This is a guest post from a dear friend and a travel lover:
Transcending time and space is one of the most magnificent abilities of the human mind which enhances the experience of reading history. The ability to see in lucid details with the mind’s eye what the normal eyes cannot, is a blessing and a curse, for the human mind has this ability to conjure up worlds which might not be as magnificent as we imagine them to be. This ability to bring the past into the present poses a threat: the present itself might be ignored in favour of the past. Nowhere is this warp presented to us as vividly as in Neuschwanstein !
Nestled in the Bavarian Alps of Germany is the most famous castle in the world, Neuschwanstein (New Swan Stone) which has an incredible story to tell us all – the story of one man who brought out the past into the present with the sheer force of his will and imagination, thus creating a cocoon for himself as well as a place in History. This is the story of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, which moved me so much that I wanted to experience it for myself.
This beautiful castle is a few hours from Munich by car and the drive itself is such a pleasure for you drive through changing landscapes from the historic city of Munich into the heart of Germany itself. As we drove from Munich to this castle, I was filled with a sense of ambivalence – excitement at seeing the castle I have always dreamt of visiting and the tragic tale it had to tell. Slowly, the urban jibe of Munich vanished gradually and as we drove into the Bavarian Alps, the landscape changed to idyllic beauty.. The alpine meadows turned greener and richer and more beautiful by the minute. The red roofs of the houses were even redder, the sky took an extra verve of blue with darkish grey water-laden clouds performing a rhythmic dance akin to puffs of cotton in wind. Everywhere you see, there is an extra dash of color. This is one place where you would just want your eyes to slake in the beauty rather than take pictures that anyway do not do justice for everywhere you look there is a postcard picture. This region along with the famous black forest region of Germany, is where the famous Grimm’s fairy tales originated. The scattered houses here reminded me of my favorite set of stories in the repertoire of Grimm’s tales from my childhood: Cinderella leading a very harsh life under the domineering eye of her stepmother and the witch waiting to devour Hansel and Gretel. This is where you can almost feel the fairy tales come alive! No wonder this is considered one of the most romantic corners of Germany as there is so much beauty and charm that it doesn’t take long to fill one’s heart to the brim with happiness. The green of the grass combined with the blue of the mountains and the dark grey of the clouds, with the sun light streaming through them formed an incredible palette that cannot be captured in full by any camera but only with the greatest lens in the world : the human eye. As we continued our journey, the Alps started to come closer and closer and the peaks looked as if they were almost kissing the sky with the clouds forming an incredible circlet around these majestic mountains of Europe.
As we made a final turn of the steering wheel to our destination, there it was! In the midst of the Alps, surrounded by the forests and mountains with clouds zooming across, we could see a fairy tale castle rise slowly in the distance. Neuschwanstein, the castle King Ludwig II built to indicate his fondness for the medieval culture of Europe, beckoned us. This was his dream castle, the one he envisioned and brought to life. Ludwig wanted to build a castle that would provide him with the solitude he needed for he was much more in love with the past than the present. The allures of the past dealing with the stories of Knights had him in their unending spiral rather than the reality of the present. Neuschwanstein is considered to be a tribute to the famous composer Richard Wagner, (whom Ludwig saved from a financial crisis and encouraged very much) whose music provided the inspiration for a multitude of motifs inside the castle.
As we parked our car and got out to experience the castle, the castle evoked in me a multitude of emotions – tragedy, beauty, romance. Surrounded by wonderful restaurants for tourists with waitresses elegantly dressed in dirndls, this was an experience like no other. I was recommended to try out potatoes cooked in cheese and black pepper and garnished with a sprinkle of deep-fried onion which was an absolute delight to the palate.
In order to reach the castle, one can take a horse drawn carriage or walk all the way up. We preferred to walk to the top of the castle in order to enjoy the incredible vista. It was a scenic walk to the entrance of the castle. With glorious views of the forests interspersed with pristine lakes and with meditative stillness of the weather disturbed by streams flowing down and trees swaying their branches performing a rhythmic dance, Neuschwanstein welcomed us with open arms. The silence was only broken by the clip-clop of the hooves of the horses as they slowly trundled up carrying up passengers who did not want to walk or who could not walk. Thirty minutes later we arrived at the entrance to the castle refreshed from our long walk. The walls of the castle were so high that we had to strain our necks to see the top and all of them had little windows which gave the impression that Rapunzel with her golden hair lived there imprisoned by the vile witch awaiting her prince charming to climb up her golden tresses.
At the entrance, we were greeted by the coat of arms of Bavarian Kings and we strode under a massively built door as we made our way to the center of the castle. It looked exactly like the castles that I had dreamt of as a kid: rooms for the smithy and pottery, rooms for the soldiers and servants, large stone built rooms with chandeliers and history on every wall. One can almost hear the hammering of the metal and the hiss when the hammered metal is placed in cold water to make a sword fit for a king and the melee of the servants rushing about. Nestled on a hill, it looked so picturesque as if it jumped straight out of a kid’s coloring book.
Taking photos and videos is prohibited inside the castle as there are too many people waiting to get into this magnificently built castle. In order to cater to the multitude of tourists from all over the globe, there are audio guided tours available in many languages. After we picked up our guides in English and German, we entered the castle and climbed up a winding staircase built of stone that seemed to take us back into the womb of Time itself. At the end of the flight of stairs, we were ushered into the rooms of King Ludwig II and treated to a visual delight. The detailed audio tour of the castle explains the significance of most of the antiquities of every room, each of which was tastefully decorated in Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine styles. The emperor’s throne room inspired from the Byzantine churches is perhaps the grandest of all the rooms and the massive four meter high chandelier is the jewel of the throne room. The murals on the walls of each of the rooms are a sight to behold. Magnificent color and beauty transport you into Ludwig’s reality in a flash ! The famous grotto he built for his friends acts as a time capsule in transporting the visitors from a medieval marvel to the modern age in just a couple of steps. He was one of the first to use doors made of glass which showcases his interest to build a castle which was both traditional and unique in his own unparalleled style. The resplendent Singer’s hall with its chandeliers must have been quite a sight when all the candles were lit. The castle itself speaks about the man who built it. The very size of the castle and all within, displays his grandiose. The murals talk about his romance with the medieval era.
Sadly, King Ludwig II died without enjoying the pleasures of the castle which he loved so much. Ludwig was declared mad and deposed from his throne by the Government and his body was found the next day along with that of the doctor who declared him mad in Lake Starnberg, Germany. His death remains a mystery to this day. Ludwig wanted the past in the present but then neither the past nor the present were enjoyable to him.
The tour concluded with a magnificent view from Neuschwanstein – a scene so idyllic that it will stay etched in my memory for ever – a castle surrounded by the Alps and the lakes of the Alps. It looked as if the famous fairy tale princess Briar Rose might be still waiting for her prince charming to wake her up from the deep slumber to which she was put to to save her from dying as prophesied in the Grimm’s tales.
With a heart full of sadness for King Ludwig, we descended thinking of how fate intervenes in lives and spoils the best laid plans. This iconic castle is the result of one man’s desire and vision to live in the past but sadly the main purpose for which it was built was never served. However from 1886, this has been providing limitless joy to innumerable travelers and tourists including Walt Disney. As we returned back to the car, my friend murmured, Tragic Neuschwanstein and I nodded in agreement. As I looked back in the rear view mirror, the magnificent castle of Neuschwanstein, stood in stoic silence as it has done for many decades , welcoming visitors to explain the tragic story of its master who did not live to enjoy it.