During our relatively short time in Munich, I wanted to see some of the Bavarian countryside in addition to the city. In surfing social media, I came across Neuschwanstein Castle, supposedly the second most visited tourist site in Germany and Disney’s inspiration for the Snow White Castle. Though we’re not especially big Disney fans, this checked the boxes – history and scenery within reach of Munich – so I started looking for a tour.
We booked with Stefan Rieg who has his own small tour company in Munich. Stefan is ensconced in Bavarian history, and we learned all we needed to know (and more) about Ludwig II – after failing Stefan’s Ludwig quiz.
Our first stop was Lake Starnberg, a beautiful lake not far from Munich where King Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances after being declared insane. The psychiatrist who made the medical pronouncement (without examining Ludwig) died at the same time. It was never determined how either man died, but Ludwig was known to be a good swimmer so drowning was unlikely.
Ludwig became king at the age of 18, and though he initially tried to do the best for Bavaria, he couldn’t accept the fact that he wouldn’t be an absolute ruler like his idol, Louis XIV of France. He proceeded to build increasingly extravagant and isolated palaces and castles for himself, where he could live his dreams of life in a Wagnerian opera, with Wagner being his other idol.
Neuschwanstein was modeled on a medieval castle and was only one-third completed when Ludwig died. Ludwig lived here alone and didn’t entertain. Despite this, there is a ‘throne’ room where a king would normally be seated to greet guests and a ‘singers’ room which would be a perfect place for entertainment. But Ludwig used the room for private contemplation. Not only did he live and dine alone, but he slept during the day and spent his waking hours at night, so his staff always worked the night shift. Unfortunately, photographs weren’t permitted in either building so we can’t show some of those rooms.
The first palace he built was Linderhof (which we visited second on the tour, after a drive through Austria). This over-the-top palace has gardens that mimic Versailles, and the home itself is modeled on the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The Meissen porcelain inside is breathtaking, not to mention the extensive gilding, the mini Hall of Mirrors and the dining table that can be lowered so the staff could put the food on the table and raise it back up to Ludwig – thereby allowing him to dine in total isolation.
Ludwig started yet a third palace, this one on an island – allowing for even more isolation. I suppose the country got tired of financing these personal projects, which is why he was declared insane, though no one knows for sure. His extravagance certainly provides for interesting touring.
In addition to our Ludwig stops, we visited two monasteries and the town of Oberammergau, where the famous Passion Play is performed every ten years. Due to Covid, the 2020 play is taking place this year. In addition to the spiele (play in German), the town is known for its frescoes and wood carving. It is an utterly charming German town, and we were lucky to visit while the play was in progress so the town was quiet, and we had a lovely stroll.
It was a long day (9.5 hours), but Stefan managed it well with appropriate stops. I only wish we had another day to do his Eagles Nest tour!