Americans like me probably know Bavaria best as the “B” in BMW. Its biggest single tourist attraction is a legacy from an arguably-crazy nineteenth-century king.
The border between Germany and Austria is where the rolling hills and forests of the German state of Bavaria run into the northern edge of the Alps. A big tourist destination here is a set of castles built in the 1800s by the then-King of Bavaria, Ludwig II. The most famous castle (the big grey one above) is Schloss Neuschwanstein – built in the 1800s in a medieval style more befitting the 1200s. It is supposedly the model for the “Sleeping Beauty” castle that’s the centerpiece of Disneyland.
Legend has it that Ludwig was crazy. His eccentricity surely reinforced that idea. Besides castle-building, he was apparently obsessed with the 18th Century French monarchy and meticulously modeled himself and some of his palaces after that — notwithstanding the conspicuously unhappy ending the French monarchy had just faced. He also had a weird obsession with the famous German opera composer, Richard Wagner. Some of his letters suggested that he was building these castles in hopes that Wagner would come to visit and stay with him there. Some of the rooms were modeled after scenes from Wagner operas.
Ludwig spent so much on his crazy castles he essentially bankrupted himself and lost power. He was dethroned based on his alleged insanity at age 41, and “mysteriously” found dead in a lake a few days later.
Ludwig lived in an era when Europe’s centuries of rule by monarchs were about to come to end no matter what he did. He had no heirs except his genuinely crazy brother Otto, so he spent everything he had on castles. Building the castles has given him a legacy much more famous than any sensible king would have had. To this day, millions of people come to southern Bavaria from all over the world to see those crazy castles – and to talk about the nutty King who was foolish enough to build them. I think “crazy” King Ludwig got the last laugh.
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My friend (formerly one of my Gibbs & Bruns law partners) Jeff Kubin met me in Zurich and joined me on a few days of my European adventure — mostly through the German, Austrian, Italian and Swiss Alps. Ludwig’s Bavaria was our first, touristy stop before heading south and west. That’s Jeff K in a picture below. I loaned him a camera and subjected him to photography lessons. The other shots below are his. Not bad!