Trip Start May 12, 2009
52Trip End May 12, 2009
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We started off with the castles of the so-called "mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Ludwig II was born in the 1820's and became king at the age of 18. He really had very little to do, ruler-wise, as his kingdom was dominated by Prussia and Austria. This left him free to do his favorite things: enjoy Wagnerian operas and build castles.
For Ludwig these activities were closely related. His castles were inspired by scenes from Wagner's operas. He invited Wagner himself to come hang out in the castles. Ludwig was really the ultimate groupie, as only a monarch can be.
So we started with Hohenswangau, the castle where Ludwig grew up. This had been a very old castle, but had been "redecorated" in 1835. From what I gathered, redecorated meant that the old castle was knocked down and new one was built. Anyway we enjoyed a tour of this castle. It was quite unique in a few ways. First of all, it was not very old, dating from 1835. It was not a real defensive fortification - it was what people thought a castle might look like, if it did not have to defend anyone against anything. It was sort of a pretend castle. This relative newness allowed it to be unique in that all of its interior furnishings and decorations were original. The furniture, the silverwear, everything was from about 150 years ago.
The king's bedroom featured a Playboy quantity of paintings of female nudes. Apparently the original king had them all painted buck-naked, but when his sons became old enough to ask embarrassing questions about the naked ladies on his bedroom walls, he had clothes painted on all of them. Then when a later king (quite a senior citizen by that time) took possession of the castle, he had all of the prudish clothes removed by another painter. Since there were no further monarch, the ladies remained naked, though in a tasteful way.
From there, we took the half-hour walk up the hill to the main course of the day: Neuswanschtein.
This is the castle that everyone recognizes, whether they know the name of it or not. It is the castle on which the Disney Corporation based Cinderella's castle. It is THE fairy tale castle.
King Ludwig II had it built back in the mid 1800's. He actually knocked down an actual medieval castle in order to build the newfangled Neuschwanschtein - because the medieval castle did not look medieval enough.
Anyway, we walked up to the castle. It was pretty dramatic and vertical rising out of the forest as we approached. It is really a very beautiful building, from a distance or up close.
Then we went on our pre-programmed tour, as we had at Hohenschwangau. These tours are like no tours we have been on. They operated with what I guess you could call German efficiency. We had to report for our tour at exactly the right time. From there our tour proceeded from room to room, our tour guide timing our entrances and exits from rooms exactly to the second with other tour groups in other languages
Neuschwanstein was another of those things that make it obvious why the absolute monarchs got turfed. Ludwig's subjects lived in poverty and semi-starvation, but Ludwig had a lot of time and money to amuse himself. He built castles inspired by Wagner. He had rooms (including a fake cave) decorated to match scenes from his favorite operas. The guy had no basis in reality, and I guess no reason to base himself in the real world. His little kingdom was crumbling, and the was obsessed with Tristan and Isolde.
The place took 17 years to build. It took 14 craftsmen 4 years to finish his bedroom alone. The mosaic floor in his never-used Throne Room had over 2 million pieces. The opulance was of a very high grade.
Maybe it is no wonder that his political rivals got tired of him and had him packed off to the loonie bin at age 40. He committed suicide (or did he...?) two days later.
In any event, he left us Neuschwanstein, which is more than can be said for lots of other minor monarchs of the period
From there we walked over to Marionbruke, a brige Ludwig had built so as to view Neuschwanstein properly. It did indeed have a good view, if you could see past the swarms of tourists. I don't thing that I have seen so many tourists since the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Tourists of that conentration just drain the life out of a place. We decided to leave.
We found a campground just a few kilometres away in Austria.
Once there, Susan and I took an hour-long walk up the hill to see a very diffent kind of caste, the ruins of Ehrenburg. This is a defensive (or was it offensive?) fortification built between the 12th and 16th centuries. It has since fallen into disuse and become a ruin. During the last few years, it has been excavated and rediscovered. There is very little left of it, except for crumbling walls. This is a castle that never had any fairy tale ambitions. The king only came to visit once, and that was to hunt. It is in a poor location for a castle (below higher hills that can be used to attack it). So these factors combined to turn the place into a ruin. Susan and I had the place to ourselves. The hoards of tourists had not found their way here from Neuschwanstein. It was a beautiful place, looking out over the town of Reutte and the surrounding valley. We clambered around the crumbling battlements, thinking about the poor schmucks who had to live up in this desolate place 500 years ago.
Then we rushed down the hill in time to feed the kids supper. The kids were playing with Nintendo DS games when we returned.