By Kathy Kovach
|King Ludwig II|
Years ago, my family had the privilege of living in Frankfurt, Germany via the U. S. Air Force. In fact, we moved there twice, encompassing six-and-a-half years in that beautiful country.
One of our favorite things to do was “castle hopping”. Germany has a plethora of palaces, fortresses, castles, and burgs. Some more lavish than others. Some forbidding stone structures made for defense. And some, built after the age of such fantastic opulence. Three of these were the architectural marvels of King Ludwig II.
Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm von Wittelsbach (1845-1886) ascended to the throne at 18 years of age in 1864 and ruled for 22 years until his death. Perhaps because he’d begun his reign at such an early age, he became known by many monikers. The Dream King, Swan King, Fairytale King, and eventually, Mad King Ludwig. These names should tell you all you need to know about this man’s character. He lived in his own reality and had the means to implement it.
|King Louis XIV|
Heavily influenced by King Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles, as well as the composer Richard Wagner, Ludwig went on to build three castles in Bavaria, all very different from each other, but equally over the top. In an age where these types of architecture were outdated, and no longer needed for strategic or defensive purposes, Ludwig ventured on.
|Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle|
Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution
The first castle, Neuschwanstein, was started in 1869 on a mountaintop just above his childhood home. He’d had visions as a boy to build a structure up on the peak with soaring fairytale towers. Is it any wonder that our modern-day Imagineer Walt Disney would use this castle as the backdrop for his production Sleeping Beauty and would also adopt it as his personal icon? Neuschwanstein literally translates to “New Swan Castle” in honor of one of Wagner’s operas referencing “the Swan Knight”.
In addition, the swan was the family’s royal bird, and its likeness can be seen everywhere on the grounds.
A cave room, or small grotto, was artificially built between the salon and study. Sporting colored lights, stalactites, and a waterfall, one could enter as if simply walking through a hallway. At one point, however, a glass door slides into the “rock” and opens into the conservatory, a small room with a chair and table and a large window with a perfect view of the alpine foothills. This site has a couple of good images of the grotto and conservatory.
If the outside of the castle with its pristine white limestone walls and sky-blue spires recalls the age of German knights and damsels in distress, the inside invokes thoughts of romance. Gilded opulence and art murals depicting Wagner’s most famous operas meet the eye at every turn.
Quite a stark change from the opulence in the rest of the castle!
Only fourteen rooms were finished by the time of Ludwig’s death, and he had only stayed there a total of 186 days. Mere weeks after he died, the castle was opened for visitors to help pay off his enormous debt realized while building his three projects. He never used state funds but dwindled his personal royal account to the point where he had to borrow money.
King Ludwig II was deposed and declared mad due to his overspending on fanciful projects. One evening in 1886, he and Dr. Bernhard von Gudden—chief of the Munich Asylum and the psychiatrist tasked to supervise him—went on a walk and never came back. They were both found drowned in the nearby lake. There are several theories surrounding the events of that night. Some say Ludwig killed the doctor and then, in a suicidal act, threw himself into the lake. It was also reported that even though the official cause of death for Ludwig was suicidal drowning, the autopsy showed no water in his lungs. Some say Gudden had been hit on the head and strangled. Another theory states that Ludwig was getting into a boat that would take him to another point along the lake where loyalists would help him escape. However, when he stepped into the boat he was shot and died. Political coverups ensued. At this time, the deaths of both men remain a mystery.
I'll be highlighting King Ludwig's other two castles, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, later in the year. He certainly led a fairytale life, but it's sad that he never had his happily ever after.
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Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother—and soon-to-be great-grandmother—though much too young for that. Kathleen has been a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.