This summer I took a long holiday to Europe. The purpose of the holiday was a little research into the life of Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, the subject of my present work-in-progress. (At least that’s what I tell myself. Otherwise, it would just be an exercise in self-indulgence, wouldn’t it?) We started off in England visiting family and old friends, and then flew to Munich. Our first excursion was to Nymphenburg Castle where Ludwig was born and the second was to the Residenz, the principal city palace of the kings of Bavaria.
Along the way, we also saw the famous Glockenspiel, took a long walk through the English Garden and visited the Hofbrauhaus for some Bavarian beer and oom-pah-pah music.
Then we drove a short distance south to Lake Starnberg and visited the place where Ludwig met his tragic end. A simple cross stands in the water there, erected by his mother. She also built the memorial chapel that overlooks the spot.
Now came the highlight of our visit. Farther south was Schwangau. From this typically quiet and picturesque Bavarian village, we could see both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein on their mountain perches. Hohenschwangau means High Country of the Swan – how romantic is that? It was built by Ludwig’s father, but it was important to me because Ludwig spent much of his boyhood there. It was where he learned to love the old German sagas, which are depicted on the walls and became such an important influence in his life, as well as such elements as swans, peacocks and water, which are featured in all his palaces. He often lived there also while he was watching Neuschwanstein being built.
After a rather stiff climb, we made it to Neuschwanstein, the castle that has captured the public imagination as no other. I will not attempt to describe it, except to say that it was like Ludwig himself: imaginative, brilliant, unexpected, eccentric, but gloomy and, even with hundreds of tourists tramping through, imbued with an aura of mystery and tragedy.
The country round about is equally compelling. In one direction it has a broad view of the plain, another overlooks two emerald green lakes, the Alpsee and the Schwansee, on which swans still sail in all their aloof majesty. Another view is of a steep drop to the Pollat River and gorge, with the mountains in the background. Ludwig loved the mountains.
We went on then to other places not associated with Ludwig, including Venice and Sorrento in Italy, but the most magical part for me was the time we spent in Schwangau.