Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Dark brooding castles in the Allgau.

Today by pure coincidence, I discovered that it is Richard Wagner's 200th Birthday and here we are in this town which so reflected his inspiration for his operas in the castles.

The Wittelsbach Royal Family ruled in Bavaria for several centuries until 1918 when the German Republic was proclaimed. They are part of the Swabia Royal families. The Hapsbourg of Austria are their cousins and also started out in Swabia as their other cousins the Hohenzollern who ruled Prussia and then as German Kaisers until 1918. They too have some fantastic castles in this part of Bavaria.

This morning we got up and after breakfast took the bus to the Castles, on a good sunny day I would have walked it, the surrounding scenery is perfect for walking. But since it was raining pretty hard we took the bus for only 5 minutes. There are many mountain stream fed lakes in this area, the water has that strange glacier colour combined with the green of the forest is quite beautiful.

At the Visitor centre all is well organised and despite the crowds, we got our tickets in hand in a few minutes. You have a choice of visiting one or both castles at a pre-set time with a guide, all visits are guided and very regimented. We first went to Hohenschwangau, the old summer residence of the Wittelsbach family, they have owned this castle for 6 centuries. It was previously the seat of the Knights of Schwangau (the Swan) who controlled this border area between Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland. It is a dark and brooding place, full of heavy dark wood furniture and wall paintings telling stories of Tannhauser, Parsifal, Lohengrin, Tristan and Isolde. Richard Wagner was a friend of the family and they supported him financially for many years. It is difficult to imagine anyone living in such emotionally charged castle with its dark rooms and gothic architecture.

It is at Hohenschwangau that Ludwig and his brother Otto grew up. Their father King Maximillian II of Bavaria was married to Princess Mary of Prussia. At the age of 19 Ludwig becomes king and he goes on a mad spending spree building several palaces and having plans for several more, all more and more elaborate in size and architecture, costing basically the entire national treasury of Bavaria. Ludwig appears to have been a strange man, he was deeply religious and his Catholicism was a mixture of Arthurian Legends, Knights in shining armour, Holy Crusades and Christ Lord of the World. It appears that Ludwig thought he was Lohengrin mix in with St-George, his family patron Saint.

Hohenschwangau will remain his mother's Queen Mary home until her death in 1889. His uncle Prince Luitpold will live there until his death in 1913. Because the staff of Hohenschwangau work for the Wittelsbach family, they are very circumspect on what happened to Ludwig and his brother Otto. The only answer you get is that this family tragedy is all a mystery.

Ludwig II behaviour alarmed his uncles and the family, Prince Luitpold in particular will try to advise him to no avail.  After visiting this depressing castle we went up the hill, way up, above the lake to Neuschwanstein, what you see today took 17 years to build and is incomplete. You can visit 3 floors where the rooms are complete with furniture and interior decoration.

Neuschwanstein is even darker than Hohenschwangau, the Gothic decor is oppressive, heavy and full of mythical dragons and gargoyles starring at you in the semi-darkness. Heavy drapes of gold and silver thread, enormous chandeliers of gilded bronze with semi-precious stones and coloured glass. Rooms look like Byzantine cathedrals, again the legends of the Knights and Christianity painted on the walls everywhere you look. Everything is massive, the bedroom of Ludwig II took 4 years to decorate. The canopied bed alone is in Oak with 9 Gothic spire sculpted as its roof. The wash basin is also uncased in
Oak and the water spout is a solid silver Swan. The water for the castle comes from a stream 150 meters above the castle. What is interesting in the castle is the servants quarters, beautiful furniture and very pleasantly appointed rooms with views of the mountains.
 Neuschwanstein Castle

The throne room and the Singer's Hall are both spectacular by the wealth of the decor and the multitude of symbols recalling King Arthur. To say that Neuschwanstein is the result of an obsessive mind, is an understatement. Even photos of Ludwig in his thirties show a man with a wild look in his eyes, there is something not quite right with him.

He will be arrested and deposed in June 1886 in his bedroom at Neuschwanstein. His Uncle Prince Luitpold realizing the precarious state of Governmental affairs and the drain on the treasury the palace building program has created, will arrange for a quiet Palace coup. However another more powerful hand is at play, the German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck has a strong dislike for both brothers, they are not playing along in his plans for a strong German Empire ruled by the Kaiser in Berlin. It is believed that Bismarck supported the removal of Ludwig II and the internment of his brother Otto, they were seen as too critical of the Kaiser, thus undermining the Empire.

Ludwig is told that he is insane, no one will ever examine him and no doctor will ever have a chance to observe if he is or not insane. The only medical document that does exist was signed by a medical doctor at gun point. This doctor will later declare that he did not know anything about Ludwig state of mind. Ludwig will then be escorted to a palace just outside Munich under very heavy guard. He is more or less a prisoner of his uncle. Only three days later he is found drowned in a lake nearby with another doctor who was a friend. Immediately all construction projects are stopped and Neuschwanstein is opened as a museum. It will never be completed.

Otto the younger brother of Ludwig is proclaimed King of Bavaria, however he too will be declared insane,  the doctors will write that he suffers from melancholy and is depressive. Today we would say that he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress syndrome, he had an active military career and after the Franco-Prussian War 1871, he is showing signs of distress. He will spend the next 26 years in a palace sanatorium under heavy guard, often sedated for his own good. Prince Luitpold is declared Regent and will govern Bavaria for many decades until his own death in 1912. Otto will live on until 1916 but unable to assume the throne. His cousin Ludwig III will take charge until 1918 when all kingdoms and principality in Germany are dissolved.

After all this melancholy we went for lunch. A beautiful place but such sadness.


  1. Your life is very interesting. It is not just autobiography, but it seems you are documenting America.
    Ed of

  2. Such wonderful pictures. I have always wanted to see Neuschwanstein

    1. We cannot take any pictures inside this is why I only have outside pix. Post cards do show interior rooms.

  3. If I ever win the lottery, I will indulge all my mad whims too.

    1. hopefully you will have better taste than that bunch with their gargoyles and dragons.