days touring companies as part of a career trek organized by my business school. Since I was already there, I decided to spend the weekend in Germany.
After some research, I discovered that the world famous Neuschwanstein Castle is just two hours south of Munich! While the castle is accessible by train, I decided to book a guided tour for two reasons: 1. The guided tour was able to purchase entrance tickets (which can be difficult to obtain on your own) 2. The guided tour visited a couple other sites in the Bavarian Alps too.
On the trip, I was joined by my classmates Agni, Miho and Mariana. We sat next to Brady, a Minnesotan who was on his first trip outside of the US.
The bus departed sharply at 8:30 AM (German time) and we headed south. The guide, an extremely long-winded man in his 70’s, narrated our drive. While very cute, he used the most roundabout ways of explaining things.
As we neared German’s southern border with Austria, the road climbed quickly into the mountains. All of a sudden it started raining hard. We kept climbing and the rain turned to snow!!!
3km from the Austrian border we reached the castle of Linderhof. The guide explained that this was the home of the famed Bavarian King Ludwig II. He apparently hated people and lived alone in a castle far from the cities. Being just 3km from Austria, it was about as far as you can possibly get from Munich while staying in Bavaria. If that wasn’t enough, the castle was hidden by a hill. So even if you happened to be wandering in the area, you would have no idea that the castle and the king of Bavaria were hanging out here. It sounded a lot like Beauty and the Beast.
Linderhof was a “modest” 1,400 square meters (14,000 square feet). The guided tour lasted 30 minutes. Photos were not allowed- most most unfortunately- becaue the place was so beautiful.
The palace was built in the Baroque style- popular with the Bourbon French kingdoms of the 17th and 18th centuries. The catch is that Ludwig II lived in the late 1800’s so this castle was actually an example of historicism.
The rooms were absolutely stunning and were as jaw dropping as any palace I have ever seen including the Spanish Royal Palace and Versailles itself. As a matter of fact, Ludwig idolized Louis XIV and dedicated the palace to him. A large statue of the Sun King stands in the entryway. Murals of famous Norse and Greek myths crowned the hallways.
He even had a large bedroom where he could receive royal visitors just like at Versailles. But the visitors never showed because he lived alone in the middle of the mountains.
My favorite contraption was the dinner table- built for one. It sat atop a platform that could be lowered directly into the kitchen. That way his dinner could be served without any interactions from the staff. He apparently spent all day reading books – at least one per day.
My guide was really a hoot: she was a royalist and yearned for a return to the days when Bavaria was ruled by an absolute monarch. She called Ludwig II the most handsome and daring man to ever live. She said Ludwig had the courage to live the life he wanted and the architectural genius to create the world’s prettiest castles. She lamented that Germany now has an ugly ruler (Angela Merkel). She said that Cañada’s Justin Trudeaux is attractive but had terrible policies. I knew Bavaria was a cradle for conservatism but this was something else!
We got back on the bus and drove down below the snow line to the town of Oberammergau. The town is known for having hosted a play on the Passion of Christ every 10 years since 1610. The play attracts over half a million visitors and has made the town wealthy- so wealthy that half the buildings have painted murals.
After one more hour in the bus, we reached the main attraction: Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein in German). Neuschwanstein is known all over the world for its beauty. It also served as the real-life inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.
The castle is located on a hill above a small town that today exclusively caters to tourists. We ate lunch in town. Despite being perhaps the single most touristy town in all of Germany, the restaurants in town only accepted cash. Germany is notorious for being a cash-economy due to their strict monetary policy, but this was ridiculous given the huge number of tourists.
From the town, I walked 20 minutes up hill to the castle and then another 15 to the Marienbrucke bridge with the best view of the castle. Even though this was the offseason, the bridge was swarming with tourists. I took pictures and soaked up the epic views. Then, I walked down to the castle itself.
Our group then took the guided tour of the castle. The tours run with incredible efficiency: every 5 minutes. To ensure that tours run on time, all the explaining is done using an audioguide with a live person herding the 40-person group into the next room.
This fairytale castle was also out of its time. It was built from 1869-1886 aka after the US Civil War. In fact, there are photographs of the castle’s construction. I find it funny that Disneyland’s fake Sleeping Beauty’s castle is actually modeled after a fake castle.
The interior rooms were modeled in different time periods but were mostly Gothic. Murals depicting the righteousness and purity of nobility were everywhere. The throne room was in a Byzantine style complete with a mosaic floor.
The ornate bedchamber was covered in dark wood and had its own chapel. Next to his room was a robing chamber and next to that was a fake cave (perhaps the world’s oldest fake cave?).
Unlike the highly biased guide from Linderhof, this audio guide did a good job at explaining the real history of Neuschwanstein and Ludwig II.
Ludwig, inherited the throne of Bavaria at age 18 and ruled as absolute monarch. After two years on the throne, he lost the Seven Weeks War with Prussia. As a result of the defeat and some poor strategic alliances, Bavaria eventually became part of the German Empire and Ludwig lost most of his power. Ludwig still had both state and family money so he built three castles and hid alone in shame. Alone, he could still believe that he was a noble king with chivalry and honor. The murals and historic architecture in his palaces reinforce his romantic ideals of nobility and the power that monarchs once had.
In 1886 Ludwig was taken from Neuschwanstein and declared insane by a doctor. The next day, both he and the doctor were found dead. The exact circumstances of his death are a mystery. At the time, he was building a bathhouse in Neuschwanstein so he could replicate the ritual purification baths of the Knights Templar.
The bus ride back took 2 hours. Our guide managed to talk for the entire time. Some of the comments amazed me even after 8 hours of his antics. Here are three of my favorite quotes:
“The road continues straight for 3 kilometers. Actually there will be a slight bend to the right but otherwise will be straight.”
“Now we have to take a right because this road isn’t connected to the two inner belts”
“At the end of our journey, I would like to wish you, if nothing else, good health because it enables us to do other things. If our health isn’t good, best to just laugh about it.”
After 11 hours of adventuring, we finally were back to Munich! To celebrate our return, my friends and I headed to a bar to drink some Bavarian beer.