Neuschwanstein and the secrets of Fairytale King Ludwig II | DW Travel | DW | 31.07.2012
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Neuschwanstein and the secrets of Fairytale King Ludwig II

He had a flamboyant personality. King Ludwig II died 125 years ago under mysterious circumstances and that mystery is partly what lures thousands of tourists each year to his castles in Bavaria.

The more people try to trace information about King Ludwig II, the more complex and elusive the man appears to have been.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Disney couldn't have done it better: Neuschwanstein Castle

Sometimes called the "Swan King" or the "Fairytale King," Ludwig II of Bavaria was monarch from 1864 until he was dethroned before his death in 1886. He lost his job as king on grounds of alleged mental illness, and was found a day later - along with his psychiatrist, Bernhard von Gudden - in Lake Starnberg, near Munich. It remains unclear whether their deaths resulted from suicide or murder.

Gabriele Weishäupl, a Munich-based tourism expert, said theories abound about the deaths. "Some say it was murder, some believe it was suicide," she said. "Others have postulated that Ludwig II killed his psychiatrist and was so upset about what he had done, that he had a heart attack himself.

"That's not entirely implausible," she noted, "but there are other theories that are outlandish."

A patron of the arts

A showing before Ludwig was laid to rest

A showing before Ludwig was laid to rest

It was less his style of reigning and more his affinity to art and architecture that has made the king legendary, however. Fairytale-like castles and palaces were his brainchildren. He commissioned the construction of several, most notably Neuschwanstein, which draws tourists from every continent.

Other Ludwig buildings include Herrenchiemsee, modeled after Louis XIV's Versailles Palace, and Linderhof Castle.

King Ludwig was also a patron of the arts and a great lover of Richard Wagner's operas. It is said that Wagner would not have been able to complete his "Ring des Nibelungen" without Ludwig's aid, and the monarch also sponsored premieres of Wagner's operas.

Ludwig's passion for opera was so great, he often had Wagner's operas performed for himself, alone, in Munich's Staatsoper. "He would sit in the Wittelsbach theater box alone, and soldiers would have to sit down and act as the audience so the acoustics would be better," tour guide Gertrud Schaller explained.

Yet, despite Ludwig's quirky, extravagant habits, Munich also owes its Staatstheater to him.

Going out in style

Ludwig mugs and cards

There are plenty of souvenirs commemorating Ludwig

Even Ludwig II's funeral is a bit of an enigma. His tomb lies in Munich's St. Michael's Church and it is said that, shortly after Ludwig's coffin arrived, a severe storm passed through.

"With thunder and lightening raging, King Ludwig was carried to his grave," Schaller relayed. "A flash of lightening slashed through, throwing several people up against the church wall. Then, a deafening crack of thunder resonated."

Still, Ludwig II's legend lives on and that's why Munich drummed up plenty of activities, as well as paraphernalia, to honor the monarch 125 years after his death.

Author: Jochen Kürten / als
Editor: Kate Bowen

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