A visit to Germany just isn’t complete without seeing the spectacular Neuschwanstein Castle. We booked a day trip through a local Munich-based tour group to get there. The tour also included a stop at Linderhof Palace. Both Linderhof Palace and Neuschwanstein were built by King Ludwig, also known as the Mad King Ludwig.

Ludwig II was the king of Bavaria from 1864 until his mysterious death in 1886. During his reign, he built several posh and extravagant estates and castles. As you do, when you’re a king, I suppose. He became king at the rather young age of 19, and took great interest in art and architecture. Ludwig also showed little interest in being in the spotlight, instead preferring to chat with local farmers and townspeople. He avoided public functions and ceremonies as much as possible, and essentially withdrew from politics after 1871 to focus on his true interests. His biggest creative passion, aside from art and music, was overseeing the architecture and designs of his castles.

Our first stop on the tour was Linderhof Palace. Ludwig visited the Palace of Versailles in France in 1867, and Linderhof Palace was modelled after its architectural style.

Linderhof Palace grounds map
Map of Linderhof Palace grounds

The palace was completed in 1878 following the neo-French Rococo style. The formal gardens include several ponds and fountains. This is the center of the western parterre. The figure in the center is of the Roman goddess Fama, the personification of fame and rumours. Behind her you can see a bust of Louis XIV:

linderhof palace grounds

linderhof palace grounds

Linderhof was the smallest of the three palaces Ludwig commissioned, and the only one he was alive to see completed. It even had its own Hall of Mirrors, styled after the one at the Palace of Versailles, but on a much smaller scale. Ludwig preferred to sleep during the day and stay awake through the night. The mirrors reflected the candlelight, affording him the ability to read throughout the night.

Unfortunately, photos of the interior were not allowed. But each room was very elaborately appointed despite their small dimensions. The guided tour of the house was very short, only about a half an hour. But we did have time to explore the grounds a bit. This fountain is in front of the palace. The centerpiece is of Flora and putti. The huge lime tree on the right hand side of the photo is thought to be over 300 years old! The fountain was not operating that day, but the water jet can spray up to 25 meters high:

Linderhof Palace grounds

The northern part of the grounds has a Neptune-themed fountain. The green building at the top is a music pavilion.

Linderhof Palace grounds

One of the attractions at Linderhof is the grotto. Ludwig had an artificial grotto built as an illustration of the First Act of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser“. We had to meet back at the tour bus at an allotted time, but Mark and I felt sure that we had enough time to explore the grotto and make it back to the bus with time to spare. Our entrance tickets included the grotto, and we felt it would be a shame to miss it.

It wasn’t as easy to find as we thought it would be. While the signs pointed in the right general direction, we took the wrong fork of the path and had to double-back. By the time we got into the grotto, we had maybe 15 minutes to spare. We could only see the grotto by guided tour, so we had to wait a few minutes before entering with the guide. Then the guide told us, once we were inside, and the doors were closed behind us, that they would first conduct the tour in German, then English.

We tried to admire the artificial cave-like interior, complete with a lake and golden boat that Ludwig liked to be rowed around in. But after a few minutes, we realized that we had not managed our time appropriately, and were at risk of having the tour bus leave without us. Sadly, we didn’t have time to take any photos inside the grotto, as we quickly broke free from the guided tour to search for the exit. Once we made it outside, we had the stressful excitement of struggling to find the right path to get us to the parking lot!

Eventually we managed to get to the proper exit and onto the tour bus, gasping and sweaty while the other tourists gave us side-eye. We were the last ones on, and who knows how much longer the bus driver would have waited for us!

Regardless, we were now on our way to Neuschwanstein Castle!

The tour bus let us all off in Hohenschwangau village, which is where the tours of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles begin.

