A MAD KING'S CRAZY CASTLES
©By ROBERT W. BONE
MUNICH, Germany - Winter was cold and dark in the Bavarian Alps
during the mid-nineteenth century. Still a few people who ventured
outdoors at night would sometimes see a mysterious, bright glow gliding
silently through the pines and firs.
That would have been Ludwig II, the youthful king of Bavaria,
traveling in his elaborate sleigh - undoubtedly the only sleigh in the
world equipped with an electric light. It was powered by a large battery
placed under the seats.
Winter or summer, Ludwig II was known to spend much of his waking
hours moving around the countryside between dusk and dawn. In his short
lifetime, Ludwig II was declared officially insane, and he is widely
known today as the “Mad King” of Bavaria. Part of the evidence given for
his psychotic condition was that he spoke openly of his belief that man
would some day fly.
A sensitive and poetic romanticist, he was also talked out of
trying to construct a cable car at the mountaintop castle he was
building. It would have connected to another nearby castle, one that was
built by his parents and the summer home he knew and loved as a child.
Ludwig II cared nothing for the affairs of state. He commissioned
avant-garde art and experimental music, much of which was too advanced
for the time. These included the operas of his socially inept and
generally unpopular friend, Richard Wagner.
On top of everything else, the king was homosexual, and
unfortunately trapped in an age when none dared emerge from that
Today he might be considered an artistic eccentric, and one who
would fit neatly enough into respected elements of society. But this is
now and that was then, and he ended up dying tragically and
He was found dead, floating in a shallow lake on June 13, 1886. A
strong swimmer, the king did not drown. Many believe he was shot, simply
as a result of political intrigue. He was 40 years old.
Thousands of visitors today hike through the Mad King's unfinished
Neuschwanstein, the most famous castle in Germany. Visitors sometimes
look up to see hang gliders flitting around the sky near the ramparts
and turrets, a sight the royal dreamer and wannabe flyer would surely
The castles of Ludwig II are among the most popular sights for
tourists of today. However, there are actually dozens of palaces and
castles extending from Munich to the Austrian border, whether Gothic,
Baroque, or Neoclassical. Some are open to the public.
Starting from Munich, I joined a small group that set out to
examine some of these sumptuous constructions, cramming as many as
possible into a week's time. It was like dining on beer, sausage and
“apfelstrudel” daily - but a Bavarian feast for the eyes instead of the
Our eyes glazed over when we tried to grasp the complicated family
tree of the Wittelsbachs, rulers of Bavaria for more than seven hundred
years, including their relationships with their wives, husbands,
mistresses and lovers. So we concentrated on the art and architecture.
Here are a few highlights of this short but fascinating exploration.
The incredibly large and opulent Baroque palace of Nymphenburg, one
of Munich's most popular attractions, was built to celebrate the 1664
birth of a royal heir, Max Emanuel, a long-awaited baby who grew up to
become the great-grandfather of Ludwig II. The palace continued to be
occupied by the Wittelsbach family for several generations.
The first King Ludwig dallied there and his grandson, Ludwig II,
was born there.
A popular room in the palace is devoted to dozens of portraits of
the first Ludwig's mistresses - trophies in oil of conquests that
included the notorious Spanish dancer, Lola Montez. She was the
inspiration for the expression, “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” - or so
we were improbably told by our guide.
I was more impressed with the fact that Mozart played in the palace
at age 7 - not with toys or blocks of course, but on the piano.
We also visited three other palaces in Munich: exquisite,
18th-century Amalienburg, with its circular hall of mirrors,
Schleissheim, now the official state gallery for Baroque paintings, and
Lustheim, which contains a beautiful collection of Meissen porcelain.
From this attractive Bavarian village on the shores of Lake
Chiemsee, we took the passenger ferry to the small island of Herreninsel
to see another of Ludwig II's “mad” creations - the unfinished palace
that he built in an attempt to duplicate the French palace of
On display among the gold, porcelain and cherub-bedecked chambers
is Ludwig's king-size golden bed with its moon-shaped night light, which
once contained a single candle. There is a secret spiral staircase that
led from his bed to an indoor swimming pool on the floor below.
Construction on the palace was halted after his death, and today the
unfinished portion is almost as interesting as the remainder.
The fairy-tale-like village is famous for its Passion Play,
performed every 10 years since the early 17th century. The theater,
built expressly for that purpose, is an interesting tour itself. Next
year, 2008, ticket sales will go on sale for the summer performances in
A half-hour's drive from Oberammergau is Castle Linderhof, the only
one of the Ludwig II palaces and castles that was completed during the
king's lifetime. Like Herreninsel, this was Ludwig's homage to France's
King Louis XIV, with many elements copied from Versailles. The
surrounding gardens are as famous as the palace itself.
The village of Fuessen is the usual headquarters for visits to two
nearby castles, Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein, with its occasional hang
gliders, and the neo-Gothic Hohenschwangau. The latter, the childhood
summer home of Ludwig II, is credited to Ludwig's father, Maximilian II,
who renovated a 12th-century fortress, keeping the medieval style but
modernizing it to comfort standards of the early nineteenth century.
