The beauty about travelling around in a van is the freedom it grants you to pullover wherever and have a mosey around. Occasionally, the pit stop might become a night. That night might become two nights and when we discovered the medieval and natural marvels in South Bavaria that’s exactly what happened.
Originally planning to visit a lake as Fanny had a rest, what we were greeted by at Forgensee, just north of the Austrian Border was completely unexpected. Preparing for a refreshing dip in the blue mountain waters we were shocked to discover that the boiling hot summer which has baked Europe had taken its toll on the waters leaving the normally stunning lake as an underwhelming puddle. Turning around to rethink our afternoon plans we trundled back to the van.
Just up the road, according to maps, were a few castles we’d thought we’d check out instead and so got back on the tarmac and were quickly embroiled in another traffic jam. This queue slowly crawled up to five massive car parks which were way out of place in the quaint traditional village. This concrete monstrosity incited curiosity in Bani about the nature of the castles we came to visit. As we inched around a corner the nature was revealed as the most iconic, well visited and staggering castle that Germany has to offer.
On one side of the road sits Hohenschwangau Castle, an old and historic residence of Bavarian royalty and opposite it, higher up on the mountain is the fairy tale Neuschwanstein Castle, a ridiculously extravagant architectural masterpiece designed for a mad king. The elder and more modest of the two was the first we wandered around. It began its life in the twelfth century as a fortress for a family of Knights who maintained it for four hundred years. After which it fell into ruin until King Maximilian II fell in love with the idyllic location and set about restoring it in 1833. The wonderfully restored castle then became the summer residence of the Bavarian royals who enjoyed the stunning landscape and breathtaking lakes around it. The magical scenery and tales of Knights had a significant effect on Maximilian’s eldest son Ludwig, who went on to lead his own fantastical life.
From Hohenschwangau we walked up towards the grand spectacle. In search of a good view point we avoided the suggested tourist trail up to the castle itself, instead opting to trek the bus route up to the bridge. Hiking up the steep incline in the sweltering heat left us disgustingly sweaty, but did save us a few Euro’s on the bus and we arrived at the busy bridge for a scenic rest. Each year 1.5 million people visit the iconic castle, most of which also pile onto the thin bridge which hangs in the background. Providing a breathtaking view of the castle complete with a mountainous backdrop and a view of Forgensee the bridge presents the best photo opportunity and all you have to do is get to the top. Once you’re there of course there is the inevitable mission of wading though crowds of camera wielding Chinese tourists who will be flooding the prime location. Battling through selfie sticks and tripods, to cross the bridge the instinct for British queuing must be quelled to push through and get to the other side.
On the way down to the castle gates, our other favourite regulars can be found unloading wismic insights about German culture. Easy to identify from afar due to their extra large Uncle Sam T-shirts and resounding accents, a strand of touristy Americans are a reliable source of entertainment. Some of these rare yet ever-present groups can be heard murmuring about the tough inclination, exhausting heat and Disney. Disney, in fact, was an educated gossip and the striking resemblance of the film giants logo is no coincidence. Walt Disney was so enraptured by the striking silhouette that it inspired Cinderella’s castle, the central building of the theme park, as well as the logo. Neuschwanstein’s cultural significance stretches much further than Disney, and even further than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The legendary Mad King Ludwig’s story is intertwined with the castle.
Having grown up in the majestic castle down the road, Ludwig’s love for the area and passion for the fantastic led him to build his own castle. Growing up as a lover of art and theatre he idolised the romanticism of the mountains and the works of Richard Wagner, who he befriended and bought to Munich when he became king. This publicly objected friendship and a series of frustrations regarding his role within the German Empire led him to withdraw more and more from society and turned him to endeavour more in his artistic pursuits.
The construction of Neuschwanstein had already begun in 1869 and despite the Mad King’s plan to have it completed in three years, only the gate house was inhabitable by 1873. Seven years later the shell was complete but with construction ongoing inside, with the technical fittings taking another four years.
By the early 1880s the castle was still unfinished as the King withdrew further from society. By 1886 Ludwig II had only spent six months there. It was in this year that he was declared insane by a panel of doctors and replaced as the Bavarian leader by his uncle. Three days later, he drowned himself.
The unfinished castle was opened to the public several weeks after his passing with only a dozen rooms completed.
Whilst you’re here please help out a good causes, the oddballs foundation, to help raise some money for testicular cancer! https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/matt-head