Hohenschwangau village

The view of Hohenschwangau Castle from the village below. This is where young Ludwig grew up:

view of Hohenschwangau castle

We decided to grab a bite to eat before starting the hike up the hill to Neuschwanstein Castle.

lunch at hohenschwangau village

We already had our tickets so we didn’t have to wait in line. Good thing too, considering the crowds at the ticket booth. Sometimes there are benefits to group tours:

line up for tickets at Hohenschwangau village

The hike up to Neuschwanstein Castle afforded some amazing views of the surrounding landscape:

Neuschwanstein Castle landscape

Imagine this being your view every day!

Neuschwanstein Castle landscape

It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, but once the castle comes into view, it’s all worth while:

Neuschwanstein Castle

Due to the immense popularity of Neuschwanstein Castle, a very orderly and systematic ticketing system is used for crowd control. Each ticket has a number, and you better be ready to enter when your number is displayed!

Neuschwanstein Castle ticketing system

Work on Schloss Neuschwanstein (New Swan-on-the-Rock Castle) began in 1869. It was built in the Romanesque style, with soaring towers.

Neuschwanstein Castle tower

Unfortunately photos of the interior were not allowed (although some rogue tourists took photos regardless). I suspect the reason for this isn’t for fear of damaging fragile frescoes or tapestries, but to keep the crowds moving quickly throughout the building. It’s ok, the exterior is nothing to sneeze at:

Neuschwanstein Castle exterior

As you may already know, Neuschwanstein Castle was just one of several castles used as inspiration for Cinderellas’ Castle at Walt Disney World!

In order to get photos of the castle from the best vantage point, we had to continue on the path to Marienbrucke, or Queen Mary’s Bridge. Of course, this is where everyone else goes for the primo photo ops as well:

waiting in line on Marienbrucke

Eventually we were able to slog our way through the throngs and get our shots in as well:

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

I rather like the sky in this one:

Neuschwanstein Castle

King Ludwig had plans for several palaces and castles. Only two were completed during his lifetime, including Linderhof, and his Munich Residenz Palace royal apartment. Even Neuschwanstein wasn’t fully completed when King Ludwig finally moved in in 1884. His plans for the castle were so ambitious that workers had to work day and night trying to complete his vision. In fact, the castle boasted some very modern technology, including hot and cold running water in the kitchen, an electric bell system for the servants, and even an elevator!

But these large-scale building projects came at a heavy price.

At first, King Ludwig paid for their construction out of his own pocket. But by 1885, he was massively in debt, and began seeking loans from Europe’s royal families. Eventually, his ministers sought to depose him by declaring him mentally ill. They assembled a medical report listing apparent signs of his inability to rule. The list sited his odd behaviour, such as sloppy table manners, avoidance of royal duties, dining outside when it was cold, yet wearing heavy clothing during the summer, and abusive outbursts against his servants. A panel of four psychiatrists reviewed the report and signed it, determining that the king suffered from paranoia, which made him unfit to rule.

King Ludwig’s ministers decided that Ludwig’s uncle, Prince Luitpold should take over his rule. On June 10, 1886, a government commission arrived at Neuschwanstein Castle to deliver deposition papers to Ludwig. Local police managed to turn the commissioners back initially, but they were soon replaced by a police detachment who sealed off the exits of the castle. Two days later, a second commission arrived and removed King Ludwig from the castle. They took him to Berg Castle, south of Munich.

The next day, on 13 June 1886, Dr. Gudden, one of the psychiatrists who had declared Ludwig as insane, accompanied him on a walk around the castle grounds. When they returned, Dr. Gudden told the other doctors that he was optimistic about King Ludwig’s treatment. After supper, Ludwig and Dr. Gudden went on another walk together, this time near Lake Starnberg. When they didn’t arrive back at the castle at the expected time, a search party was sent after them.

Both King Ludwig and Dr. Gudden were found, drowned in the lake. Dr. Gudden’s body showed signs of trauma, indicating that he was attacked before he drowned. Meanwhile, King Ludwig had been a strong swimmer, and the water where his body was found was only waist deep. It’s strongly theorized that he was killed – possibly shot – while trying to escape across the lake to waiting loyalists. But the mystery surrounding his death remains unsolved to this day.

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