Field Trip Friday: Neuschwanstein Castle

Continuing where we left off with Hae-In’s trip to Germany, today we travel to the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle. Commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the castle was built as a retreat and homage to his favorite composer, Richard Wagner. Neuschwanstein means “New Swan Stone” in German, which is inspired by one of Wagner’s operas about the Swan King.

view from the hike up to the castle

The castle has been featured in several movies and was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. From Munich, Füssen is a two-hour train ride followed by a short busride up to Hohenschwangau. But getting to the castle itself involves walk up the hill (with paths of varying steepness) or one can opt for a horse-drawn carriage (not exactly quicker than walking though).

view approaching the castle

King Ludwig II was inspired by many 19th century picturesque castles being constructed at the time, and wanted to create a romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages as well as pay respects to his friend Richard Wagner. Although it was originally designed by Christian Jank, a stage designer, it was actually built with a different architect, Eduard Riedel. The king was very involved with the design, however, insisting on personal approval of each draft, so the palace’s design is really more his personal creation/fantasy than anything else.

limestone towers

The palace’s architecture mixes various styles, a little Romanesque here, Gothic there and Byzantine inspiration inside. Designed with many towers, turrets, gables and balconies, the idea was to provide varying views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. Although it appears to be the quintessential fairytale castle, the most important function of any castle is protection and with Neuschwanstein, fortification was not a focus.

courtyard

Mainly a brick construction, white limestone, sandstone and marble was later added on top and to highlight certain features such as windows, arch ribs, columns and capitals. Neuschwanstein was built as a residence, with the king’s private lodging and servants’ rooms, but did not have space built for the royal court. Although they do not allow interior photography on the tour, you can see some interior photos here. Only 14 rooms were finished before Ludwig’s death, including the Throne Room, his private suite, the Singers’ Hall, and the Grotto. Many others remain unfinished and unfurnished and had the entire castle been completed, there would have been 200+ rooms!

limestone and sandstone interior walls

The interior design alludes to Wagner’s operas, including German folktales like Lohengrin, the Swan Knight. The grotto room is the most unique, as the entire room is designed to look and feel like the inside of a cave complete with stalagmites and hidden doors.As our tour guide pointed out, the room was used as irrefutable evidence of Ludwig’s madness after his eventual arrest. Madness or not, King Ludwig II also made sure that the palace was outfitted with some of the latest technical innovations of the late 19th century including a battery-powered bell system to call for servants, running warm water and toilets that flushed automatically.

view of neighboring castle and lakes

Unfortunately, as the King’s plans grew, so did the expenses, and construction costs of Neuschwanstein in the his lifetime reached 6.2 million marks. Since he could not afford this, he opened new lines of credit and incurred massive debt, but continued to move forward. It was then that the Bavarian government decided to depose the king, who was living at Neuschwanstein. On June 10, 1886 he was forced to leave the castle (after a failed attempt to remove him the day before) and since he was considered mentally ill and unfit to rule, he was put under the supervision of Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, chief of the Munich Asylum. Three days later, both were found dead in Lake Stanberg. This was mysterious because the water was very shallow and Ludwig was a strong swimmer all his life.

view of the castle from Marienbrucke bridge

King Ludwig II only lived at Neuschwanstein for a total of 172 days and when he died, it was still very incomplete. Although he had never intended to make it accessible to the public, six weeks after the his death Neuschwanstein castle was opened to paying visitors in an effort to recover some of the debt. Some of the rooms were finished for this purpose, but most of them remain unfinished and the tour takes you on a very select route. Due to its secluded location, Neuschwanstein survived both World Wars without any damage and has seen over 60 million visitors so far. Although the tour itself is quite short, the castle and the hike up to the castle are really worth seeing, whether it is in the summer or winter months.

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1 Response to “Field Trip Friday: Neuschwanstein Castle”


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