Thanks to a combination of a VERY early bedtime yesterday and incredible jet-lag and time zone confusion, I was up and ready to go at…3am. This allowed some time to get ready, plan a route, and mentally prepare for driving on the Autobahn. Basically, the only thing I’d heard about the Autobahn previously was that it had no speed limits. When I was coming through customs into the country, the agent also warned me to drive slowly, so I really had no idea what to expect. I was so nervous when I first got the keys, but I took a deep breath and headed out.
Fortunately, it wasn’t scary at all! It was woodsy and well labelled, which was sort of like driving through Vermont.
Some 2 hours later, I found myself in Schwangau, located in Southern Germany. Schwangau is home to Neuschwanstien and Hohenschwangau Castles, and was the summer home for the Bavarian Kings.
Did you know that the southern part of Germany was once considered a separate kingdom? The Kingdom of Bavaria was formed in 1805 as a result of the Treaty of Paris, and continued to exist until the end of World War 1. The Bavarian Kings, also known as the Wittelsbach family, held the crown for over 100 years. Even after the kingdom was abolished and Bavaria became a part of Germany, the Wittelsbach family remained very influential in politics. During World War 2, they were incredibly anti-Nazi, and many members were eventually imprisoned in concentration camps.
Probably the best-known member of this dynasty is King Ludwig II, who is also known as “Mad King Ludwig.” He had some crazy habits, including only eating outside (even in the pouring rain and in snowstorms) and staying up all night, every night, and playing on sleighs. He was also a dreamer during the time of Romantic Literature and the Brothers Grimm. While this allegedly made him rather a poor head of state (Bavaria wound up in a TON of debt), it did make him a wonderful patron of the arts. King Ludwig II was so inspired by Fairy Tales, Biblical stories, and the operas of Richard Wagner, that he decided to build Neuschwanstein Castle, calling it “Fairy Tale” castle. (Note- The castles both had a fairly strict "no pictures" policy, so some of the pictures have been used from other websites. Credit is given below any photos that I did not take.)
Nestled in the heart of the Alps, Neuschwanstien Castle looks like something out of a dream. King Ludwig II spared no expense when designing both the interior and the exterior. After a LONG walk up to the castle, it was time to take a look at the inside. Check it out:
After our tour, I was all ready to move in (how cool would it be to live in an actual CASTLE?), but it turns out that most of the castle is unfinished, due to Ludwig II’s sudden death. In fact, Ludwig II only actually spent 11 nights in his masterpiece before his imprisonment and death.
The castle that was lived in is Hohenschwangau Castle, which is just a few meters away. The building that we see today is technically a palace, since it was used for recreation and not shelter and defense. However, it stands on the ruins of the fortress Schwangau, which was likely built around the year 1300, where it was used for defensive purposes as the primary home to medieval knights. The castle eventually fell into ruins over time, but was re-discovered by King Maximilian I in 1829. The king was so impressed with the ruins and the location that he insisted on building a palace on the existing ruins.
Check it out:
Whew! What a full day, filled with all kinds of interesting history (and a shocking number of fidget spinners- they've definitely made an appearance here in Germany!) Tomorrow, the plan is to hike through the Alps. These mountains inspired a great many romantic writers, and I’m excited to experience them firsthand!