Monday, November 2, 2015

Day 11: Mad King Ludwig!

A king who invited a horse to dinner.  A nineteenth-century king who felt more in common with the mythological knights of Arthur's Round Table than with his own contemporaries.  A king who - in the 1800s - destroyed the foundations of a real medieval castle in order to build his ideal "medieval" castle. A king who created a life-sized duplicate of the palace of Versailles near Paris, then decided that the Sun King was not ostentatious enough. This was mad King Ludwig II, a beloved king of the Bavarian people. Today was dedicated to learning more about this mad king by visiting three of his castles.

The tour bus was scheduled to leave Munich's main station at 8:30am.  As per the direction of the tour company, we arrived shortly after 8am to check in with the tour guide.  Mindy then went across the street to find an ATM and some breakfast, while I got us seats on the bus. At about 8:12, I felt the bus lurch and pull away from the curb. I hurried to the front, to the guide: "My girlfriend is still at the ATM."

The guide looked at his watch: "I told her she had two minutes!"
I replied: "I thought the tour was supposed to leave at 8:30."
He grumbled: "We leave when we can" but directed the bus driver to return to the parking spot at the curb, mumbling "We're not allowed to park here..."
Then why did you park there for a tour that was scheduled to depart at 8:30?
As Mindy got to the bus door (at 8:14), the guide greeted her with: "He still wants to see you, so you might as well get on." He did say that with a smile.

Throughout the day, a few of the other travelers on the tour commented on that incident, that it was "so kind" of the guide to come back for my girlfriend, and that "he put the fear of god into them" to be back at the bus on time.  When I joked that the guide had actually asked Mindy to be "late" like that to make a point, I saw that my interlocutor believed me.  I quickly clarified that, no, the guide was just being difficult.

On our way through the Bavarian countryside south of Munich, we quickly found our way into the foothills of the Alps. Beautiful countryside with the mountains in the background! As we passed a large garage door set into the rock face, our guide explained that Hitler's armies built large military production centres hidden throughout the Alps, including a full-sized fighter plane factory buried beneath a mountain.

The first stop on our tour was the Linderhof Palace.  This was the only palace Ludwig completed before his death.

The gardens are boxed off for the winter, but one can imagine how splendid this would look with fountains and statues throughout.

Inside Linderhof, there seemed to be more gold than anything else; 22-karat gold leaf over carvings all over the walls and ceilings.  Ludwig was infatuated with the court of Louis XIV of France - the Sun King - and so included tributes to Louis XIV throughout his Linderhof hunting lodge.

After I took this photo of the status of Louis XIV, I was told that photos are not allowed in Linderhof.



After Linderhof, we stopped in the town of Oberammergau, a Bavarian town famous for its "passion play".  The story goes that during the plague, the residents of Oberammergau came together and prayed that no-one else from the town would die from the plague.  Nobody did.  To repay this divine intervention, the town puts on an extravagant rendition of the Passion of the Christ every ten years.  The town of 6000 residents requires 2500 of them to put on the hundreds of shows for months on end.  Most of the men in the town - those selected for roles on stage - grow their hair and beards long, making the town resemble "free love USA of the 1970s", as our guide put it. While this passion play may have begun as a noble act of devotion, I am inclined to think that there is a more secular driver now.  Last time they presented the play, the town required that every ticket for the play include the purchase of a hotel room.  They "only" sold ~625 000 tickets that year, which was a drop from the previous average of 700 000.  That's a lot of hotel rooms.

The theatre where it all takes place...

...with a statue of Jesus on the donkey in front of it.  Fittingly, Jesus is giving the peace sign.  

Another thing Oberammergau is known for is these elaborate paintings on the outside of houses.  Many reflect stories of biblical origin, or from the Grimm fairy tales.

And here I am trying to enjoy a Bavarian beer in Bavaria.  I didn't.

Mindy enjoyed her photo more.

 After lunch, we moved on from Oberammergau to the star attraction of this tour, Neuschwanstein Castle!

The castle that inspired Disney was the brainchild of Ludwig, in order to feel more at home with his "medieval alignment". (That the remnants of an actual medieval castle had to be destroyed to build this....never mind.) As Ludwig was single and increasingly anthropophobic, this castle was exclusively for him, though the original plans included a bath for both Ludwig and his hand-picked company concurrently. (Those baths were never built.) Notwithstanding his wishes for an exclusive retreat to the mountains, the castle was opened to the public six weeks after Ludwig's death.

 The inspiration to build Neuschwanstein came to Ludwig as a boy, when he gazed out from the windows of his father's castle Hohenschwangau. Now, Neuschwanstein offers quite the view of Hohenschwangau. It is a short walk from one to the other.


Between the castles, a small town is nestled in the valley.  What must they have been thinking as Ludwig built this homage to antiquity?

Neuschwanstein castle was unfinished at the time of Ludwig's death, and much of the interior remains that way today. The tour brings visitors through about a third of the castle - where the rooms are finished.  Interestingly, both the tours of Linderhof and Neuschwanstein are carried out in an abrupt and rushed manner.  No stories, no explanations. Simply a description of the room you see around you. ("The stairs are made of Italian marble, and the floor mosaic has over two million tiles in it.  Moving on to the next room...")  One story that they might tell is the story of Ludwig's death.

As a constitutional (as opposed to absolute) monarch, Ludwig relied on his family wealth to fund his series of castles.  When he had nearly bankrupted it, he approached the parliament and requested public funds.  This request was denied.  Enraged, Ludwig threatened to replace the entire cabinet; the cabinet, in return, had him declared insane and deposed him.  Ludwig was arrested and kept under protective watch for the next two days, until he went for a walk with his trusted physician around Lake Starnberg in 1886. That evening, Ludwig was found in the lake, drowned, with his physician dead at his side.

Officially, the story is that Ludwig strangled his physician, and then drowned in an attempt to escape. However, the water was waist-deep where Ludwig was found, and this 6-foot 4-inch king was known to be a strong swimmer.  The physician was a close personal friend, and Ludwig was never prone to violence. Finally, the autopsy did not find any water in the king's lungs. An epilogue to this tale of mysterious death came just a few years ago. A team of researchers landed in Bavaria with expertise in examining the remains of Egyptian tombs.  Their intent was to x-ray Ludwig's remains in order to finally understand what happened that night.  Upon their arrival in Germany, the scientists were questioned for hours while their equipment was shipped back out of Germany. The researchers, themselves, were put on a plane out of Germany, and told never to return.

130 years later, and some powerful people still hold to the official tale.

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