In later years, Ludwig II used the castle to keep a telescopic
watch on his construction of Neuschwanstein, until enough of it was
completed so that he could move in himself and continue his nightly
ramblings through the forests and nearby mountain villages. Today
Neuschwanstein is famous also for serving as the model for the Sleeping
Beauty castles of Disney amusement parks throughout the world.
In this spectacular Alpine setting, I concluded that Neuschwanstein,
the magnificent edifice of Bavaria's celebrated Mad King, will probably
remain the standard by which all romantic castles are judged between now
and, well…kingdom come.
(Note Muenchen or München is the German word for Munich.)
There are several car rental agencies in Munich. Conducted tours through
the Bavarian countryside, including those visiting various palaces and
castles, are also available. Check with Bavaria Tourism, Leopoldstrasse
146 80804, Munich;
(Note: The value of the U.S. dollar against the Euro has dropped
dramatically recently, so the conversions from Euros to dollars are
Munich: Maritim Muenchen, Goessthestr 7, 80336 Muenchen; Phone:
+49 89 55235 - 0;
From 120 euros ($171).
Prien: Yachthotel Chiemsee, Harrasser Strasse 49, 83209 Prien am
Chiemsee; Phone: +49 8051 6960; www.yachthotel.de. From 75 euros
Fuessen: Treffhotel Luitpold Park, Luitpoldstrasse, 87620 Fuessen;
From 79 euros ($112).
Ratskeller Muenchen, Marienplatz 8, 80331 Muenchen;
Metzgerwirt, Auffahrtsallee 69, 80638 Muenchen;
Restaurant Eisbach, Marstallplatz 3, 80539 Muenchen;
Restaurant zur Linde, 83256 Fraueninsel (on Fraueninsel Island);
Restaurant Mueller, Alpseestrasse 16, D-87645 Hohenschwangau;
(Note that many public places in Germany are closed on Shrove Tuesday
(the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent), on Dec. 24 and 25, and on
Dec. 31. Prices are in euros. Discounts are often available.)
Nymphenburg Palace and Gardens, Eingang 19, 80638 Muenchen;
Open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., April 1-Oct. 15; 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Oct.
16-March 31. Tickets 5 euros ($7).
Amalienburg Palace. Eingang 19, 80638 Muenchen;
Open daily except some holidays, same hours as above. Tickets 2 euros
Schleissheim New Palace and Lustheim Palaces. Max-Emanuel-Platz 1,
www.schloesser.bayern.de/englisch/palace/objects/schl_lu.htm. Open daily
except Monday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., April-September; 10 a.m.-4 p.m.,
October-March. Tickets: 3 euros ($4).
Herrenchiemsee New Palace, 83209 Herrenchiemsee;
Open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., April 1-mid-October; 9:40 a.m.-4:15 p.m.,
mid-October- March 31. Guided tours: 7 euros ($10).
Oberammergau Passion Play Theater. Theaterstrasse 16-A 82487
Guided tours in English 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, except November and
December Tickets: 6 euros ($8), but with reduced rates for students,
disabled visitors, and some others.
Hohenschwangau castle: Alpseestrasse 12, D-87645 Hohenschwangau;
Open 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Sunday, April 1 to September 30. and
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. October 1 to March 31. Closed December 24. Guided
tours: 9 euros ($12). Reduced admission fees for seniors, disabled
visitors and some students.
Neuschwanstein Castle: Schlossverwaltung Neuschwanstein,
Neuschwansteinerstr 20, 87645 Schwangau;
Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m, April-September; 9 a.m.-3 p.m., October through
March. Closed some holidays. Guided tours are given in English. 9 euros
($12). Combination tickets for both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein
are available for 17 euros ($23). Reduced admission fees for seniors and
some students. Children under 18, free
FOR MORE INFORMATION
German National Tourist Office, 122 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10068;
Phone (212) 661-3377;
Bavaria Tourism, Leopoldstrasse 146 80804, Munich, Germany;
Click on thumbnails to see enlarged images
L: Portrait of
Ludwig II, grandson of Ludwig I.
R: The vast Nymphenburg Palace in Munich.
L: Painting of
Ludwig II in his electric sleigh.
R: Interior of Schlessheim Palace.
Lola Montez, one of Ludway I's conquests.
R: Schlessheim Palace is a
gallry for Baroque paintings..
Palace, now an art gallery.
R: A school tur of the Nymphenburg Palace.
L: Statue of
Ludwig I in central Munich
R: Hall of Mirrors in
Palace was to duplicate Versailles.
R: Ludwig II's Castle Linderhof, near
L: Erih Goessler
& Thomas Guenter, in Bavarian dress.
R: Young dancers in traditional outdoor dance program.
L: Village of
Oberammagau, a tourism favorite.
R: Jesus costume in the famous passion play.
L: Portion of
Neuschwanstein Castle, built by Ludwig II.
R: Hohenschwangau, childhood summer home of Ludwig II.