Perhaps it’s best to visit Neuschwanstein knowing nothing of its history or the reason why it was built. Europe’s most famous castle is set in an impossibly perfect location – striking green hills rising to snow topped peaks to the south, descending into rich green fields and blue sapphire lakes to the north. The forests spread out down from the hills and obscure all but the tallest of the castle’s towers.
Could there be any castle more fitting for a princess? Is there any doubt that the knight who calls this place home is both righteous and wise?
I dreamt of invading hordes of orcs carrying torches and howling as I walked up the causeway to the castle. The white limestone walls and red brick gatehouse seemed like an impregnable defense to me at the time – impregnable and gorgeous. The orcs in my dream were not felled – not by a cloud of arrows, but by the blinding light of Justice and Beauty which hovered about the entire castle and surrounded the person of the knight.
This is how I entered the castle, enveloped by a dream of Light and Beauty.
Neuschwanstein is a dream castle and best left to dreams. In fact, dreams are pretty much all I remember of my visit to the castle because the guided tour is a whirlwind trip through plush rooms made for viewing, not sitting, and the halls are empty and cold.
They’re cold because no one ever lived here. There was no knight, there were no princesses and the castle was built long after the last orc hung up his torch and opened up a body shop. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this; or perhaps the tragedy of it all will help you dream up your own version when you go to Fuessen in southern Bavaria and visit the Disneyland castle.
(There is no question of whether or not to go: the castle is too beautiful, the setting too magical, the local food too delicious to entertain any thoughts of skipping Neuschwanstein.)
So if no one lived there, why was it built? The castle was built, dear reader, to house the lonely soul of Ludwig II, reluctant King of Austria, the last of a dying class. Ludwig II believed that this fairy castle in a remote part of his kingdom, away from the gray world of politics and court life, would finally bring him happiness. He built the castle as a temple to the nobility of centuries past, when German knights took the field in armor against Turkish armies and princesses did indeed inhabit towers – it was a dream castle meant for a dreamer, filled with the odds and ends of his dreams.
Richard Wagner, the great dream weaver, was the foremost idol of the temple and his plays and operas infused the architecture with Teutonic mysticism, lined the doorways with Old German poetry and gave poor King Ludwig a blanket to wrap around himself during the 172 days that he actually spent at New Schwanstein.
See, the banker is the bane of every dreamer. Ludwig II was kind-hearted and noble enough to use only his own funds to build his dream castle; the problem was that (even as king) he did not have enough cash. He ended up millions of marks in debt and was eventually carted out of his castle by the debt collector and his gang.
Could there be anything worse for a man like Ludwig II, to be forced out of a dream by the cold, iron hand of finance? No, there could not and although there is no proof, the good King most likely jumped into nearby Lake Starnberg the day after being rudely awakened by his debt collectors and drowned. Mysteriously, the collector himself died in the same spot.
So now you know. Neuschwanstein is a dream and when you reach the top of the causeway and are greeted by the marble and limestone gates of Europe’s most beautiful palace, you must pay homage to the old King by dreaming your way through the guided tour.
I dream of a shining knight and the tinkling laughter of noble ladies. What about you?
Written by Sascha Matuszak for EuropeUpClose.com