As I trudged along the trail climbing up the steep hillside through dense forest, I wondered how much longer until we see it? We had taken the shuttle bus up to avoid the long climb on the road. So why would they drop us so far away? Anticipation grew. The trail crossed a mountain stream and the gurgling sound of water lifted my spirits further. Finally, around another turn, the turrets of the famous structure came into sight, looming like a skyscraper above the landscape. Neuschwanstein! The fantasy castle of Mad King Ludwig that inspired Walt Disney’s magic kingdom centrepiece. Before long we were walking beneath the stone walls of the brilliant white castle. It was simultaneously smaller and larger than expected. Smaller in that it didn’t take long to walk around its circumference; larger as it seemed to stretch forever into the sky, it’s tower arrow-straight above us. What a glorious sight!
The interior was only one-third complete when King Ludwig died. The indebted kingdom of Bavaria immediately stopped all work upon his untimely and mystery-laden departure from this world. But the third that is complete includes an entire floor intended for the king’s use alone. He built no grand dining rooms or guest rooms, as he intended to have no guests. He wanted to keep this indulgence for his use alone. Mad King Ludwig? Sounds more like sad King Ludwig! Yet within 6 weeks of his death, the curious were paying for the privilege of seeing what the king had built for himself. And the paying tourists have come ever since.
As the guard puts the key into the keyhole, our little tour group presses forward against the gate, anxious to see what lies within. It is surprisingly dark inside despite its location at the pinnacle of a mountain ridge, with breathtaking views on all sides. The king seemed less interested in looking out at his kingdom below than in enjoying murals of medieval knights and princesses, like a turtle hiding within his shell. A large grandfather clock stood near the impressive fireplace in his main quarters next to a small dining table – built for one. Despite trying to recreate a medieval castle, the king did choose to allow some modern conveniences. For instance, electricity and a telephone were installed. Yet the use of electricity was mostly limited to hidden lighting within the fake cave built outside his bedroom. What a strange choice.
I said there was no grand ballroom or dining hall in the castle. But the closest approximation is a grand, muralled, room on the top floor of the palace with a gorgeous high-vaulted ceiling and ornate exposed beams . Along with the medieval myths on the walls it features a large wooden floor and stage at one end. It would easily accommodate a small ball or a feast. But its intended purpose was to host medieval themed plays for the king’s amusement. It was the last room completed and never used. Within weeks of its completion, Ludwig was found floating in a Bavarian lake with his psychiatrist – two days after being declared mentally unfit to govern.
Before you know it, the tour guide has deposited you in the gift store near the exit to accommodate more of the steady line of tourists. But one does not feel cheated. Rather, when you stand outside again and behold the beautiful, if unreal, castle in its glorious site, you can’t help but feel inspired by one driven to achieve his dreams.