“It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day” wrote King Ludwig II to Richard Wagner.
Neuschwanstein is a castle in southwest Bavaria in Germany, commissioned by Ludwig II, King of Bavaria from 1864 until his death in 1886.
A lover of the arts, Ludwig was a dreamer. In 1866, just two years after he became King, the state of Prussia conquered Austria and Bavaria in the German War. While Bavaria kept part of its autonomy, it had little powers and the King had little freedom of action. He increasingly withdrew from public affairs and isolated himself in a fantasy world of castles and fairy tales.
“I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others” he once said.
The foundation stone for the castle (then called “New Hohenschwangau Castle” – it acquired the name of “Neuschwanstein” after the death of the King) was laid on September 5, 1869 and Ludwig II moved in in 1884. The construction was paid for by the King’s personal fortune and extensive borrowing.
Ludwig II also commissioned other castles (one of which is the Linderhof Castle). His refusal to refrain from this extravagance led to the government declaring him insane and deposing him from the throne in 1886. He was arrested on June 12 and led to Berg Palace near Lake Starnberg where, the next day, he died mysteriously. Nobody knows what the cause of his death was, with some saying he committed suicide, some saying he was murdered, and others saying he might have died of natural causes (heart attack or stroke) while trying to escape through the cold lake. His body lies today in the crypt of Michaelskirche in Munich.
Just seven weeks after Ludwig’s death, the castle was opened to the public and can still be visited today. The interior was not fully completed at the time of the King’s death, thus visitors can only see a small part of the inside of the castle. It can only be visited through a guided tour that lasts 30 minutes. Tickets can be bought at the ticket center at the village of Hohenschwangau and are best reserved in advance via the official website as lines can be long for those who have not reserved a ticket. Reservation is just that – you pay for the ticket when you retrieve it at the ticket center.
To get there, you must first get to Füssen – a beautiful Bavarian town worth exploring after visiting the castle. Buses 73 and 78 depart from the bus stop right next to the train station and take you to the village of Hohenschwangau. There, after collecting your tickets, you either take the bus shuttle or the horse carriage to the castle (tickets sold separately on board), or you can walk. It is an uphill 1,5 km walk. On days of snow and ice the bus shuttle does not run. At the start of the walking route there is a path on the right with a sign that reads “to Marienbrücke”. That is the bridge from where the most of the famous postcards of Neuschwanstein are shot. The walk is on a quite steep uphill path but the effort is worth it.
The bridge can be fenced off during icy days. Bypass the fence at your own risk if you must. It can be slippery but walking or standing on the bridge is safe.
The bridge was built above the Pöllat Gorge in 1845 by order of King Maximilian II of Bavaria. The original structure was wooden; Ludwig II had it replaced with an iron bridge in 1866. “The view from up above is enchanting, especially the view from the Marienbrücke of the castle” he wrote in a letter in 1881.
To get to Neuschwanstein from the bridge, follow the signposted path. It is a downhill walk of about 10 to 15 minutes.
Hohenschwangau village, along with Hohenschwangau castle, where Ludwig II spent his childhood, can be seen in the distance.
The back and sides of Neuschwanstein can be seen when walking on the path from Marienbrücke.
You can then get to the entrance of the castle where you wait for your tour to the inside of the castle to begin. Some complain that the tour is too short and rushed; it might be, but it is still a nice way to peek into the world of Ludwig II, the fairytale King, his dreams, his visions, his life. The decoration is very ornate and fascinating (photographs not allowed). You can see the Throne Hall (ironically without a throne as the King died before the room was completed) that was modelled on the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and on Allerheiligen-Hofkirche (Court Church of All Saints) in Munich. The Singers’ Hall, the biggest room of the castle, is impressive. You can see the King’s bedroom, his study, the dressing room, the dining room, the kitchen. You can still admire the castle for free from the outside if you do not wish to visit the interior.
After your tour, you can walk back down, or take the bus shuttle, or the horse carriage.
You can also visit Hohenschwangau Castle.
Buses 73 and 78 take you back to Füssen.