Originally posted September 4, 2011.
Our second day trip from Munich could have been a disaster except for my sister. Her music suggestion saved the day. As we were pulling up to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles, she insisted that we listen to Taylor Swift music. At first, this request didn’t quite make sense. American crossover music in the middle of the German countryside? But it actually, in my opinion, saved the trip.
The castles themselves were amazing. After waiting in line for about 40 minutes and walking up a big hill, we visited Hohenschwangau castle. It’s the smaller, but more practical castle of the two. Ludwig II and his family actually lived in the castle, using it as a country retreat for summer hunting and hiking. Even still, gorgeous murals of legends and epics covered most of the walls (one of them claimed that Charlemagne was born in Bavaria, so even though they were all pretty, I had to laugh a little at that one). Plus, they had many of the royal family’s birthday presents on display. I wouldn’t have minded receiving a silver-plated sculpture/centerpiece. Although I have no idea where I would have put it. Then after taking a smelly horse carriage ride down the mountain, we pushed to find a seat on the crowded bus to go further up into the hills to Neuschwanstein castle. They definitely call this the fairytale palace for a reason. Even though Ludwig II commissioned it in the nineteenth century and even though it was never finished, the rooms on the public tour take your breath away. It’s amazing how much manpower and time went into all the woodcarving and painting. I can see why the Bavarian government got mad at Ludwig II from spending so much time and money on this. The most amazing part is that it looks like a medieval castle, complete with an expansive throne room, a cavern reminiscent of King Arthur and the knights of the round table, and a minstrels’ court for performances, and yet it has running water and electricity. It was definitely worth the hike up the mountain and wading through the waves of toddlers and other annoying tourists.
The history behind the castles made the tours even more interesting. Both are attached to Bavaria’s last king, Ludwig II. He’s called “The Fairy Tale King” because of his eccentric personality, the style of his castles, and his mysterious death. He ascended the throne at age eighteen and ruled Bavaria for many years, but when it became a state under the German Empire, he didn’t know what to do. And since he loved romantic Wagner operas and luxurious living, Ludwig started building castles. At first, this was cool because he only used personal money. But on his last and most lavish castle, Neuschwanstein, Ludwig began dipping into state funds and that’s when they decided to cut him off. They didn’t understand his love for the medieval ages, the romantic operas, and his homosexual tendencies and this was the last straw. Without consulting any physicians, the cabinet had Ludwig declared mentally ill and unable to rule. A day later he drowned at a nearby lake, along with his doctor. No one knows if it was a suicide attempt and the doctor got pulled in trying to save the king, or whether it was homicide. Knowing these details about this odd king’s life makes the seemingly opposing details within the castle come together. He was a man born either too early or too late, using these opulent palaces as an escape from a world that did not want to understand him.
I loved the views, both interior and exterior, and learning about Ludwig II, but as I said before, the other tourists could have ruined this trip. It’s not that they were any more annoying than other tourists, but at this point in the trip we’d been dealing with people snapping photos at every little thing, walking slowly, and talking obnoxiously loud around us for a week and a half. Not to mention we weren’t getting along quite as well as a family either after spending so much time together on planes, trains, cars, and hotel rooms. But some of Taylor Swift’s music helped me drown out the crowds and focus on the living fairy tale in front of me. I listened to her sing about white horses, knights in shining armor, and the perfect prince to rescue the girl from everyday life and forgot about the chatter buzzing all around me. In a way, this even helped me gain new perspective into how Ludwig felt. I’m not royalty and I don’t spend my money as freely as Ludwig, but I do know what it’s like to feel misunderstood. In other words, Taylor Swift’s music not only allowed me to escape the annoying parts of the visit, but it allowed me to connect with the architect of Neuschwanstein. Who would have thought she could be so deep?