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Neuschwanstein Castle Modernized for Visitors

Gaby Reucher (kjb)
July 23, 2006

The fairytale castle in lower Bavaria has revamped its visitor program to allow more people access to eccentric King Ludwig's dazzling, larger-than-life vacation home.

The most famous among King Ludwig II's castle collectionImage: dpa
King Ludwig II of Bavaria was a dreamer whose eccentric imagination was not limited by reality. The crazy ruler, as many called him, commissioned the construction of castle after castle -- whose grandiosity and splendor eventually led to his ruin.

The most famous among King Ludwig's castle collection is Neuschwanstein, located in southern Bavaria. This sightseeing must is high on the list of nearly every tourist to Germany, which is why efforts have been made in the past few years to ease the flow of visitors with a new "traffic control" system.

Longs waits were the biggest complaint among castle guests, but administrator Klaus Peter Scheck explained that things have changed: "When the visitor buys a ticket he receives an entry time and a tour time printed on the ticket, along with a tour number."

Once a quiet retreat, now viewed by millions

Though waits have been shortened, visitors still have to take into account the 30 minute drive there, as the castle is perched on the top of a cliff 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high.

Chinesische Touristen in Neuschwanstein
The castle attracts around 1.3 million tourists per yearImage: dpa

Those who venture there will be well rewarded. King Ludwig's aim was to build an "ideal castle," based on old knights' castles -- a goal most would say he achieved.

Though it was meant as a place of quiet retreat for the mad king and not for the public, the Neuschwanstein castle was opened to visitors shortly after his death in 1886. Since that time, some 1.3 million people come each year to be dazzled by the gold and glitter, velvet and silk, kitsch and art that the castle has to offer.

A room for Richard Wagner

"There are around 90 rooms, 16 of which are fully restored," described Klaus Peter Scheck, "The most important room in the castle is the "Sängersaal" (Singers' Hall). Art historians say it's the reason why the castle was built in the first place."

The Singers' Hall, ornamented with golden chandeliers, was dedicated to the composer Richard Wagner. Scenes from Wagner's operas, which are based on German mythology, adorn walls throughout the castle.

King Ludwig was not known for having a grip on reality, espcially the reality of his finances. The Neuschwanstein castle overextended his financial resources. In 1886, the 40-year-old king was declared unfit and ejected from the throne. Shortly thereafter, he took his own life.

Kutscher in bayerischer Tracht
Fashion has changed a bit since King Ludwig's eraImage: dpa

A hi-tech castle from the beginning

But the mad king's fairy tale castle lives on -- for as many as 6,000 visitors a day, in peak season.

In addition to the tour appointment system, a new museum shop has been added to the site. Not only the usual knickknacks but also more intellectual items can be found there, like the Bavarian Castle Administration's publication.

A solution to waiting in long lines at the museum shop has also been implemented: tech savvy visitors can order online at Neuschwanstein's own internet book shop.

It's only fitting that the castle should carry on Ludwig's hi-tech approach. In those days, all the rooms were warmed via a hot-air central heating system and each floor had running water -- modern luxuries back then.

Keeping up with the upkeep

However, being built with up-to-date accouterments hasn't kept the castle from aging over the years.

"The biggest problem is the visitors themselves" because they bring moisture with them, admitted Scheck. "All the textiles and murals suffer from the moisture."

On the other hand, the fact that the castle hasn't been heated in 130 years has minimized the damage, added the castle director.

Schloss Neuschwanstein
It could be one of the next Seven Wonders of the World

In addition to the visitors, Mother Nature also makes regular upkeep around the castle a necessity. The cliffs that the castle rests on have to be continually reinforced because weather wears the limestone away.

Both regular maintenance and the latest major improvements haven't been cheap. The state of Bavaria has spent 11 million euros ($13.8 million) in the last 15 years on renovations and the new "traffic control" system for visitors. That may sound like a lot, but Neuschwanstein is also a good source of income.

The next world wonder?

What's more, the investment may be rewarded with something priceless: a coveted "Seven Wonders of the World" title.

A former UNESCO staff member came up with idea to revise the long-standing list of wonders and a committee of experts selected 21 cultural sites throughout the world, including Neuschwanstein. Until July 2007, anyone can place their vote for the Bavarian castle by visiting www.neuschwanstein.de.

Neuschwanstein as one of the next wonders of the world? Maybe it's a bit crazy -- but King Ludwig certainly would have like the idea.