King Ludwig: Crazy or just extravagant?

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We begin our third blog series with a special check-off from Frank’s bucket list: Neuschwanstein, otherwise known as “Crazy King Ludwig’s Castle,” in the Bavarian Alps. A history buff, Frank had heard about this castle and was determined to see it. On Friday, we did.

Our trip to this magical palace was made even more spectacular by the day’s sunshine and fresh snow, which added a twinkly sparkle to the trees. We left Munich by train for the two-hour journey to Fussen. From there, we boarded a bus to the base of the mountain, where we planned to take a shuttle up to the Castle. Small glitch – the shuttle buses weren’t running due to the icy roads! Sooo, rather than wait in the long line for the horse-drawn carriages (which were in operation), we hiked to the Castle entrance and made it in time for our tour.

We learned about the short and tragic life of King Ludwig II. At 18, his father died and he inherited the throne without any formal training or political experience. Although he did fulfill his required duties, the realization that he was just a figurehead led the young king to pursue his interests in reading, the arts and architecture. He hated war and when he saw that he was not in a position to save his country from its dangers, he considered abdication. His friend, the composer Richard Wagner, supposedly talked him out of it, explaining he could not turn the crown over to his younger brother Otto, who was suffering from a war-related mental illness. Another war broke out in 1870, leading the King to become more withdrawn and embittered by the personal political attacks.

King Ludwig completely shifted into his own world, a world in which everything was noble and beautiful. His vision was manifested in his castles. He began three with a fourth planned. The costs resulted in much debt and eventually the wrath of government, who decided to remove him as King. King Ludwig now refused to step down (What? Give up the money and my projects?!). At the time, the only way a sitting King could be removed was if he was declared mentally incompetent. Officials forced their way into Neuschwanstein and took the King to the Castle of Berg on Lake Stamberg. The next day, the 40-year-old King and his psychiatrist were found dead following a walk along the lake. The official story is that the King killed the doctor and committed suicide — a conclusion that seems implausible given his aversion to violence. Several other theories have been proposed but the deaths remain a mystery – adding to the allure of the story and the subsequent interest (and tourist dollars) in the castle when it was opened to the public shortly after his death.

Was “Crazy” King Ludwig crazy or was he just disillusioned and extravagant? Frank and I lean toward the latter. We see him as a tragic figure, who was totally unprepared for a role he did not want. He eventually, however, grew accustomed to the royal lifestyle and used it (albeit selfishly) to create something beautiful. This spectacular yet unfinished palace is a testament to King Ludwig’s unique artistic vision, his deep religious devotion and his passion for literature and opera.

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