Touristic, glorious and romantic, some of Germany’s best attractions are in Bavaria.
Ludwig was just 19 when he became king of Bavaria in 1864. Rather than live with the frustrations of a modern constitution and a feisty parliament reining him in, he spent his years lost in Romantic literature and Wagner operas.
From his bedroom in Hohenschwangau, Ludwig trained a telescope on a ridge to keep an eye on Neuschwanstein as it was being constructed.
With towering turrets in a striking setting, these castles are a huge hit with sightseers. Every tour bus in Bavaria converges on Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, while tourists flush in each morning by train from Munich, two hours away.
Ludwig put his Neuschwanstein on a hilltop not for defensive reasons, but simply because he liked the view. The castle, which is about as old as the Eiffel Tower, is a textbook example of 19th-century Romanticism.
After the Middle Ages ended, people disparagingly named that era “Gothic” — meaning barbarian. Then, all of a sudden, in the 1800s, it was hip to be square, and neo-Gothic became the rage. Throughout Europe, old castles were restored and new ones built, wallpapered with chivalry.
The lavish interior, covered with damsels in distress, dragons and knights in gleaming armor, is enchanting. Ludwig had great taste, for a “mad” king.
Germany became a single united country only in 1871. As if to bolster its legitimacy, the young nation dug deep into its murky, medieval past. These heroes and legends inspired young Ludwig in decorating his fanciful castles.
Sitting at the foot of the hill, Hohenschwangau Castle is more lived-in and historic, offering an excellent look at Ludwig’s life (with fewer crowds). Originally built in the 12th century, it was ruined by Napoleon. Ludwig’s father rebuilt it, and you’ll see it as it looked in 1836. The walls of the beautifully painted rooms are slathered with the epic myths and exotic decoration of 19th-century Romanticism.
Beyond the palace is Ludwig’s grotto, a private theater for the reclusive king to enjoy his beloved Wagnerian operas. The grotto features a waterfall, fake stalactites and a swan boat floating on an artificial lake.