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Mad King Ludwig’s fairytale castle

Even before you go to Neuschwanstein there is a feeling of knowing exactly what to expect. Everyone in Germany talks about it. Everyone has been there at least once, either when they were kids on a school trip or when they were in the throes of a young romance. But nothing prepares you for a fairytale.

The castle, close upThe story goes thus. Once upon a time, in South Germany, there lived a mad King, called Ludwig II. He built castles so that people standing far far away from his kingdom could see his power and his castles and be afraid of him. His best friend Richard Wagner used to enthral him with the music he composed and King Ludwig II decided he wanted to show Wagner how much he cared about him and decided to build something that would equal Wagner’s music. So he set out to build a fine castle and called it Neuschwanstein because the only thing more dear to him than his friends and his castles were swans. And Neuschwanstein Schloss literally means New Swan Stone Palace.

Now the non-fairytale part of the story goes thus. King Ludwig II had worked up a huge debt just commissioning and building his castles. By opening Neuschwanstein Schloss to visitors and tourists, the kingdom paid off the King’s debt after he died suddenly and mysteriously soon after Neushwanstein was built.

But let’s stick to the nicer part of the story now, shall we.

From outside the castle is a symbol of silent beauty. Perched atop a hill, the walk up there is tiresome, but once you reach, it still does not change. It seems quiet, almost like the castle creeps up on you. The grandeur is unavoidable, but it is quiet splendour. Go all out and take a shaggy horse carriage to the top of the hill. Your heart will stop for a minute as you sight the castle for the first time from in between trees while your horse makes its way up the hill.

You can register for a guided tour in English, German, French or Japanese and while you wait your turn, look around the courtyard. Though not very old, Neuschwanstein was built in the late 19th century, it has aged gracefully. For the brave of heart, try walking on Marienbrücke, an old bridge built across a gorge. I played it safe, by just looking at it and watching people cross it.

As you enter the castle, you will first be taken to the Throne Room. Remember every inch of the castle walls are painted on. Murals that are 8 feet tall will greet you at every turning. In the Throne Room all twelve Apostles and six canonised Kings are painted with bright colours on the wall. Jesus occupies the position right behind the Throne, symbolizing the connection between God and King.

As you go from room to room, you will notice that the decor in every room is bright, colourful and complete. Every inch that can be decorated, painted on or carved has been done. Not an inch has been spared. Scenes from Wagner’s operas are painted from the ceiling to approximately 4 feet off the ground. Chandeliers with coloured glass hang in every room.

Ludwig was so enamoured by the swan that his bedroom has a tap shaped like a swan, with water flowing out of its beak! Doors have handles shaped like the swan’s neck, ceilings have swan motifs that seem to be looking down at you. He even had a ceramic swan which was really an air humidifier. Make sure you see Ludwig’s telephone, his bedroom, his dining room and his kitchen. Ludwig was a recluse and every room has to be viewed from that perspective.

He hated being photographed and you can’t see any trace of him throughout his palace. No painting, no bust, nothing. If you grew up on a staple diet of Disney, visit Neuschwanstein. It is no secret that Walt Disney was inspired by Neuschwanstein and modelled Sleeping Beauty’s castle on it. To see the real thing surrounded by snow, lofty spires peeking from between the snow tipped trees, is a treat enough to make you feel like a princess.

All in all, Neuschwanstein is a must see. Whether you are a romantic at heart or just interested in architecture, a Wagner aficionado or a tourist eager to explore ever inch of Germany, Neuschwanstein is worth it. Take a day trip, and for the first time feel a fairy tale come true.

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